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The disparity of Russian and Chinese business cultures

1 / 25 / 2013

It has become clear in the recent years that economical and political ties have become ever strong between Russia and China. This developing unity between two great nations is the reason for the increase in cross-border trade and cooperation. However it has also become clear that although business ties have strengthened, there is still a large difference between the Russian and Chinese business cultures.

Currently Russia is rated as the firth most prosperous economy in the world, with commodities making up a large percentage of its GDP. The oil sector is by far the most important, as it accounted for 40% of government revenue in 2012. This affluence has led the creation of a number of wealthy individuals who have a vast amount of disposable income. This income is mostly spent on various luxuries, most of which China can provide.

Having personally experienced the working environment of a multi-cultural company and having dealt with Russians in China, I can safely say that the first timers who cross the continent have left with a feeling of awe and in most cases astonishment.

Russian business is run on the principle of extreme hard work and sleepless nights. Nothing gets left unattended until it is fully complete. People burn the midnight oil, missing out on meals and seeing family, just so that their business can prosper. The Chinese are similar in the way of hard work and effort; however more emphasis is put on rest and especially meals.
It is an important factor in Chinese culture that a person should eat

3 solid meals per day and if time permits, rest after lunch. In most cases Chinese would like to stop negotiations for lunch and continue on a full stomach, Russians on the other hand would rather finish business so that they can enjoy the meal without thinking about other issues. This point should be taken into account when conducting business in China. 

Perhaps another very important factor in the cultural differences is the fact that the Russians and Chinese have very different views on trustworthiness of others. The World Bank recently conducted a study in which over 50% of Chinese businessmen interviewed replied they agreed with the statement that “You can trust the majority of people you meet”. The Russian statistic was far lower at 16%. The Russians usually only trust those who they personally know and have met in person. It is unlikely that a Russian businessman will trust another through verbal recommendation even from a good friend as they fear that he will be discriminated against and turned on by the two others.

This paranoia and the principle of “trust no one” has lead to a difference in the structure of social circles among the two groups. The Chinese have a very close-knit community in which it is very hard to be a part of due to the emphasis on some people being “outsiders”. The Russians on the other hand have a very wide social circle due to ever changing legislation and the constant need to adapt and make new acquaintances that will help their business move along.

However there are some similarities between the two sides, once trust has been established. It is customary in both cultures to exchange gifts and invite your friends out for a lengthy meal. It is common for numerous toasts to be made, be it with Russian or Chinese vodka. But in Russian culture you must never drink, while a toast is being made, this sign of anxiety can be perceived in the wrong way. It is also important to note that in Chinese culture, the clinking of the glassed must be done at table level, never too high. Raising your glass above another is a sign of dominance, thus your dinner guest might think that you value yourself above him.

The next point might be debated by some, but in my opinion, at a Russian table, you show your appreciation for the food by eating everything on your place, however if you do this in China, you will get fed until you burst. In Chinese culture, if a guest does not leave an amount of food uneaten, it will mean that he is still hungry and that the host has not fulfilled his duty of providing enough food.

Other important points in Russian table manners include: never putting your elbows on the table, never making any bodily noises and always keeping your hand on show.

However, in my opinion, no matter where you are, no matter what people you are dealing with, it is always important to be respectful to your colleagues and partners. If a person shows the potential through having an open mind to other cultures, he will be perceived as having the potential to become a long lasting business partner.

V-Trust team
Dmitri Hall
University degree in Economics and Geography
Born in Russia living there for 8 years before moving to England
Fluent in English and Russian strong cultural background
Previous experience in Financial Markets, Logistics and Sourcing

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  • Илья
    Отличная статья.
    2013-02-20 14:12