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Russians never smile - true or not?

From this article you will learn 6 features of Russian politeness and underlying causes of national unsmiling.


The first thing that surprises the foreign tourist in Russia, - the number of gloomy people. Why Russians smile so little? And it's true: we smile much less than the other nations of the West and the East. Hollywood smile is alien to Russians just as duty smile of China or Vietnam residents. 

Researchers of communicative behavior called natural unsmiling one of the most prominent national specific features of Russian communication. This feature of Russians is often perceived in the West countries as a result of bad education or a lack of respect to the interlocutor. However, this phenomenon has its explanation, and this is not only in the harsh climate and difficult historical development of our country, but also in the fact that Russian smile has a completely different function than the foreign smile. We singled out a few national features of Russian smile.

1. Russians smile differently than other people. 

Russian smile (normally) performed only the lips, sometimes the upper row of teeth becomes slightly visible; demonstration  of the upper and lower teeth as Americans do, is unpleasant or even vulgar according to the Russian culture. Russian writers have repeatedly drawn attention to the difference between the Russian and American smiles, describing the US smile as a strange and artificial for the Russian people. 

2. The smile in Russian communication is not a signal of courtesy. 

For the majority of Americans and Western Europeans smile is first of all a signal of courtesy, so it is required for the greeting and in secular conversation. The more person smiles when greeting the more politeness to his companion he demonstrates. In some Eastern cultures smile of courtesy even aims to alleviate perception of negative information. Thus, Ilya Ehrenburg writes in his memoirs of the Chinese, who with a smile told him about the death of his wife. Mention of this polite smile was: "You should not be upset, it's my sorrow." In Russian it is simply unthinkable. The smile of courtesy is not characteristic of Russian, moreover, often perceived with animosity.  The polite smile for the customers also disapprovingly called our "duty" smile and is considered to be insincere.

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3. In Russian communication it is not accepted to smile at strangers. 

The smile in Russia is mostly addressed to friends and relatives. That is why the saleswoman don't usually smile at customers - they do not know them. If stranger smiles to Russian, his first thought would be "Do we know each other?"
In the case of accidental eye meeting Americans usually smile, while Russians, on the contrary, try to look away.

4. Russians doesn't accept to smile while on duty, or while doing any serious business.

 This feature of Russian smile is unique . At all times stewards, servants, waiters were polite, but never allowed themselves to smile. The good old tradition is alive today. A friendly smile is barely surviving in Russian service, as the people of our mentality see in this "professional" smile an artificial mask of indifference. And while the Japanese or American children from an early age are taught to smile as a kind of social responsibility, Russian parents often tell children :"Do not smile! Be serious in the school".

5. Russian smile is intended only to be sincere and to have a clear cause. 

For  Russians a smile is always sincere, open and express a good mood or sympathy for the interlocutor. "What is in the heart, in the face won't be hidden", "Heart bitterness won't be sweetened by smile" - Russian proverbs say. For example, the Chinese say to the contrary: "Offence in the heart, smile on the face". Excessive smiling or cheerfulness seems suspicious for Russians. Such a smile can be seen as silliness or at worst as the provoking behavior (for men) or an inviting sign (for women). That's why some Russians say: "Laughter for no reason - sign of fatuity".

6. The smile should be appropriate. 

It is important for Russians that the smile is well-spoken and corresponded to the situation. Russian proverb says: "Fun is fun, but there's the job waiting". Teachers often make comments to children: "Better smile later, and now it's time to work." 

You will learn much more fun facts about Russia during our walking private tours in Moscow. See you!

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