An Avian Conversation Without Names
I’ve tried since 2000 to get used to life in Russia but some things always will be problems. After nearly 12 years here, and me close to 70 years old, we’re not moving back to the USA because it would take more money than I have. So I just have to continually remind myself to adapt!
I miss the Small Talk and friendly greetings heard in the USA and some other parts of the world. People in In Russia don’t smile at strangers. (They say here you must be drunk or insane to do so.)
The lack of smiles I’m used to, but I haven’t adjusted to people not saying my name during Small Talk.
A major social difference in Russia your teachers didn’t warn you about...
In the US most people understand the importance of names. Dale Carnegie pointed this out. If you remember someone’s name... your neighbor, supermarket checker, store clerk... you try to use it as a sign of friendliness, respect, and to make the talking go easier.
No one expects in Russia to be addressed by name when neighbors or acquaintances meet. If I see our next door neighbor walking outside or in the corridor I say, ‘Draszy, Gala’. Her reply since I’ve known her never includes my name. Typical, but for a small town boy such as I, it gets on my nerves.
Also, a typical Russian doesn’t know or use a store clerk’s name even though he may speak with him a few times a week. I feel this keeps a layer of frost on casual greetings, diminishing good feeling on both sides of an otherwise pleasant exchange.
This is the way things are, and will be.
Greetings without names is neither a negative reflection on Russians or intended rudeness. Here name greetings of acquaintances is considered unnecessary... maybe even effusive, gauche, or trespassing.
In European reserve often wins over simple friendliness. This behavior is enhanced in Russia by their customs on what to call people, and when to employ a name.
How Russians call each other... (if they do!)
In the Russian language, names are not used as often as when speaking English. It’s the flip side of what I advise Russians about courtesies... When speaking English you must use more of please, excuse me, thank you, and try not to give yes or no without softening words.
If it’s family or a close friend, you may hear a simple first name... but less frequently than in English.
My son-in-law and his mother have always called Larissa with her patronymic, Ivanova tacked on. But Larissa Ivanova sounds too formal to Larissa’s ears. Authority figures at work, and people you don’t know well are called this way, a first name... then a middle name, a patronym based on the first name of the father.
If you don’t know the full two name greeting, it is sometimes considered better to skip it than to use just a first name.
The good and bad of American social attitudes...
Wide open smiles, enthusiastic and loud greetings, and ferocious eye contact by some Americans can be a little scary to more reserved and diffident Russians. Americans have no trouble initiating conversations with strangers, say on the elevator or in your own apartment building.
This friendliness is usually innocent and just what I miss, but their is a dark side to American social dealings. They are often seen as aggressive... a steam roller, the conquering American. I understand this reaction as I am put off by brash attitudes in some American television we have on our TVs here.
Violent thriller movies, the Discovery Channel, and now the Disney Channel are examples. The Discovery Channel is especially awful... Bragadochios hefting guns, driving huge noisy trucks, swaggering.
Russians are a more passive people than Americans, also sometimes good, sometimes bad. They are less aggressive than Americans in simple social exchanges, and even geopolitically.
They don’t have the background which makes the American culture prone to missionary zeal, and semi-psychotic preventive attack. Americans feel they can change the world to fit them.
Here, people are more ‘live and let live’ believing in minding their own business. They are less likely to have an agenda when dealing with other people... but also they are not as adventurous in finding new friends.
Social attitudes in Russia and the USA are revealed by how and if names are employed in normal greetings. I still use names when greeting my Russian friends and acquaintances but understand that they won’t or cannot return the favor.
Comments appreciated! I’m eager to get your take on name/no name greetings.
- When chatting casually do you learn and try to use the other’s name?
- When speaking another language do you switch etiquette gears?
- Have you noticed a similar situation in other regions or countries?