What’s With All the Flowers in Russia?

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You don’t need to spend a long time in Russia to start noticing all the flowers (цветы). Walk down any road and, within minutes, you’ll most likely walk past a street vendor or flower shop. In the evenings, the pavements are filled with Russians carrying bouquets for their dates or hosts for the evening. Indeed, there’s a florist inside or just outside pretty much every metro station just to make sure that no one is ever caught short.

As a Brit, I think I’ve seen more flowers in two months in Russia than I did in my entire life back in the UK! So it wasn’t long before I started to ask: “What’s with all the flowers in Russia?”

The reason for all the flowers lies in the Russian tradition of flower-giving. Whereas in countries like the UK flowers are typically reserved for special occasions or grand gestures, in Russia they are part of the everyday language one uses to express affection, gratitude or congratulations to friends and loved ones. As such, it’s the done thing for a man to present his date with a bouquet or for friends to give each other flowers if they haven’t seen each other for a while.

That said, while flower-giving in Russia is often a spontaneous and affectionate affair, there is also a deeper layer of etiquette involved. For example, in Russia you would typically be expected to give flowers:

  • On dates and anniversaries (if you’re a man dating a woman)
  • For special occasions (i.e. to celebrate birthdays, graduations, promotions)
  • If someone is ill or in the hospital
  • In sympathy following a death
  • To your hostess when you’re invited to someone else’s home for dinner or a party
  • To mark public holidays such as New Year’s Day (1st January), Valentine’s Day (14th February), Women’s Day (8th March), Knowledge Day (1st September) and Teachers’ Day (5th October)

If you’re not sure whether a situation merits flowers – err on the side of caution and give flowers! In Russia, you can never have too many flowers. That said, it’s worth remembering that flowers are typically a gift reserved for women. Usually, you’d only give a man flowers to mark something important like his 50th birthday. Otherwise, it’s better to give flowers to the lady of the house.

What’s more, there’s a symbolic language of flowers that all Russians grow up knowing. As a foreigner, it’s worth familiarising yourself with some of the basics before you start giving flowers as gifts. To avoid any accidental faux-pas, the most important rules to remember are:

  • For happy occasions, always give an odd number of flowers. Even numbers are reserved for funerals or sympathy arrangements. There’s no surer way to appear the clueless foreigner than to present your Russian date with a dozen red roses – believe it or not, 13 would be luckier!
  • If you’re dating a Russian woman, you can start with lighter coloured roses and work your way up to red ones to symbolise that your love is deepening. Alternatively, ask her what kinds of flowers she likes and then get her those. Just don’t give her yellow flowers because these are associated with break-ups.
  • Only give people plants or flowers in a pot if you know they like them as not everyone will want to care for them. Generally they’re more suited to families or older women than young people or romantic partners, although of course it’s comes down to personal preference.

Now you know the etiquette for flower-giving in Russia, we encourage you to go out and buy some – if not for someone else, then as a treat for yourself! Be sure to take a photo and share it with us on Facebook or Instagram – we’d love to see what you end up with.

Posted by Leah E

Leah is studying Russian at Liden & Denz Language Centre in St. Petersburg, while interning as a Blogger/Editorial Assistant.

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