We have a proverb – Do not have 100 rubles, have 100 friends. Friends play extremely important part in the life of any Russian.
In addition to the universal benefits of friendship, such as social support and companionship, friendship in Russia always helped to fight external forces. Brutal political leaders and governments that did not care much about the well-being of the ordinary people, wars, political and economical turbulence, harsh weather – are just some of the hardships that Russians had to overcome. External environment was always quite hostile and having friends to rely on made life so much better and lowered stress levels.
Closest friends are usually friends made in school, university of even kindergarten, people whom you know for many years. We have a saying – One old friend is better than two new friends. Having the life-long friendship is indeed priceless, because the collection of shared memories goes back to the time when you both were kids.
One of the reasons why life-long friendships are quite typical for Russia – people are less mobile and many people live all their life in the same city, so the bonds do not break. That kind of friendship can be seen in some US States, such as Minnesota, where people also tend to have lifelong friends. But unlike the famous “Minnesota nice, Minnesota ice”, a saying that describes that people there are very friendly to strangers, but are quite reluctant to make more close friends since they already have a circle of friends – Russians are always open to more friends in their life.
There is a distinction between friends and acquaintances though. People believe that one cannot have many true friends. So most people have one or several close friends and consider the rest – acquaintances.
The most notable difference between friendship in Russia and in the US is level of intimacy between friends. According to the course Understanding Russians: Contexts of Intercultural Communication by prof. Mira Bergelson, in the US friends are familiars, in Russia friends are intimates.
In the US friends are people, whom you enjoy spending time with. You may also occasionally share with them some of your problems and ask for their advice and help, but you tend not to overload friends with too many problems. Russians allow friends very deep in their life, actively share both good and bad news and expect a lot of involvement from friends in finding solutions to problems. Shrinks are not popular in Russia. Why go to shrinks if you have friends?
Russians say that friend is a person whom you can visit at 2 am without prior notice to share good or bad news or if you just need to talk. It used to be so, but people everywhere became more busy in the recent years. Our demanding schedules affect how often we see friends and require for prior planning. And quite often we substitute face-to-face meetings with email, texting or talking on the phone. But friendships are still true here. Your friends will always be there for you and will always be at your side and you can rely on your friends.
I wonder whether the fact that Russians allow friends to be so close has anything to do with the limits of personal space in Russia in general? Acceptable limits of private personal space depend on which country you are from. Notice the space between people in a typical line in the US and in the USSR at the photos below:
If we allow strangers in our personal physical space so easily, maybe it is no wonder we allow friends to get so close to us in the emotional space?
Russians highly value “female friendship” and “male friendship” and there are certain rules and rituals for both. In the same time majority believes that friendship between men and women does not exist. That there is always a sexual context in such “friendship”. This idea also exists in the West as we can see in a clip from the wonderful movie When Harry Met Sally:
But in Russia disbelief in true friendship between men and women is so strong that people are often very unhappy if their spouses have friends of opposite gender. That often leads to quarrels in Russian families.
Still, there are probably more similarities than differences since friendship is a universal type of relationship. And making friends with Russians is not that difficult and is totally worth it.
How does the concept of friendship differ in your country?
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.