How to Understand the Russian Smile: When and Why Its Appropriate
People often wonder why Russians smile so little. It seems strange to many people who expect a smile for every little thing, especially when working in the service industries. Everyone smiles at you and it is taken as a sign of acceptance, politeness, and is expected or even demanded. We often judge the quality of the service on a smile! Perhaps we are all smiling too often?
Russians have different beliefs about smiling
The Russians have a different idea about smiling and in many ways, it is more sincere and direct. The bottom line is that you never smile unless there is a genuine reason to do so. Here are some tips to understand when and how Russians put this into practice. This should help if you are planning a visit to Russia so that you understand what is really going on. It should also give you a better idea of understanding Russian people when you meet them.
Smiles are not necessary at work
Russians take work seriously and they feel there is no need to smile at passport control because they are getting on with their job. They do not know you, so why should they smile? Russian school children are often reprimanded for smiling by their teachers as it is interpreted as idling. Russian kids often hear their teacher saying, “What are you smiling at? Write!”
Smiles are not used when driving
A British journalist living in Siberia was puzzled that Russians never acknowledged with a smile or thank you, when motorists stopped to let them cross the street. A Russian acquaintance asked him, “Why should you thank someone for not killing you?”
Smiles are used sparingly
If you go around Russia smiling at everyone and everything, Russians will probably think that you are a fool! You must have a good reason to smile, otherwise you may appear as being rather naïve and idiotic.
“The laugh without reason – is the sign of stupidity.” – Russian proverb
Smiles are important
Russians are at first impressed when they visit Europe or the USA because everyone is smiling at them! After a while, the awful truth sinks in because they realize there is nothing at all behind those smiles. No genuine friendship or real sincerity. They think all those smiles are wasted.
Smiles are a precious commodity
A Russian smiles when there is a real reason to do so. It may reflect a particularly happy moment, great fortune, or good news. They really do have something to smile about and smiles are highly valued.
Smiles must be genuine
When Russians see you smiling at them they immediately become uneasy. It is seen as a rather suspicious because they do not know you or they do not have any reason to rejoice. It can even be a negative feature and they may even think you are laughing at them. That is why they do not smile back!
Smiles are not a sign of happiness
Russians do not feel that smiles are a genuine measure of how sullen or gloomy a person may feel. It goes much deeper than that. Judging a person’s character on a smile is really rather superficial.
Smiles are reserved for personal affection and friendship
Russians will smile at their friends and use it to express genuine affection or friendship. When you smile at a Russian and you have never met them, they may be puzzled and start wondering where or if you have met before.
Smiles must always be in context
You may think that an encouraging smile is priceless when someone is ill or facing enormous difficulties. Russians view these smiles as inappropriate in that sort of context. They are just out of place.
Russian smiles are usually genuine, sincere and reserved for moments of affection, friendship and celebrations. Their smiles are telling you something important.
Let’s face it. Smiling may be interpreted and understood in a myriad of ways depending on cultural differences. Look at the British who have the so-called “stiff upper lip” or the Japanese who tend to cover their mouths when smiling and laughing. Psychologists have identified sixteen different types of smiles- you can see the full list here. Far too complicated – give me a genuine Russian smile any day!
“You can only hold a smile for so long, after that it’s just teeth.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Featured photo credit: Veni/Flickrvia flickr.com
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