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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Russian Email Habits

by Maria Kolesnikova

Russian Email Habits

With Internet use on the rise, strong corporate presences online and appearance of the first sprouts of e-commerce, Russia might seem to be normal in respect to the virtual world. But looks can be deceiving, and Russia's email ways belie darker truths...

If a poll or survey were conducted, Russians would surely rate among the world's least reliable email correspondents. When corporate code of conduct does no not directly require rapid email response - as is becoming common for bigger businesses in Moscow and elsewhere - Russians take forever to reply (if at all) and change their email addresses without warning, severing communication. This is true both of personal and business email.

At the outset of the Russian Internet, people mostly used email addresses from their ISP, similar to American emails at AOL or Verizon. And, like in the U.S., many Russians promptly switched to free email services when they became available, such as Mail.ru, Yandex.ru, Rambler.ru and others. But, unlike the rest of freebie-loving Internet world, Russians often use free emails for business, especially in small- to medium-sized companies. This is also often the case with regional officials. Major companies normally have properly designed and regularly updated websites, but few list a contact email, and even if they do, it's an even shot it will not work, or be checked only rarely.

Emailing a Russian, one should not expect a prompt answer. In America you know when the addressee will see your letter: everyone checks their email in the morning and multiple times during the day, almost obsessively. In Russia, you never know. It may be in the next minute, next week, or even next month. Many people don't have regular, broadband access and others don't bother to check for mail, because they normally get very little. Some may be on holiday, and don't bother using the "I'm away till ..." autoreply message.

When Russians do get an email, they seldom confirm receipt, like in the U.S., with a "Got it, will get back to you later." Instead, they just quietly acknowledge the fact to themselves and make a plan to get back to it later and in full. Hence, endless one or two-line email exchanges, prompted by a constant urge to respond, are uncommon in Russia. And since many Russians also happen to have a short memory, so are the answers.

Lastly, the quality of Internet connections often gets in the way of good email manners. ROMIR monitoring agency estimates that about 30 percent of Russians use dial-up, while the rest have high-speed Internet. Yet these numbers include both office and home users. In reality, at home many Russians still use dial-up and old computers, which may choke on a 3 megabyte attachment, unknowingly sent by someone spoiled by broadband. But even if Russians happen to have DSL, such bulky messages are not likely to be well-received: Russians pay by the megabyte for Internet traffic.

Staying connected with Russians may be hard, but losing them is easy: they vanish. When changing email addresses, Russians seldom bother to send around a this-is-my-new-email-address message. Neither do they seem to care about setting up a forwarding service from the old email to the new one.

Perhaps it is all because the Russian Internet is still so young. Only about 20 percent of Russians use the Internet, according to a recent report by the polling agency FOM. While previously many Russians made only occasional visits online, they now tend to linger more and check back regularly, the poll results showed. Since the number of Internet users in Russia is expected to jump to 83 million by 2010, with a turning point around 2007, there may be hope that increasing numbers will tip the balance toward better online etiquette.