Not long ago I attended an evening-long discussion group on this topic, comprised mostly of Russian emigrants and their spouses. The Russians were generally keen to argue that they have deeper and closer friendships than do the Americans. They also dislike that Americans will call their acquaintances “friends.” In response I noted that:
1. Relative to Americans, Russians are far more concerned with defining who is truly a friend, or not. (Though Google+ may change this.)
2. Russians are far more likely to conduct purges of their friends. (“A future enemy” is one good Eastern European definition of a friend, or so the joke goes, thanks to BC.)
3. American geographic mobility has been falling for some time and so we might move back toward some closer and more durable notions of friendship; social networks play a role here too.
Since that evening, I’ve formulated a new version of the question in my mind. Putting aside the so-called “intelligentsia” (a Russian phrase, not one which comes quickly to my tongue), are Russian lower-middle class friendships so much more “life and death” than American lower-middle class friendships, especially among the immobile? What if seven guys grow up together in Somerville, MA, never go to college or leave town, work in auto parts stores, and end up reminding you of characters in a Clint Eastwood movie? Maybe they’re pretty tight, albeit with grudges and perhaps even purges along the way.
The new question is then this: why does the “treatment” of greater education have so much less affect on the nature of Russian friendships, relative to American friendships? Are there other dimensions along which the treatment of education influences Russians less? (Examples would be child-bearing age, taste in sports, taste in food, etc.) Influences Americans less? Other groups?
The Russian intelligentsia will be the first to insist how much education matters in their circles, but perhaps they doth protest too loud.