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Stay in...choose your beverage
Kathleen Hildebrand

MUNICH — At some point Hanna Seibert (not her real name) just started making excuses. When her girlfriends called and wanted to go out to eat and drink cocktails in the city, she would put them off, saying she had too much to do. The cliché excuses suggesting she was stressed out struck her career-minded friends as pretty normal. “Tell me about it,” they’d say with a knowing nod. But it wasn’t a question of time for Siebert. It was a question of money.

Things weren’t always this way for her. After earning a degree in business administration, Siebert earned good money working for a couple of years at a large German accounting firm Then, at 28, she quit to start her own small advertising agency. It took a long time to build a customer base, and at first there was no income at all. But she’d counted on that. What she hadn’t counted on was that her professional decisions could affect her friendships.

Siebert’s savings progressvily melted away, and at some point she began having existential fears. When they became overwhelming, she accepted a traineeship in a publishing house that paid her 600 euros a month. Her friends from university, meanwhile, had stayed in their well-paid consulting jobs, climbed the career ladder and were well-paid. Because they realized that things were financially tight for their friend Hanna, they’d pay for that bottle of wine at the restaurant or forego eating out altogether and come visit her at home. “They were so nice,” says Siebert, “but after a while the whole thing just seemed stupid to me.” So she stopped inviting them to her home and eventually became disconnected from these friendships.

When people with money are friends with people of modest means the disparities don’t typically end with the bank accounts. One person in the friendship often feels less comfortable than the other, and it tends to be the one with less money — the friend who can’t afford to join the group at the restaurant or go on the weekend trip, the one whose share may be paid for by the others.

“It doesn’t disturb the rich ones to pay,” says Horst Heidbrink, a psychology lecturer at the distance-learning University of Hagen and one of the few researchers who focuses on the subject of friendship. “The rich person thinks they’re being caring. But the poorer person feels under pressure to be particularly nice.” In close friendships between two people, Heidbrink says it’s often successful to discuss the issue, but that’s more difficult with larger groups of friends.

Back on the drinks circuit

Fast forward. At a bustling Italian restaurant in Munich’s Old Town, a year after she last made excuses and begged off for drinks with her friends, Hanna Siebert is ordering an avocado and crayfish salad. This would have been unthinkable back when during her precarious job situation when she was becoming ever more isolated. But she was lucky. After some two years of uncertainty, her financial hard times are over. She is now in a lead position at the publishing house where she started as a poorly paid trainee. She runs her advertising business on the side. And she’s meeting up with her friends again. “They weren’t trying to drum me out of the group,” she says, looking back on it. “I was actually the one with the biggest problem about the situation.”

But a lack of balance puts pressure on many friendships. Aristotelian ethics would suggest dealing with the imbalance with increased devotion by the friend with less. Friendship expert Horst Heidbrink says he wouldn’t recommend this, but his research has shown him that the give and take between friends has to be balanced.

And that doesn’t just go for money. “The currency in friendship can be almost anything,” he says. The person who calls a friend 10 times will wait a while before calling again so that he or she isn’t always the one reaching out, for example. “We constantly do these little calculations and feel uncomfortable when we feel used,” Heidbrink says.

Despite the compliations, friendships between rich and poor people are not as unusual as one might think. In a 2014 study by the Bremen-based Allensbach Institute, 1,624 people of different ages were asked about their friendships. Forty-four percent of respondents said they had friends who were considerably better off than they were. And 41% said they were friends with people who were considerably less well off than they were. And yet that old saying to the effect that money issues can put an end to friendship still holds for many.

The sticky wicket of money lending

According to the study, friends helped each other out with moving house and renovation work, offered an ear when needed and doled out advice. But only 10% ever accepted significant loans from their richer friends. “Many people believe that borrowing money would weigh the friendship down,” Heidbrink says. “Most people would rather go to their parents because family relationships don’t depend on symmetry as much as friendships do.” Nevertheless, he says, “A good friendship can also withstand a credit.”

Andrea Brandt (not her real name), 52, would say a friendship could grow even stronger because of it. Her best friend Micha has known her for 20 years. When Brandt’s relationship broke down in 1997, she was forced to sell the house that she’d built with her former partner — at a loss. Micha, the owner of a successful ad agency, lent her the 30,000 Deutsche Marks she was missing to settle the bank credit. They drew up a contract with Brandt’s parents as guarantors. It was all highly official, except that Micha refused to charge interest.

“I paid him the money back as fast as possible,” Brandt says. “That was really important to me. I wanted him to know that he could depend on me.” And their friendship became stronger as a result. “It looks like we’ll still be friends when we’re old,” she says. Brandt no longer protests when Micha picks up the lunch tab, and every year when his wife gives her a large bag of designer clothes she no longer wants, Brandt doesn’t regard the gift as somehow shameful. Instead, she feels happy and invites her daughter over to join her in trying things on.

Deep friendships are able to withstand asymmetry like that, Heidbrink believes, although friendships between men and women are vulnerable because they are defined by different activities. With their male friends, men play sports, for example, while women and their girlfriends often just talk when they get together. “That’s where it gets harder to leave out financial situations, and there’s more comparing,” says Heidbrink. On the other hand, when two guys play soccer together, it’s not an issue if one returns to a villa and the other to a low-rent apartment.

“What counts is trust,” Heidbrink says. When trust isn’t justified — when a friend refuses to help or betrays confidences — then friendships fall apart. They don’t fall apart because one person has a lot of money in the bank and the other doesn’t. If the less well-off don’t suffer from jealousy or envy, and the better-off don’t take it too much to heart if their best friend can’t join them on that spa trip, there’s a good chance of a successful friendship.

This modern reality is something Aristotle addressed back in ancient times. He defined three kinds of friendship. The first two are utility and pleasure. But it is the third — based on friends sincerely wanting what’s best for each other — that stands the best chance of longevity.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!


What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]


Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli


• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.


“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.


Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA

London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.


Dottoré! is a weekly column on by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."


• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days

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