Is it true that Russians never smile or laugh?

Is it true that Russians never smile or laugh?
06 June 2016

Foreigners, especially those who come to Russia for the first time, have often a negative impression of Russian people and frequently ask themselves why Russians are so serious and why is that difficult for them to be a slightly more kind.

To be honest, before getting to know the Russian culture, I also asked myself “Is it true that Russians never laugh and never smile?”

Of course not! Russians love laughing and they are truly capable of doing it!

Although, if it’s true that Russians easily smile and laugh when they’re surrounded by friends and family, it’s also fair to say that people are not yet accustomed to smile at strangers in contemporary Russia. In fact, due to several different historical and cultural traditions, the courtesy smile that we usually address to strangers has never turned into a necessary element of communication in the Russian culture.

While smiling is considered an act of politeness and kindness in the American and Western societies, it is not regarded as a sign of courtesy in the Russian interpersonal communication.

So we need to understand that our courtesy smile is considered fake in Russia. As a matter of fact, Russians usually smile at people in order to show them their liking and affinity and a stranger just doesn’t have the same confidential position of a friend or a relative. That’s why in Russia it’s common standard to smile just in a friendly environment.

It must be said that recently, under the influence of the western culture, the smile as an element of simple kindness and as a sign of good manners is gradually appearing also on Russians faces, although at the moment this phenomenon is confined just to the costumer service area. Indeed, the staff of an expensive hotel, a restaurant or a fashion boutique will almost always smile back to you, but you can’t expect the same to happen in all everyday places.

However, despite what it looks like, do not judge the book by its cover. Even if the habit of not smiling might seem weird to us, we should try to understand that we are talking about a different culture and a different mentality, so it doesn’t all come down to the fact of being hostile or rude.

Try for example to ask a simple question to a stranger walking on the street: «Извините, пожалуйста. Я иностранец, плохо знаю город/язык. Где остановка/станция метро? Помогите мне, пожалуйстa» and see the result yourselves! 🙂

This post was brought to you by Mattilde, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz

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