Do Russians Use Small Talk? How to Break the Ice with Strangers

Russian culture doesn’t use small talk and Russians typically prefer their conversations to be meaningful. 

That said, there are still some ways you can break the ice with Russian-speaking strangers. Learn how to make small talk with Russians—with tips straight from some native Russian speakers.


Do Russians Make Small Talk?

Americans are often surprised by the cultural differences around small talk in Russia vs. the U.S. In America, we often use small talk to approach a stranger or to test the waters before delving into more serious discussions.

However, Russians aren’t as prone to making small talk with strangers. They’re often slower to warm to someone and may even seem unapproachable to foreigners. In fact, Russian doesn’t even have a word for small talk, the closest is “болтовня,” which is more like “chatter” or “светский разговор” which literally means “social conversation”

I personally experienced this on a recent trip to Latvia, which was once part of the former Soviet Union and a country where Russian is still predominantly spoken because a large population of residents are of Russian descent. During dinner, I complained to my family members about how unfriendly the locals seemed, and how I wasn’t able to strike up typical conversations with strangers on public transportation or in stores as I do in the U.S.

My Latvian relatives explained that they actually found Americans to be too friendly and thought it strange that they smile so much and are so open. They explained that Russians aren’t as used to conversing with strangers.

Once I realized that Russians aren’t into small talk, I just took more time to form relationships or started with asking questions from people I wanted to get to know better. I found that although they weren’t prone to speak to me at first, once they got to know me just a little, Russian-speaking strangers became much more open. Some of them even ended up inviting me over to their houses or volunteered to show me parts of their beautiful country.

The fact that Russians aren’t as prone to small talk as Americans shouldn’t deter you from trying. Just be aware of these cultural differences and adapt like I did. 

Resources to Learn Russian Small Talk

Most of the information for Russian speakers about small talk is in teaching them how to make small talk in English, especially which topics are “safe for conversation” in business situations. Reading these Russian-language resources for making small talk is a great way to learn more about the way the culture approaches the idea of having these “social conversations.”

I found these resources to be particularly helpful in learning about small talk in Russian: 

  • post: This post is written in Russian for Russian speakers, and discusses how to make small talk in English. It’s a great resource to see a bit of the history of small talk in Russia and how the culture approaches the concept.
  • Alpina Book post: Another Russian-language article that discusses small talk in general and how it differs in various countries and cultures.
  • YouTube video on small talk etiquette: An excellent video in Russian about “the art of small talk,” comparing it to a game of ping pong. This is hosted by the charismatic Tatiana Polyakova, a social and business communications and etiquette specialist.

  • FluentU Russian Program:

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  • YouTube video on daily conversation phrases: This hour-long video contains the 500 most-used phrases in Russian conversations. Each phrase is written in Russian and English and spoken in both languages. There’s also a written pronunciation guide for the Russian phrases. 

How to Start a Conversation in Russian

As we’ve already discussed, Russian culture doesn’t really do small talk, at least not on the way you might be used to. That said, knowing how to start a conversation with a stranger is a valuable skill, especially when you’re a foreigner. There are some safe topics for making small talk with Russian speakers. 

Introducing Yourself

As I already mentioned, you’re only a stranger until you introduce yourself. If you need or want to say hello to a stranger, introducing yourself is the most straightforward way to break the ice and jump right through the small talk part.

When meeting someone new, it’s best to err on the side of caution and use polite speech. Here are some useful polite phrases for introducing yourself:

  • Здравствуйте, меня зовут [имя]. (Zdravstvuyte, menya zovut [name].) — Hello, my name is [name].
  • Очень приятно познакомиться. (Ochen’ priyatno poznakomit’sya.) — Nice to meet you.

The only time when it’s okay to use informal language to greet someone is if they’re around the same age as you, and the situation is casual. For instance, if you’re hanging out at a bar and you want to introduce yourself to a group of people because they seem fun, you’d use one of these casual phrases: 

  • Привет, я [имя]. (Privet, ya [name].) — Hi, I’m [name].
  • Меня зовут [имя]. (Menya zovut [name].) — My name is [name].
  • Рад(а) познакомиться. (Rad(a) poznakomit’sya.) — Nice to meet you.

Let’s face it: It’s clear at this point that you’re not a local. Lean into this and use it as a starting point to a conversation. Jump right in by saying where you’re from or what brings you to Russia (or wherever you happen to be):

  • Я из [города]. А вы/ты откуда? (Ya iz [goroda]. A vy/ti otkuda?) — I’m from [city]. And where are you from?
  • Я в России по работе. (Ya v Rossii po rabote.) — I’m in Russia for work.

Observational Comments

Another good way to start a conversation with a stranger is by commenting on something that’s happening at the moment. These kinds of observational comments include talking about the weather. For instance, if it’s exceptionally hot or cold outside, you can use these neutral formality phrases:

  • Сегодня очень тепло, да? (Segodnya ochen’ teplo, da?) — It’s very warm today, isn’t it?
  • Сегодня так холодно, правда? (Segodnya ochen’ kholodno, pravda?) — It’s very cold today, right?

Likewise, you can comment on anything that’s currently happening, from the mundane to the more unusual:

  • Эти девочки очень хорошо катаются на коньках. (Eti devochki ochen’ khorosho katayutsya na kon’kakh.) — These girls are ice skating very well.
  • Ух ты, цирк! (Ukh ty, tsirk!) — Wow, a circus!

Note that Russian speakers might just acknowledge your comment and move on. If a conversation doesn’t spark, don’t despair! Brush up on your Russian conversational skills and try again with someone else.


The art of small talk isn’t innate for all of us, especially in another language. However, if you try and try again, you’ll be wonderful at starting off a conversation with a Russian speaker in no time!

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