When he was a child, Vladimir Putin lived in poverty with his family and was bullied at school. That might play a role in why photos that are cropping up online of a youthful Putin show a smile-less kid. Or, as one Twitter user said, “a very unhappy person.” There could also be myriad reasons why Putin isn’t smiling in his childhood photos which is more likely because Russians don’t smile as much as Westerners do. Olga Khazan reflected on the context for The Atlantic in 2016. She asserts that not smiling doesn’t mean Russians are unhappy and it’s so culturally relevant there’s even a Russian proverb that says, “Laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity.”
Khazan used research from psychologist Kuba Krys to explain why some cultures just don’t smile as frequently. “Krys focused on a cultural phenomenon called ‘uncertainty avoidance,'” she wrote. “Cultures that are low on this scale tend to have social systems — courts, health-care systems, safety nets, and so forth — that are unstable. Therefore, people there view the future as unpredictable and uncontrollable.” She added that smiling shows “certainty and confidence” which is why “low-UA” countries might view constant smiling as a sign of questionable honesty or intelligence.
Russia isn’t alone in being non-smiley either. Similar cultures exist in places like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. Whatever the reason Putin isn’t sporting a giant grin in his childhood photos, we aren’t surprised either way.
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