Why Russians don't smile?
This is a question that most foreigners ask themselves when traveling to Russia or meeting Russian people for the first time. Despite the fact that Russian people don’t smile much and do it rarely, they are often considered as outgoing, friendly and welcoming people. So why do the body language of Russians is so different from their interior?
The simple answer to the question is: because in the Russian culture a smile is not a sign of politeness and good attitude. In other words, in Moscow, as in all of Russia, a smile is not an obligatory part of culture. Residents of former Soviet countries always smile and laugh for some reason. For example, if they want to share with friends or family a moment of joy. Also, a smile is appropriate for a joke or to demonstrate that you are really happy. Learn more about cultural traditionals in Russia and why Russians don't smile a lot.
In Russia, a smile is not a sign of respect or politeness
When you meet a person for the first time in America or Europe, you are supposed to greet him with a smile, showing in such a way your respect and good attitude to this person. Smiling while talking with your opponent in Western countries demonstrates that you are listening to your interlocutor with attention and you respect him. Unlike in Russia, where smiling may be considered as dishonesty and an intention to hide your real emotions. Also, Russian people avoid smiling to strangers in the street. If you ride the Moscow metro and smile at a stranger, he might think that you know each other. Otherwise, he may ask you why you smile at him? Moscow is such a city where everyone is in a hurry and people don’t have time to smile at each other for no reason.
Smiling without any reason
There is a soviet proverb that says: “Only fools smile without any reason”. According to the typical Russian communicative behavior, they smile when there is an appropriate situation for that. If you smile to a stranger without any reason, this person may think that he did something wrong or he looks weird, so you are simply having fun of him. In such a way, it is better if your smile is a reflection of a good mood and a really friendly relationship with your opponent.
Smile instead of laugh
So, Russians need a really significant reason to smile. At the same time, in the communication behavior of Russians there is a small difference between laughing and a smiling. Thus, if the Russians answered your joke just with a smile, it means that they appreciated it. Of course, Russian people also laugh like everyone else on this planet. However, they do this less frequently than in Europe. More often they just smile if they are happy.
In business environment smiling “automatically” to your partners can make Russians think that you are not serious and just unreliable person. So, if you do not smile during the negotiations, they will take you for a serious person and trust you more. While in other countries it would be a bad sign.
Typical Russian smile
More often you will face people in Russia smiling with a closed mouth and only rarely you can see their teeth readily visible. However, if you are with people you know well or there was some good joke pronounced, the “normal” laugh will be appropriate.
To discover more about Russian people and their culture book a tour with locals.
When Russians smile
In fact, I personally know a lot of Russians who are very kind and welcoming people. Russians generally smile to their friends and relatives. They smile or laugh when there is a special occasion. Such an occasion can be good news or an excellent joke. They can smile in public transport, at home and anywhere else. Unlike Americans and Europeans, Russians tend to not trust people from the first look. They prefer to observe, better know others before starting to trust someone.
Living in France, I see a lot of Russians visiting the region during their holidays. Speaking Russian, I always try to get in contact with Russian people where it is possible. Sometimes, I talk to them in public transport or in a park. They answer me very politely. The conversation can last for 10 or even 15 minutes. Sometimes, they even start to tell me about their problems, their job, life in Moscow etc. But, they won’t smile at me or make jokes. They consider me a stranger and prefer to keep a distance. This is normal according to the Russian culture.
Summing up, it is advised to foreigners travelling to Russia:
- Do not smile to strangers in the street, as they can take it wrong.
- Smile when you feel really good and you want to show a special and very friendly attitude to your opponents.
- Don’t hesitate to talk with Russian people even if they are not smiling, and you will see that in fact, they are one of the most joyful, generous and welcoming nations!