Why So Different?

Although it’s the big differences between cultures that can really have an effect on communication, small differences that vary from culture to culture are also extremely interesting. Even though they might not “count” when it comes to intercultural communication, discovering them is one of the many pleasures of experiencing another country or culture.

Some of the small differences I’ve observed since I’ve been in Russia are quite interesting. While I don’t think that ignorance of these differences will cause any major problems, I can’t help but wonder why such differences pop up? Where do they come from? What is the explanation behind them?

1.) Numbers: 1, 7, 9

The number 1 tends to be written with a hook on it, sometimes often very slanted. Whereas before coming to Russia I always wrote “1” as a stick.

The number 7 is often written with a cross. I’ve heard this referred to as a “European seven” and the reason seems to be so that it isn’t mistaken for a “1.” I grew up crossing my sevens so this isn’t strange to me. But it’s a difference nontheless.

The number “9” I initially found to be quite strange. I used to write mine like the first one, without a curve underneath. But when I came abroad I noticed everyone was writing “9” with a curve. Now I write it the second way so my students aren’t confused by what I write. It’s since become a habit.

2.) Writing the Date
Most Europeans write the day first, then the month, then the year. I initially thought this was a British/American English difference. But it seems that Europeans write it this way regardless of language. I’m still curious about the origins.

3.) Smiley Faces
When sending a smiley face via SMS, e-mail or instant messenger, many Europeans write their smiles without eyes or a nose. I’ve always written mine like this: “:)” But many people started sending me a message with only this: “)”. Why? Perhaps it’s easier to type…I’m not sure. But needless to say I was a bit baffled when I received a message reading: See you tomorrow)))))). I thought it was a typo!

4.) Periods and Commas
Periods and commas also seem to be reversed, especially when writing large numbers or amounts of money. When I receive my salary, it’s written, for example, as: 10 500,90. I would usually write: 10,500.90. So different and eternally fascinating.

5.) Reading the Date
As far as I know, this difference is specific to the Russian language. While most English speakers read dates such as 1945 as “nineteen forty-five,” in Russian this date would be read as “one thousand nine hundred forty-five.” I think the English way is much easier, both in English and in Russian. But still very intriguing.

6.) Scratching out a Mistake
I haven’t seen this done anywhere else except in Russia. Usually when someone circles the wrong answer, they either cross it out with an “X” or put a line through it to indicate it’s wrong. So I was surprised when my students would circle something, then realize it was wrong, and cross it out by putting lines through the circle. I’ve even seen straight lights with little lines across them, almost like a scar, to indicate the wrong answer.

7.) Order of Names
When writing their names, many Russians tend to write their surname first, then their first name. Even when taking roll some teachers call students by their surname first. The only explanation I can think of is that Russian culture is more collective and emphasis is put upon family as opposed to individuality.

Are there any other differences you’ve observed in your travels or in your own culture? Do you know of any explanations to some of these differences?


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