russian nesting dolls

Famous “Russian Soul” And Other National Character Mysteries

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.

Russians Are Very Direct

straight railwayThat 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!

Russians Are Rude to Strangers, Polite To Acquaintances And Rude To The Close Circle

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.

Russians Tolerate Cheating At Exams But Will Never Betray Friends

Cheating at exams

Cheating at exams

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.

Russians Do Judge And Think That It Is OK


Nothing gets unnoticed by babushkas, resting on a bench near apartment building entrances

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.

Famous “Russian soul”. Does it really exist?

crime and punishment book coverNot 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:

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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.

Black cat brings bad luck

Black cat brings bad luck

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”!

Leave a Reply

  • Anonymous - 8 years ago

    Down to earth analysis out of which anyone can learn. A crash course for those who believed to know what makes the Russians tick.
    Love it

  • ejharb - 7 years ago

    one of the things I like is the directness and honesty,a majority of americans especialy females are the wife is Russian and I adore the differences between her and the American women I knew before.with my American exwife I rarely knew where I stood with her.the day came when we no longer stood at all.

  • Wife2b - 6 years ago

    I love this :)
    I am dating one and I obsoletely just liking How he is .. Mysterious yet intriguing .. And kept me up on my toes I never what to expect and that makes it all worth it!!! I am learning about Russian soul. While I was trying to search for Russian soul food .. I came across this article!! Thank you for sharing .. I don’t know much about this Russian it’s only been 3 months of continuously passionate dates.. But I know one thing for – he has been honest with me u have no doubt. And I am hope for the best best I deserve the best .. And so far I am seeing the best in him.

  • Mauricio Cabrera Salinas - 5 years ago

    Very interesting and illustrative article which help me to understand a little better the “Russian soul”. Working as an mercahnt shipchandler(supplier) in Chile , South America .
    I had the chance to deal with different nationalities and cultural differences and Russians always were a little” hermetic or distant ” in my opinion at that time.But as you wrote , it seems they can be very good hearted people finally.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 5 years ago

      Hi Mauricio, I love Chile! Had been to Santiago and Valparaiso, have friends in Santiago! Yes, Russian people are nice and friendly, when you get to know them

  • Valentina Chinenova - 5 years ago

    Dear Tatiana, thank you for this extremely interesting post! If you don’t mind I’d like to use it for the lesson about “Russian Soul”? It would be great to tell students about our people in English!

    • Tanya Golubeva - 5 years ago

      Thank you very much Valentina! Sure, feel free to use it for the lesson!

  • Anonymous - 5 years ago

    I’m not Russian by blood, but my husband is and we are raising our daughters in Eastern Europe. I never imagined that putting a hat on my girls’ heads would become part of my parenting style.
    Even when I might find a hat unnecessary, as long as my girls aren’t uncomfortable I put one on. This keeps strangers from making comments and we avoid the panic that ensues when my mother-in-law sees one of her granddaughters outside without a hat.
    In spite of my consistency, I still get comments. Once, I took a hat off inside a store, because my daughter was obviously warm. It was a breezy day, so when the doors opened we felt a gust of wind. Not even thirty seconds passed when a babushka let me know I was wrong to take off my daughter’s hat.
    Another time, I was in a larger store with my younger daughter. She’s definitely more feisty and it’s impossible to keep her still. As we entered the heated store, I took off her hat and scarf, and even unbuttoned her coat a little. We spent about 10 minutes in the store, and she was flushed red with warmth by the time I finished bagging my purchases. I rushed this two-year old pink marshmallow outside to sit her on a bench, hat and scarf in hand. An older woman, who was definitely tipsy, didn’t hesitate to tell me no hat means bad mom. I’m not sure she saw the irony, as the hat was already on my daughter’s head before she finished her sentence, but she was still drunk before noon.
    I don’t share these experiences often. It’s hard to without causing doubt as to how positive they are for me. Without a doubt, my mother-in-law is right when she says children are held high in Russian culture, and the Russian soul is beautiful.

  • Anonymous - 3 years ago

    I am a dark skinned African but feel so much resonance with the Russian Soul.

    It would be a great honor to have Russia made much contact on African Continent and assist with the current decay in humaneness and cleanse the ugly western propaganda stained in most of my dark skinned neighbors, family, friends and religious puppets of my time who value so much materialistic ideas, polluting our beloved planet in all ways imaginable.

    Long Live Russia!

    Capitalism has degraded our world.

    May God bless Russia to spread sanity to the whole humanity.

  • Elsa - 2 years ago

    Love that you made the contrast with South American countries. I am a Latina married to a Russian man, living in Moscow, taking the Coursera course to give myself insight into the culture!! This helped. :)

    • Tanya Golubeva - 2 years ago

      Hola Elsa, thank you! I now live in Buenos Aires, wish I had a coursera course about Argentina:) Where are you from?