Posted in Weekend Chat

Weekend Chat 28 April 2013

215561_10150156966756445_7044587_nGrab a cup of coffee, find a comfy seat and discover some my favourite blog posts, films, etc from this past week.


Things to watch

I have only just discoveredThe Villageon the BBC, the story of 20th Century England played out through a family in a Derbyshire village.  Definitely not rose-tinted and thus quite tough to watch in places, but so far absolutely worth it!

Things to read

Earthquake Expert – a moving account of the recent earthquake in China from an almost-eye-witness.  Coupled with a very amusing story, illustrating the perils of language.  Expert and expat – so close and yet so far…Read for yourself!

“Lu Lingzi was living the dream of practically every student that every English teacher in China has had in his or her class. We know them well: the young man who wants to earn an MBA and make his millions; the young woman who wants to become a scientist and discover the cure for cancer.” Very interesting reflection on the dream that brought Lu Lingzi, who died in the Boston Marathon bombings, to the US.

Things to listen to

Very interesting programme on “Crossing Continents” on BBC Radio 4, talking to staff and students at a Belarussian university in exile in Lithuania.

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized

Through the Mist of a Waterfall


(picture from

The walls demarcating cultures are not made of brick; rather they are like a slow-moving  wall of water. Like the objects at the bottom of a river, a person on one side can hazily see people  on the other side, they can even put part of their body through to experience it, but to completely move to the other side would require some kind of death and rebirth.

What a beautiful quote from an amazing blog I only recently discovered!

Isn’t it just so true?  We encounter another culture, and we see it as if through the haze of a waterfall.  We catch glimpses and try to guess what might be going on.  It looks intriguing and draws us in.  Or we see things we don’t like, things that offend or annoy us, and we want to walk away.  Sometimes rainbows form – beautiful to look at but distracting us from seeing what is behind the waterfall.

We might be sure of our conclusions and yet we have only seen through the mist of a waterfall.

“a person on one side can hazily see people  on the other side”

It happens all the time.  Not just when we move overseas, but every day.  We travel on the underground and observe an immigrant family.  Our neighbours have moved here with their jobs and don’t know yet what’s expected.  We travel abroad on a well-deserved break and struggle with things being different.  Or we enjoy the strangeness of it all.

“they can even put part of their body through to experience it”

Sometimes we’re brave and “put part of [our] body through to experience it”.  We enter into an experience, a relationship.  We are invited into a home, a life.  The mist might not immediately clear (it might even feel like it’s getting more dense), but we do see more clearly, understand more deeply.  We see more of the real thing, not the hazy image.

“…to completely move to the other side would require some kind of death and rebirth.”

So true!  It is a kind of death, a letting go of parts of who you were, of roots.  At the same time a rebirth, discovering who you are in a new context.

Here’s to lots more waterfalls to take a peek behind!

Posted in Weekend Chat

Weekend Chat 21 April 2013

215561_10150156966756445_7044587_nGrab a cup of coffee, find a comfy seat and discover some my favourite blog posts, films, etc from this past week.

Propaganda: North Korea is a “Socialist Fairyland” and Expat Life is Glamorous!”  Entertaining and thought-provoking blog post, reflecting on how we’re often tempted to embellish the expat life, leaving out the hard bits.

Reflections (and great stories!) on the unique nature of friendships in the expat community.  The joy of sharing life much more quickly, and the sadness of continuously saying good bye.

Posted in Culture

What’s ‘Excuse me’?


There’s an old joke in which a reporter says to an Israeli, a Russian and an American, “Excuse me, can I get your opinion on the food shortage in Africa?”

The Russian says: “What’s an opinion?” The American says: “What’s a shortage?” and the Israeli says: “What’s ‘Excuse me’?”

Nothing like a good old stereotype!  Are they so infuriating because they are so true and yet so totally off the mark?  Because so many individuals act in ways that negate them, yet when looking at a whole culture, we do have to generalise?

Either way, really interesting programme/article on the BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent” this week.  “Getting behind Israeli ‘frankness'”.


It’s the ‘why’ that fascinates me.  Why is it that British English is full of “Thank You”, Excuse me”, I’m sorry” and “Would you mind…”?  Why is it that Germans are fairly comfortable with silence, whereas Americans are not?  I know, stereotypes again.  And yet…  What shapes these cultural differences?

In the programme, Raffi Berg attempts an explanation of the famous (or infamous) Israeli frankness.  Is it due to most people having served in the army?  Did niceties get lost in the huge influx of immigrants with different cultural and language backgrounds?  Do the harsh realities of life (geographical and political) in the Middle East shape even this?  Does the frankness serve a bigger purpose, i.e. to get things done and move forward?

I don’t know but I find it so intriguing to try and look behind the obvious, to try and understand and make sense of what has shaped a people and a culture!

What discoveries, however tentative, have you made about the culture you are living in? 

What might be some of the whys?

Posted in Uncategorized

In the Midst of Tragedy – a Call to Pray

Very poignant thoughts on yesterday’s tragedy in Boston from one of my favourite bloggers. Unique perspective from an American (living in Boston), who grew up in Pakistan, and spent many years as an adult living there and in Egypt.


Less than 24 hours ago, we left from Istanbul’s International Airport for a long flight back to Boston by way of Munich.

We had come empty and we left full. We had come discouraged, and we left encouraged. We had come tired, and we left energized.

A city of mosques, vibrant colors, masses of people, human need, and history filled our days.

We returned to a city in shock, trying to make sense of a violent act causing grief and tragedy. The famous Boston Marathon hijacked by evil, a scene resembling a war zone in the middle of this safe city. We received the news by text as we waited on the tarmac, unsure of why we were not allowed to pull up to our gate. This minor inconvenience quickly gave way to shock and sadness. Bombs at a marathon? It all seemed unreal.

Every year since we’ve moved back…

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Posted in Weekend Chat

Weekend Chat 14 April 2013

215561_10150156966756445_7044587_nGrab a cup of coffee, find a comfy seat and discover some my favourite blog posts, films, etc from this past week.

Things to watch

“Von einem Mönch aus Tibhirine”.  About a year ago, I watched “Of Gods and Men”, which tells the very moving story of 7 French monks who were kidnapped and later killed in Algeria in 1996.  “Von einem Mönch aus Tibhirine” is a documentary that was made a few years before the movie and that tells the story of one of the monks (Brother Luc).  The film-maker (who was at the showing) had been approached by by a young man originally from the village near the monastery and asked to tell the story.  You hear from people who knew Brother Luc as a medical students in France, from villagers in Algeria, from health workers he had trained.  Incredibly, incredibly moving.

Things to read

“Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell.  Somewhat autobiographical story of Orwell’s time living among tramps and people on the margins in the 1920s.  Some fascinating insights on the impact of poverty!

I bought “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok a few months ago but haven’t yet had a chance to read it.  Having just come across this interview with her on the “America for Beginners” blog, I definitely want to get to it asap!

Things to listen to

If you haven’t discovered Laura Mvula yet, now is the time!  Utterly amazing voice and beautiful music!  Catch her on Friday’s episode of “Later… with Jools Holland”

Posted in Uncategorized

Sea Fever

796901e42fc1364f536cdfb83a333a19I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

(from: Sea Fever by John Masefield)

There is nothing quite like the sea.  To blow away the cobwebs.  To regain a sense of calm.  To realise how big the world out there is and so to recapture a sense of perspective.

Oh how I would love to have a place like this to sit, to look out over the sea, to listen to the waves lapping (or crashing, depending on the weather) on the shore.  This has got to be almost the perfect spot.  I wonder how much reading, writing and thinking I would get done if I had a place like that.  My place overlooks a courtyard.  Quite a nice one but a courtyard nonetheless.  Which is not the same.  At all.

It’s been too long.  I must down to the seas again…

What is your “perfect place” to think, to read, to write, to daydream?