Smiling ... it's something we all do and something Russians have a reputation for not doing. While at first I argued that the lack of smiling was symptomatic of being in a large city, after a little over a month of being here, it seems there is something deeper going on. Of course, I cannot speak for all Muscovites, let alone all of Russia, so I will mainly stick to self-analysis.
Over the weeks I have been here, trying to emulate the composure and straight face of those around me, I gradually began to notice the effect not smiling had on me, emotionally. Just as I get grumpy and a little out of sorts when I do not get enough hugs, me-time, quality time with friends, etc. I got out of sorts and mopey when I attempted to not smile. I finally internalized this this morning and have been working on reversing the no-smiling curse. Smiling releases endorphins, hormones, and generally makes me feel good, so why, why, why should I deprive myself of this?
I am not sure of the reason for most Muscovites, but I think it has something to do with the general feeling of instability, what will life be like tomorrow? For almost a century, Russians invested in the Soviet system. They understood it, it was familiar to them, and in general, it worked. With the fall of the iron curtain and the economic ups and downs which followed, has come a general feeling of instability for Russians. How can you plan for the future? How can you think about what you are going to do with your friends next week, let alone your children in five years, and your grandchildren in forty? So, in essence, what is there to smile about?
I'm alive. I'm healthy. I have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. Those I care for are in the same boat. Life is not too bad, and right now, it seems too short not to do my best to embrace the positive aspects of it. So, I am vowing to smile on the metro, in public, and in general.