Learn about Russia

Learning about the Russian culture is an excellent way to improve your Russian and understand the Russian-speaking people. The Russian culture has a rich history, strong traditions and influential arts, especially when it comes to literature, philosophy, classical music, ballet, architecture, painting, cinema and animation. These resources will help you to learn about many aspects of the Russian cultural heritage.

Russian Hospitality. There is a big difference between the Russian tradition of hospitality and a friendly attitude towards guests in other countries of the world. The legends about the breadth of the Russian soul have a very good reason to exist. Russians love to accept guests and make great hosts. When in Russia, you don’t need to wait for a special occasion like a birthday or a holiday to visit a friend or a neighbor. Russians like visiting each other, meeting in friendly companies for dinner, or just stopping by to catch up on what’s going on. The latter is called “to drop in for a cup of coffee”.

Gifts For the Hosts. Just like it would be rude to leave a guest without a treat, it is considered rude to make a visit without a gift for the hosts. Russians even have an expression “придти с пустыми руками” that literally means “to come with empty hands”. It is used to describe guests who didn’t bring any gifts to the hosts. You don’t have to buy expensive souvenirs when being a guest. A box of chocolates or a bottle of fine wine will make a good gift. If you are visiting a family with children make sure to bring a treat for the kids—a candy, a chocolate bar or fruits.

Holiday Celebrations. Russians like to serve a festive dinner for the guests on occasion of such holidays as birthdays, New Year and Easter. The necessary attributes of a holiday dinner include meat and cold appetizers (jellied minced meat known as “kholodets” is very common), one or more hot dishes, and cake for dessert. Russian housewives prefer to cook everything themselves and it is expected that a real Russian woman should be a good cook. Alcohol is another important attribute of a holiday dinner. Russians do not usually follow the habits of serving wine with meat dishes or hard liquor with dessert. Instead, all types of alcoholic beverages are served on the table and guests may pick their favorites themselves.

Foreigners and Visitors from other Cities. Russians display special generosity and goodwill to guests from other cities and countries. A real Russian is more than happy to accommodate a new guest in his or her house instead of reserving a hotel room for the guest. Many Russians who live in small apartments and don’t have an opportunity to accommodate a guest will feel very upset about that. If you are visiting Russia and staying with a Russian friend, they will be very pleased to show you around, accompany you during sightseeing, and guide you to the most interesting places in their city.

Matryoshka – The Russian Nesting Doll. It’s hard to find a symbol of Russia more popular than the traditional Russian nesting doll. These decorated wooden dolls “with a secret” are also called matryoshka dolls or babushka dolls. They are recognized even in the countries thousand miles away from Russia. Taking a Russian nesting doll back home is a must among tourists from Europe and the United States alike. The lovers of exotics collect matryoshkas in Australia and South Africa. The simplicity and originality of matryoshka dolls attract the fans of Russian folk art from around the world. Bright and picturesque Russian nesting dolls decorate the fireplaces and bookshelves in the homes of thousands of Russians.

Some historians of Russian life argue that matryoshka dolls originated from Japanese traditional dolls. However it’s known that Russian masters would make hollow detachable Easter eggs from the wood long before the first nesting doll was made. The first Russian nesting doll set appeared in Moscow in 1890’s. It was carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin according to a folk crafts painter Sergey Malyutin’s design. The doll set consisted of eight dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside the other. All eight dolls depicted children — the outermost was a girl holding a rooster, six inner dolls were girls, the fifth doll was a boy, and the innermost was a baby.

It takes a lot of skill to make a Russian nesting doll set. Traditionally, matryoshka dolls were made from linden or birch and their production would involve the participation of the whole family. The dolls of the cylindrical form were painted in different ways: it could be a peasant girl dressed in a sarafan and a headscarf, a man or a child. Matryoshka dolls are often painted holding a basket of berries, bread, or a bunch of flowers in their hands.

Russian Families. Russian families are large and friendly. The meaning of the family in Russia is not limited to the husband, wife and children. It stretches to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. The members of the Russian family closely communicate with each other and frequently get together, especially on such family occasions as birthdays and anniversaries. Just like in any family, there might be misunderstandings and even quarrels among family members, however one thing is certain: Russians cherish their families and are always ready to help their relatives in difficult times. The tradition that everyone should love their own home and protect their family is instilled into Russians since the early childhood.

Civil unions have been gaining popularity in Russia lately. A civil union is a relationship where a man and a woman live together and share household expenses without officially registering a marriage. Civil union is a great opportunity for the young couple to test their feelings and make sure they are ready for a family life together. A marriage becomes official when the couple receives a wedding certificate in the Civil Registry Office (ZAGS) and gets married in a civil ceremony. In addition to the official civil ceremony, many newlyweds arrange an Orthodox wedding ceremony in the Church.

The Place of Living. The question of where newlyweds will live is not an easy one to answer. Young couples rarely have an opportunity to buy their own apartment or a house. In wealthy families, an apartment may become a wedding gift from relatives. Some couples apply for a home loan to buy their first home. Other couples rent an apartment paying monthly rent to the landlord. However, there are still a lot of young families who prefer to live with their parents to save money. Living together as an extended family is so common in Russia that it can be called a tradition. It’s been always a norm for grandparents, their children and grandchildren to live together as a family in one house. This trend has seen some changes lately. Nowadays, more and more young Russian families strive to get their own housing whereas the families regularly reunite during a weekend family dinner.

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