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"Please stop smiling at people; this isn't America where everyone is fake to one another." So said my wife on our first day in the Moscow suburbs while we were out walking our son in his stroller.Up to that point, I'd greeted every person I saw with a smile and a nod — par for the course for any polite boy raised south of the Mason-Dixon line in the U. To do otherwise would just be rude and uncivilized.
Spraying water and brushing away the snot-spit and cigarette butts that litter the avenues. Smoking at the bus stop, smoking on their bicycles, smoking back-to-back singles on a park bench with their girlfriends.Jack Millston is an American writer who traveled to Russia with his Russian wife to introduce his half-Russian son to the Russian side of his family.This is a letter he wrote home to one of his friends about his time spent in the land of pickled herring, tough guys, and outrageous transport situation…Five weeks is an incredibly short amount of time to distill twelve hundred years of history into a single letter, but I wanted to drop you a line to tell you the things I saw, heard, and smelled; the people I met (and at whom I did not smile, I will explain it later); and the delicious (and poisonous) things I ate.Moscow might not believe in tears, but it damn sure does not believe in laughter or smiles either. People walk with a resolute focus and a stern look on their face.The idea that one should share this precious finite thing with every stranger on the street is inconceivable to the Russian.
The suburbs here look like any other metropolitan suburb: the avenues (with very hospitably wide sidewalks) are lined with shops and cafes, trams ride up and down the street, families stroll with their kids, old men sit on park benches and argue about old man things.
We walk along a trail connected to the canal system, up the stairs with metal guides for bicycles and intrepid stroller-pushers and look out over the locking mechanism that controls the levels of water on a footbridge that connects the two sides of the canal.
A bunch of Russian toughs who look like they got their fashion sense from the Jets gang in "West Side Story" smoke cigarettes and eyeball me.
Well, that same heart attack would prove deadly on the streets of Moscow.
Every unsolicited smile I doled out was met with great suspicion at best (unless directed at an attractive female), and open hostility at worst (smiling at Russian men in general I found to be a quick way to get your ass kicked).
If you ever wonder how tobacco companies make their money now that cigarette smoking is worse than child-murder in the United States, come to Russia — you will realize this the first time you see a hot 40-year-old woman and later find out she is only 26-years-old.