China talks about its feelings

You wouldn’t expect culture shock moving from Canada to the US, especially when you move from Toronto to Boston then Berkeley. One thing that, initially, took me aback: people, in polite company, would talk about their therapist. At a dinner party, “So according to my therapist…”. After a break-up, “My therapist says…”

I have nothing against psychologists – indeed I married one. Canadians, I am sure, see psychologists in numbers comparable to their southern neighbors. But you would no more bring this up at a dinner party than you would discuss your latest gastrointestinal issues (that, I’m afraid, is only polite amongst other aid workers).

In true Canuck fashion, your vote, your faith, your salary and your therapy and quietly, politely, repressed from all conversation.

If I’m going to make sweeping generalizations, why stop with Canadians and Americans? If there’s a culture that likes discussing its private troubles and emotions less than Canadians, it’s probably the Chinese. Or so I gather from Evan Osnos, who tells us (with some surprise) about the growing popularity of psychoanalysis in China.

Not just psychology, but psychoanalysis. As far as I can tell, the last bastions of Freudian analysis are (i) literature departments; and (ii) neurotic New Yorkers. Good riddance. But now it’s finding new life in a nation of one billion.

The New Yorker article, terrific as it is, is gated but there’s an outstanding podcast here.

Incidentally, the New Yorker Out Loud podcast has been particularly good lately. See John Lee Anderson on Sri Lanka, Peter Hessler on Peace Corps volunteers, and John Cassidy on Chinese state capitalism and industrial policy.