Do Russians smile — when and why?

Not too many smiles on the Moscow Metro (underground subway).

Of course many of us remember the days of dark and gloomy faces. In an oppressive society where every person a citizen encountered could be a mole for the КГБ (KGB), it seemed as if nobody wanted to be noticed.

Russian often point out that Westerners, especially Americans, seem to wear a smile that seems non-natural and false. They say, “Americans smile as if they are electric light bulbs” or “the American face is designed for the display of teeth.”

Here are some very important differences from East to West:

– The act of a smile in Russian communication is not always received as a sign of politeness, in fact often what a Westerner might term as a “grin” can be received as a sign of jest or jeering.

– Russians don’t typically smile when working or when involved in a serious task.

– For Russians there is sometimes no distinction between a smile and laughter. These are interchangeable, which is why a smile at a Russian (without logical reason) can make that person feel as if you are laughing at them. At the same time a smile on a Russian face can indicate a mild form of pleasant laughter.

– Russians usually do not smile at strangers, nor is it considered as being polite to return a smile from someone else.

Finally, there is one thing you should understand about a Russian smile:

A genuine Russian smile in St Petersburg at the Hermitage.

– A Russian smiling at you is a sign of personal attraction/happiness.


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