Don't be pushy when wrangling in Russia

Published12/1/2007 10:27 PM

I left my husband in Siberia. Well, nearly.

One stop during a very memorable cruise to Alaska from Tokyo aboard the Silversea Silver Shadow was at the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Just before taking off on a tender to check out the place, I insisted on carrying both of our passports.


However, I didn't insist Paul and I stay together.

So, after a quick tour of the small fishing village, my other half separated from me to look for Russian rocks on the seashore. I spent extra time with our guide, the highlight of which was when we visited her local cafe, chatting about her land and mine over coffee. Time slipped by and I was late meeting Paul at the pier.

When I arrived, he was nowhere to be found. I was cold, so I waited inside the terminal, figuring he would look for me there. When he didn't, I started to panic and decided to take a tender to the ship docked out in the ocean about a mile away from land.

What I didn't know was that Paul had done the same thing about a half-hour before, but because I held his passport he was not allowed on board. Realizing his dilemma, he took another tender back to shore to look for me.

Ironically, we probably crossed in the sea -- but that was not one of those travel mishaps to laugh at until later on when we were finally reunited. Just in the nick of time before the Shadow took off toward the Bering Sea, I hopped the last tender headed for shore in a final effort to find him (which I did, thank goodness). Talk about getting your signals crossed!

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With that mishap in mind and an impending journey to Moscow for work in the making, I decided to bone up on all things Russian. My concentration of study was in the field of etiquette, some of which I share here for business travelers bound for this vast country with its rich culture and delightful people:

• Don't get right down to business when you first meet your Russian counterpart. Instead of diving into the deal, take some time to get to know the person with whom you will be dealing; that way, you will be trusted, a trait imperative for a good working relationship.

• Don't get flustered if you are kept waiting when you arrive for an appointment with a Russian colleague. Schedules tend to constantly shift and change for a person working in this country, so there will be times when your meeting is severely delayed and sometimes even canceled altogether without any prior notice. Still, don't worry. Arrangements will be worked out so that you can get together within an appropriate time span and long before you are headed for home.

• When you do finally sit down to talk turkey, don't be bothered if your discussion is interrupted by other matters. Instead, sit tight as your objective will probably be met as long as you remain patient.


• Keep the in-your-face business approach for another country. In Russia, it is impolite to be pushy and doing so will probably cost you the entire transaction.

• Finally, be aware that many superstitions are taken seriously in this part of the world. That said, never shake hands through an open door (if you do you are bound to quarrel) and don't sit at the corner of a dinner table (if you do you will not stay married for longer than seven years).

To be sure, it's best to practice what some Russian superstitions speak, especially in the case when you need to return to your hotel room after initially leaving because you forgot something important, like, say, your briefcase. If you do go back, be sure to look in the mirror before you leave your room again.

Conducting such a ritual will ensure the outcome of your meeting to be a good one, or so some Russian people believe. What I believe is that even if you don't fall for such a superstition, you should look in the mirror anyway because, after all, that extra glance might not help but it certainly can't hurt.

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