Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!

Why Don't Russians Smile?

Famous linguist reveals the reasons

MORE: Society

This article originally appeared at It was translated by Sergey Turgenev 

Foreigners regularly say that Russians are astonishingly unsmiling people. This fact is widely mentioned in the blogs, tour-guides, discussed in personal conversations and shared with friends and acquintances. Indeed, we Russians smile more rarely than other nationalities, but, as explained below, we have our own reasons for this.

<figcaption>Russen sind nicht wie Amerikaner, sie brauchen einen Grund zum Lächeln</figcaption>
Russen sind nicht wie Amerikaner, sie brauchen einen Grund zum Lächeln

Famous scientist, professor Iosif Sternin, names one of the specific parts of the Russian national character - everyday unsmiliness and explains it with several reasons. quotes extracts from the article of the professor, which bring a light to some of the peculiarities of the mysterious Russian soul.

1. A smile in the Russian communication is not equal to politeness. Western smiles during greetings mean pure politeness. The more a person smiles, the more friendliness he or she wants to demonstrate to his partner. The constant polite smile are called by Russians as the - "duty smile"  and is considered as a bad feature of a person, indicating his insincerity, secrecy, unwilingness to reveal his true emotions. The geniune Russian smile - is the sign of personal sympathy, but not politeness.

2. Russians do not smile to strangers. A smile in Russian communication is mainly adressed to acquintances. That is why the sales-assistances in Russia are not smiling to the customers - simply because they do not know them. If the customer is already known in the shop, the sales assistant will often smile.

3. It is not typical for Russians to smile back. If a Russian person sees someone he doesn't know smiling to him/her, he will, undoubtedly, try to guess a reason for this smile. He would probably think that it might be something in his clothes or haircut made that smiling fellow to have fun.

4. A Russian has to have a sufficient reason to smile, which will be obvious to the others. This gives a person the right to smile - from the point of view of the other people. Russian language contains an unique proverb, which is not presented in the other languages: "The laugh without reason - is the sign of stupidity" ("Smeh bez prichiny - priznak durachiny")

5. Unsmiliness of a Russian person (exact unsmiliness, but not gloominess - most Russians are cheerful, joyful and witty people) is supported by Russian folklore, where we find a mass of proverbs and sayings "against" laughter and jokes.

6. It is not common among Russians to smile during the execution of their professional duties or during the performance of any serious action whatsoever. For example the customs officials in the airports are never smiling as they are busy with serious business. 

7. The true Russian smile exist only as a sincere smile, and is regarded as the sincere expression of the good mood or a favour to interlocutor.

Support Russia Insider - Go Ad-Free!
MORE: Society

Our commenting rules: You can say pretty much anything except the F word. If you are abusive, obscene, or a paid troll, we will ban you. Full statement from the Editor, Charles Bausman.

Add new comment