November 01, 1995

You Look Like a Cucumber and other Compliments

You Look Like a Cucumber and other Compliments

Differences in national etiquette can prove a virtual minefield. What’s accepted in the U.S. can be impolite in Russia. To give a very simple example: Russians don’t usually find it polite to ask over the phone: “Who’s calling please?” (“Кто его / её спрашивает?”) This question is considered indiscreet. Don’t ask why – just mark it up to cultural differences.

Similarly, it is considered rude in the U.S. to ask someone how much they make, but in Russia most people (with the exception of the nouveaux riches and the mafia) would be happy to tell you their salary. There are a number of ways to ask this question. So, be prepared to hear “Сколько ты получаешь?” or “Сколько ты зарабатываешь?” every now and then. A true Russian would phrase it as follows: “Сколько у тебя выходит в месяц?” Or, even more to the point, “Сколько у тебя выходит в месяц ‘чистыми’?” (literally: “How much clean money do you bring home?”). The opposite of net salary is “dirty money”: “Сколько у тебя выходит ‘грязными’?” (i.e. not taking account of deductions).

Russians working in the private sector are gradually getting used to keeping their salaries secret. In face-to-face conversation you may come across the humorous subterfuge “Это не телефонный разговор” (it’s not something we should talk about over the phone). Take note of it and use it in difficult situations.

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