21 February 2009

Russian Rudeness and the Missing Samaritan

People here keep a poker face on the street, will not take the initiative to chat with or help unknown pedestrians, and feel it`s OK to yell at customers. Why? My theory on this perceived rudeness goes back to religion.

Most Russians attend just a few, if any, church services a year. They have no history of growing up an active Jew or Christian as communism discouraged religion. The Orthodox Church is now established as the traditional faith, gets on the news just about every night... but its moral instruction hasn`t taken hold.

Few people here know the stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, or the Sermon on the Mount . Beyond city center there are few church bells, no moral instruction from Hebrew or Sunday School, no weekly sermons emphasizing how important it is to be actively kind to your family, neighbors, and especially to strangers! I was an active Presbyterian back home, even though I am an agnostic. It was good to get moral reminders every week and be part of a caring community.

The West has many centuries of Bible centered religion, while here the church is top down. They are unlikely to recruit parishioners for choir, clubs, church dinners. It seems they often have no idea who you are and do not care.

If you meet with rudeness in Russia I believe it is because Biblical moral instruction is lacking. Without this education, the people see their behavior as acceptable.


  1. I have seen in your writings a couple times now the concept that people just don't help other people in Russia. That really blows me away. What an interesting insight about moral instruction from the church too, surprising in a way since you say you are an agnostic. My late husband, and current boyfriend were/are agnostic and I think they would have argued with you, claiming that people would be charitable with or without the concept of God and his church teaching from the bible. I'm enthralled of all the differences and your life in Russia! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. American Russia ObservationsThursday, August 26, 2010

    Thanks Widow Lady for your comments!

    I guess the difference is that Russians sometimes will help if asked, but they rarely volunteer or seek people to help. An exception... They will help you find your way if you appear lost.

    People don't smile or wave or speak to strangers... part of a unfathomable reserve, and partly because they just don't believe that 'A Stranger is Someone Whom I Haven't Met Yet'

    I appreciate your perceptive and enthusiastic way of commenting. Here's hoping you will comment often in the future.

  3. ...I agree that there is a lot of what we would see as rudeness between strangers, but as soon as that barrier is broken, even a little, there is a complete change of attitude! In 4 weeks of travel from St. Petersburg to Irkutsk, I met only one person (an inebriated man in a Kupe cabin) who did not treat me kindly and with great hospitality- even those who started as complete strangers. My companion and I even had a stranger we met on a bus change her plans for the day to accompany us to a park in Krasnoyarsk. Perhaps it was because I was American, spoke only basic Russian and seemed a bit vulnerable, but my impressions of Russians are of the kindest, most gracious people on earth...except possibly for those in stores, and I suspect that if we are to meet them individually we would find them equally as kind.

    I agree that the lack of religion affects the public behavior of most, and the personal behavior of many; I wonder, though, if the public behavior is as much a hold-over from the soviet times when people had to be so very careful of what was said and done as a lack of moral training?


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