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Putnam in ‘The Washington Post’ on Why Russians Don’t Smile Much (That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Like You) Archives

Samuel Putnam. He’s smiling but does he mean it?

Soccer fans visiting Russia for the World Cup should not take it personally if they don’t encounter too many smiles from their hosts. Russians, as a rule, are not outwardly cheerful people, but this doesn’t mean they’re unfriendly, writes Professor of Psychology Samuel Putnam in The Washington Post.

In an article coauthored with Washington State University’s Masha Gartstein (who is Russian), Putnam contrasts Russia with the US and other countries, where “smiling is a common, reflexive gesture of goodwill.”

The bottom line: When a Russian person smiles, it probably indicates genuine happiness, whereas in many other countries, you can’t be too sure.

3 thoughts on “Putnam in ‘The Washington Post’ on Why Russians Don’t Smile Much (That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Like You)

  1. Jon MacDonald '61

    What a huge subject! I live in France (I am a New Englander, class of 1961) and the French don’t smile much. I think of it as a legacy of hundreds of years of conflict, much of internal, and they don’t get close without a reason and usually the passage of time. Bureaucrats never smile, but they are not unfriendly. I don’t associate smiles with happiness but it would be worth looking into any possible connection with lack of smiling and the fact that the French are the champion anti-depressant medication consumers of Europe.

    I get on here, but I don’t smile a lot either!

  2. Anthony Antolini

    Old joke told during Soviet days: Q: “What is the shortest book in the world?”
    A:”Soviet Humor.”

  3. Mark Slutz

    This is an interesting idea. Is body language more of a universal human form of expression, or is it closely linked to language & culture? Is American body language in general very different than Russian body language? (I’m presuming that smiling is a rather basic easily observable type of body language).

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