Since the borders between different countries have stopped being something insurmountable, people, as I have noticed, have a new issue in terms of self-identification–“myself as a representative of my nation in a foreign country’. It seems like in a new environment our ethnical, anthropological and mental specificities swell up. That is how phrases like “our people are so easy to recognize” are usually born. But I wonder what there is behind these specificities? What exactly differentiates Slavs (be it Russians, Ukrainians or Belarusians) from Western Europeans, and Muscovites from northerners? Why is it “so easy to recognize”, and could these features change if you, for example, moved to Australia?
About anthropo-psychological portraits of Muscovites and citizens of other Russian regions we talked with a professional psychologist, polygraph expert and founder of the International Academy of Research of Lie Evgheny Spiritsa.
MOSKVAER: Evgheny, if one were to throw away attributes such as style, clothes and so on, what would cause a Russian person to stand out in a crowd of foreigners?
EVGHENY: If we are talking about the behavioral stereotypes of Russians and their external interpretation, then I should mention that in the face of a Russian man there is a certain concentration, which is not peculiar to representatives of the Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups, and Western Europeans in general.
The thing is that Russians, Belarusians and to a lesser extent Ukrainians have had experiences imprinted into them. It is the experience of 1937-40yy, the experience of perestroika, of going through psychologically stressful events, which manifests itself in the glances of these people. A certain focus, suspiciousness–that is what differentiates us from others.
Is that why we don’t smile? (as it’s commonly believed)
EVGHENY: Partly, yes. Though I personally find the stereotype of unsmiling Russians highly exaggerated. Exploring the city of Moscow during one of the local projects, we cut the city into two parts–“upper Moscow” and “lower Moscow”. So the “upper” city, being glamorous, does smile very well, even though these feelings can be fake sometimes. Anyway, the people of “upper” Moscow are able to enjoy life. In “lower” Moscow everything is a bit different–it’s filled by people who have come to conquer the capital, and it is no laughing matter for them.
Generally speaking, smiling is not usual for us due to the ethno-cultural characteristics.
So, there is nothing to be done about it?
EVGHENY: Why should we do something about it? Why would you smile to a stranger? Where is the guarantee that he is not an enemy from 1937? It is very important to remember the experience imprinted on us. We got used to being cheated. We went through the war, perestroika, some economy crises–just still have not got used to smiling. It’s our peculiarity, let’s keep it as our right.
Can such a peculiarity wear away due to the passage of time or changing of location?
EVGHENY: Yes, these characteristics can become more blurry when we get to a new culture. The surrounding context affects us a lot. For instance, when a Russian person (Ukrainian or Belarusians as well) dives into a European cultural environment, when he starts speaking a foreign language and eventually thinks in it, then the mind and the emotional perception of reality changing are unescapable. It’s a natural process.
I’ve noticed that western people can hardly tell the difference between Russians and Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians, etc. Are there any explicit traits–mental, psycho-emotional, that distinguish Russians from other Slavs?
EVGHENY: I would not separate Russian, Ukrainians and Belarusians, because it’s still a single ethnic group, which is now divided only geopolitically. In my view, such a division would be scientifically incorrect.
Although, of course, each of these people have their psycho-ethnic nuances, but they are, in the framework of a single ethnic group, insignificant. This is comparable with how western and eastern Ukrainians or western and eastern Belarusians or Russians from different regions differ from each other.
Regional features is a very interesting topic. Tell us more about Russia in this way.
EVGHENY: Russia is very different in the context of cities and regions. Relatively speaking, there is the milestone known as the Ural Mountains. Russian people who live across the Ural Mountains are far more emotive than other Russians due to the historical background (political exiles were sent there) and harsh working conditions. In Vladivostok, for example, even the homeless are emotive, which is very rare for Moscow or Tula. Once I walked down the waterfront in Vladivostok and came across a homeless guy and enjoyed a conversation with him!
The closer to the central regions of the country, the more people can be considered as epileptoid. These include Tula, Kaluga, Ryazan, Bryansk–everything around Moscow.
Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk I consider as hyperthymic cities. Which is understandable–in them historically resided miners and fishermen. St. Petersburg is definitely schizoid; it’s manifested in every little thing there.
And what about Moscow?
EVGHENY: As you remember, we have two cities of Moscow–the “lower” one and the “upper” one. That “upper” Moscow is absolutely hysteroid, and “lower” is more paranoial.
You have to understand that Moscow is a city full of strong people, and not everyone is able to survive here. Only the sufficiently smart and enthusiastic of those who came here in order to realize their metropolitan dream survive. Many of these people become successful. When you see that one has to work hard to get results, you either start working and achieving results or become an outsider very quickly, allowing another to replace you.
Why is it that so many people who have came to Moscow and stayed here end up saying “Moscow is my hometown, my favorite city”? Because they know that here, they have evolved, grown as a person. Others go back to the regions and say: “Moscow is hard to deal with.” Why so? Because you have to work hard to deal with it.
What, in your opinion, is the uniqueness of Moscow’s citizens and the main difference between them and inhabitants of other big cities in Eastern Europe, for example?
EVGHENY: Muscovites, residents of Moscow, are able to work hard and play hard through traveling and being enriched by new cultures–which we cannot say of many Americans and Europeans. They work hard and are almost indifferent to the rest–usually it turns out to be very rather primitive. So, let’s say, we have a unique culture of work and rest.
Well, it is very motivating in anticipation of the upcoming holidays. Thank you for the interview!