A Look at Lithuanian Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Facts and Statistics
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering Belarus 502 km, Latvia 453 km, Poland 91 km, Russia (Kaliningrad) 227 km
Population: 3,505,738 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: Lithuanian 80.6%, Russian 8.7%, Polish 7%, Belarusian 1.6%, other 2.1%
Religions: Roman Catholic (primarily), Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical Christian Baptist, Muslim, Jewish
Language in Lithuania
Since 1991, the official language of Lithuania is the Baltic language of Lithuanian, a language closely related to Latvian. More than 80% of the country's 3.8m population speaks Lithuanian as their first language. Minority languages include Belarusian (1.5%), Polish (7.7%), Russian (8%). Others, most notably Ukrainian and Yiddish make up a further 2.1%.
Lithuanian Culture & Society
- The family is the centre of the social structure.
- The obligation to family is a person's first priority.
- Together with religion, the family forms the basis around which all other parts of life revolve.
The Role of Religion
- The Roman Catholic Church has great influence on daily life.
- The Catholic Church helped preserve the county's identity during the Soviet Union years.
- The church's influence on the culture is seen in Lithuanian festivals, many of which are religious observances as well as in the celebration of name days rather than birthdays.
- The church's influence is manifests in the respect for hierarchical relationships.
Customs and Etiquette in Lithuania
Meeting and Greeting
- The most common greeting is the handshake, with direct eye contact, and a smile.
- Once a relationship has been established, greetings may become more unreserved and include a hug.
- Wait for your Lithuanian friends to determine when your friendship has reached this level of intimacy.
- People are addressed by their honorific title and their surname. Wait until invited before moving to a first name basis.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- If invited to a Lithuanian's home, bring wine, flowers, or sweets to the hostess.
- Give an odd number of flowers.
- Do not give chrysanthemums - they are used in funerals.Do not give white flowers - they are reserved for weddings.
- Gifts are generally opened when received.
- Table manners are quite relaxed in Lithuania.
- Wait to be told where to sit.
- Table manners are Continental - hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.
- Take small amounts of food initially so you may accept second helpings.
- Try everything.
- Napkins are kept on the table, not on the lap.
- To indicate you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate.
- When you have finished eating, place your knife and fork across your plate with the prongs facing down and the handles facing to the right.
- The host offers the first toast.
- Toasting is generally done with hard liquor and not wine or beer.
- You should reciprocate with your own toast later in the meal.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
- When conducting business, err on the side of formality and adhere to conservative etiquette and protocol.
- There are marked differences between young entrepreneurs and older businesspeople.
- Younger businesspeople generally have a less bureaucratic approach and are eager to do what is required to close a deal.
Building Relationships & Communication
- Lithuanians prefer face-to-face meetings, as they need to build relationships of mutual understanding.
- They prefer to turn business relationships into friendships.
- Accept offers of hospitality and reciprocate, as this is the sign of a true friend.
- Once a friendship has developed, Lithuanians are willing to discuss business.
- It is important to make your initial contact with a high-ranking person who is in a position to make a decision.
- In many ways this is still a hierarchical culture, so showing respect and deference to people of authority is recommended.
- Although they are industrious and hard working, most Lithuanians are very modest. People who brag are deemed arrogant.
- At the same time, Lithuanians are impressed by titles of authority and advanced university degrees, so it is a good idea to let them know your status within your company.
- Lithuanians speak softly.
- They are not particularly emotive speakers.
- They do not touch others while speaking and can appear standoffish and reserved upon the initial meeting.
- It is important that you do not display anger, even if frustrated by the excessive bureaucracy.
- They do not interrupt others while they are speaking, and patiently wait for their turn.
- Many Lithuanian companies adhere to a hierarchical structure. In such cases, senior-level businessmen only speak with people of their same rank.
- More junior members of a team should not address a senior-ranking Lithuanian businessperson directly, as it is seen as a breach of etiquette.
Business Meetings & Negotiations
- Appointments are necessary and should be scheduled 2 to 3 weeks in advance.
- Send a list of the people who will be attending and their titles so the Lithuanians can assemble a team of similar level people.
- Confirm the meeting when you arrive and again the day before the meeting, since meetings are sometimes cancelled on short notice.
- Arrive on time for meetings. Punctuality is important.
- Meetings are formal.
- There will be a period of small-talk while your colleagues get to know you and decide if you are the type of person with whom they wish to enter into a business relationship.
- Wait to be told where to sit. In many cases you will be seated across from someone of a similar level.
- Presentations should be thorough, clear, and concise and include back-up analysis to support your position.
- Expect to discuss each point thoroughly before moving on to the next.
- Business moves slowly due to the bureaucratic nature of society.
- Be prepared to meet with several lower levels of people before getting to the actual decision maker.
- Lithuanians often use time as a tactic, especially if they know that you have a deadline. Be cautious about letting your business colleagues know that you are under time pressure or they will delay even more.
- Lithuanians will not be rushed into making a deal. They must think it is in their best interest before agreeing.
- Meetings often conclude with a summary of the discussion and a toast to future dealings.