Here’s something that has always puzzled me, growing up in the US as a child of Russian parents. Whenever I or my friends were having our photos taken, we were told to say “cheese” and smile. But if my parents also happened to be in the photo, they were stone-faced. So were my Russian relatives, in their vacation photos. My parents’ high-school graduation pictures show them frolicking about in bellbottoms with their young classmates, looking absolutely crestfallen.
So writes Olga Khazan at The Atlantic, in response to a new paper on intercultural smiling, further explaining that:
Russians’ fondness for the gentle scowl seems even more unusual to expats than its actual, climatic cold. And the cultural difference cuts both ways: Newcomers to America often remark on the novelty of being smiled at by strangers.
In Russian cultures, smiling is not a sign of friendliness; it is a sign of a ‘tricky fool’.
I can see a feminist benefit to that — according to Khazan, at least women in Russian cultures aren’t instructed to smile by random men on the street! American women, on the other hand, were required to look calm and reassuring even in time of war.
This got me wondering about how this might have impacted children’s book covers. There are plenty of smiling children on the front of Western picture books — but what about Russian picture books?
Well, not all Russian children’s books follow the rule, but I am slightly concerned about why this boy is smiling…
So I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions regarding the history of smiling in the former Soviet Union’s children’s literature.
And here is a collection of Russian themed children’s books for English speaking readers.