Stop Smiling!

The more time I spend in this amazing city, the more I love it and feel at home. My University (pictured above) astounds me with its beauty every day. The metro navigation has become a part of my daily life and is 10 times more enjoyable than any other metro I have ridden, well, as enjoyable as the metro can be. I’ve staked out a couple study spots, coffee shops of course, and communication has become much easier than it was at the beginning.

The thing that I have not quite gotten use to though is the drastically different social culture. I came in with the expectation that it would be different of course, but it is more of a difference than I had imagined it would be. There is no one simple way to describe this difference, it’s just there and not entirely obvious until one experiences it. To help you understand this point of culture shock, in case any of you are planning to visit Russia anytime soon (I know you want to!), I’ll outline a few differences and stereotypes.

Of course there is the stereotype that Russians are cold and angry all the time, which is actually partially true. On the street this is 100 percent accurate, sometimes you can even feel the coldness wafting off of them like a clear “Don’t you dare talk to me.” Don’t you dare talk to them or even look at them for that matter. That friendly midwestern manner from my childhood and the southern hospitality that I have come to love are completely frowned upon here. In fact, one of the hardest things to constantly remember when on the street and metro is not to smile. Smiling, especially as a woman directed toward a man, is not a smart thing to do. A smile is a symbol of, “Hey I am very, very interested in you.” Just don’t do it and you will avoid plenty of awkward situations and aggressive Russian men.

The coldness of Russians does not stop with the outward appearance. Know the word for “excuse me” in Russian? Forget it, they don’t use it here. Despite the cram packed metro, streets, and buses I have never once heard someone say “excuse me” when they have slammed past me. In fact, their preferred method is to physically shove you out of the way without a word. And people call American travelers “rude Americans!”

For a country that seems completely unapproachable and outwardly very reserved, Russians are surprisingly blunt, nosy, and touchy. Once Russians start talking to you there are absolutely no questions off limit, so be ready to share your life story, talk about politics, give a complete dating history, and reveal how much money you and your parents make. Don’t feel like sharing? It’s okay, they’ll ask again and again until you do. Don’t like hugging people you just met? Better not come to Russia. Uncomfortable around PDA? Don’t you dare go on the metro or to a bar.

Overall, the people of Russia are a strange mix of cold and overly-friendly. The social culture of Russia is unlike anything that I have ever experienced, but that has just added to the grand adventure that is study abroad.

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