It's always a good idea to bring gifts from home along on international trips for when you make new friends, stay with host families, or attend business meetings abroad. Buying presents, however, is innately intimidating, much less when you're buying for someone who's from a different country. Here are a few things—all of which will fit easily in your suitcase—your Russian friends would love.
Food and Beverage
In general, consumables make great gifts and icebreakers for evenings spent around hostel tables with new friends. Locally made teas and coffees are a popular choice, as is alcohol (as long as it's in checked luggage—bonus points if you can buy it from the airport duty free shop). Vodka and cognac are sure to be a hit with just about anyone.
Think about treats that are unique to your region: maple syrup if you're from Canada or saltwater taffy if you're from the coast. Even American candies like Snickers bars and Hershey's Kisses are a welcome treat for Russians. While these sweets are available in the post-communist country, they are unaffordable for many.
Decorative trinkets also make great souvenirs, but be sure they aren't overly cheap-looking. Russian people have an especially good eye for poorly-made, low-quality things, not that they would ever express it to your face. Stationary items, coasters from your region or neighborhood, candles, or cool coffee mugs are all great ideas, but try not to give anything too practical, as they might assume it's because you think they're poor.
Western and European brands of clothing are well-received as these are much more expensive in Russia than abroad. In this case, it might be best to avoid those punny t-shirts they sell at the souvenir store and bring a handwoven scarf or a snazzy wallet instead. Again, Russians have an eye for quality, so only bring clothing items that you would wear yourself.
Things to Avoid
- Definitely don't bring along meaningless junk such as key chains or figurines you bought from the airport souvenir store. These things are already abundant in Russia.
- Russian women can be especially particular about their jewelry and giving jewelry is personal, so avoid necklaces, earrings, and the like.
- The women do love their cosmetics, but be careful not to give generic soaps and other toiletries. These things were well received during the communist era, but not anymore.
- A decorated water bottle is a cool idea, but the tap water is generally not drinkable, so water bottles aren't really a thing.
A Note About Tipping
Although you might think that gift you brought from home could make for a great tip for someone's services, don't ever assume that Russians would rather have a trinket, clothing, food, or anything other than cash. Always tip your waiters and taxi drivers between 10 and 15 percent. Giving a gift instead of tipping is likely to be taken as rude.