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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Russian manners

Hello chaps,
It occurs to me that a lot of English people think that Russia is a nation of rude people who never apologise and who glare at you sternly as soon as they lay eyes on you. The latter two parts of the sentence are correct. The incorrect part is the word “rude”.

Russia is a nation of sincerity, with no false sentiments and no ceremony. People do not give away compliments lightly, nor do they deal in fake apologies. I have immense respect for this – it means that when a Russian says something is excellent, they mean it. When a Russian apologises, it is more profoundly meant than in England. If a Russian person bumps into you, they will often not apologise – not because they don’t care but because it is accepted as a part of life and I guess they assume you will get over it and your day will continue as it otherwise would. If they were to bump into you to the extent that you fell over and injured yourself, they would apologise.

My only response to this is to say “fair enough”. It has made me reconsider whether in England we are a nation that lives off overzealous false apologies, because that is what our culture has come to expect. If you bump into someone on the train in England, the British stereotypical thing to do is to apologise about sixteen different times and flap around making sure the person is not injured or their day has otherwise been ruined by your actions. What is even worse and even more British, is to apologise when someone bumps into you! It’s like saying “Sorry old chap for going about my daily business and occupying the same train carriage as you, how outrageously thoughtless of me, how could I have done such a thing?!”.  If you don’t, people think you’re a rude, soulless blight on society. I really don’t think such an attitude is necessary – the Russian way seems far less stressful, there is a kind of mutual acceptance that neither party will kick up a fuss, provided no lasting harm has been done.

The other thing that took me by surprise about Russian people is how little they smile in the street, or rather, how much they glare at strangers.

I have heard two reasons why they do this. Firstly, that if you smile too much in Russia, there is the assumption that you are actually quite stupid and easily amused. Secondly, it was not so long ago that people were informing on their neighbours to the authorities, so there is a lack of trust between Russians in everyday encounters. Certainly, I think it is quite hard to get a Russian to properly trust you, harder at least than an English person, but when that trust is established, it runs intimately and should therefore be valued more.

My personal opinion is that these reasons in part are to blame for this cultural rift, but it is more because of the sincerity point I covered in my previous comment about apologies. We must also not exclude general snobbery from the equation, Russian people are exceptionally proud of their motherland – but English people are arguably just as bad.

It is definitely a shock for English people to be so scowled at when they arrive here.


  1. Smile have to be sincere too. We smile if we are in a really good mood. If something really funny happens. If we are really happy to see somebody.
    If you smile too much to please people in Russia they understand it and think that you probably pursue your hidden goal. They think you want to get the trust and warmth of relations immediately but you have to earn it by doing, not by smiling. At least a little. They prefer wait a little when your actions speak for you. When they get to know you little closer. Then you will get sincere smile as well as warmth of relations if deserves it. But it will be sincere, not just a polite. (Although polite smile also happens sometimes but it usually looks different)
    Fake smile always and everywhere looks strange in Russia and sometimes just annoying.

    Thank you that you are using a broad view of things, trying to find new and understand us, but do not specify how we should live. It is really rare. And welcome!


  2. This is really interesting and much better put than my original post! Thank you!

    I certainly hope that you don't think that I am trying to specify how people should live - this is simply a comment on the differences between English and Russian people and actually intended as a compliment to Russian culture. The sincerity of Russians is something I very much admire.

  3. > I certainly hope that you don't think that I am trying to specify...

    I don't think so. And I appreciate it very much. (Some Western people think they know better how we should live. In fact, many. :) Just open almost any article in the Western press. This is why your other attitude is very valuable). That's what I wanted to say. Maybe my English isn't always clear :)