Living in the States my entire life, I never realized the extent to which American society gives preference to extroverted personality types until I traveled to Moscow. Growing up I would often get asked strange questions: Why are you so quiet? Why are you mad? Why are you sitting alone? Why don’t you sit with the others? Once I became aware that I was not like “the others”, I began to inquire the same of myself: Why am I so quiet? Why am I mad? Why am I sitting alone? Why am I not like the others? So I would force myself to initiate conversations, smile in photos and sit with “the others.” But this felt uncomfortable, even wrong. My heart would flutter. I would sweat profusely and stumble over my words as I tried to engage my interlocutor. Nothing came out as it should, only as it could. I was a social nincompoop. I thought I failed at life, at the most basic human activity—communication. But Moscow helped me realize that my culture is built on an extroverted ideal and there’s such a thing as an introverted society; Introverts all around the world would appreciate Moscow’s peculiar culture.
When I arrived in Moscow, I noticed a peculiar nuance in the atmosphere between the Domodedovo and Dulles airport: a sudden drop in social pressure.
While in Moscow I noticed people use indoor voices in every situation (except during Russia’s FIFA World Cup). People would show few facial expressions. And the substance of conversation usually centered around important information. I found this refreshing, even therapeutic.
Due to the introverts’ inclination to withdraw from overstimulating environments, dubbing Moscow—a metropolis—as Introvert Central might sound strange. Moscow is home to over 12 million residents, one of the most populous cities in the world. Many residents commute on public transit—subway, bus, trolley, electric car, etc. Pedestrians flood the streets. Scooters zip by on sidewalks. Traffic jams are a common occurrence. Security, metal detectors, and police cars are everywhere. There is nearly no escape for the introvert. Then, how, with all the hustle and bustle, would Moscow be able to meet the social needs of introverts? The answer is culture.
Introverts think they need isolation, but this isn’t true. The introvert could preserve his or her social battery where small talk is obsolete, for example. A longer charge could be achieved in Moscow due to the collective mindfulness for the social needs of introverts.
Here are a few ways Moscow culture meets these needs.
Silence is sacred. Muscovites generally try to make little to no noise. Whether commuting on the metro, playing Foosball, or waiting in line at the register, Muscovites do life quietly. They always use indoor voices when having a conversation. They use their car horn only when necessary. It is a rare occasion when they are boisterous. For example, night life and FIFA World Cup matches are exceptions to the rule. Otherwise, peace and quiet is the norm. Introverts would cherish this
Resting stern face is in. I had a colleague once tell me about her experience in Italy while we were in Moscow. She was bullied for her lack of facial expression, a typical characteristic of introverts. Her classmates said she looked sad, hopeless and stone-faced. They teased that one day she’d end it by walking in front of incoming traffic. Ironically, she was actually the happiest she ever was at that point in life studying abroad in Italy. But introverts know that happiness isn’t measured in smiles. In fact, we know facial expressions may even be misleading. This friend has a contagiously invigorating personality when she’s comfortable. Moscow society is aware of this paradox and it’s reflected in their culture. They have reasons of their own for their striking composure. Muscovites think it’s strange to smile if you’re unhappy. They think a face should express sincere emotion when it’s warranted. Seeing friends or family may warrant a smile as well as experiencing a comical situation or affection. There’s a Russian proverb that says “smiling for no reason is a sign of stupidity.” Many visiting introverts may find solace in wearing a resting stern face without proving who they are.
Introverts can make friends on their own terms. Parks are a safe place for initiating a social life. You will notice at Gorky Park, a major attraction located alongside the Moskva river, many gentle, like-minded people. Biking, skating, running, yoga, cardio aerobics, soccer, jamming out, hanging, reading, resting on bean bags are all activities in which an introvert can meet new people. All are three energy notches down from the typical American experience. A fellow classmate shared an experience in which she played charades for the first time with some Muscovites. She described it as a mellow, laid back game, whereas in the States this game might reach intense volumes. Such is uncommon in Moscow. Some social interactions invaluable to self development—like charades—are avoided by some introverted Americans for their daunting overstimulating environments. But in Moscow it’s safe.
It’s readers paradise. Reading is often a favorite pastime for the introvert, and Russia is of course well known for its literary masterpieces. Seldom will you find a Russian unwilling to discuss their impressions of certain literary works. Reading is a treasured pastime for some Russians as well. Muscovites have great respect for their writers like the beloved poet Alexander Pushkin and the introspective novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose monuments can also be found in Moscow. Anywhere is suitable for reading in Moscow, even the metro, but especially the parks.
Is there nightlife for the ambitious introvert?—oh yeah. And Muscovites love to party. The awkward introvert can lose himself in the sea of people at the nightclub or do his clumsy two-step in plain sight on the dance floor. Either way, it’ll be a Moscow night.
If you like peace and quiet, but still enjoy city life, then Moscow is the place for you. There are many reasons why introverts might embrace life in Moscow. Muscovites are typically a socially reserved people, but they also know how to have fun. Introverts would love the cool tranquility of Moscow. They do life, just quieter.
By: Telmo Falope
Term: Summer 2018