“Sorry” there are no plastic smiles in Russia


We Have Our Reasons

Foreigners are constantly told that Russians are surprisingly, “unsmiling people”. They write about it in their blogs and guidebooks , ask about it in person , share it with their friends and acquaintances . Indeed, we smile much less of other nationalities , but as it turns out , we have our reasons .


The Unsmiling Russian

Renowned scientist , Professor Joseph Sternin calls this one of  features of the Russian household  characteristics as unsmiling and explains that it’s due to several factors. The following excerpts are from AdMe.ru in which the linguist tries to shed some light on some strange and mysterious Russian soul .

the not so real smile

A smile in Russian Communication

Is not a Signal of Courtesy.

1. A smile in Russian communication is not a signal of courtesy. A Westerner that smiles during greetings means pure politeness . The more a person smiles , the more he wants to show his friendliness to their partner. The constant polite smile in Russian is called a” duty smile ” and is considered a bad sign or a  human manifestation of his insincerity , secrecy , unwillingness to discern ones true feelings. The Russian smile is a sign of being personally liked , and not polite.


Russians do not Smile at Strangers

2 . Russians do not smile at strangers . A Smile in Russian communication is addressed mainly those whom they are familiar with. That’s why consumers don’t smile at the  salesperson – they do not know them . If the buyer sign the saleswoman , she told him always smile !


For Russians it’s Uncharacteristic to Smile Back

3 . For Russians it’s uncharacteristic to smile back . If a Russian is smiling it’s seen by him / her towards a stranger , he will undoubtedly look for the cause of this action . Maybe it’s something on  his or her clothing maybe how a hairstyle made ​​up is so funny.


Laughing for no Reason is the Sign of a Fool .”

4 . When a Russian smiles , he should be doing this for a reason that is obvious enough to everyone else. This gives a person the right to smile – from the point of view of others . In the Russian language , there is a unique saying , which is not present in other languages: ” Laughing for no reason is the sign of a fool .”


Laughter Leads to Sin

5 . The unsmiling Russian man ( namely unsmiling and not gloomy – Russians are for the most part funny , cheerful and witty ) which is supported by Russian folklore, where we find a lot of sayings and proverbs “against” laughing and joking . In the Dictionary of Vladimir DalProverbs of the Russian people” : – A good Joke has no arguments . – And that laughter leads to sin. – And that laughter and sin . – Sometimes laughter is the response to crying  . – In truth there are no jokes . -all jokes lead to no good .


No Smiling while on Duty

6. Russians do not customary smile while on duty , while  in the performance of any serious business . For example, customs officers at airports never smile about serious matters . This feature is unique to the Russian smile .


A Russian Smile is a sincere One

7. A Russian smile is intended only to be sincere one , it is regarded as a genuine expression of a good mood or towards the other party .

So, if you see a foreigner smile – it doesn’t mean anything , he was taught to smile at everyone, and if Russian smiles , it’s because they really want to.


12 thoughts on ““Sorry” there are no plastic smiles in Russia

    1. I had to do my own translating on this one, most of it I think was done correctly but not for certain, but I must admit I completely understand the thoughts behind this one. I see it every day. Americans smile even when they don’t feel like, but here nobody puts that kind of face on. It’s little harder but the people are real.

      1. Well, I’m an advocate of the middle-way. It can be a bit too much in the US, I quite agree. However, by smiling, you are not just indicating that you are happy and/or have some sorts of deep feelings for the other person. You are also expressing good-will towards someone, in the hope that they will reciprocate, with the result that the transaction/interaction you’re about to embark on goes more smoothly.

        A smile is not necessarily an expression of happiness and love, but of basic human empathy, which we should have towards all our fellow beings.

  1. I have definitely noticed this when travelling… Eastern Europe and some parts of Asia view smiling as a very much personal activity, to be reserved for appropriate occasions. I’m glad you posted this !!!!

  2. Well, I guess that should make everyone feel better about it! Although, if I’m in a good mood, I’d smile at just about everyone anyway, strangers or not. Do Russians not also bleed?

  3. While I do agree that Russian sales clerks tend not to smile and it can be disconcerting for a foreigner, some Russian salespeople will smile at and joke with strangers, and others I think are truly miserable and never smile. My favorite sales clerk at our local grocery store always greets me with a half-smile. I feel like I’m secretly in collusion with her against the anti-smile establishment. Either that or she thinks I’m an idiot and smiles for that reason…

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