Magazine article Russian Life

Moldova: The Unhappiest Country on the Face of the Earth

Magazine article Russian Life

Moldova: The Unhappiest Country on the Face of the Earth

Article excerpt

One sunny morning, as I lounged in the Cafe Eisenstein, located in the Black Sea town of Odessa, an article in a local newspaper grabbed my attention: "Moldovans are the Unhappiest People in the World." Having just completed a work assignment in Russia and the Crimea, it was hard for me to believe that neighboring Moldova was even unhappier than Bulgaria and the Ukraine.

Apparently, according to the World Values Survey, whose researchers interviewed tens of thousands of people in over 60 countries during the past decade, I had picked some of the unhappiest places on the planet to visit. Only 51% of Russians were said to be happy; Ukrainians: 48%. With the happiness rates of Bangladesh and Nigeria coming in at 85% and 81%, respectively, my interest was peaked. How could it be that the rather European Republic of Moldova, whose main export is wine and champagne, tipsy in at 44%--the absolute bottom of the scale?

If money was the root of happiness, then why were other countries with low annual incomes, like Brazil, so content at 83%? Even a whopping 93% of Filipinos said they were happy with their life. Perhaps the climate has something to do with it, I reasoned. All the fairly satisfied, aforementioned countries have an enjoyably sunny climate year-round. Could the brisk Moldovan winters cause ample mood swings? (Were citizens polled in winter instead of summer?) That theory was quickly dismissed when I noticed that the winner--the happiest place on Earth--was Iceland, 97% of whose Nordic citizens proclaim that they are blissful.

As a citizen of the United States (where reputedly 94% of us are happy), I suddenly found myself interested in visiting Moldova. Would my happiness level drop by 50% upon traveling through this Switzerland-sized republic?

I bought a soft seat bus ticket from Odessa to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau (which Russian locals call Kishinev), over one-hundred miles away. Cost? Just $3. So far, I was still happy.

I arrived early at Odessa's Tsentralny Avtovokzal (Central Bus Station) for my 11:10 AM bus (no assigned seats for this price). As 11:00 AM approached and no bus arrived, I ventured back into the terminal to inquire about a possible delay. "Nyet ... no 11:10 AM bus today," I was informed.

It entered my mind that perhaps Moldovans are sad because no one can get there. (And, without knowing Russian or Moldovan, one couldn't even inquire about a bus.)

"Aha! Just when is a bus to Kishinev?" I asked.

"Information costs here, dyevushka. One Hryvnia" [the Ukrainian currency].

"I'll only pay up if there is going to be a bus today," I yelled in Russian through the tiny hole in the glass service booth (conveniently positioned at waist level).

"12:50. Another one at 3 PM. Leaves from outside. Stand #5."

I was once again energized. If buses were scheduled to depart every few hours, than Moldova must surely be a popular destination.

As people approached, I stood my ground in front of the line at Stand #5. Noticing a longer line amassing at neighboring Stand #6, I went up and asked a man, wearing some sort of official-looking Ukrainian cap, if he knew about the Bus to Moldova. It turned out that Pavel Viteazulovich was the driver of the bus to Chisinau, and he let slip that he would shortly drive the bus (now parked in the back of the station) into Stand #7.

As the door opened in front of the teeming hordes, I managed to hold my ground and scramble into a front seat. I asked the somewhat war-torn looking Pavel Viteazulovich (later learning that his patronymic in Moldovan means "brave") how many stops there would be along the way. "Slishkom mnogo" ("Too many") was his only reluctant retort. Wedged in between a bevy of sniffling babushkas and whining children, I seemed to be the only (smiling) foreigner aboard. Could it be possible that most of the travelers here were Moldovan and already unhappy? …

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