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Monday, September 25, 2023

Russian culture and traditions: useful tools for teachers

By Chantale Jimenez

 CSMS Magazine Staff WriterThis article is designed to assist teachers so that they are aware of Russian culture, and that they may have a little more understanding of the lifestyle and means of communication that come with a Russian student. I have added some information that I feel is needed even if it does not seem relevant. These children are more than likely being raised by their parents, who have more cultural backgrounds than they do, but the traditions are strong and most likely are followed in the home.In Russia, one needs to know people in power to make things work. This is why they maintain more friendships than an average American. They often have to rely on their friends to help them out. They are very social. Russians are smart. They have so many difficulties and problems in life, that they can easily find a roundabout way for anything. They don’t have a deep respect towards any law, including traffic rules. It is said that Russians are of some of the most reckless, but at the same time skillful drivers, and the most careless pedestrians in the world. (A small hint for teachers to remember)   The majority of Russian people do not really understand the huge difference in the life in Russia than that of the US. Russians do not consider their life as miserable. They feel that things are changing for the better and “everything’s starting to work out” in their country. The frantic desperation of early 90’s when there was no food in shops, and late 90’s with their economical roller coaster is no longer there. The child birth rate is on the raise, which is a sure indicator people feel more confident about their future.     Russians like to emphasize their different attitude towards material values and consider themselves as sincere, cordial, understanding and unselfish. Generally, Russians love their country. They can criticize it severely, but if you try to do the same they will defend it furiously. They feel like citizens of the largest county in the world, which has rich history and deep cultural roots, and they are proud of it.     Another thing about Russian daily life – they do not really enjoy it. They get awakened not to enjoy a new day but to cope with today’s problems. There is little comfort and contentment. Russians are used to minor everyday difficulties, and they don’t even bother them anymore. Russian daily life is tough, and it’s probably the reason why they smile so seldom. Rarely will you see a smiling face in a bus or on the streets – the fact that usually makes foreigners wonder. And this fact will be mentioned again in this briefing. The very word “enjoy” has some indecent flavor in Russian: it is something that is not very appropriate, but done nevertheless. A Russian would usually say “I love doing that, rather than “I enjoy” doing that. Therefore they love (like) some things, but doing them does not result in the feeling of contentment – this is actually what is mean by saying “They don’t enjoy it”. This of course doesn’t mean Russians don’t know how to have fun! They do know how to have fun, and many Russians currently in the US miss out on the Russian limitless fun.  Also, the English phrase “to have fun” is hardly translatable to Russian, since Russians do not make their purpose “to have fun” or “enjoy”. Fun is just something that happens without plans, when people are happy and cheerful. In general, Russian people are much more spontaneous and playful that Americans. But they still don’t smile much.


 Religion in Russia is said to be Christian, and belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. They appreciate Christian moral values but do not follow them, most of the time. Religion is not a real part of their life. Russians are more aware of horoscopes than the Bible. Church service in Russia can be attended any day of the week and performed every day 2 or 3 times.  People usually attend the church just to “light a candle” and quickly pray. They do it to ask for something to happen (a business deal, an exam) or to remember a close person who has died. The Church survives selling candles and reminder notes and charging for services such as baptizing, weddings and funerals. A church marriage is not official in Russia. A couple has to register their marriage with government authorities first to be allowed to have church ceremony performed.


 Education in Russia is free. One can still get a university education for free by passing the entrance tests, but the universities have to decrease the number of students studying on a free basis because of poor state financing. Since both education and culture facilities used to be widely available, Russians can be considered a highly cultured nation. Their general knowledge is very good: they know a little bit about virtually everything. At secondary schools, they study not only the history of Russia but also the world history, including American and European history. In the same secondary school course (11 years school qualification is mandatory in Russia) they study world literature, world music, and world geography. Many books are from American authors and are mandatory reading in the course of literature (in Russian translation). The standard secondary school program includes studying of a foreign language for 6 years (grades 5-11) usually it is English. Most subjects in the course of a secondary school are mandatory for all schools throughout all of Russia.     On the entrance exams at universities and colleges only questions from the general course of the secondary school can be asked. Universities and colleges accept students according to the results of entrance tests, and not according to their grades at school, though having excellent grades will help. Intellectually, Russians are interesting people to talk to and enjoy deep subjects. I have had a great time gathering all of this information from my friends.     Russian children begin school when they are 6 years old. Elementary school consists of the first 4 grades, middle school consists of 5 grades and high school is 2 grades. It is only required that children attend the first 9 grades. After that a child can go to work or do work/study. If a child wants to go to the University, however, he or she must complete all 11 grades. There are approximately 25-30 students in each class. All students learn at least one foreign language in school. Russian education system has three levels: school (called “school’s education”), college (“middle education” and University (“high education”). A University education is more prestigious and higher than a College/middle education. Children either walk or take public transportation to get to school. The elementary, middle and high schools are located in 1 building, so all the children from the neighborhood go to the same place.School buses are only used by children who attend private schools. If parents want to send their children to a specialized school, they must arrange for the child’s transportation to that school. All grades begin at 8:30 in the morning and children attend school Monday through Friday. There are 4 terms in a school year. Between the terms are vacations. The biggest vacation is for 3 months during the summer; the smaller vacation, in the fall is for 1 week. During the school day, children have a hot breakfast or snacks and dinners. It is very inexpensive to buy these things at school and children generally do not bring their own food from home. After classes children can stay at school, much like after-school programs in the U.S. until 6 pm.      During this time the children can play, do homework, or participate in other activities such as dancing, singing, painting, or sports. These after-school programs are for free. Children are expected to be ready if the teacher calls them to answer homework questions or problems at the blackboard. If a student is not ready he or she will receive a bad grade. The grading system is: 5-excellent, 4 – very good, 3 – satisfactory, 2 – negative mark – if a student is not prepared or if his answer was very bad. Student’s grades are not treated as confidential. All classmates know exactly who received which grade; the reason is to encourage children to compete for better grades. Poor grades are an embarrassment. If a student is graduating a school with only “5”s, and has had no lower grades in total marks for all 11 years, he or she will receive a “Gold medal”. If the student has one “4” he or she will receive a “Silver medal”. Earning a Gold medal is a big advantage for admission to a higher educational institution.     There are many free (state) specialized schools in Russia. In addition to the curriculum taught in general schools, these schools also have a concentration in math or physics or foreign language. There are also separate music schools but this is an extra activity that a student would go to after their regular school day. Admission to these specialized schools is based on an entrance exam or a special aptitude. Some of these specialized schools are boarding schools; where the children live and only go home for vacation times.     Unlike the U.S., students remain in the same classes with their first grade classmates from 1st through 11th grade. The classmates therefore know each other very well because they study and grow up together. After school classmates remain lifelong friends. Sounds like a great idea.     Another very big difference between Russian and American schools is the amount of discipline and respect between teacher and student. Russian teachers are very strict and the children cannot talk, misbehave or be disrespectful in the classroom; it simply is not tolerated. This is true at the college and university level as well.

Family life

 The keyword to Russian family life is “dependence”. The family life is built on dependence, and Russians are attached to their family members. Living in small apartments together with parents and/or children makes Russians take care of each other. They have to be considerate and ready to compromise. One has to adapt to the family lifestyle and rules. A decent woman is supposed to stay at home, while her husband is allowed to spend time with friends in cafes, restaurants and discos. All housework is also women’s responsibility, and it’s quite a lot if taking in consideration the lack of home electronic utilities. Russian society is pretty male dominating.     Marriage for Russian women is the same type of thing as career for American women – it gives them a respectable social status. All Russian women can sew (sewing is compulsory in the course of ‘domestic labor’ subject for girls in Russian schools – boys learn to make furniture and fix taps etc). The apartment buildings are tall and the apartments are very small.   Folding up a bed during the day and storing bed sheets.  At night, it is made all over again.  It’s work. They also share kitchens and toilets with other families.       A favorite childhood food is blinies (thin pancakes served with salmon and other fillings) with sour cream and piroshkises (pastries filled with meat). They are said to be good. Another favorite is borscht, which is soup made from beets.   Shchi (cabbage soup) and tea are also on the favorite list.  Like most Russians, they eat their main meal at midday and have a lighter meal in the evening. This is also in most European countries too.


 One of the most prominent Russian traditions is hard drinking. It does not mean they all are alcoholics. Russians are just drinking more alcohol when they are drinking. Russian drinking traditions are very much a cultural thing, and the person who drinks and does not become drunk is always respected. It’s called “he can drink”. The more you drink and don’t fall down drunk, the more your friends will respect you.

Russian holidays

 The biggest Russian holiday is New Year (1 January). During the Soviet time people were not allowed to celebrate Christmas (Russian Christmas is 7 January when the see Father Frost), and New Year was the most cheerful holiday. The next holiday is the Old New Year (13 January). Russians had a different calendar before February 1918. The difference between Julian (the old Russian) and Gregorian (European) calendars was 13 days, and after the Soviet government adopted Gregorian calendar Russians started to celebrate many holidays twice: according to the new style and the old one.     Non-official “Men’s Day” is 23 February, it is a public holiday called “The Homeland Defender’s Day”. All men in Russia are liable for call-up (including reservists), so they all are celebrities. On this day women usually give men small gifts.Official “Women’s Day” is 8 March. On this day men give women gifts, usually flowers. Men also are supposed to do all the housework, this is pretty nice – at least once a year women can take a break and forget about all those dishes, cooking, kids, take a magazine and relax on the coach…April 1st  is non-official “the Day of Laugh”. People tell jokes to each other, newspapers and TV publish funny stories and jokes. The motto of this day: Do not trust anybody on 1 April (“Pervoye aprelya – nikomu ne veryu”).May 1st is the Day of Labor. During Soviet time there were huge demonstrations on this day, as everybody was obliged to show his loyalty to the state; now only communists organize meetings on this date.May 9th  – Victory Day. 2-day public holiday (8-9 May), the day when Nazi Germany capitulated in 1945 after 4-year war with Soviet Union and other countries. Soviet Union lost 20 million people in the war. The minute of silence announced on the Central TV in the memory of deceased at 9:00 P.M., and fireworks thereafter.June 12th – the Independence Day. It’s an official holiday but Russians are not used to it yet. They spend this day on their “dachas” – small plots in countryside where they plant some vegetables.September 1st is the Day of Knowledge – it’s the beginning of a school year. Children go to schools with flowers for teachers, there are meetings before the classes start – nice and exciting.November 5th  – the Day of October revolution (25 October according to the old calendar). It’s still an official holiday in Russia though there is not such a huge celebration as it used to be during the Soviet era.December 12th – The Constitution Day. This day the first Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted in 1993 (previous Constitutions were all Soviet Union’s). It is a recent public holiday, and there are no special customs connected with this day.     Russians LOVE to celebrate. They adopted the American holidays such as St. Valentine, Catholic Christmas (they celebrate Christmas twice – Catholic and Orthodox) and Halloween. They also appreciate Chinese New Year, Muslim and Jewish holidays, as Russians are very tolerant to other religions.Also see Role of alternative languages in our society               Tips for teachers who teach ESOL students of Cuban origin

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