Why Are Russian People Hard to Smile?

Whether you just picked a fight with your loved one or woke up on the wrong side of the bed or struggled through a morning to a job you do not really enjoy, it can be a difficult task to put a smile on your face when in fact you are feeling less than chipper.

However, by opting to smile, happy changes will start to happen automatically, both internally and externally. After all, great power lies in a random smile, as long as you share it with the world.

According to a scientific research, a simple act of smiling can change you as well as the world around you. Both research and simple common sense show that smile is contagious. It can make us look a whole lot more attractive to others. It can lift our mood and moods of those around us. It can even lengthen our lives’ span.

Smile of Russian People

In Russia, randomly smiling in public or at strangers is often considered as a sign of inferior intellect or mental illness. It is pretty much different when done in the America and many other countries where smiling is considered as a common, reflexive gesture of goodwill.

There is truth to the so-called smiling gap. According to the research, there is a striking difference in how often Russian people smile compared to people of other nations. To foreigners, it might be easy to interpret that Russian people are unfriendly and callous.

However, that is not always the case. So, before drawing a false conclusion, let us learn more about the reasons behind it. Why are Russian people hard to smile? Obviously, there are certain expressions such as smiling that may or may not become a key part of social exchanges in some cultures.

Smile Only When Necessary

Not smiling to strangers in public is Russian cultural norm. It is because there is no specific reason as to why they should greet a stranger that way. Unlike people of other nations who initially treat strangers as good people until one day, some of them turn out bad; Russian people treat all strangers as aliens until they prove that they are good people and become friends.

Moreover, if you start smiling randomly to strangers on the streets in Russia, it will make them uneasy or they will think that you are smiling at them because of their funny appearance or silly hairstyle or there is just something wrong with their outfits. As a result, they will not smile in return and get confused instead.

Inappropriate Gesture

Smiling is considered inappropriate except for employees of corporate with Western environment since they are usually expected to do Western communication style. All other serious contexts are not a place to smile.

The tradition of not smiling starts from school. If a teacher hears chuckles in the classroom, the response would likely be, “Why are you smiling and laughing like that? Is there something funny?”

It also applies to the work environment. A boss in a typical Russian corporate environment may say and act in the same manner as the teacher at a business meeting.


At this point, do not be surprised if later, when you visit Russia, the immigration officers do not greet you with a smile. Their job is protecting their country border and it is considered a serious business. That is why there is no place for smiles there.

Also, smiling and laughing at strangers in public is seen as impolite. Meanwhile, the ability to smile at oneself is seen as a socially positive trait. However, it is worth noting that it is wise not to smile or laugh all the time unless you want to get a reputation of being a clown and as a result, people will never treat you seriously. As a wise man once said, a good laugh is good; but when it comes to other serious stuff, you must leave the jokes aside.

They Are Not Unhappy

Smiling less does not mean Russian people are all unhappy. If anything, it is actually quite the opposite. Their joy comes from a lot of sources than just showing socially good trait such as the vodka, the virile ruler, the endless mounds of sour cream, et cetera. They are all equally pleasing to some people.

Grinning without a reason is not a skill Russian people feel compelled to cultivate or possess. There is even famous Russian proverb saying, “Laughing for no reason is a sign of idiocy.” Russian people’s attachment to the gentle scowl seems even more unique to foreigners than Russian climatic cold.


Why does the society not encourage the practice of casual smiling? There is some kind of cultural phenomenon called uncertainty avoidance. It is a culture that tends to have social systems that are unstable such as courts, safety nets, health-care systems, and so forth. Therefore, Russian people view the future as uncontrollable and unpredictable.

So, when they smile, they might seem odd because why would you smile when your fate is an invisible wolf waiting to shred you into pieces?

Real Feeling

In Russia, smiling usually exhibits the real good mood and good partnership between people, as it is not originally used as a form of politeness. When a Russian person smiles at you, it means that they really care about you or are genuinely in a pleasant mood.

When it comes to smiling, Russian people prefer to not show their teeth too much. If they show their upper and lower teeth while smiling, it will look a little bit vulgar and invite a horse grin to the concerned party.

So, that is the answer to the question, why are Russian people hard to smile?  Remember that many things have changed since then, even in the smiling respect, too. In today’s age, there are a lot of Russian people who have learnt that smiling is a sign of politeness.

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