Dealing with Russians is often confusing. We have a duality in almost all aspects of our behavior. We do not smile to strangers, but have a great sense of humor. We are pessimistic when things go well, but have great stamina and joke, when they don’t. We believe in fate but will never cross the path of a black cat. Does the famous “Russian Soul” really exist and what is it?
It is impossible to fully describe Russian national character in one post. Here are just some snippets that may help you better understand Russians.
That is not necessarily bad – we do say what we think and you can be sure we say what we mean.
But we are not born-diplomats at all. If we do not like your idea, we will rather say it is stupid, than (like the British people) – that it is “interesting”. We are often thought of as being rude because of it. We are not, we just give you an honest feedback. You may argue that we are wrong in return, that is very acceptable. We love heated discussions!
That one is interesting. We do not care about you at all if we do not know you. But will be really nice to you if you are a friend of a friend and will go out of our way to help you. But if you are our spouse or a close friend – we will skip “thank you, please, would you be so kind etc.” You will think – what is going on? Why are we suddenly hostile? We are not. We just do not think we need to say extra words if we are already close friends or more. We just omit the unnecessary reverences, but if you need us – we will always be there for you.
If you cheat at the exam – we would rather help you than turn you in. If you commit a bad thing at work and we know about it – we would rather keep silence than turn you in (even if we disagree and think it is bad). Turning somebody in – that is what is considered a crime. Questionable in the case of exams, but that is how ethics works here.
In the same time that behavior has its positives. You can always rely on your friends and be very open with them. They will tell you what they think about you and your stupid behavior, but will try to help you to get out of any difficult situation. As we say – Russian will give the only shirt he has to a friend.
We will judge how strangers dress their kids to school (“you are a bad mom, your kid is not wearing a hat”). We will tell you that your kid should wear a hat even if you do not ask our opinion. We will judge how you dress at work, how you live etc. We honestly think it is in your benefit and should be considered as a valuable feedback. Terrible part of the character, which may have come from the Soviet times, when various committees at work or in school were allowed to publicly judge unwanted behavior.
Not all Russians have a mentality, described in Dostoevsky novels, but we all have a bit of a dark side in us. Reading too much and living without proper sunshine for 9 months a year makes one think about life and gives a lot of time to do so. From what I read about a correlation of happiness and a number of sun days around the world – there is a strong correlation between these two parameters. We, Russians, are most similar in our mentality to people from South America in many aspects. But we and them have a different level of base happiness. Russians tend to overanalyze things, expect pessimistic outcome even if things go rather well. Long winter nights in our cold country give us a lot of time for self-reflection.
Here is how the city looks on a sunny and on a foggy day from the same point. Difference is even more pronounced when it is a snowy, winter, foggy, grey day:
In the same time, if things are really bad – we pull ourselves together, get help from friends, believe that the dark stripe will always be followed by a white one and invent really funny jokes about the situation. We are very strong in the times of hardship.
So, what is a typical Russian soul? It is indeed more on a pessimist side. But with a strong belief in luck and magical forces that can make a difference. It is quite rare for a Russian to be in a super elevated mood and see the life through rosy lenses. There are so many things, which can go wrong, even when everything looks fine. One of the most famous modern sayings, which captures the essence of our attitude towards life was a saying from a former prime minister Chernomyrdin. He said – ‘we always want to do our best, but things turn out as usual”. Hell is full of good meanings and intents. But Russians are fatalists in their core. Unlike Americans with their “can do attitude”, we always expect that external forces will be against our best wishes and intents. In the same time, we truly believe that luck and other good forces can truly help us. This is an ongoing battle and we do think about cause and effect a lot. Maybe even too much.
We are prone to analyze and over-analyze all our conversations with people. Very often we seriously discuss not the exact words that a person said to us, but what we think he or she really thought or felt at the moment. Non-verbal communication is something that we pay a lot of attention to. In most cases it has nothing to do with open/closed postures or other scientific stuff. It is about – “I said this and I felt that she was uncomfortable with the news. She answered that, but I think she felt the opposite”. One of the popular Russian pop songs has the following text – “I glanced back to see if she had glanced back to see whether I had glanced back”. That behavior is very typical for us.
If we consume alcohol – we do not become silly. Well, maybe for a moment. But after it – we become very serious and engage in long conversations about meaning of life. And nothing is more bonding than having a deep and quality discussion with a Russian, whether it is under influence of alcohol or not.
I think that any Russian should find friends from South America. Knowing people, who are so similar to us in so many ways, but so much lighter in how they treat life makes us more happy. We charge ourselves with positive energy from such friends and see life in a much more positive way. Cheers to all my friends from Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and other countries from that region!
I do know most of these things because I am Russian and am an insider in the Russian culture. But some of them I have learned in the amazing class on Coursera on Understanding Russians. Hope that class will be offered again next year and really recommend to take it if you are curious to explore the reasons behind Russian character traits and develop your own definition of the famous “Russian Soul”!
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.