Rus: Body Language & Gestures
Much of what you read here comes from personal observation, relatives explaining it to me & from an article written by an unknown person in a pamphlet I picked up in the Moscow airpoirt.
Cultural Body Language & Gestures
Each & every culture uses & has certain gestures, body postures or combinination the 2 that are specific to the culture to denote unspoken language. Such actions have very specific meanings. Usually they are unique to the culture but may also be similar to those found in other cultures. The Rus is no exception to this rule. The following are some note-worthy examples of some of the interesting cultural gestures & body language used by the Rus people.
Split the cost of a bottle?
This is a gesture used by someone who is seeking another person to share the price of a bottle of vodka. The individual stands upright and with his right hand extends the first 2 fingers across his chest indicating "2." If a 3rd person is needed to split the cost of a bottle, the individual extends 3 fingers. The 3 fingers are laid on the lower chest with the thumb & little finger out of sight.
I am a Dummy!
This unique gesture made by men & women, as a comment upon something dumb they have done. The hand, with all the fingers & thumb extended, is lightly slapped on the center of the forehead then with all the fingers & thumb still extended, it is rotated upwards so that the fingers lay on the brow & the thumb extends upward, above the head. This 2-part gesture is used by individuals to refer solely to themselves but never anyone else!
You've got that backwards!
A very interesting gesture is used to communicate ones opinion that another person has something backwards or is making a task too complicated. The gesturer will reach behind his/her head then scratch the right ear with the left had; or the other way around.
Thought to have its origins with the Russian Orthodox Church & Rublev's ikon of the Trinity, this form of greeting is beginning to fade from Rus culture at least in the more urban areas. It is used exclusively by men who have not seen each other for some time. This gesture is an embrace much like an Hispanic "embrazo" with the man being greeted kissing the greeter 3 times on alternating cheeks.
Men & Women Walking & Talking
When Rus men engage in conversation, the distance between the two is typically approximately10"-12". This is a comfortable proximity & is different from Americans, Brits & Canadians who would consider 20"-24" much more preferable.
Rus women tend to have little, if any, space between them when conversing. Women will tend to chat, seated rather than standing & frequently touch each other on the hand or arm, even embracing from time to time during a conversation. Rus women are, also, more intimate when strolling or walking casually with another woman who is a close friend or relative. In such situations, one will often see women walking arm in arm & chatting away as they go along together.
This is an amusing gesture that looks like a familiar gesture used in child's play. The hand is clenched into a fist with the thumb extended between the index & middle fingers, as when we look at a child and say "I got your nose!" In the Rus case, this gesture has nothing to do with play. It is a very emphatic and absolute "NO!" to whatever question or proposal was just made.
This gesture, believed to go back to peasant times, is used to indicate that one is in danger and needs help. The fingers are fisted with the index and middle fingers extended. With the palm side of the hand facing towards the gesturer, the two fingers are placed on either side of the throat.
Gestures of Superstitions & Beliefs
Sign of the Cross
An official gesture of the Russian Orthodox Church is used by its clergy & all of the faithful. Unlike the similar gesture used by Roman Catholics, the Orthodox cross themselves with the index and middle finger of the right hand resting on the thumb. The gesture begins with by touching the forehead, the chest just below the neck, then the right shoulder and, lastly, the left shoulder. The gesture is used several times throughout the day, not just in church. It is, currently, most prevalent among elderly women. The Sign of the Cross is made when leaving one's home, at the end of a silent prayer, or simply at the onset of one's workday. Some believe that, when one yawns, Satan will take the opportunity to enter the person by the opened mouth. Someone who yawns, without covering their mouth, may well find an elderly lady making the sign of the Cross over their open mouth to keep evil from entering!
Sit a spell
In the West we are in such a hurry that this custom will seem odd to many. When a friend is leaving on a trip, it is common for this person and a close friend, spouse, etc., to sit, in silence, for a few minutes, on the traveler's packed suitecases prior to him/her departing. It is believed that this moment of togetherness will cause the traveler to have a safe journey.
Spitting for a purpose
Spitting is, something Westerners find crude and undignified, has its place in Russian gestures and beliefs. To ward off bad luck or to express the hope for continued good fortune (similar to 'knock on wood'), the individual spits three times over his left shoulder.
Cultural Signs of Russia, in English, pamphlet
by Andrei Prokochenko,
Signs & Symbols of Russia, author unknown, Published in Moscow, Russia 1994
Taisa V. Kamnotskaya
Maya V. Kamnotsky-Houston
Natalia D. Larinova
Dr. A. Yuri Nekrotenko
Copyright © 2005-2010 Donald R Houston, PhD. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.