Usually statements (usually made by Americans), like “Russians are rude” actually mean “Russians don’t smile.” In other cases it could be translated as “I behave in Russia as I’m used to behave back at home. I view my behavior as universally accepted all over the world. Then there people in Russia who find some aspects of my behavior insulting and when I refuse to adjust it they become rude.” In Russia one should be very careful about adjusting the everyday behavior to dozens of sensitive norms and regulations. This is true for every culture that is different from American or European. Only in Japan or in India cultural differences are visible and felt immediately. Unfortunately, Russia “looks” like a European country and Russians look like ordinary “white” people.
Rudeness could not be a prevailing trace of national character in principle. Every culture is a stable self-organized system. When most of its elements are “rude” it would disintegrate. In every culture people become rude when they want to give a strong and definite signal to the offender that his/her behavior would not be tolerated. I would say 99% of Russians live their daily life without being rude to each other. It only takes some openness, readiness to throw away some intercultural clich?s and a strong will to understand.
I try to illustrate this idea with one typical example – how to deal with rude shop assistances or waiters in Russia. First, let us dig deeper into Russian history. Only 80 years ago Russia was a predominantly rural country. Only 150 years ago most of Russians were serfs. Serfs are not slaves. Russian peasants never thought of themselves as slaves. They truly believed that they belonged to the land, that they were an integral part of the land. But the land belonged to the landowner thus making them also belong to the landowner. When in 1861 the tsar granted personal freedom this news was met with hundreds of peasants’ revolts. There’s no paradox here. Peasants simply couldn’t grasp it – they are free but their land stays with the landowner. It meant no freedom.
Landowners were “tolerated” by peasants just because by the evil fate they happened to possess peasants were bonded with by the God’s will. Doing obligatory part-time work for a landowner personally (barschina) was a God’s ordeal – a hard cross to bear. One couldn’t escape it so it was morally justified to revenge the landowner by doing barschina poorly, sabotaging the work, breaking instruments or stealing. Anyway, God wouldn’t treat it as a sin – stealing from a person whose ancestors grabbed our land ages ago. The most despised people among peasant were house-sefs – serfs who were taken from their land to serve at a landowner’s house: cooks, butlers, coachmen, etc. Those people were degenerated to the lowest rank – doing personal services for someone. Below were only prostitutes, thieves, and homeless – people whose bond with the land was broken forever.
Is it so surprising that nowadays people who work as waiters or shop assistants feel that they are doing a very humiliating job – serving other? I remember one American movie with Demi Moore playing a role of a strip dancer. She hated that job, hated customers, hated her boss but was still working because she was poor, she was a lonely mother and she needed money. In that movie Demi Moore looked at the strip bar patrons exactly like many Russian waiters look at their customers. “You see how humiliated I am. I degraded to being a restaurant-serf. Don’t you dare to humiliate me more by your stupid demands! I’m still a free man and can rebut your insults”.
Have patience with Russian service people. These people found themselves in this position not of their own accord. Evil fate forced them to do this degrading work.