Lithuanian behaviour

The meaning of the Lithuanian 'serious person'
Serious person in Lithuanian is 'Rimtas şmogus'

There are certain behavioural characteristics, and certain words that can be used in describing people in various languages, that can give us an insight into the culture and 'national psychology' of the nation or ethnic group concerned. Such is the case with the Lithuanian expression 'rimtas zmogus'. This expression of approbation, but it is is very hard to translate, because it means so many things.

Let me explain this in a round-about way, by pointing to the fact that Lithuanians are less likely to smile spontaneously when being photographed than people of Anglo-Celtic background. I hypothesise that there are a couple of reasons for this tendency.

Starting with the less important reason first, it may be that as cameras didn't become cheap and widely diffused so quickly in Central/Eastern Europe as they did in the New World, people from C/E Europe may have continued to regard the taking of a photo as a more "serious" event, precisely because it was rarer, and more likely to take place on a serious occasion (eg First Communion, Confirmation, funeral, wedding). Yes, even wedding. Have a look at a photo of your own or somebody else's grandparents on their wedding day. I bet you they look what we would now describe as "sombre", compared to all the laughing and smiling that goes on at modern weddings.

Which brings me to my second reason, possibly the more important. Whereas New World parents (ever since about the 1950s) have typically encouraged their children to smile or say CHEESE when having their photo taken, I distinctly remember my parents and/or their Lithuanian friends saying the equivalent of "Come on now, stop smiling, look serious." The idea was that you were being recorded for posterity, and if you looked flippant or frivolous, you could be misjudged as "not a very serious person". I use those precise words, because in Lithuanian society the highest praise you can give someone was traditionally: "He or she is a serious person" (rimtas zmogus).

I have to translate this as 'serious person' for lack of a directly corresponding word or expression in English, but it does not mean that the person is sad, straight-faced and sombre all the time. The word rimtas (it's related to ramus = calm, peaceful) suggests a whole host of positive attributes in the person it describes: reliability; discretion; sense of responsibility; sobriety; steadfastness. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that it implies a well balanced person, who does indeed know when to laugh, but also when to play it straight.

Perhaps 50 years of communism (and never knowing whom you could trust) reinforced this tendency in Lithuanians. But I suspect it was there before that. Given the climate, and the dependence on getting things done on time (eg ground ploughed, crop planted, crop harvested, firewood gatehred and cut, etc) who would you prefer for a friend: someone who had a great sense of humour and was funny at at a party? - or a rimtas zmogus?

Gintautas Kaminskas
Canberra, Australia

Let's remember. He is a
Serious person in Lithuanian is 'Rimtas mogus'

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