Russian Etiquette 3D Posted by Maria on Jun 5, 2014 in Culture
Those of you who have visited Russia may remember your friends or study abroad advisor tell you about the peculiarities of your host culture. Perhaps they touched upon the etiquette and body language, as well. Still, we tend concentrate so much on the proper thing to say or do that we often overlook spatial awareness, although placing things in the wrong place may seem rude or even offensive to Russians. I will list a few spatial guidelines that will keep your Russian friends happy.
1. The floor is lava!
Generally speaking, personal belongings, especially those that come in contact with your hands or face, should not touch the floor. That means that purses, clothes, or books are not placed on the floor (на пол) or on the ground (на землю). The floor is considered a dirty place meant to be touched only by the soles of people’s feet. For that reason, sitting on the floor or grass is considered bad form as well. Moreover, conventional wisdom has it that sitting on the ground will cause pelvic inflammations and UTIs in women.
2. No feet on the seat
One of the stories I would invariably hear from my Russian college professors coming back from teaching in the US is how their students would sit in class with their legs crossed, one ankle resting on top of the other knee. This was surprising and somewhat disconcerting to the Russian professors because, as far as they were concerned, your feet should always point toward the ground — at least, according to Russian etiquette.
Similarly, you are not supposed to put your feet on the opposite seat on public transit or stand on a chair or table with your shoes on. Just as with the floor being seen as dirty, feet are the part of your body that is closest to the “dirty” floor and should, therefore, stay away from all other objects and body parts. There is even a Russian saying “Посади свинью за стол, она и ноги на стол” (literally, if you seat a pig at a table, it will put its feet on the table), which is a rough equivalent of “Give him an inch and he’ll take an mile.”
3. In the doorway
You might have read that talking or passing things over the threshold (передавать через порог) of a door is considered a bad omen. The origins of this superstition are in the pagan belief that evil spirits live in the doorframe. Nowadays, this old belief may not be taken quite so literally, but it is still considered inhospitable not to invite the person to step inside, even if it’s a mail carrier.
4. Face to face
If you need to make it to the center of the row in a theater and there are people sitting closer to the aisles, you are supposed to face them as you work your way past them towards your seat. Ironically, a 1922 book on etiquette recommends just the opposite! The seated people usually get up, too, so it is not as awkward as you may be imagining.
Are there any other things you discovered you were supposed to do differently in Russia? Or maybe, quite the opposite, there is something you can’t get used to the way people outside of Russia do? I, for one, can’t get used to Americans sitting down on their beds in their street clothes. What is your Russian/non-Russian favorite spatial quirk/pet peeve?
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