Doing Business In: Russia-China-Iran

Doing Business in Russia – China – Iran

A Cultural Understanding


Cross-cultural communication differences within Russia, China and Iran with an emphasis upon the role of social etiquette, symbolism and interpersonal relationships are based many times on the eating habits and economy. My intention in this paper is to identify dimensions in which artistic and scientific approaches of Russia, China and Iran within their cross-cultural understanding as a communication system differ.

This writing explores how social power is embedded in manners, etiquette and social graces, tone of voice and speech or language exchanged in everyday life between Russians, Chinese and Iranians. This work draws upon the sociolinguistic theory of politeness and linguistic behaviors used to demonstrate regard and consideration for others. This was hypothesized to be sensitive to the social distribution of power and influence found within the cultures.

A result, politeness behaviors are sensitive to the distribution of formal authority and the resulting understanding that comes from cross-cultural communication found in social situations is significant. Overall, this work through investigation demonstrates how abstractions such as symbolism of authority and equality can be measured in terms of the manners of comportment that Russians, Chinese and Iranians bring to bear on one another in face-to-face contexts.

Acceptance by self and wide acceptance of an idea is not proof of its existence. However, having worked and travelled in Russia and China offers first-hand experience and observation learning that is not found just in books; whereas, much further investigation was required to thread together the elements of this writing for Iran.

At the outset it should be said that cross-culture can find elements of both a science and an art that has aroused controversy and confusion among scholars and the peoples of Russia, China and Iran. For the purpose of this paper, culture is defined as historically evolved manners and social graces of etiquette from customs which are learned and shared by members of a community that influence a way of life.

At the outset it should be purported that research viewed in the light of science is extremely wide. As such, it is so wide that some philosophers of science regard no research in the social sciences scientific. For the philosophers of science such as Ernest Nagel, Ph.D. (1901-1985), a leading American philosopher of science who developed a logical empirical theory of science within the framework of pragmatic naturalism, or Karl Popper, Ph.D. (1902-1994), regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, would agree with the previous statement.

For the purpose of this paper, scientific research may be regarded as inquiries that use formal investigation as the primary basis for collection, that transform the information collected into summation indices of one kind or another and that attempt to generalize in a formal way to some universe comparison.

Regarding the concept artistic has no simple definition. Artistic is a concept that has been subject of aesthetic debate for over 4,000 years. Plato saw artistic work as the creation of harmonious form whose mathematical relationships participated in the true, the good and the beautiful. Aristotle regarded artistic craftsmanship as the production of mimesis. What Aristotle meant was that poetry was truer than history.

The argument forward is that neither the concept of science nor the concept of art is a settled issue. A degree of sophistication is found in the neologism concept of the genre marriage of scientific and artistic. One significant difference between scientific research and research participation in an artistic mode is the kind of form that each uses to represent what has been learned. Artistic forms of representation have no comparable codifications.

Where science is concerned with validity; artistic has validity in proof of the way in which it influences our personal vision and conception of the world. Clifford Geertz, Ph.D. (1926-2006), highly influential American anthropologist known for his support and influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology. Therefore, I provide this explanation in respect of science and art that my offering of this episteme, the discovery of true and certain knowledge, be accepted based on an arbitrary, but reasonable conception of both science and art.

Though a distinction arise between Russia, China and Iran between individual variations in etiquette and social graces, a pattern of commonality emerges as a general pattern in each society. Their futures hinge on blending their diverse cultures. Thusly, the cross-cultural communication understanding between Russia, China and Iran based on artistic social graces and scientific protocol of forks, chopsticks and hands symbolism.

Origin of all things is an idiom of symbology. It is a perspective of this work to perceive chopsticks to forks and knives and hands as refined imagery illustrating their cross-cultural understanding of communication personality.



Historical Cutlery

The term cutlery has a long history exceeding from the cave man when individuals first joined together to eat and share food for security from enemies that would take their food from them. At first it was hands as utensils then chopsticks to forks and knives.

Prehistoric in 1500BC bronze cutting implements were first found being used from the British Isles to China. Russia is associated with the symbol of the вилка or fork, not so much like astrology, but more with a communication style that distinguishes it from its cultural ties with China and Iran. The word fork is derived from the Latin furca meaning pitchfork found in many symbols of Russian history and enigma meaning. Previously, the Egyptians between 3150– 332BC had fashioned cutting implements from flints chipped to form serrated edges and then glued into slots in the wood that had been appropriately shaped for the intended purpose as the fore runner of the fork. The earliest dinner fork is attributed to Constantinople about 400AD and in the seventh century small forks were used in Middle Eastern courts. Later, the Russian fork and нож or knife became fashioned after European culture. Knives served the common classes mainly for hunting and as weapons, but the wealthy were distinguished by the use of small ornamental eating knives.

Chopsticks of bamboo or wood, and subsequently of ivory and precious metals, originated in China as early as, if not before, the Shang Dynasty between 1776-1122BC and from there spread throughout East Asia. In China, the substitution of chopsticks for knives at the table reflected the ascendency of the scholar over the warrior, a cultural hero.

Etīket is the prevailing code for manners and social customs of Iranians who eat with their hands that are more or less Islamic in character. Islamic etiquette is a patchwork of various influences, the fundamental features of which can be traced to Šāh-nāma from the Sasanian Dynasty between 224-651BC.

The etiquette art of eating orchestrated with each degree of the ease of comfort at the meal is symbolic recognition of the social standing of each in attendance which became a reflection mirroring the level skill of communication. Thus, the first historical demarcation of non-verbal distinction that communicated who was who and their social ranking.

The science of forks and knives for Russia, chopsticks for China and hands for Iran mark the highest levels of communication during meals, the business lunch or the art of social entertaining. The art of using forks and knives in Russia, chopsticks in China and hands in Iran is symbolic of class, sophistication and the level of communication. What is not widely recognized is the significance of the communication based on these factors of influence.

Before the fork was introduced, some societies were reliant on only the spoon and knife as the only eating utensil. Thus, people would largely eat food with their hands, calling for a common spoon when required. Members of the aristocracy would sometimes be accustomed to manners considered more proper and hold two knives at meals and use them both to cut and transfer food to the mouth, using the spoon for soups and broth. Then a combination of the fork and spoon became known as flatware. The traverse of movement of cutlery back and forth as well as across cultures influences allowing for Russia, China and Iran to accept a common framework of blend in their communications with one another, though different, though acceptable.



The Fork (Russia)

Transitioning the fork between cultures has occurred with the development of many different types of forks made out of many different types of material as distinguishable as the many dialects of language from Russian, Chinese and Iranian Pushto, Farsi and Dari Arabic. In History, the fork has symbolized the afterlife in tombs in China to Russian works of art displayed in museums from the second century as eating with hands were not acceptable manners in an educated society. The educated society in Iran continues to eat with their hands as a matter of cultural communication style since God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks, his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to God to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating.

The fork represents Russian business meeting and social graces of etiquette that is highly formal, as the Russians’ appreciation of structure and rules shapes the way things are done from Moscow to St. Petersburg and throughout Russia. This offering of a Russian translation of related rules of etiquette demonstrates the importance of communication through the Russian culture is with precision and thoroughness.

Russia protocol is a symbolistic code prescribing strict adherence to correct etiquette and precedence in communication exchange based on the science of the fork. Following are some of the patterns of communication that have evolved which represent the best of Russian etiquette over the centuries.


Fork: Russian Protocol for Communication Etiquette

1 Most significant elements of etiquette are verbal markers of social status as people use the second person plural pronoun as the more apart or distance socially the greater the full formality using the person’s full name and patronymic
2 To be uncultured is for behavior to be considered uncouth or inappropriate
3 Eat with your fork in your left hand and knife in your right hand with your hands above the table and never in your lap also note that more modern meals will be served on a table with a spoon and fork
4 Feasting is a national tradition
5 Avoid high-pressure talk as trying to force a decision that will only make you appear impatient, rude and incapable of communication interactions
6 Patience is valued
7 Appreciate time to debate, consider and digest negotiations is important
8 Important for you to be on time, if not early, while it is acceptable for your Russian colleagues to be late to business meetings, and do not expect your late Russian colleagues to apologize for their tardiness, as their behavior is considered to be a test of your patience
9 Include a Russian translation on your social or business card and be sure to have an accurate Russian translation on the flipside of your card as this indicates your enthusiasm for socialization or conducting business with your Russian colleagues
10 Avoid showing the soles of your shoes or stepping on any seats, as this is considered highly disrespectful


The fork is a key representation of the country’s long heritage of self-image. The high mark of hospitality, as in khlebsol or bread-salt, is the ancient custom of welcoming a visitor or important guest with a rounded loaf of bread with a salt cellar on top. I experienced this honor firsthand in 1998 upon visiting an elementary school while working in Russia to help strengthen its economy.

Bread is the symbol of life. The fork is the symbol of highest cultural communication. There are other things of importance. Russia thrives off crisis. Russian linguistic affiliation is one of three East Slavic languages of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family though there are three major dialects being northern, southern and central that is spoken at meals. The fork is as popular visual symbol as bread.

Everyday conversations are filled with metaphors and signals that are widely used in symbolic ways in a highly complex view of shared cultural identity. For instance, the potato and vodka a staple of the diet is a symbol of camaraderie and communication. Communal feasting and drinking can also open up the soul to unite people.



The Chopsticks (China)

Yi, shi, zhu and xing, a common expression encapsulates the four basic necessities of life being clothing, food, shelter and transportation. In China, chopsticks represent an art form of food as an artistic form that is ranked with the most important matters of life. Few other cultures have serious authors and scholars of writings of entire collections of cook books on Chinese cuisine written with such care and devotion.

While the Chinese are noted for their hospitality and reserve, the chopsticks, from Chinese kuai-zi or quick ones by way of Pidgin chop or quick usually tapered, of China predominate in communication with East Asian-style cuisine worldwide. The Chinese passion for food and for the connoisseurship of good eating reaches such depths that chopsticks have become the symbol of much that is the best of Chinese.

Chopsticks represent cooking elevated to cuisine. A Chinese meal rests on the two pillars of fan or rice and cai or vegetables which translates into a complete meal. The whole art of a Chinese meal depends on the mixture. Following are some of the patterns of communication that have evolved to symbolize Chinese etiquette over the centuries.


Chopsticks: China Protocol for Communication Etiquette

1 Picking up the chopsticks signals the beginning of the meal
2 Bowls are held close to the mouth while eating and the rice is served last at formal banquets as it is considered a filler
3 Eat with your chopsticks in your right hand held between the thumb and fingers and a porcelain in the right hand for soup
4 The most acceptable gift is a banquet
5 Do not point when speaking with your chopsticks
6 Do not use large hand movements during a meal or banquet as the Chinese do not speak with their hands
7 Do not eat all of your meal as if you eat all of your meal, the Chinese will assume you did not receive enough food and are still hungry
8 Do not discuss business at meals as you are to discuss social dialogue
9 Never place your chopsticks straight up in your bowl as by placing your sticks upright in your bowl you will remind your host of joss sticks which connotes death
10 Do not drop the chopsticks it is considered bad luck and when you are finished place the chopsticks on the table or on the chopstick-rest as placing them on top of your plate or bowl is considered a sign of bad luck



The Hands (Iran)

Persia is the ancient soul of Iran. From modern breakfast to historical evening dining etīket or etiquette is one of the heights of ceremonial custom. This important Iranian lifestyle has significant meaning as gaining favor in the press and in bureaucratic language during the beginning in the slightly earlier years of the Pahlavi period.

Manners and social graces is used in the contemporary language of Iran to denote the socially accepted ways of speaking and eating with the hands behavior at meals as well as at all other times signaling the observation of which marks an individual as moaddab or polite, mowaqqar or dignified, arīf or refined and bā-nazākat or courteous. The failure to observe these lifestyle customs and social graces of behavior is perceived as evidence of being bī-adab or impolite, ašen or gruff, nā mardom or antisocial, šalata or messy and bī band o bār or non-conformist blocking cross-cultural communication.

Iranian etiquette from most of the rituals and ceremonies of the Sasanian court and administration were, excepting those features which seemed to conflict with Islamic practice, either adopted by the caliphs at Tehran and the courts of the Islamic dynasties of Persia in the early centuries after Islam or adapted to local conditions and customs.

For example, the dīd o bāz-dīd or hospitality and entertainment in Iran at dinner parties or social settings, where meals are not being served, the offering of a narghile or galyān, and Turkish coffee or tea to the guest has been an Islamic principle of Iranian hospitality. Failure of the host to conform to this etiquette or taʿārof, or of the guest to partake of the refreshments offered before departing is a breach of manners and social graces considered disrespectful and unfriendly creating a cross-cultural communication misunderstanding.

Tea and narghile demonstrates hospitality and is important to Iranians and their guests as it is brought for the guest three times at reasonable intervals, the third serving signalling the conclusion of the visit. This practice is typically perceived as a mark of the guest’s importance and social standing. This practice is falling out of fashion because it is becoming less customary out of deference to the other guests.

In gatherings, only after all the guests have arrived and refreshments of fruit and sweets have been served, is then the food is spread on the table, either in the presence of the guests or in another room. Then the host announces that dinner is served with the phrase besmellāh or In the name of God, or by inviting and encouraging all to partake, befarmāīd or please proceed.

Russians and Chinese would be comfortable in Iran as at rare gatherings the food is served without forks and spoons. The pouring of moderately warm water from a ewer over the hands of the guests into a basin before a meal and once again after the meal, often also with soap, is considered part of the etiquette of the table. It would be considered impolite if the guest were breaking the silence while eating is proscribed by religious manuals.

Once the meal is finished, it is customary for important guests, the elderly and the host to remain seated at the table somewhat longer than the other guests. At the end of the evening, the older and more respected guests depart first and the other guests consider themselves obliged to remain until they take leave. Following are some of the Iranian patterns of communication that have evolved over the centuries.


Hands: Iran Protocol for Communication Etiquette

1 Iranians pass objects with the right hand or both hands but never with the left hand alone
2 Midday meal is the most important meal of the day with dinner usually served after 8:00p and Do not be late
3 Food is eaten with the right hand only so never eat and drink with the left hand because it is considered unclean and Shaytaan eats with the left hand
4 Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol
5 The Barakah or blessing of eating is gained by washing the hands and rinsing the mouth before and after meals
6 Do not eat from the centre of the plate, but rather from the side, as barakat descends in the centre of the utensil, thus eat from the portion of food that is nearest to you as for example do not eat from all sides of the plate
7 Do not drink in one draught like a camel but in two or three sips and Do try a little bit of everything and expect to be offered seconds and even thirds
8 Do not get up after eating till the table is cleared and in some homes meals are served on the floor
9 When morsel has fallen from one’s hand, clean it and eat it. It should not be left for Shaytân
10 After eating, before washing the hands one should lick one’s fingers for one does not know in which portion of the food does the barakah lie and leave some food on your plate when you have finished eating as a complement


It is customary in Iran to eat with your hands, especially during large family gatherings, sitting on the floor, in a circle, on rugs and not at a table. At other times, others in their everyday lives eat at the dining room table for all meals.

Typically today, some will be blessed with two servants, who cook and serve the meals.  We used European china and silverware. One does not drink alcohol, but dine sufficiently on mutton and chicken, eggplant, lots of rice and lots of hot tea. Sweets are not served, yet for an exception. Honeydew melon is the main fruit in season from May until September and a drink is made out of it, every day, because in summer it is so very, very hot.

Iranians prefer to be with those socially who they know and respect. Thus, it is important to cultivate a personal relationship where cross-cultural communication is understood in a positive frame of mind. Iranians judge others on their appearance, dress and etiquette exhibited social graces.



For more than a millennium, Russians, Chinese and Iranians sharing forks, chopsticks and hands have occupied the present-day sphere. Forks, chopsticks and hands have ushered in a new era of wealth as friends, family members and collected guests socially or for business spend much of their time at the table, eating and drinking while talking about what is important at the time.

Strong interpersonal relations characterize Russia, China, and Iran society, not only within the family, but also among friends and acquaintances in social and business intercourse. The most important social ritual is the shared meal.

Cross-cultural communication at highest achievement occurs at the dining table where an entourage of relationships are built by the contact between individuals more so than by any other relationship setting. Through shared ideas, history, social values, and life experiences of each in attendance representing their differing cultures of people from different countries or communities which influence the communication or miscommunication often results in reception or barrier.

The need for effective cross-cultural communication has never been more important or needed in history. The importance of dining etiquette and social graces with the art of conversation and tone of voice is important in social and business situations to effectively build relationships.

The art of conversation is in part reflected in tone of voice. What the receiver perceives forms an attitude where mood influences verbal communication. The greater the perception of a negative mood increases in like degree of politeness required to establish the perception of a positive mood.

As negative mood increases positive mood decreases in proportion to the perception of the receiver. This perception does so in difficult situations that requires more substantial processing. It does not cost anymore to be polite.

Whether we are eating with a fork, chopsticks or our hands is not a barrier to international communication. To stereotype regarding dissimilar cultures lends one to judge others for their differences resulting in fait compli.

To judge or not to judge is human error. Better to remove barriers blocking cross-cultural communication with the armament of etiquette and social graces than languish in awkwardness.

The art of plain talk can bring a distant cultural barrier to ruin. By opening up unobtrusive communication is a learned style that can explore some of the most prevalent stereotypes about the countries and identifies the influence these stereotypes may have on business communication. The result is effective cross-cultural communication.

The meeting together is more than a source of nutrition and gustatory satisfaction, it is also an action planned to a desired result. Thus, a vehicle of social interaction is created and orchestrated at each meal.

Whether in Russia using a fork, China using chopsticks or Iran using hands symbolizes both social cohesion and social division. While the tool itself is not the only marker of importance of the occasion, the networks of relationships are crucial to life.

If one eats soup with a fork they will go hungry, if one eats with one chopstick they will go hungry, and if one eats broth with their hands they will go hungry; but, using the chopstick with the hand to stir and eat the meal with the fork all three can be satisfied. Forks, chopsticks and hands communicate equally.

Though cross-cultures of Russia, China and Iran have undergone inevitable transformation, their patterns of thought leading to cross-cultural communication understanding have silhouetted respect for each other through continuity and change. Architects of thought place forks, chopsticks and hands as symbols with global acceptance.










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