TRADITION AND MENTALITY
When you come to Tomsk you will meet lots of new people, and some of them will become your friends. In order to make it easier for you to make new contacts, and friends, we would like to tell you a bit about the culture and character of the Russian people.
Serfdom did not exist in Siberia: those who came there were looking for liberty. The chief motivation to negotiate the hardships of the long road, which sometimes led the path breakers along the knife's edge between life and death, was striving for freedom, which was not known in other parts of Russia. The settlers brought a dream of having their own homestead, building a house and settling their families, sowing the grain for bread, and bringing up children. To people with such goals, conflicts, internal divisions, and the division of wealth were not desirable. The severe Siberian climate forced out people who were not patient, calm, strong, and friendly. Severe climate makes Russians more cooperative; they found that without mutual help and support they could not survive. We can see this same attitude today; Russians are unlikely to refuse your request for help. So, in spite of the fact that Siberians live in severe conditions, in general they are frank and kind. Tomsk is a city of students, and it is easier to find an English speaker here than in other cities. Also, there are people who speak German, French, and Italian fluently, and you meet people who speak other languages from around the world.
If you are going to live and study in Russia (of which Siberia is, of course, a part), it is helpful to have at least a minimal notion about some distinctive cultural features. For example, Russians usually avoid speaking about their jobs, and, as in many other places in the world, it is not appropriate to speak about religious, political and national topics with strangers. Also, Russians are more straight-forward in expressing their thoughts and in speaking. They are likely to say, "I do not like it, it is bad," rather than, "I’m not sure that is too good an idea." When they say things this way, they do not intend to be rude. It is just a directness in communication, a feature of their mentality.
As another example, Russians may often criticize themselves and their country, but if you witness or are involved in such a conversation, it is better not to express your position. It would be even better to try disproving the critic, so as not to offend the critic by seeming to agree with something negative. Such contradictions are natural in the Russian character.
Also, some visitors from other countries have a first impression of people in the street as lacking in smiles, indicative of restraint. But this is not truly the case about Russians. Kindness is a distinctive feature of the Russian character, along with hospitality, sympathy, and mercifulness. Yet friendliness is hidden until you get to know each other better, as Russians usually have two personas, one for public and another for private contacts. However, people on the street can be kind and helpful in a way that is warm and friendly in many situations. People do tend to speak and act in public in a way that appears more restrained than in some other countries and cultures.