Человек любит считать свои беды, но не считает радостей. -Федор Достоевский
Man only likes to count his troubles, but he does not count his joys. -Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I have come to notice a большая ирония (big irony) in Russian culture: PDA (public display of affection) is fine, but PDH (public display of happiness) is not. You’ll see couples making out on the street, in cafés, and frequently while riding the escalator in the metro—which, frankly, makes a lot of sense when you consider how long the escalator ride is (~2:45). On the flip side, you won’t see a whole lot of smiling. In fact, some babushka yelled at my friend for being too giggly at a restaurant. She sternly told her, “In Russia, we don’t do that.”
Today though, I hit the Ruski emotive jackpot. I saw a teenage couple, chillin’ at McDonalds, caught in some weird combination of PDA and non-PDH. The boy had his arm around the girl for at least a half hour, but neither one said a word to each other the entire time. They weren’t even looking at each other. And yet you could tell they were dating by the close physical contact they made. I know it’s rude to stare, but my friends and I could not help but ponder the nature of this bizarre, yet not unfamiliar interaction.
A large chunk of this expressive anomaly/contradiction in Russia was cleared up in class this week. Lena, our conversation professor, told us that it is more common in Russia for people to discuss their problems than their successes. So when someone asks you “Как дела?» (How are things?), it’s best to say something like «Не плохо» (not bad) or «Нормально» (alright). Responding with a «Хорошо» (Good) is akin to bragging. In America, it’s the complete opposite! Whenever a person politely asks you how you are, you instinctively respond positively, even if things aren’t going well. Marina Olegovna, our grammar professor, added that Russians are highly superstitious. On the special occasion when things go well, Russians don’t want to utter anything aloud, as if doing so will reverse their luck.
It’s hard to say whether Russians are actually unhappier than Americans are, but I do think that any individual person who focuses on the negative more than the positive—consciously or unconsciously, verbally or in thought—will inevitably be at a disadvantage. So much of our daily mood and more general level of happiness is the product of our own attitude. Of course, we live in a web of unpredictable and unfair circumstances that invariably affect us, but, even in this context, we have so much control over how we perceive, react to, and find meaning within these events. It all accumulates over time, meanwhile making us who we are.
Sorry, Russia. You may meet my loud laughter on the metro with confusion or downright disapproval, but I don’t care. I am all about the “When in Rome” philosophy, but I can’t adopt your ways at the cost of my own happiness. This is one time when I’m really, really proud to be an American.