Adjusting to the cultural differences of their clients is a constant challenge for corporate flight attendants. As they are flying clients from all over the world, corporate flight attendants need to keep their knowledge and skills up to date at all times. Understanding and respecting cultural differences will not only make their daily work routine easier, but also enrich their lives. Here is information and advice for corporate flight attendants who find themselves onboard a flight for a Russian client:
1. What needs to be considered when ordering business aviation catering in Russia?
Very detailed instructions and simple wording will help ensure correct in-flight catering orders, as many business aviation catering companies in Russia speak limited English. Corporate flight attendants should allow themselves enough time to have their catering order delivered, as delays are quite common due to heavy traffic. Check with a ground handler regarding dry ice, as dry ice (or the lack thereof) can be an issue if catering is ordered from restaurants. Temperatures in Russia can be very cold in the winter; therefore, many items have to be offloaded, as they might otherwise freeze if left on the aircraft. Having an offload list which is thoroughly completed, signed and provided to the ground handler is crucial.
Also note that Russians use the "dd.mm.yyyy" date format. For example, "10.09.2013" is the "10th of September" and not the "9th of October." For reference, Wikipedia has a consolidated list of date formats by country.
2. How does religion affect service onboard a private jet for Russian clients?
Many religions – including Russian Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Judaism – are represented in Russia. For example, Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas around January 7, as Orthodoxy follows the Gregorian, and not the Julian (Catholic), calendar (the Gregorian calendar is 13 days behind the Julian calendar). Also, Orthodox Christians might fast 40 days before Easter, as well as 40 days before Christmas. It is recommended to check with your client in order to respect his or her religion, as meats and other animal products may be prohibited.
3. What is "zakuska," and why is it so popular with Russian business aviation clients?
Russian clients are used to "zakuska" (meaning "snack"), which is a table full of different appetizers expected to be served soon after takeoff. Food items offered as zakuska come in a variety of types, including hot and cold, pickled and marinated, salted, boiled, smoked and dried. Common items include smoked fish and seafood, pickled vegetables, salads, sausages, cold meats, caviar and salmon roe, pancakes, rye bread and sour cream or cottage cheese. Zakuska precedes a meal and is often accompanied by tea, champagne or vodka.
4. Which beverages do Russian business aviation clients commonly drink?
Vodka is one of the preferred beverages for Russians. It is consumed with meals and is considered to enhance the flavor of Russian cuisine. Russians enjoy toasting throughout meals, especially by drinking a shot of vodka, which is typically consumed straight and not mixed.
Black tea is another important beverage, and the water must be boiling when making tea for Russian clients (boiling water is 100 degrees Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit). Tea is an important aspect of Russian culture and has become a symbol of hospitality. Russians drink tea at any time of the day, and especially at the end of a meal with dessert. Tea is often served with a slice of lemon, as Russians consider that milk and cream change the taste of tea.
5. What are some major don’ts in Russian culture?
The following is a list of items to pay attention to when serving Russian clients:
Yellow flowers should be used with caution. They can signify jealousy, betrayal and passionate thoughts, as well as wealth, friendship and success.
Avoid offering white slippers, as they are typically reserved for dead people in Russian culture. Russians can be very superstitious; therefore, it’s best to offer other colors.
Speaking or laughing loudly is considered uncultured behavior.
Russians may ask you very personal questions about your life, earnings, relationships and other topics you may not be accustomed to talking about. Such questions are meant sincerely, and some Russians do not know that such types of personal questions are typically not asked in Western Europe and the U.S.
Always be punctual but do not be surprised if Russians are not on time. Being 15 to 30 minutes late is not unusual.
Be careful with gestures: The "okay" sign (thumb and forefinger touching in a circle) will be interpreted as vulgar.
6. Other useful cultural information about Russia?
Connection and influence are very important, and in Russia the term "blat" is used to describe them. "Blat" can be seen as an exchange of favors when you do something for somebody. Gifts and other items are often exchanged, and this tradition goes far back in history.
Russians are very proud of their country; they are patriotic and take great pride in their cultural heritage.
Russian society sees drinking as an integral part of life – not only for celebration and relaxation but also for everyday life – and vodka is the most common liquor consumed.
Russians like to express exactly how they are feeling, and their language is rich in emotional expressions.
A polite and formal way to address a Russian person (older than 21 years old) is by his or her full name. In formal situations, all three names are used: the first name, the patronymic (based on the name of the person’s father) and the surname. Russian women add the letter "a" to the end of their surnames.
Russians are very hospitable and generous people. They will go out of their way to make the invited guest feel welcome and comfortable. Many also consider a private jet their home away from home.
Discretion is very important to Russian business aviation clients, and for that reason many corporate flight attendants working for them do not speak Russian.