When in Russia, Leave Your Smile at Home

| 2/3/2009 8:48:30 PM

Psychology Today CoverUnlike many Americans, Russians don't put on their happy face for the benefit of strangers. In fact, Russians seldom crack smiles in public, but that doesn't mean they've come down with "a nationwide case of the blues," reports Marina Krakovsky for Psychology Today.

While the sharp difference in the number of smiling citizens you'll encounter in public places in the United States and Russia can’t be explained by a wide gap in general happiness, it could be attributed to differences in the ways we separate our public and private lives. Krakovsky points to a psychological study that found that in group-oriented cultures, like Russia, people tend to express less emotion in public because “tamping down emotional displays reinforces the borders between friends and strangers, which in collectivist societies are hard to cross.” In the States, where “relationships come and go more easily,” people tend to be more expressive, even with strangers.

Krakovsky notes that Russians’ straight-faced public demeanor could also have grown out of a number of other aspects of Russian life—their rough history or severe climate, for instance. However it became ingrained in the national psyche, it’s a custom guided by an unwritten code of conduct, Russian linguist Iosif Sternin told Psychology Today. That code says showing off one’s dimples isn’t a way “to lift another’s spirits,” and that it's only done “for good reason.”

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