Smile – By @PjotrBarakov

Pjotr Barakov

By Pjotr Barakov




Foreigners constantly say that Russians are surprisingly unsmiling people. Indeed, we smile much less than the British, but, it turns out, we have cultural reasons for that. A Russian scientist, Professor Iosif Sternin calls everyday unsmiling one of the unusual Russian characteristics and explains it in the following points. So in this SCAB I’m going to shed some light on the strangeness of the mysterious Russian soul.


  1. A smile in Russia is not a signal of courtesy where as western smiles can mean politeness. The more someone smiles the more friendly they appear. A consistent polite smile is Russia is called a “duty smile” and is considered to be a bad sign in a person, a manifestation of his insincerity, concealment, unwillingness to reveal true feelings. Russian smile is a sign of personal sympathy, not politeness.


  1. The Russians never smile at strangers. The smile in Russia is mostly addressed to acquaintances. That is why salespeople don’t usually smile at customers – they do not know them. If a salesperson knows customer, then obviously they will give a smile!


  1. It’s not typical for a Russian to smile back. If a Russian person sees a stranger smiling at him/her, one will no doubt think the reason is something about them is funny. Maybe something is in his/her clothing or hairstyle made him/her funny in the eyes of a stranger.


  1. There should be a reason, obvious enough to others, for a Russian to smile. It gives a person the right to smile from the viewpoint of others. The Russian language has a unique saying that doesn’t exist in other languages: “Laughter for no reason is a sign of a fool.”


  1. Unsmilingness of a Russian man (namely unsmiling, not gloom – Russian for the most are fun, cheerful and witty) is supported by Russian folklore, where we find a lot of sayings and proverbs ‘against’ the laughter and jokes. Here’s a fragment from Vladimir Dal’s dictionary “Proverbs of the Russian people. – Joke leads to no good – Laughter leads to sin – And a laughter, and a sin – There is no truth in jokes – A joke does not lead to good……


  1. It is not common for Russians to smile while on duty or while performing any serious business. For example, customs officers at airports never smile as they’re engaged in a serious business. This feature of Russian smile is unique.


  1. A Russian smile is intended to be sincere only, it is regarded as a sincere expression of a good mood or sympathy to someone.


So if a foreigner smiles at you it does not mean anything, he was taught to smile at everyone. However if it’s a Russian who smiled, it was because one actually wanted it.

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