It is almost a cliché, even among Russian-Americans, to joke about how little Russians smile. But does that reflect differing happiness levels?
There is some evidence that Russians are less happy than Americans, but current research suggests that this is not due to huge underling differences. Instead, it can be better explained by differing cultural expectations. While Americans are encouraged to smile in public, Russians are strongly discouraged from doing so.
As Humintell’s Dr. David Matsumoto explains, Russians, like many collectivist societies, live under stricter expectations of emotional control. This is mostly true with strangers, as it helps to emphasize the differences between friends and strangers.
Despite the often frosty demeanor, Dr. Matsumoto emphasized that this does not mean the Russians can never be expressive. You just have to get to know them and wait for them to open up.
In fact, Dr. Matsumoto remarked “Once you’re drinking vodka shots together, they’re more expressive than anyone else.”
This may seem odd to many Americans, where we are encouraged to smile in everyday contexts, but our smiles seem quite strange to other cultures! Many Russians may see our expressiveness as a sign of a disingenuous attitude.
In our blog a few weeks ago, we discussed how Japanese culture encourages smiles in public and with strangers but still in different ways than Americans. Many people from Japan may smile to hide other emotions, rather than to express happiness or cordiality. This is notably different from Russians who will maintain a neutral expression in those contexts.