Russia has spent $12 billion on building stadiums, airports and roads in 11 cities for the Fifa World Cup, but it may be just as big a challenge to get people to smile and be welcoming to the thousands of fans jetting in from around the globe.
In the run-up to the tournament, thousands of volunteers and public transportation employees have been trained to smile, to be polite and to say key phrases in English.
Several organisations such as Russian Railways, Fifa and the Moscow Metro are conducting special training sessions to teach their staff to be polite and helpful to foreign visitors and to smile more.
Russian saying: Only fools smile without a reason
Russians do not smile at strangers as Westerners do. They are renowned for not giving the warmest of welcomes, especially to strangers. They only smile when “there is a reason to smile”. They even have a saying – “only fools smile without a reason”.
Under normal circumstances in Russia, smiling at a stranger in public can land you in trouble, Russian film director Yulia Melamed learned. She was once stopped by a policeman and asked for her ID because she smiled at him.
“It is strange for a person to walk on the street and smile,” Yulia said. “It looked alien and suspicious. In fact, if you start smiling at strangers on the streets it will make them uncomfortable. They will get confused and will not smile in return.”
Watch: Yulia Melamed and why Russians are being taught to smile.