Business & Finance

Is Russia a low context culture?

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11/22/2008

No, unlike the U.S., Russia is a high-context culture. Generally, Russians are very aware and mindful of societal position - especially if that position is in the government. They tend to be indirect in their communications and their understanding of a situation (e.g., a security threat), is typically based on a whole host of factors, rather than the immediate threat alone. The language itself is 'high-context' - there are six Russian 'cases' that change the ending of nouns, adjectives, etc. based on what grammatical function the word plays in the sentence. As an example, arguably the most 'Russian' case is the dative, which generally conveys movement towards a thing or person. Thus, instead of saying, "I need to...", Russians say the equivalent of "it is necessary to me to..." (мне надо, мне придется). This conveys the idea of external forces and circumstances (context) impacting the speaker, versus the equivalent in English where the speaker needs to manipulate his or her surrounding environment. Of course, Russia's defining feature is its contradictory nature. So, even though it is generally high-context, you will often encounter very low-context Russian behavior. Probably the best example is a person you've maybe met once approaching you, suggesting a time and place to meet, and saying "agreed?" (договорились?). This sort of blunt exchange, stripped of all context (i.e., 'i don't even know you'), will surprise even the most low-context of people. In sum, Russians are high-context in general but be aware that they can sometimes switch to low-context behavior without warning.

(I would say that, if placed on a continuum, Russia is at a midpoint between Japan and the United States)