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.