Following last week’s introduction, this brief exploration into the arena of non-verbal confusion continues. Yes, there are many ways to win friends and alienate people – without uttering a single word! Let’s start with a cautionary tale.
Mr. Bad Finger
Pointing fingers generally seems to be a bad idea when dealing with Russians. The old Brit adage: “it’s rude to point” seems to apply here. For “rude”, read: “potentially dangerous” and you are closer to the mark. Yes, pointing at a Russian, especially with intent, is almost like jabbing them in the ribs. They are likely to react accordingly. It seems be a good way to cause offence, so expect responses ranging from stand-offish rejection to outright anger. It’s a strange paradox that a culture who adheres to relatively strict protocols of politeness should also respond with livid rage if the wrong button is pushed. Or maybe the etiquette is there to keep the anger in check? Now I’m just speculating.
Here’s another finger-related oddity. It’s also offensive to use the curving “come here” gesture with an extended index finger, as if you were hooking the target towards you. Maybe there’s something about its inherently condescending nature that rankles? It is the antiquated summoning command of patronising schoolmasters, after all. Just, no.
Shake on it
In a society where etiquette is emphasised (is etiquette just a mechanism to stop us killing each other?), the first physical point of call is usually the handshake. It’s unsurprising to learn that a good Russian handshake is firm, sincere and occurs with simultaneous eye contact. However, not with gloves on, which would be the equivalent of saying “I don’t really want to touch you as you may be infectious”!
The embarrassment of riches
It’s simply vulgar to talk about money, isn’t it? Well perhaps that’s changed here in the west. Since the 1980’s; grotesque and tasteless displays of wealth have become increasingly acceptable (even culturally aspirational), but it can be a sticking point in Mother Russia. It’s a source of embarrassment, doubly so perhaps when dealing with “rich Westerners” (you are one whether you realise it or not). To raise the issue of such a dirty business, a reassuringly familiar gesture (to us Brits at least) may be used. It’s the upturned rubbing together of thumb, index and middle fingers. Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s long been popularised by “geezers” nationwide.
The paradoxical flip side of this mute humility, in Russian terms, is the post-Soviet Nouveau Riche’s theatrical extravagance when it comes to splashing around their newfound wealth. That’s on furs, flashy cars, caviar, bling that would make a rapper blush, faux-classical gilded furnishings (with cherubs), tigers, football teams, you name it. So what do we surmise from this: that an impoverished society is just a greed-explosion waiting to happen, perhaps? That excess is a universal language? Either way: It’s not pretty.
[Photo by selswsk20]