Psychoanalysis Russian-style: buy a train ticket

"Well, what does your analyst say?" That innocent question in a foreign film invariably brings a smile to the lips of Russian moviegoers. Still, don't ever ask a Russian acquaintance that. They'll be mortally offended: "Do I look like I'm crazy?" Meanwhile, they'll probably be thinking to themselves that the crazy one is you.
Another taboo word is "depression". According to WHO statistics, depression is one of the first reasons for absence in the workplace. Everywhere, except in Russia. If a mid-level Russian manager were to tell his boss that he wouldn't be coming to work the next day because he was depressed, the very mildest rebuke he could expect in reply would be: "What are you, out of your mind?" By which the boss would mean not that he wanted more information, but rather: don't bother me with your nonsense.

At the same time, psychology degrees are fairly popular in Russia. At prestigious universities, getting into the psychology department is always highly competitive. In addition, there are lots of accelerated courses that will turn any aspirant into a licensed psychologist for a large sum of money. But why get an education in psychology in a country where there is no great demand for psychologists? Here's another surprising thing. Most psychology students mainly want to solve their own psychological problems. This sort of education is very popular, for instance, among the stay-at-home wives of businessmen. People with psychology degrees are to be found in almost every profession; the practicing psychologists among them are only a small minority.

Does this mean that Russians are given to depression? Of course not. In this respect we are just like everybody else. Moreover, reasons for depression have never been in short supply in Russia, beginning with the long winters which are very cold and virtually devoid of sunlight. One reason the whole world knows about is vodka: Russia's number one painkiller. Meanwhile, the best medicine for the blues in Russia is a heart-to-heart talk. Usually with friends or relatives. But not always. Some people find it easier to open up to a stranger. True, for this you have to have the right atmosphere. The easiest place to find it is on a train.

Russian trains are a world apart in which you find a sort of parallel life. Imagine: the train ride from Moscow to Vladivostok takes an entire week. From Moscow to Sochi, more than 24 hours. There are planes, of course, but trains are cheaper and something most people can afford. In a small and cramped compartment it is practically impossible to avoid close contact - you have no choice but to strike up a conversation. What's more, the tradition of Russian hospitality demands that you treat your neighbor to the homemade meat and cabbage pies you've brought with you. And if you also have some homemade fruit liqueur, a heart-to-heart is simply unavoidable. Sometimes you hear stories that no film director has ever dreamed of. They say that some Russian writers are fond of trains for purposes of gathering material: while getting where they're going, they take notes.

Of course, burdening a close friend, much less a total stranger with your problems is fairly egotistical - everybody has worries of their own. On the other hand, your listener can always count on emergency psychological counseling when they need it. Completely free of charge. Sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Sociologists say that Russians today are becoming more pragmatic and reserved. The times are such that a person doesn't feel like revealing himself. It may be that we're moving in a western direction and that soon we'll be entrusting our problems to paid specialists only. If Russians start having their own psychoanalysts, that will mean that the country has indeed changed. For better or worse, I'm not sure.

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