How to Give a Gift to Russians

Posted on 16. Dec, 2014 by in Culture, Russian life, Traditions, when in Russia

With the holiday season upon us, many of us have already begun to purchase gifts for our family and friends. Exchanging gifts can certainly be exciting – provided you know the kinds of things the other person likes. Some of you may find yourself in the position of having to give a gift to a Russian person – maybe at an office party or some other social event; perhaps you are visiting the home of a family that emigrated from Russia for a celebration. Each culture is somewhat unique with regards to the kinds of gifts that are exchanged. Our subject for today will be a general outline of gift-giving etiquette for a Russian man or woman.

Should you be invited to a party at the home of a Russian family, you certainly will want to bring a gift for the host. Your host(s) will definitely be spending much time, energy, and money to prepare for the party and they ought to be rewarded with a token of your appreciation. Keep in mind that gender certainly makes a difference with regards to the kind of gifts that are considered appropriate – I suppose this is the case everywhere though.

If the host is a female, many gifts might be appropriate. You might wish to give her some type of fancy chocolate – not Hershey’s. Many Russian women are fond of quality chocolate. Depending on the woman, flowers may be a great option; the type would depend on the occasion and preference. It is important to remember that with flowers, bring an odd number; an even number is appropriate at funerals. Wine may also work depending upon your host’s preferences. Food dishes can be a good option – try to make sure that the dish chosen is acceptable to the host. Should your host be a man, a nice bottle of vodka, cognac, or perhaps whiskey will do the trick; beer could also be appropriate. Tequila is also becoming more popular with Russians. Of course, all ideas contained within this blog depend on the host’s preferences. Wine, chocolate, and flowers tend to be gender specific gifts and would not be proper to give to men.

It is also important that you get something small for the children if there are any.

Should you need to get a gift for a Russian man or woman at a work party or some other occasion, some of the aforementioned gifts will work well too. For women, fancy chocolate, wine, and maybe perfume will work. Perhaps you could give her a household item such as a candle or tea cups would be an option. Avoid jewelry, make-up, or anything noticeably cheap – this is true in most cultures I believe. For men, again you could give him a nice bottle of hard liquor, perhaps cufflinks, maybe even beer.

In my opinion, you’d never give a Russian person a Matryoshka – or stack doll. This may be like giving an American flag to an American – they’ve seen thousands and while they may appreciate them, they don’t necessarily want them as presents.

The best rule of thumb is to consider your relationship with the person and proceed accordingly. The better you know the person, the more information you’ll have regarding their personal tastes. Russian people, like most others, will appreciate any gifts that you give them; however, it should be our goal to help the recipient to not only appreciate the gift, but to really like it. Should you have any questions about gifts to give Russian people, I’d love to help.

Russian New Year’s Music

Posted on 15. Dec, 2014 by in Culture

image by Amanda Munoz on

image by Amanda Munoz on

The weeks before Christmas in countries where it is the main winter holiday — and you know in Russia it’s not — are marked by the incessant playing of holiday music. It may be endearing for some and set the mood for the upcoming holidays, while it may drive others like myself up the wall.

While Russia does not have an obligatory laundry list of winter songs that will be playing in every shop and public space — unless you’re in Starbucks, but that’s a whole different story — there is, indeed, Russian winter and New Year themed music you can add to your playlist. I will be highlighting winter-related vocabulary and giving translations after each song.

Три белых коня

This song comes from the 1982 New-Year-themed film Чародеи (Sorcerers).

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Остыли реки, и земля остыла*,
И чуть нахохлились дома.
Это в городе тепло и сыро, x2
А за городом зима, зима, зима.

Привет (Chorus):
И уносят меня, и уносят меня
В звенящую снежную** даль
Три белых коня, эх, три белых коня –
Декабрь, январь и февраль.

Зима раскрыла снежные объятья,
И до весны всё дремлет тут,
Только ёлки*** в треугольных платьях x2
Мне навстречу всё бегут, бегут, бегут.


Остыли реки, и земля остыла,
Но я мороза**** не боюсь,
Это в городе мне грустно было, x2
А за городом смеюсь, смеюсь, смеюсь.

* – cool down
** – snowy
*** – fir trees
**** – frost


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You may recognize the performer, Edward Khil (Эдуард Хиль), from the Internet sensation Trololo music video.

У леса на опушке жила Зима в избушке.
Она снежки солила в березовой кадушке,
Она сучила пряжу, она ткала холсты.
Ковала ледяные* да над реками мосты.

Потолок ледяной, дверь скрипучая,
За шершавой стеной тьма колючая.
Как пойдешь за порог – всюду иней**,
А из окон парок синий-синий.

Ходила на охоту, гранила серебро,
Сажала тонкий месяц в хрустальное ведро.
Деревьям шубы шила, торила санный*** путь,
А после в лес спешила, чтоб в избушке отдохнуть.

* – icy
** – frost (on the ground)
*** – сани – sled

Кабы не было зимы

This song appeared in the popular Russian cartoon Зима в Простоквашино (Winter in Prostokvashino).

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Кабы не было зимы
В городах и сёлах,
Никогда б не знали мы
Этих дней весёлых.
Не кружила б малышня
Возле снежной бабы*,
Не петляла бы лыжня**,
Кабы, кабы, кабы… x2

Кабы не было зимы,
В этом нет секрета –
От жары б увяли мы,
Надоело б лето.
Не пришла бы к нам метель***
На денек хотя бы.
И снегирь**** не сел на ель,
Кабы, кабы, кабы…

Кабы не было зимы,
А все время лето,
Мы б не знали кутерьмы
Новогодней этой.
Не спешил бы Дед Мороз
К нам через ухабы,
Лёд на речке не замёрз,*****
Кабы, кабы, кабы…

* – snow woman
** – ski trail
*** – blizzard
**** – bullfinch, associated with winter in Russia

Bizarre Russian Remedies

Posted on 11. Dec, 2014 by in when in Russia

back with cupping signs

Image of cupping by Renato Ganoza on

We have discussed some peculiarities of Russian traditional medicine before, however, there are a few treatments that will seem outright bizarre to the unprepared. If you are planning to go to Russia for a long period of time, you may run into one of them.

1. Fire-Cupping

Fire-cupping (банки) is a treatment where a patient’s back is greased up, a piece of burning cotton soaked in alcohol is placed under round glass cups, which creates lower air pressure under the cup, and the cups are placed on the patient’s back. The suction under the cups holds them in place. The activity is referred to as ставить банки.

This is a fairly popular home remedy that’s supposed to help with inflammations and pneumonia, but the science behind this treatment is disputed. After the treatment, the patient will have circular bruise-like marks on their back.

2. Mustard Patches

Another popular treatment for inflammations (воспаление) and colds (простуда) consists in applying ground mustard (горчица) seeds in what looks like oversize teabags (called горчичники) to one’s chest or back. This is supposed to have a warming effect and alleviate the symptoms of a chest cold.

3. Leeches

Leeches (пиявки) are still used in Russia clinics and resorts (санатории) to treat varicose veins (варикоз) and blood clotting (тромбы). According to Wikipedia, Russia produces more leeches than any other country. Leeches used in this treatment are sterile (стерильные) and are destroyed after one session.

4. UV Lamps

People on the Internet are often confused when they come across images of children with ultraviolet lamps shining through a special tube into their noses or throats. Ultraviolet lamps, called кварцевая лампа in Russian, are used in Russian medicine to treat nose and throat infections as ultraviolet is supposed to kill bacteria.

There is a separate but associated use of UV light for vitamin D production, where children would stand in front of a UV lamp much like you would in a tanning salon (солярий) — it was meant to compensate for the lack of sunshine. This practice has been pretty much abandoned elsewhere due to cancer risk (риск рака).

Are there any traditional Russian treatments you have tried? Were you surprised they were still offered? Does your country have any similar treatments?