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I would like to know if the expression 'Молодец!' (or молодцы́!) in the context of 'good!', 'you did it right!', 'this is a great work!' ,'you accomplished a difficult work!' etc.... is always familiar or can be used for example with business partners in Russia ( and other ex-Ussr republics )

I have also the feeling that this term was strongly connected with the daily life in USSR, eg when a worker was well doing his(/her) job, doing his(/her) daily share of the work , when a project was done , etc....

if for example I use that term to say that some partners have done well their work and I have but informal business connections with them , could they consider that I am familiar with them? Or would it sounds natural?

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The main problem is that Молодцы! cannot be used when addressing one person using respective plural вы. When addressing only one person you have to use Молодец, which sounds too informal.

When there are several persons you could use Молодцы! even for business partners.
But keep in mind, that this word sounds most naturally from a teacher, imho.

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    It's pretty natural to say 'Вы молоде́ц!' to one person, and it won't sound informal. There are lots of examples of such usage in the National Corpus. – Yellow Sky Oct 10 '14 at 11:45
  • I agree, Вы молодец! sounds much better than Молодец!, but still my advice is to avoid this word in business communication. – Dmitry Oct 10 '14 at 11:57
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It's pretty natural to say Вы молоде́ц! to one person, including one's business partner, and it won't sound informal or patronizing. If you address several people, then it is Вы молодцы́! There are lots of examples of such usage in the National Corpus:

― Я слышал ваш разговор с моим коллегой. Вы молодец, конечно. Они в вас многое теряют, но только я должен сказать: я с вами всё-таки никак не согласен. Ю. О. Домбровский. Обезьяна приходит за своим черепом, часть 2 (1943-1958)

Но все хорошо, поздравляю вас с успехом! Вы молодец! Очень мне понравилось, когда вы сказали, что указ об открытии Школы-Студии МХАТ подписал товарищ Сталин. Владлен Давыдов. Театр моей мечты (2004)

― Здравствуйте, здравствуйте! Вы молодец, Анатолий Карлович, что пришли! Суханов грузно поднялся из-за стола, вышел навстречу Журковскому, протягивая вперед руку для пожатия. Андрей Белозеров. Чайка (2001)

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A russian friend told me "Molodets" wasn't a neutral expression: it is quite familiar, you can use it with a person you know well. Otherwise, it has a slightly patronizing connotation (ex: teacher talking to a pupil)...

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No, you cannot use it with business partners. It has patronizing obertones, for example a parent can say this to the kid, but not vice versa. Hardly even a boss can say this to an employee. The english equivalent is "smart girl", "smart boy".

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    ― Я слышал ваш разговор с моим коллегой. Вы молодец, конечно. Они в вас многое теряют, но только я должен сказать: я с вами всё-таки никак не согласен. Ю. О. Домбровский. Обезьяна приходит за своим черепом, часть 2 (1943-1958) – Yellow Sky Oct 10 '14 at 11:46
  • ok but so far in everyday's life I see people telling that to me and not always people I know and also it is true on the contrary that some people feel offended when been told that comment... again seems a war of civilization... I noticed 'pro-Russian' seem to use that term naturally while 'pro-West' seem always offended by the familiarity (and patronize symbols) involved with it ... seems a strong cultural issue to me! – user4256 Oct 10 '14 at 13:44
  • @KarlZorn there's one important note: you cannot always use "ты молодец". For example, you cannot come to your boss after a successful business deal that he signed, and tell him "ты (вы) молодец". Just because he doesn't need your approbation. But in some cases, a woman-employee can use this phrase when a man-employee can't. It strongly depends on a context and real people involved, their social positions, relations, sex... – Denis V Oct 12 '14 at 14:24

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