What are the differences between Russian and Italian business culture and how does this influence us today? As an experienced interpreter, I would like to describe some vivid differences and humorous cases when these two groups have collaborated together.
After more than eight years of intercultural mediation I have learned that Russians and Italians have completely different ways of dividing life into work and personal spheres. While Italians work to live and vigorously observe all the breaks and especially lunchtime, Russians can forget to eat and work until late at night even while not under deadline. Italian clients have become extremely concerned after having desperately announced lunch break to their Russian colleagues several times. I have also witnessed the surprised looks of my Russian clients when their Italian partners stood up in the middle of a meeting and adjourned home to have dinner with their families or drinks with friends.
One of the biggest differences regarding business negotiations between these two is the attitude to the costs of the goods and services: Russians believe that this information should be provided at the very beginning of the negotiations, whereas Italians generally need some time to reflect. This is connected to a complicated export policy in Italy and a belief that every client deserves to have costs tailored to them; asking about costs immediately is often considered disrespectful in Italy…
Food and drink
This topic is a very rich source for a discussion, probably because the gastronomic habits of these two peoples are extremely different. First of all, most Italians love talking about food, it is considered an excellent ice-breaker, whereas Russians, on the contrary, consider it to be far from the elevated style. Another vivid and sometimes embarrassing cultural difference is that Italians are very sensitive to any kind of strong smell of food or spices, they especially detest the smell of onion, garlic and alcohol, which are common elements in the diet of many Russians. In regards to business relationships, alcohol can be a very tricky subject for Italian clients, as for many Russians having dinner with a good amount of booze is a fine fraternal social lubricant. The invitation to drink together is difficult to decline, but for most Italians excessive drinking is considered hazardous..
Russians are very similar to their eastern neighbors regarding hospitality and gift giving: if they are traveling to Italy, they will almost certainly bring a gift and if an Italian client comes to Russia with a great probability he will be flannelled in all possible ways.
Forget about emancipation, in Russia tradition gender roles are still dominant. Usually independent strong Italian women are impressed by the manners of Russian clients, they open doors and pour drinks, and this all in purely professional circumstances. There is no need to worry: these signs of attention are not always a way to flirt, but rather are a part of a culture where a woman is thought to be as someone who needs to be cared for..
It is always smart to hire a culture-savvy professional interpreter if you have an important mission to accomplish in an unknown culture, as this intercultural specialist will be able help you create a productive friendly atmosphere and navigate misunderstandings.