Global Business Correspondence for Experts: Russian
Sometimes, corresponding with your business partners in a foreign country requires following a fairly strict set of conventions as we demonstrated in our post about Japanese customs. Sometimes, you just need to make sure you hit the right tone and don’t fall into the Du/Sie trap as we discussed in regards to Germany email and letter writing. When it comes to corresponding in Russia, you are well advised to take a little history lesson.
As you know, Russia only started to implement free market aspects into its economy in the 1990s. That time marks the great divide between the old Soviet era and the new free market reality, which is also reflected in the way businesses correspond with each other. As you will see, knowing who you are talking to will greatly help you to choose the right tone when writing to your Russian business partners. Let’s break the phenomenon down into four aspects to consider:
1. Leftovers from An Old World
Soviet linguist and translator Nora Gal wrote “Words Alive and Words Dead”, a bestseller especially popular within the Russian translation community. Gal says that “Words Dead” is the officialese vastly used in the official communication during the Soviet Union era. Those lifeless phrases survived the old regime through the executives of major companies who were former communist party officials. These executives are still sending emails that read as formal and conservative as a reprint of an instructive party memo dating back to the 1960s or 1970s. All government sector documentation is still written that way.
2. How to Speak to The New Generation
In the private sector of Russia’s economy, however, a new generation of dynamic entrepreneurs embraces new ways of originally and actively communicating. Linguist Gal would describe their language as mostly consisting of “Words Alive”— expressing their desire to innovate, experiment and go beyond the boundaries of the conservative old school style.
A verb plus a preposition plus a noun where the verb does not have any real meaning and basically works as an empty connector (“Words Dead”), as common in the officialese, can be replaced with only one active verb (“Word Alive”). Here is an example that illustrates Gal’s take on the recommended way of communicating: “An increase [of profit] took place” or “Имело место повышение [прибыли]” which uses three dead words can be modernized to “[profit] increased” or “[Прибыль] повысилась” which uses one alive word.
3. A Few Rules You Don’t Have to Follow
Since the end of the Soviet era, the market in Russia developed spontaneously and explosively, within only a few years, which led to no strict rules for business correspondence being established. You can find a huge range of styles and formats instead, and they will vary, depending on the education and age as well as the cultural background of the person sending an email.
There are several widely used phrases to start and end an email like “Dear” (Уважаемый) to address somebody and “Best regards” (С уважением) to end an email. But even those phrases can be replaced by something more original.
There are no hard and fast rules for how soon you should expect a response either. If a company is really interested because its profits might be affected, you’ll probably hear back within hours or even minutes. Otherwise, replies may arrive weeks after you sent a request. Because of that, sending reminders is a fairly universal and inoffensive practice.
4. Other Things to Consider
As the dead words have gone out of style, so has writing actual letters. For business correspondence in Russia you use email. Snail mail is only appropriate for a few instances: Marketing material for small companies, corresponding with legal courts, to competitors who want to sue you, or the tax authority. In the latter cases, registered letters with receipts offer the proof needed that your mail was delivered. Sometimes, sending letters via fax machines is still accepted as well since they also provide confirmation. Since the government runs the postal service in Russia, its efficiency leaves much to be desired. Unregistered letters tend to disappear, and even if they don’t, a lot can happen by the time they arrive in the addressee’s mailbox.
If you have questions about how to establish effective business communications with your partner abroad, don’t hesitate to ask us for advice. Venga works with experts in many countries around the globe. Contact us here or ask for a free quote today.