What do you do when you don’t know the language or customs? That’s when your EQ, or Emotional Intelligence, comes in handy.

On my recent tour to Russia, the people in large cities (Moscow, Saint Petersburg) knew English, but not in the small villages (Yaroslavl, Uglich).

I thought I’d pick up Russian quickly, but I didn’t for several reasons:

1. Jet Lag turns your thinking brain (neocortex) to mush

2. You can’t “picture” the words because the Russian alphabet is Cyrillic; i.e., Catherine the Great’s initial is “E” because in Russian, it’s Ecaterina.

3. Russian’s not a “Romance language”. The sounds and cadence aren’t familiar. They have sounds that don’t exist in English.

4. Russian people are courteous and quietly charming, but they’re conscientious workers who stay focused. They’d also rather improve their English than teach you Russian.

5. They’re reserved in public so you don’t hear a lot of words. When I said, “Good morning” in Russian, I’d get back, “Good morning.” Silence.


One thing I did was exaggerate my expression (pleading) and gestures (2 fingers for $2), and put some warmth in my eyes. Fear is contagious; so is trust. Their expressions, when revealed, were quite recognizable, i.e., a shrug, breaking eye-contact when they’ve made their last offer.


In museums such as the Hermitage or the Armory, older women sit in a chair in each room. It’s their job to make sure no one touches anything.

When the Ugly American (Paul) in our tour group touched a curtain in Peterhof, the Russian grandmother (babushka) sprang to her feet with a thud, clapped her hands twice, loudly, then advanced toward Paul shaking her finger and barking Russian. We didn’t need to understand the words.


But what did this mean in this country? Was Paul going to Siberia? How could we find out?

One of the things our mother does is interpret for us. A well-known experiment involves researchers placing a baby on a Plexiglas shield resting across a high table. When the baby crawls to the edge of the visual drop, he’s. It feels solid but looks like a precipice. So he looks over to his Mom to find out what he’s supposed to do, which mean finding out how he’s supposed to feel. If she looks happy, he proceeds. If she looks scared, he stops.

So we turned to Leo, our Russian guide, to see how serious this was. Leo was laughing and relaxed. A young man with much EQ, he quickly put his arm around the Russian women, turning her away and soothing her. How? Babushkas all over the world are soft on young men.


– We were warned about the gypsies – such faces, such gestures. Ann, who thought they were “sweet” and didn’t listen, got pickpocketed.

– When you accept the flowers the youths give you in the villages, it isn’t a gift. They will haunt you with looks until you fork over some money.

– You’ll quickly see the shopkeepers expect to bargain. They name a price and then pause, expectantly.

– How susceptible are you to “beautiful lady”? Vendors everywhere know those words in English.

– Who can resist a child? Here’s Katya hustling my sister - http://www.theintrovertzcoach.com/islands4.html at Svir Stroy.

– It’s officially illegal for Russians to accept American dollars. Quickly you’ll learn they all do. Just as long as you don’t ask. (It isn’t illegal to give dollars.)

– Customs officials worldwide have a crummy job. A smile goes a long way with them.


You never know. A street vendor in Saint Petersburg caught my eye and the following took place, without any words. I “asked” if I could take his photo. He was flattered. I then offered him $2. He shook his head no, no. I pushed the bills onto his tray of matroyshkas. Winsomely, he pocketed the $2, then handed me a doll and hugged me.


What’s the condition of the children, the dogs, and the seniors?

The children were all healthy, tall, muscular and well-dressed. ( http://www.theintrovertzcoach.com/Moscow%20Park%20girl%20playing%203.jpg ). I never saw a parent disciplining a child, or any need for it. Evidently their whole life they hold their mother’s hand when walking-like up to age 60.

Check out the playground at Moscow’s North Terminal Park ( http://www.theintrovertzcoach.com/Moscow%20Park%20playground%20for%20kid... ) and see how much they care about their kids.

The Babushkas were cheerful and healthy looking (http://www.webstrategies.cc/nancy_and_babushka.jpg ).

You’ve never seen such shiny-coated, healthy, well-fed dogs and cats.


That means, in French, fooling the eye—another reality check. There were two incidents of tromp l’oeil I’ll mention.

First, look at this Moscow apartment building: http://www.theintrovertzcoach.com/Moascow%20apartment%20building.jpg . Looks like a slum tenement, doesn’t it? “No,” laughed our guide, Toma. “We don’t take care of the outside of buildings here. There are luxury apartments in there 2200 sq. ft.”

Second, here is Catherine’s Palace ( http://www.hum.utah.edu/languages/images/photos/rusphoto32.jpg ). When you arrive in Moscow, you think the buildings are huge. They are huge, but there’s something else going on, because you’ve seen huge buildings before. What they do is build with standard-sized bricks, then plaster over them, them paint them with marks as if they were made of bricks 4x the standard size. Perception warp!


Here’s an incident that called for some quick EQ. We were walking in Moscow’s Harbor Park where there were lots of families. I became enchanted with a little girl of about 2, with curls all over her head, and before I knew it, she ran to me, jumped into my arms and gave me a hug and a kiss. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eyes I could see two agitated parents closing in on me from either side.

This is reptilian brain -- fear of strangers, protecting your children, territory. Look out!

What would you do? Read more about this and other anecdotes in my eBook, “Using Your Emotional Intelligence When Traveling Abroad.” ( http://www.webstrategies.cc/ebooklibrary.html )

EQ is truly a universal language!

Author's Bio: 

©Susan Dunn, MA Clinical Psychology, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc . Offering emotional intelligence coaching to improve every area of your life. EQ coach training and certification ( http://www.eqcoach.net ). Business solutions for avoiding needless litigation ( http://www.webstrategies.cc/eit.htm). Isn’t it time you got it all figured out? Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for FREE ezine.