After nearly nine years in St Petersburg, and lots of cross cultural experience, I am still lost about a significant Russian behavior.
I grew up in a Scottish American family where I heard more talk about George VI than Truman. Born in New Jersey, I studied during the early sixties in the South, travelled in Europe and Mexico, and lived with many ethnic and economic types while a sailor.
Why are Russians you meet on a casual basis often cold, unresponsive, and, yes, rude? Usually, people walk with a blank expression or frown... a slightly unpleasant look. If you smile at other pedestrians they think you are crazy.
In America I enjoyed greeting a woman walking her dog... "Madam, that`s a wonderful dog you have!" and, regardless of how ugly and mangy the dog, the woman usually responded with a happy conversation about her puppy! In Russia when I say something similar people often make NO response.
The other day I was at our Seasons supermarket. As a durok (idiot) I forgot to get a tomato weighed before getting in line. The cashier ignored my question as to what to do, and after getting it weighed... stupid move on my part... she chose to yell at me even though I had apologized for slowing the checkout.
I fell recently, and after struggling to get my cap back on, told a lady to be careful of the ice under the snow. She kept walking, didn`t inquire as to whether I was all right, and didn`t acknowledge I had kindly thought about her safety.
In America I enjoyed learning the names of people at the supermarket, post office, and restaurant. They remembered my name when I returned, which made me feel good. People in Russia don`t believe they need this social interaction and think of it as insincere.
It`s true that Americans can overdo positive public behavior, such as the inappropriate smile of Condoleezza Rice at the Kremlin. Still, I miss the public cheerfulness and kindness found in much of the West, but also realize that it sometimes lacks sincerity. Russians are more likely to ignore or be brutally direct when dealing with people in public.
This aloof behavior in Russian can add to individual loneliness and depression. Next lets look at some of the historical reasons for this cold unpleasant public response, which I will call The Missing Samaritan.