Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why Russians Do Not Smile


Russia Profile published an article by Olga Nikitina “Combining a Rude and Very Hospitable Reputation” on a very interesting topic about Russian culture. How can the same people be so rude and so hospitable in different situation?
Olga Nikitina writes:

Foreigners who come to Russia are often struck by the indifferent, closed, or even hostile looks from people on public transportation and in the streets. One widespread opinion is that Russians rarely smile. On the other hand, Russians are also well known for their hospitality, and have a reputation for being extremely generous friends.

There are sociological reasons behind both types of behavior. According to Elena Zdravomyslova, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg and research coordinator at the Center for Independent Social Research, the apathy demonstrated by Russians in public could be a means of psychological defense. “In post-Soviet Russia, the level of personal security has decreased dramatically,” she said. “If you are attacked in the street, the police cannot help you. Nobody can really defend you. The instability of social structures also makes people avoid contacts that could jeopardize their safety, or even develop aggressive behavioral strategies. Being autonomous is safer.”

This conclusion is very surprising and to my mind unprofessional. I don’t think it’s correct to explain a cultural phenomenon that is at least 500 years old by some 15 years post-Soviet period. The opinion about Russians as at times unsmiling and rude but in other circumstances as very friendly and hospitable one easily finds in the accounts of European travelers on Russia already in the 15th and 16th century. For example, E. de Corte compares French peasants who are friendly when they are sober and very aggressive when drunk to Russians – when sober they are sullen but when drunk hug and kiss each other.

One only needs to read about Levin’s relationships with his peasants in “Anna Karenina” to find the “secret” of this paradoxical behavior. Bezukhov’s adventures during the French retreat from Moscow in “War and Peace” also give a lot of insights.

Russian culture is basically the culture of Russian peasantry communes. I believe hundreds of ethnographers wrote about it. Commune here is a key word. Why is this culture so prevailing today? In 1917 before the Communist Coup 87% of Russian population was rural. At the beginning of 1970’s only 18% of Russians were engaged in agriculture. Most of Russians can live in big cities but they still behave as if they belong to a small community and the nearest village is a hundred miles away.

When you live in Siberia in a small rural commune you should be very distrustful of every stranger. Moreover – strangers should feel immediately that you are hostile towards them. Only when a stranger proves beyond doubt that (1) he wants to belong to the commune, (2) he accepts all laws and traditions of this particular commune, (3) he can be trusted; only then he is accepted. And an accepted member of the commune enjoys so much trust, friendliness, openheartedness and sincerity that is very surprising to Europeans and who think that Russian openness is over the top.

Actually the “secret” of Russian democracy is also rooted in the culture of peasantry communes. Inside the commune people have their own laws, traditions, judges, principles and values. Every time the government tries to impose its laws, its attempts are met with peasants’ revolts and revolutions. On the other hand people delegate the tsar and the Orthodox Church all the problems outside communal life. The tsar can make any laws he likes as long as such laws help keeping this huge country together and do not contradict the laws of the commune. Not “commune” in general but every particular commune with its particular laws, be it in Siberia, in the Far East, in the Northern taiga or in the Southern steppes.

62 comments:

Necromantic Angel said...

That's prolly one of the main reasons why i get "omg are u a fucking idiot?!" looks when I say I wonna go to Russia so bad.

Andy said...

That's a good argument, certainly better than Nikitina's.

Having said that, I do feel the need to throw a small spanner in the works...

I've often heard the Russians compared to the English in the coldness towards strangers/warmth towards friends stakes. But the English don't really have the same background of small rural communes that Russia experienced.

Any ideas>

Anonymous said...

Why Russians do not smile? Probably for many, many reasons, your included, both cultural and historical. But, then, why do Americans always smile, bear their teeth, as my Ukrainian friends noted. My Costa Rican aunt said that only idiots smile all the time. She should know. There's Costa Rica where every greeting and conversation almost always necessitates the inclusion of joke.

I hope the world never homogenizes into one cultural, religious or any other kind of uniformity despite the ongoing onslaught of globalization. There's a great deal of loveliness in diversity. Isn't there?

Thanks for the post.

Dahfu said...

http://www.thislife.org/ra/238.ram

Alright, this reminded me of a segment I listened to, a while back, on NPR from "This American Life." After some searching, I found the segment to which you'll enjoy listening.

It's about a young American guy who's in Russia and goes on a date with a Russian woman, and "Even though she spoke perfect English, the night was a misunderstanding, because they each had different ideas of what is meant by the words "good date." (7 minutes)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to NPR, Dahfu. The segment is a quite honest portrayal of date between a Russian women and an American male, especially, I think, when he admitted his influence by the “movies,” i.e., if I may, by Hollywood’s razzle-dazzle, glitz and glamour of romantic love. I wonder how influential the movie industry has been to unsuspecting viewers over time on the notion of romance and courtship

Johan Maurer said...

I linked to this interesting page and added some related comments about 'sovoks' from Alexander Elder's book Rubles to Dollars.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

like they said in one of the Holywood movies: " becasue we have long hard winters, mr. President"
The reason why Russians do not smile is becasue we tak everything serously. One of the reason americans smile( and its not true that they smile of the time) because of their idea of service-in hotels, restaurants, banksand and so on. Its also not that they are frendlier by nature- maybe even otherwise, but becasue it is a commonly accepted way of communication .

Anonymous said...

like they said in one of the Holywood movies: " becasue we have long hard winters, mr. President"-joke
The reason why Russians do not smile is becasue we take everything seriously. One of the reason americans smile( and its not true that they smile oll the time) because of their idea of service-in hotels, restaurants, banksand and so on. Its also not that they are frendlier by nature- maybe even otherwise, but becasue it is a commonly accepted way of communication .

Olga Nikitina said...

Interesting theory, well-written. The issue certainly HAS to do with commune life as opposed to individualism (though I think I explored it in my article, too, you just picked ONE quote!) But why on the hell do you speak just about "rural communes in Siberia"? Why not in central Russia, where agriculture is much easier? :) And what about all 70-years of building communism? When the idea of communes not only continued, but transformed...

Olga Nikitina said...

Interesting theory, well-written. The issue certainly HAS to do with commune life as opposed to individualism (though I think I explored it in my article, too, you just picked ONE quote!) But why on the hell do you speak just about "rural communes in Siberia"? Why not in central Russia, where agriculture is much easier? :) And what about all 70-years of building communism? When the idea of communes not only continued, but transformed...

Anonymous said...

you guys are slightly in the fruitcake region now
why in the hell would you like to sound smart on a ? like this?
NERRRRRDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSSS

Ben said...

A persons nature is greatly influenced by those around him or her. I agree with Olga Nikitina but this does not account for every Russian individual or culture for that matter, that tends not to smile. Many Asian people do not have a propensity to smile, however, I have met some Asian individuals that are light and always full of cheer! This is not to say that people who do not smile are unhappy. I would rather be around someone who smiles less and has good character than one who sports a continuous phony smile.
It ultimately comes down to the individuals zest for life and this puts us all on a level playing field. Some people can still smile despite the most disparaging situations, I tip my hat to them.
Well I would if I had a hat on :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous! I wouldn't smile either if I lived in such a sh*tty country. Americans show their teeth because we actually have them & they're not yellow like an old dog's. People who believe others who smile look like idiots are unhappy jerks that never get any trying to convince themselves that they're intelligent.

Anonymous said...

I don't hear of anyone immigrating to Russia. I know one too many marrying Americans to get into America so Russia must suck.

vasanth said...

Am strongly oppose to you ,because Russia is not going to suck ,for the reason on Americans ........no one can stop Russians growth...........
---------------
Lara
sreevysh

Kalina said...

According to my personal observations - everything is harder in Russia than in the UK.

The Orthodox religion is stricter – Russian Christians give up poultry and meats for 40 days during lent period, then stand up all night during Easter Service – all for a feast of boiled coloured eggs; while in England one may reduce sugar or chocolate intake during lent, rest nicely over a 15-min Easter Service before consuming tons of chocolate eggs. (even though I'm an Orthodox christian and am loving it :-)

Life is harder - severe weather conditions in Russia make it extremely difficult to grow crops. Do not compare infrequent light English showers throughout the year with Siberia’s five months of (-40C) in mountains of snow and one month of + 40C heat. And clouds of mosquitoes! Have you seen any one in the UK?

I’d cry if I lived in Siberia.

Russian Women said...

Nice post. Really I liked it.

Thanks....

Monocromático said...

I'm mexican and I've always thought that american tourists are kinda cold as they don't smile as often as I do. We get a lot that we mexicans are "too smiley".
Now that I read about russia makes me a little scared, as I plan to visit a russian friend I have.
=p would her mother get angry or give me a dirty look if I smile to her as I go zdrasvuitie?...
Nice post.

Anonymous said...

АХАХАХ Я РУССКИЙ=)))

Anonymous said...

+1 чувак =))))))

Anonymous said...

why russians dont smile? `cause we have f#cking troubles in life, for example - illegal immigrations in most beaty city. we very friendly peoples, but some shit happens

artistmax said...

Hey=). I from Russia. I smile now)

Actually our a life heavy, therefore Russian don't smile....

+1 чуваки, я тоже)

Anonymous said...

народ ку) почитал статью.. полный бред да и комменты не лучше) мы русские улыбаемся еще побольше других)))

Anonymous said...

sorry for my english, but.. we (russian) smile very often. what about weather? lol! In Russia, many climatic zones. and in some places is very hot, and some - very cold. but there are other, reasonable place. and Russia is very beautiful, but now everything is very polluted. we smilе sincerely, with feelings. I believe that Americans smile somehow artificial. continuously, like idiots ... we know how to love and to transfer those feelings to others. although now, with the advent of the idiotic American culture, we have some different. we have become greedy, lustful. love as a concept, it can be said has already disappeared. alas.

Anonymous said...

sorry for my english, but.. we (russian) smile very often. what about weather? lol! In Russia, many climatic zones. and in some places is very hot, and some - very cold. but there are other, reasonable place. and Russia is very beautiful, but now everything is very polluted. we smilе sincerely, with feelings. I believe that Americans smile somehow artificial. continuously, like idiots ... we know how to love and to transfer those feelings to others. although now, with the advent of the idiotic American culture, we have some different. we have become greedy, lustful. love as a concept, it can be said has already disappeared. alas.

Anonymous said...

да у них шутки ни в какую)))) шутить не умеют вот и улыбаются всегда типа условный рефлекс)
оптимисты американские угу счас)

+1 , люди нас уже много))

статья не плохая вроде все правильно токо вы не учли что сейчас нас так тут всех болтает (под гнетом КРИЗИСА) что нравы меняются на раз))))

кто мне не верит назовите хотябы ОДНОГО ЗАРУБЕЖНОГО ЮМОРИСТА типа Задорнова

Anonymous said...

Хаха, смешные америкосы. пожили бы недельку у нас - расхотелось бы улыбаться каждому встречному.
А вот в хорошей компании Русские всегда веселятся и улыбки с лиц не сходят!

+1 парни

Anonymous said...

Our dear American friends, would you look at the geographical map and witness that ALL Russia is NOT the Siberia! How can so many seriously people believe in all that fairytales of weather conditions, bears at the streets...
We don't smile all the time just because we do it if there is a reason of doing that, not because "it is settled". Is there something wrong?

Anonymous said...

Называю зарубежного юмориста: Жванецкий)), Украина

Kevin Rudd said...

I think Russians are arrogant. I have seen a lot of videos about Russian mafias, gangsters, skinheads (Morons), problems with Chechnya etc. The question is 'why do Russians not smile' and see all replies here. You guys are just competing with America. Get a life Russians. Stop fighting and spread love. Immigrants are everywhere and not only in Russia. I am from Australia and we have Russians down here. So stop giving excuses. I think you morons will die one day fighting with one another.

Anonymous said...

+1 товарищи)))

ну, у американцев нет злобных бабушек в очередях. которые дерутся костылями. по-моему, их бабушки исключительно улыбаются и вяжут носки.
у них нет запойных дядей Васей, которые бьют их бутылками.
и у них развиты не те мышцы лица.

Anonymous said...

Анонимус поддерживаю)) у них бабушки улыбаются)) И ваще они нас ненавидят особенно эмигрантов)) Пусть воспользуются переводчиком если захотят понять что я написал, хотя тут не много философии.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Rudd ты идиот, посчитай сколько твоя страна убила невиновных в Ираке в Корее в Боливи и других странах, А потом суди нас, Не суди других и Сам судим не будешь.

net said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Народ,+ 1))))

Я поддерживаю все анонимов из России!

И Кевин,это не мы,а ты тут самый большой ИДИОТ!Мы не боремся друг с другом..и мы весьма дружны..Как ты можешь судить о нас,если не знаешь нашу культуру?Хотя да...тебе ведь не до этого,ты смотришь фильмы о русской мафии и тд)))

Anonymous said...

I will tell you so. Understand Amerekantsy, we do not smile because there is no reason for this. You live very well. We are all different. You do not even know how people live in prison in Russia. For each word you should answer, to prove even live on the concepts. We smile without a reason considered bosses. If you're in Russia all smiling, you knocked out teeth "to put it mildly."

Anonymous said...

The lives of children on the street is very different than yours. Your children smile, and our fight, not even just beat and beat each other, breaking their noses .. Among the many children of addicts. Of these people then grow up adults. Some grow up idiots. 50% of children do not live in affluent families, their parents drink and beat their children. Tell me why we need to dry your teeth n

Anonymous said...

So we do not smile because I do not I want to become asshole licking each other. And those who lick asshole, we are not respected. All due to the fact that our government is stealing a lot of money. We do not trust each other. Now you're kissing a man, but tomorrow this man cut you with a knife in the back with a smile (well, it figuratively). We have a lot of throwing, cheats, thieves, murderers.

Anonymous said...

Every Russian man is very attentive. Because there who does not know what can happen in a dark alley. Some children are knives. And not necessarily to say that the drunk Russian embrace, this is how someone will act on the vodka. In most cases, drunk Russian fight. Drunken children fight more than drunken adults.

Anonymous said...

Амерекосы, сучары, поживите сука в Украине или России, вы сука открывая рот будете хуйца в рот получать.

Anonymous said...

Tell us how we can smile at you? If we have chaos on the streets going on? People beat each other. The police beat people, eventually people can not prove anything in court. We venal people. If I was president of Russia, I would announce to you the war and would kill you as a child. He gets drunk and went to without fear of wetting in the smile asshole with automatic AK47. Croak with their smiles.

Anonymous said...

You bitch freaks. Creature. Whore.! Tighten your smile on a pussy. Do you guys like chicks and chicks all you whores debauchery. I would have gathered all the polls in one room and started to hurt a lot to kill. I fucked your children, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers in her mouth and asshole. All that you can pokazivat other countries is rospuschennost. whore, bitch, fucker asses, assholes.
In the U.S. moron

Anonymous said...

All Russian think you are idiots! I'm not lying, it is! answer!

Anonymous said...

I can say what there were no real culture in peasanty.
So, all the "russian" culture are really soviet culture.
And if you're always smiling you'll hear "Смех без причины - признак дурачины", "Laugh without a reason is a sigh of oligophreny"
Competing with America was just because of communism - Ciolkovski said what if people will have resources of space - you can stole because if you stole from infinity resources of another in infinity resources of you there are not any harm.
AMerica wasn't a enemy. It was a partner. And the deal was done:
Human stepped on Moon.
This was a triumph, but the government ended financing and USSR in its highest point became to die.
The space for America was "one of", for Soviet nation of 20 million people, and for other nations of soviet union this was The Main.
The Soviet Wish of a World, where are no any harm or hard work for person: where every can do art: math, science, engeneering, others.
The Russia is degradating now because of disappearing of this Wish.
And FYI:
Culture level consist of Art, Science and Human Place.
In Soviet country:
Art: "Red sails" is the great example because of ideas in it.
Cinematograthy, others - it needs to watch by itself.
Science: Science is the main power of society in the middle ideology and technocommunistical society in the latest ideology.
Human: we can't do it just because of scinety-atheistical way of culture, but the "nature recreator" titule is, maybe, greater than God?

Think about it - i won't make any thinking of it, just make a question: how from this facts you'll level USSR, if culturology say about degradation of society.

This was the 3 reason why does we think about you as about stupid.

Anonymous said...

Cause we want to make world communist, comrads!

Anonymous said...

*comrades

Anonymous said...

I am Russian and i smile every day just coz life is wonerful and i live in Canada))))))

Anonymous said...

Привет, камрады!
Живу в Николаеве, и сюда полно пиндосов приезжает наших баб за всякое потрогать. Так вот, им и улыбаться не нужно, - рожи такие, что за версту англо-саксонщиной несет.
З.Ы. А от того как наши бабы их на доляры раскручивают действительно улыбаться хочется.

барсук said...

Russian smile! Russian myself, I live in Russia, just in big cities a lot of fuss and not familiar to people they just will not smile.

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Anonymous said...

Почему мы злые? а вы поживите у нас!
через годик сойдете с ума
у вас (как я видел из фильмов) практически нет пробок, дома маленькие поэтому нет соседей которые начинают ремонт в 3 часа ночи!!!!!
и зарплата у вас раз в 15 больше (например я зарабатываю в месяц переводя на НАШИ ДЕНЬГИ 15000 в МЕСЯЦ! и товары стоят гораздо больше)



и еще мы так угрюмы потому что все дети видят только суровые лица
и смотрят нормальные фильмы, а не как вы, где все только улыбаются
и это не подготавливает человека к нормальной жизни , иначе человек смотря такие мультфильмы как вы с ума бы сошел в тот же день


P.S. Kevin RudD , с твоей стороны это не очень дружелюбно, не надо нас оскорблять мы тоже люди, и да что касается мафии и бандитов - А РАЗВЕ У ВАС ТАКОГО НЕТ???????




P.S.S весь мир грешен

Anonymous said...

1. Smile is Russian communication is not a sign of politeness. (Улыбка у русских не есть знак вежливости)
2. Russian people do not smile at strangers. (Русские не улыбаются незнакомцам)
3. It is not typical to Russian to give a smile in return. (Для русских не естественно улыбаться в ответ)
4. It is not typical for Russian to smile at a person whose eyes you met with your eyes by chance. Americans smile in such a case but Russians turn off their eyes. (Для русских не естественно улыбаться человеку, с которым вы случайно встретелись глазами, американцы обычно так делают, русские просто отводят глаза)
5. Russians don’t smile altogether looking at babies or pets. (I think it is a controversial utterance). (Русские не улыбаются смотря на младенцев или животных)
6. A Russian smile is a sign of personal attraction. (Для русских улыбка - это знак личной симпатии)
7. Russians do not smile when working or doing something serious. (Русские не улыбаются, когда работают или делают, что-то серьезное)
8. Russian smile is sincere. It is the expression of either high spirits or a good attitude to a partner. (Русская улыбка искрена. Это выражение либо высоких чувств либо хорошего отношения)
9. A smile of a Russian person should have a sufficient reason. (Для улыбки должна быть достаточная причина)
10. The only worthy reason of a smile in Russian communication is the wealth of a smiling person. (Единственная стоящая причина для улыбки у русских - это состояние (?) улыбающегося человека)
11. It is not typical for the Russian communicational culture to smile in order to cheer up or make others cheer up. A Russian person will hardly smile without evident wealth or very high spirits. (Не естественно для русской культуры общения улыбаться для того, чтобы поднять настроение себе или окружающим)
12. In a pure Russian consciousness a smile need a proper time for appearing. It is considered an independent action, which is very often unnecessary and annoying. Another Russian proverb says, “Business takes time, fun takes an hour”. (Улыбке нужно время, чтобы появиться. Улыбка иногда считается ненужной и раздражающей. Русская поговорка гласит: Делу время, а потехе час)
13. A smile should fit the situation from the point of view of the people around. (Улыбка должна быть "в тему")
14. Russians do not really distinguish between a smile and laughter. They often mix up these two phenomena. (Русские обычно не очень различают улыбку и смех. Они часто их смешивают)

короче, мы не улыбаемся просто так, БЕЗ ПРИЧИНЫ.

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Русская said...

МЫ УЛЫБАЕМСЯ МАЛО?ХАА ДА ПОТОМУ ЧТО МЫ СЕРЬЕЗНЫЕ И КРУТЫЕ! А ТОТ КТО УЛЫБАЕТСЯ КАК ЧМОШНИК ВО ВСЕ ЗУБЫ ДОФИГА МНОГО-ТОТ ТУПОЙ ДЕБИЛ НА БОШКУ ТРАХНУТЫЙ!

Anonymous said...

I just can't understand why people think that if someone doesn't smile everytime it means that there's something wrong with him/her? I have a question to you, guys: why do you always smile? Are you totally happy? I'm not sure. The reason is deeper than you think.

Anonymous said...

MadMax:
In my opinion is just a cultural difference, i'm from Spain and here we have the same difference just between the north and the souht. In the south the pople tend to be more smiley, and i don't think they all are stupids... The cold weather tend to make the people more distant and selective with the people, in warmer places people feel very confortable surrounded by strangers, that's it.

Some lines before was said something about just a partial government in Russia, that just give enought laws for keeping the cohesion of the country.
For me this feeling of fear, of lawless is just the war from the dirigents vs the population like in 1984. I'd meet some russians and they just don't like to talk about politics or religion, but in a stoic way, the opposite than the americans, that like to express their opinion of everything as if it were important.

So please russians, don't smile like idiots... but smile xD

Very intresting post, thanks

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Anonymous said...

Intersting article but wrong topic,

here is correct topic-
Why EAST-EUROPEANS dont smile ?

You just need to go to Poland or Hungary, or Romania etc - they did NOT smile too

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Anonymous said...

People is nonsense. Have you any idea what is written here?
Before answering the question: Why Russians Do Not Smile, read some classic works of Gogol, Dostoevsky. Take Lermontov A Hero of Our Time - here our whole life! Nothing has changed. Then try to pass the whole of Russia - and only then will find the answer ...
I traveled a lot. And I can safely say - you do not give the correct answer.

С уважением Nikolay.

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Anonymous said...

Agreed, russian people are dog pigs who think anyone who is not russians are stupid pigs. There woman dress like prostitutes the men and woman have no manners and then say americans and english behave like animals. Everyone in russian corrupt, the have an overwhelming aids problem and alcohol is killing all there me. There incredibly arrogant rude people, there the only animals I see.