Russians don’t innately hate you

I’ve spent 2 years living in UK, and have met many people from western Europe. However, I was unsuccessful in un-wiring myself from the traditional Russian mindset when it comes to daily social interactions, and this continues to cause all sorts of problems and misunderstandings on a day to day basis.

Some people are better at adapting to new social environments, some are worse. Whether you’re planning to pay a visit to Russia or Russia is the one paying a visit to you (da, because “in soviet…”), I will try to underline the very few basic things that relate to common Russian behavior, and hope this will provide some insight on why Russians don’t innately dislike or hate you.

(Note: this might also apply to people coming from other eastern European countries)

(scene from “State Councillor”, «Статский Советник»)

When they look at you

They don’t smile at you not because they dislike you but because they respect you. Coming from a country whose people had for centuries withstood countless invasions, struggled against cold and hunger, and had to rely on genuine comrade-ship to survive, one has to always display his true emotions and mood in order to be perceived as honest, therefore reliable and trustworthy. Trust is key. Trust is respect. Trust is good will. Feigning a smile, even if it’s purely a gesture of propriety, is seen as an act of dishonesty. Dishonesty is equivalent to treachery and undermines trust.

When they shake your hand

The concepts of trust and respect mentioned above are also reflected in physical contact. When a Russian offers you a handshake, he will take his glove off, and will expect you to do the same. This might not seem as much at first glance, but it has a very powerful subconscious impact — one which will affect his further behavior and opinion of you. Direct “skin-ship” relates to honesty just about as much as a genuine smile, and thus fosters trust.

(scene from “August. Eight”, «Август. Восьмого»)

And don’t let yourself be caught off guard if a Russian handshake will make you feel as if your hand is about to get crushed. A handshake between men can sometimes turn into a competition of strength. However, this is not out of ill intent, but out of good will. The more strength a man invests into the handshake, the more he invests himself into you. Imagine if you were to find yourself on a battlefield, with him as your brother-in-arms. Had you been wounded or fell into a trench, it would require a great deal of strength and sweat on his behalf to get you out of your sticky situation. He will rescue your ass whether you like it or not. View his powerful handshake as a demonstration of this, and respond accordingly. And never shy away from being the first to exert strength, regardless of age difference. It will leave a good impression. Just be sure to avoid actually breaking hands.

A handshake takes place when you meet and when you part. Usually, the male that is older is expected to offer the handshake to the younger one. The younger one is expected to anticipate it. If no handshake happens, however, it will be interpreted as a sign of disrespect towards the younger male.

It is considered a bad omen to shake hands while standing in the doorway. Usually, when greeting each other at the door, before shaking hands, the host will either invite the guest to step inside, or will step out of the house himself.

When they greet you

When a Russian asks you “what’s up” or “how’s it going”, he expects you to give him a full summary of what you’ve been doing or how you’re feeling. Getting that information out of you to a greater extent is his goal, and to a lesser extent — a gesture of propriety. The purpose of his question is to get an informative answer — not to use it as a “filler phrase” for a greeting.

(scene from “Admiral”, «Адмиралъ»)

Naturally, for this reason it is quite common for a Russian to feel intimidated when he’s asked “what’s up” or “how’s it going” by the same person several times throughout the day, as he feels obligated to give a proper answer each and every time.

This also applies to the greeting itself. If you’ve greeted each other at some point during the day, it is uncommon for the greeting to repeat unless you’ve unexpectedly met after officially bidding each other farewell.


(scene from “Sovereign’s Servant”, «Слуга Государев»)

When dealing with a Russian — a cold look, serious expression, quietness, or a strong handshake do not necessarily imply ill intent, indifference, snobbishness, or a bad relationship. Different people are wired in different ways, influenced by their historic and cultural backgrounds. Russians can be pretty warm people who can easily invest themselves into others to an incredible degree. However, they tend to value honesty, trust and respect very highly, and often, almost instinctively, try to seek out these traits in all of their new acquaintances as well as display them themselves the way they know best.

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