Posted in cross-cultural

The Power of an Image #4

McDonalds_3012808bRecently, the Russian government closed several branches of McDonald’s in Moscow, allegedly on health grounds.  I’m sure it’s all part of a larger political game. But that’s not the point.

Seeing these pictures reminded me of the spring of 1995.  A bunch of us had just spent 7 months or so in different parts of the former Soviet Union and were gathering in Moscow for a conference.

McDonald’s was the place we all drifted to.  Amazing how a place I don’t even like can feel so much like home!  When for months, nothing feels normal, you lower the bar, I guess.

I distincly remember also going to some pasta restaurant.  None of us cared about the pasta.  In the least.  You see, aside from cabbage (a lot of that!), carrots and apples, we hadn’t seen any fresh vegetables, let alone salad, for many. long. months.

And this place had a salad bar.  A SALAD BAR!  We were like children on Christmas morning!

So, this might be a current news story.  For me, it opens a whole box full of memories!

Posted in Uncategorized

Love at first – actually, make that last – sight


It’s nearly midnight but still warm.  It feels like the whole city is out on the streets, celebrating.  Groups of people everywhere.  Laughing, chatting, drinking.  Kids running around.  Sometimes I hear music, usually the sound of an accordion, and people would be dancing to it.  Out on the street.

We came into town to watch the fireworks and now it’s time to head home.   For us and for thousands of other people.  Yet the city has not put on any additional trams or buses.  After a brief moment of thinking “Isn’t that typical – why doesn’t anything ever work here?” (but not saying it, as I don’t want to offend my local friend) we decide that trying to walk home is preferable to waiting for hours for a tram.  And so we start walking.

I have never seen the city like this!  There is a sense of fun and enjoyment that you don’t normally see in public.  The reserved, the suspicious people are showing their lighter side.

This is my last evening here before I leave the country and start building a life in a whole new place.  It’s been a tough year.  Many many times I’ve just wanted to pack up and leave.  The language, the climate, the team dynamics – all seemed to conspire to make things difficult. All seemed to be bringing to the surface lots of things in my attitudes and in my character that I would have quite liked to stay buried.  At times, it was only my stubbornness that stopped me packing my bags.  Love at first sight it definitely was not.

But on this night, as we spend a couple of hours walking across town, I am genuinely enjoying it.  It strikes me what an amazing gift that is.

To have this evening of seeing and enjoying so much of what is good about this country.  The warmth that is so often hidden behind a harsh façade.  The tremendous hospitality  (my friend lets me stay over in her very small dorm room, as walking home by myself would not be a good idea).  Their love for their country, even though it is not an easy place to live, at this time of great change and uncertainty.

It might not have been love at first sight but I know a part of my heart will forever be in this place.

Love at first last sight

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized



Singapore is the least emotional country in the world.  The Philippines top the list.  Emotions galore there!  All this according to a survey by the Gallup polling firm. You can read all about it in this Washington Post article.

How do you measure emotion???  From reading the description of the survey, it seems to me they were measuring expression of emotion, rather than emotion as such.

What a cultural minefield!  In some countries/cultures, the expression of emotion is valued and encouraged.  In others, it’s all about not betraying any emotion.  Concerning Singapore, the article describes “a culture in which schools “discourage students from thinking of themselves as individuals.””

A few of these finding are particularly intriguing.

“Post-Soviet countries are consistently among the most stoic. (…) They are also the greatest consumers of cigarettes and alcohol.”  Stoic, maybe.  It’s fascinating to speculate why that is.  How much is the culture still shaped by the 70 years of oppression, and the fear of betraying anything that could cause trouble with the authorities?  Stoic, but definitely not without emotion!  In fact, lots of very deep emotion.  Just not expressed in the way it is in some other countries.

“Negative emotions are highest in the Middle East and North Africa, with Iraq, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Territories leading the world in negative daily experiences.”  Sad.

And Germany and Italy in the same bracket?  Really???

Would love to hear what you think!

Posted in Uncategorized

My life on my wall

I finally got round to putting up pictures in my hallway.  Hunting down just the right frame for each of the cards took ages.  But it was so worth it!

These images bring back so many memories and they make me smile each time I walk past.  Which is quite often, as all the rooms in my apartment are off this hallway!

Unsurprisingly, there are Union Jacks galore!  I just love that crazy country and am so thankful I got to spend 16 years of my life there!

Russia.  One year of living there, and a number of shorter trips.  Not very long, but I still seem to have left a bit of my heart there.  What a place!

Then there are the gorgeous  Indian shoes.  What a riot of colour!  I have never actually been to India but have spent many hours in Sparkhill, the “Little India/Pakistan/Bangladesh” of Birmingham.  Colour is what stands out, especially on a grey November day!  Amazing!

And then there is a fairly generic African picture.  I have only spent a few weeks on that continent but this picture does conjure up some of the atmosphere I remember.

And in between a world map – so I can dream about all the places I have yet to see!  I love maps 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized

Great Little Berlin Moment #2

I was walking down a fairly ordinary, quiet, residential street in leafy Schöneberg earlier, when suddenly, for a brief moment, I thought I was in Russia.  Someone was playing  an unmistakeably Eastern European tune on the accordion.

Why this older man was walking down the street playing his accordion, I’ll never know.  But he did make me smile, as I remembered street parties for Victory Day in Russia, with lots of accordion music and dancing in the streets.