Thursday 18 July 2019

How the Russians are being taught to smile at visiting fans for World Cup

A make-up artist paints the Russian flag on a visitor at the official shop of the Fifa Fan Fest in Moscow. Photo: AFP/Getty
A make-up artist paints the Russian flag on a visitor at the official shop of the Fifa Fan Fest in Moscow. Photo: AFP/Getty

Alec Luhn in Moscow

Russia has built stadiums, airports and roads in 11 cities for the World Cup, but it may be just as big of a challenge to put a smile on the faces of those welcoming guests.

In the run-up to the tournament, thousands of volunteers and public transportation employees have been undergoing special lessons about smiling, being polite and saying key phrases in English. The results have been mixed.

"Sometimes it's hard for us to express a smile," said Anna Malyuk, a co-ordinator at the Moscow headquarters for World Cup volunteers. "If a person doesn't smile, it doesn't mean they're not happy. They're helpful and open, they're just serious at that moment."

It's no accident Russians are often seen by foreigners as grim and brusque.

In the local culture, smiling at strangers is considered fake; how can you be happy to see someone you don't know?

Psychologist Elnara Mustafina has taken 800 Russian Railways conductors through a two-hour course called 'Service Starts with a Smile'.

Her students had difficulty smiling at first, she admitted, but it was important to change this so foreign fans don't think they're unfriendly.

"They're not used to this. They have a tough job, plus Russians think a smile at first sight is a disingenuous American smile," Ms Mustafina said. "So I show them how they should smile by mimicking me."

She also has been teaching a course called 'Interactions with Football Fans'.

"We need to be friendly and welcoming so aggressive football fans don't interpret the lack of a smile as a harsh attitude," she said.

Another challenge is teaching English, which is not widely spoken or understood in Russia.

According to the international language teaching company Education First, Russia is 24th out of 27 European countries in overall knowledge of English.

A clunky World Cup acceptance speech was one of the only times President Vladimir Putin has spoken English in public.

As part of their training, the 34,000 volunteers in Moscow practised how to greet fans and give directions in English.

"Welcome to Moscow," volunteer Olga Kupryanova said but had difficulty saying more.

"I'm really shy speaking English," she admitted. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News