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Thursday 29 January 2015

Can we learn empathy and compassion with five weeks classes?

I have just received an ads message in my email box: "Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) is a course designed to develop the qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness for oneself and others. CCT combines traditional contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research to help you lead a more compassionate life. The training includes instruction, daily meditation, mindfulness, in-class interaction, and “real world” practices. CCT is designed to be secular and generic so it can be effective with any faith tradition or belief system. " The class is suggested for a period of five weeks, will take place in the Bay Area and will be taught by a woman certified in Compassion (!) by Stanford University. People, I just do not know what to say. If we can learn compassion now in five weeks with a Stanford alumna, where the world is going?

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Philadelphia street fashion fairy-tale

When you think about street fashion in the United States, cities off the top of your head would be New York with its fashion week and stylish people, may be San-Francisco for its particular Western Сoast way of leaving, thinking and wearing clothes. What else ? LA ? Probably. LA with its designers' showrooms, movie stars stylists and stylish people on the streets trying to follow fashion trends might also be a fashion street capital. Would you think of Philadelphia though ? I seriously doubt it. Philadelphia, a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, the temporary capital of the United States between, has left me impressed though with their street festive and cheerful style. I found that there were so many joy and magic in the clothes people were wearing. Like if they were not just people but some fairy tale characters. Pictures are unfortunately not of that great quality but even so you can see some joy and fun pouring throughout images:

When will she take her flying broom?

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A walking green teddy bear:

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Floral & Checked World:

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Hey Kagami Hiiragi from Lucky Star and Cilan from Pokémon! I recognized you!

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One more Kagami Hiiragi from Lucky Star? What a luck!

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The Red and The Black by Stendhal:

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Queen of Hearts (probably in her childhood)

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Jessie, the cowgirl (probably in her late years)

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Tinkerbell:

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More fairies walking around:

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Tuesday 22 July 2014

San Francisco: Portraits

Here are San-Franciscans through the lens of Herb Wolff, my photography class' classmate:

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All photographs by Herb Wollf

Friday 18 July 2014

Be Sure to Wear Flowers in your Hair...

When you can see these advertisments next to each other in downtown, you know that you are in San Francisco:

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And the girls, of cause, because otherwise it may be considered discriminative:

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Tuesday 12 November 2013

Somewhere in Nevada...

I can understand. It is a desert...

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Photo by Alexandra Efimova

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Shut it Down!

This Miley Cirus parody is as badly done as all the Republicans dirty political games. How even can you think of doing this to American people? We did Stop

Sunday 6 October 2013

My Starbucks Cups Collection

Some of you might collect Starbucks coffee travel mugs, but I have my own collection of Starbucks cups.

So far this is my favorite. IMG_1670.jpg

I also have this one: IMG_1462.jpg

Do you think we are ready to live in a multicultural environment? May be not yet if we even can't pronounce our neighbors' names (including me). Having in mind a success of Anastasia cartoon, my proposal is to change all the primitive Dora, Mickey and Mini Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh names to real Chen, Cheng, Chun, Jing, Aishwarya, Akanksha, Bhaskara and Chandrakant. Yop, probably we will not have enough cartoon characters. But need to start with something in order our kids can easily live in a new world full of new unusual names and unknown cultures.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

The High Line in NYC and La Coulée Verte in Paris - Pieces of Peace in Crazy Cities

I love big cities. I love them to the point that I was even not afraid to go to New York City during current summer heat wave (oh god, I love living in the bay area where you can't beat the weather!). Although, in the cold of winter or in the heat of summer, I love big cities, busy looking people in suits hurry in and out of tall buildings, street noises, hustle and bustle. But in order to stay sane in these crazy urban swirls, you need a place to hide, a place "above and beyond" . The High Line in New York is definitely one of them.

High Line Park - another view of New York:

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In Paris you do not feel like you get smashed by skyscrapers. But you still need to get away from crazy everydayness of a big city.

Coulée verte in Paris:



photo credit: http://www.paris-en-photos.fr/coulee-verte/

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photo credit: http://yourguidetoparis.weebly.com/green-corridors.html

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Independance Day. San Francisco.

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Friday 5 July 2013

Should I Stay or Should I Go?



Hello my friends,

Sometimes I ask myself why I am where I am, geographically speaking. When you have questions ask yourself first, then go and see you friends.

For a while I was thinking about hearing other voices in my blog (Do not worry about me, I do not hear voices otherwise, nor hallucinations, I am fine)).

And here it is. My friends shared their thoughts and impressions about their different lives in different countries.



I met Hanna when I lived in France. She was , is and always will be a brilliant girl. She has both Belarussian and Nigerian background. It's like having Sergey Brin's brain and Barack Obama's charisma.

Name: Hanna

Occupation: Co-founder, Tenacity Health (www.tenacityhealth.us)

Nationality: US

Countries you lived in: Belarus, UK, France, Bosnia, US

Current city of residence: Boston/USA



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What do you really miss in your native country or countries you lived in:

Belarus: I really miss my childhood friends and the crazy times that we spent together.

France: I sometimes dream about French cheeses, such as Mimolette Vieille or L'abondance. I have tried buying them at specialty stores in the US but somehow they just don't taste the same.

UK: I used to live on the seafront in Brighton and would wake up every day to see the old Brighton Pier. It had had a fire and had become a home for large colonies of birds.  It was eerily beautiful to see them swarm back and forth in the morning sunlight (It was always sunny in the mornings!). 

Bosnia: I miss driving on the road from Sarajevo to Trebinje. It's one of the most picturesque, dramatic mountain drives I have ever been on. I think that the region is one of Europe's best kept secrets.

US: Biking along the Rock Creek Parkway every day on my way to work in DC.

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

Belarus: My toes and fingertips would always get numb from winter weather. I remember going to school in a trolley bus where the heating system was broken while it was -32C outside. I don't miss that. Culturally, I never appreciated the lack of optimism  even though I understand why people were cautious about the future.

France: I was surprised to meet quite a few first generation immigrants who did not consider themselves French even though they had spent 99% of their lives in France.

UK: I used to live downtown, next to all the nightclubs and pubs. Like clockwork, yelling and fighting used to break out once the nightclubs were closed at 2 or 3 am every day.

Bosnia: Dealing with local bureaucrats. After a while, I realized that they were very attuned to their 'victims' psychology. They sensed that you were on a verge of a breakdown and would not let go until you have had it. I empathize with what the people of this country have to put up with on a daily basis.

US: Driving culture in Boston.




She was my boss, my best boss ever. She is French and that means a funny, elegant and an open-minded beautiful woman who knows what she wants in life. She is leaving Russia behind for....god only knows what country. What will she miss in her Russian life and what is she looking for....Let's ask her.

Name: Sandrine

Occupation: marketing Director

Nationality: French

Countries you lived in: The Netherlands, Russia

Current city of residence: Moscow/Russia

Next: Abu Dhabi/United Arab Emirates

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What did you really like/ still enjoying every day (or your every visit):

France: I like it simply because it is my native country and small things of the daily life are easy just because you almost do them more by intuition than thinking. I love the nature, I love going early in the morning to the bakery and buy fresh and still warm bred and pastries, going there by bike in small roads surrounded by trees, flowers and the smell of the freshly cut grass. This is what I keep from France. A sweet way of life, the sun rising, the birds singing, and the ease for me to do whatever I want (not whenever I want unfortunately). Having a barbecue in the garden of my Mum around a glass of rose and having this family Sunday lunch on the outside terrace. Then going for a walk in the forest, crossing a neighbor who will say hi and chat a bit, come back home, play some society games and just enjoy the long outside evening summers and spring offers.

Russia: Here, in Russia, I like the speed, the energy the city give you every day. I like the contrasts, this city being all about excess, all the time. It is a permanent chaos, which after a while, becomes almost fun as you learn to live with it and win over it. So what I like in my life in Moscow is as well, all those little daily victories on those things which are so easy to be done in my own native country and mostly everywhere else in Europe and the US. Talking about contrast, I am walking to the metro every day. I never found the utility of having a car or a driver. I do believe that to understand a nation and its people, you need to live as them, and since my job is as well to understand people to try to sell them our product, that is a must to try to be as integrated as possible. So every day, I walk in this very busy city, fight to get in the metro, escape at least a couple of times to take a metro door entrance on my face because the person in front of me as no delicateness to look behind and hold the door for you, build big strategies to be able to seat before the bitch who just stepped on you without saying “sorry”, wait at the red light on the side walk that light turns green for pedestrians when you can splashed by a car who just ran to close to the sidewalk after a long night of rain…and then get to the office, exhausted, wet, like you did a triathlon…But one day, you wake up early, go to the street to buy some groceries, and there is nobody,… not even a simple car though you are living in the city center. You do not meet a single person even walking his dog outside, though you are in the middle of summer and it is already 24 degrees outside… You just cross a girl with torn tights, makeup flowing, and a staggering gait on her 15cms high hills. You wonder what happened, you think you missed something as you don’t speak the language, maybe there was a notice to stay home, maybe there was an alert and everybody had to leave the city and I am the remaining? But then, all of a sudden, you realize that all this is full part of your imagination and “Oh of course, it is Sunday morning”... People who does not know Russia, will think I am over doing the story, but all of this can happen in Russia, even in one day and this is what I like the most curiously. Beside that I like to take the metro, as I said, because it is the most reliable thing in this country, carriages are still authentic (not meaning dirty or bad maintained but real authentic and noisy but clean), metro stations are just pure pieces of art. I like the red square and all those churches, I like drinking Kvas, and I am, at least, the only French I know, addicted to it and being able to drink 2 liters a day… I like having my own world and not being obliged to fit into the system too much and not being poisoned by radio, TV. I like that it is the country of possibilities, I like the fact people give you a chance, I like because feeling they are challenged so they are productive (there is a dark side of it as well, big one). I like Russia for its uniqueness and its contract and while some debates happen time to time about Russia, when I am travelling, I surprise myself often, defending this country more than a Russian would do himself or even more sometimes than I would defend French.

Netherlands: The highest hill in the Netherlands is most likely the same height as the sand castles I was building when I was a kid. Therefor what is enjoyable is to be able to bike everywhere without suffering. Amsterdam, where I lived was just the perfect place for a 1st expatriation. Full of expats from all around the world, so easy to make up friends, English was spoken fluent by everybody even administrations (which ease life seriously) and it was 2h drive from my home border and 4h from Paris still by car. So you could be homesick, it wouldn’t matter, you knew you could take your car and drive home for the week-end of even for the night. And of course as you knew it was possible, you wouldn’t do it then. I did though once to make a surprise to a friend and this was awesome. I liked being able juts to take my beach bag and go to the beach on Saturday’s while summer was heating the city. I liked every time landing at Schiphol from my numerous business trip having this 1st smell of farm when exiting the door. I liked living in a city that was the size of a “village”, but have all facilities of one of the biggest European capital. I liked being so close from home, that my friends would easily come to visit for a week-end without any struggle or begging them.

What do you really miss (will miss) in your native country or countries you lived/currently live in:

I miss in general all those things I like in each country. Especially when you go or leave a place or somebody, after a while only the best memories come to you and you completely forget the struggles and the difficulties and all those things you used to dislike. As for France, I miss not being closer to my Mum, though I must admit that when you get to see your relatives, the time spend is often of much better quality than living next to each other and barely talk or exchange on anything. Everything as their pro and counters, I decided to live for the pros and only look forward to have more.

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

France: never coped with the mentality, this well thinking that if you do not think like me, you are not worthy to listen to or you are a fascist even. I do not like the fact we live on our laurels and because we have been a great nation, we can sit and do nothing and we will still be. I do not understand this contrast between French. On one hand some travel a lot and in some amazing countries barely no one’s visit but on the other hand you have this France who just lives on the past and what our ancestors did while criticizing all those stupid people who do not apply the French model. I don’t like and cannot get use neither to all gossips, criticism and prejudices. It gives as a result that you are more judged on what people say, your appearance, your race, your religion, and even the way you dress, the town you live, the school you went, the jobs your parents were doing, your way of dressing… than on what you are really are. So I cannot get used to the mentality, where everything is impossible or will be difficult before even starting. It is so sad in a way because all the rest is just amazing in this country.

Russia: for all the reasons I love Russia, I hate it as well. There is no in between neither with this country, neither with the people. I will not regret the lack of education and politeness of the people stepping on you at every step you make, those doors slapped into your face, those eyes looking at the floor instead of saying hello... I remember, by the way, once I was on the phone next to Albina and talking in French. When I hanged up, she asked me “to whom where you talking with”, I replied I was talking with some administration (I don’t remember exactly but not something very sexy or funny). She said, your conversation was so friendly and you were so polite. I understood that day, that even Russian people are suffering from this behavior. Unfortunately, people who had the chance to live in other countries, and see. I will never get used to the fact you might have to become nasty and impolite yourself to have a chance to get what you want. I never got used to the fact that people cannot think by themselves and if a coma is missing, the all document is just not valid and on top of it you cannot even discuss.

Netherlands: never got used to the food, which was the biggest struggle ever. They are very patriotic and like to sell and consume whatever has grown in their country. But Man, this country barely gets sun! So what you get are no taste vegetables, no taste fruits, even the meat is awful. It is the only nation I know grown with sandwich and daily glasses of milk for each lunch. Maybe this is why they are so tall and strong! I am easy with this, as they also admit the fact they have the worst gastronomy in the world. It added to the fact I never understood and will never understand why, every summer you see thousands of cars towing caravans migrating to south of France and overloaded with food. When I asked what for, most of them replied “just in case we do not find what we want” (sure, once of the main thing they take in between are 10 kilos of potatoes and true that in France we do not grow potatoes) and some of them because they would save money (I don’t know what is cheaper that those small outdoor markets in south of France and more tasty).



I met Yana here, in California. Our kids are friends and we are friends too. How can you not be a friend to such an interesting and multi-faced personality? She is keen on photography, plays guitar, cooks delicious treats and creates amazing polymer clay jewelry.

Name: Yana

Occupation: M.Sc in Life Science, currently stay at home mom and (Yarn&Clay) designer

Nationality: Ukrainian / Jewish

Countries you lived in: Russia, Israel, US

Current city of residence: Santa Clara/CA/USA

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What did you really like/ still enjoing every day (or your every visit):

US: life quality, great nature, lots of free space, San Francisco.

Israel: friendly people, great historic places, the sun and the sea, Tel Aviv beaches and night life.

Russia: my friends, my city (Moscow), theater, nature.

What do you really miss in your native country or countries you lived in:

Israel: good friends, many aspects of life in Tel Aviv like the night life, hanging out on the beach at summer, interesting bars, parties, exhibitions, lots of small café and nice restaurants. I also miss my Alma-mater the Technion, located in Haifa.

Russia: the great nature that I remember from my childhood, some of the foods, which are hard to find abroad and Moscow itself - its streets, parks, buildings, lakes and many many more places I love.

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

US: Currently, the only thing I don't like is that there is no option to walk, you get everywhere in your car. However, its more a suburbs problem, you defenetly can walk in San Fransisco. Also, I was shocked to discover that there is almost no café in European meaning of the word. Only diners and self service places.  

Israel: most of the people are too straight forward, asking right away about private metters, I don't like the non stoppable heat and not a big fan of mediterranean nature.

Russia: the feeling of insecurity, authority rudeness, vandalism.



I've known her since we studied together at the university in Russia. Every time I see her, I am happy. It is a kind of positive and sunny person who makes you happy, you know. Now, Tanja lives in Germany, with all these Germans around drinking beer and shouting «  Arbeiten, arbeiten! ».... but she is still the same shiny and happy Tanja, full of positive energy, ready to share it with you.



Name: Tanja

Occupation: mom of twins

Nationality: Russian

Countries you lived in: Russia, Germany

Current city of residence: Heidelberg/Germany

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What did you really like/ still enjoying every day (or your every visit):

Germany: On the practical side: everything works efficiently - post, public transportation, administrative issues are quickly resolved without extra red tape. On the personal side: Germans are very good at cultivating and safeguarding their heritage and traditions. For example things like making Adventskalender for Christmas (Christmas cookies, etc.), or celebrating Carnival, or drinking beer at Oktoberfest :-).

Russia: It makes me feel good to see how Russian women take good care of themselves and always manage to look good, no matter what budget they have.

What do you really miss in your native country or will miss in your current country of residence:

Germany: good roads and highways without speed limits.

Russia: May 9th.

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

Germany: German pedantry.


Russia:
drunk people in the morning in public transportation. :-)



Have you ever met a Russian guy married to a Mexican woman (already intriguing, right ? But that's only the beginning). The guy lived in Finland for a while and now is a US resident. You still do not trust me, I see. Here he comes.

Name: Andrey

Occupation: Software professional

Nationality: Russian

Countries you lived in: Russia, France, Finland, USA

Current country of residence: USA

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What did you really like/ still enjoing every day (or your every visit): US: weather, beaches.

Finland: tranquility, piece and order, well-preserved nature, clean water and ecology, lots of intact nature, work culture, state social benefits system, blunt and direct people.

Russia: relatives.

What do you really miss in your native country or countries you lived in:

Finland: sauna and winter. Sauna is not just sauna, it's Finish Sauna. Imagine, you are on a small island of archipelago, sitting in a hot room of the wood stove sauna. Then you run and refresh yourself in the icy waters of the lake. You can do it only in Finland.

Russia: friends and family.

What you did not like/ was something you've never accustomed to/ never accepted: US:

1. high crime level

2. poor (elementary/highschool) educational system

3. income/wealth inequality

4. corporate greed (i.e high prices, poor quality)

5. culture: double morals in everydays life (soft lie as a norm, suger coating truth, indirectness).

6. other: poor spread of modern IT technogoies, tons of hardcopy paperwork in both govermental and commercial agencies.

Finland: finns can't cook! dining is expensive and food is tasteless. 24-hour supermarkets are rare. Health system consists of a publicly funded health care and a very small private health care sector. It results in less choices in medical services.

Russia: corruption, money cult, wealth/income inequality.



She calls herself Tetyana, I call her Tanya, my good friend Tanya. I met her in France while I was in my final year at Paris business school. She is Ukrainian and I am Russian. I am Russian and she is Ukrainian. Not easy, you know - gas disputes, Crimean issues, and even a question of borscht origins....Yes, yes, our countries have issues but not Tanya and I. We are a perfect example of Russia-Ukraine friendship.

Name: Tetyana

Occupation: Business Development Manager

Nationality: Ukrainian

Countries you lived in:Ukraine (22 years), France (10 years)

Current city of residence:Suresnes / France

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What did you really like/ still enjoing every day (or your every visit):

Ukraine:

language, songs, nature, friends, family, Ukranian cuisine.

What do you really miss in your native country or will miss in your current country of residence?

Ukraine:

Places, landscapes, smells of my childhood (rather than of my last 5 "grown-up" years spents there for studies), like my grandparents' village and house, dishes they cooked, moutains, forest and fields around...over there I am out of time, I am what we call free (I don't like to use this word, I don't really know what it is), liberated, freed, released, carefree without feeling careless, serene, at peace,... protected, maybe I feel like a kid there? At least I was, I don't know how it will be next time (this summer). I also miss some friends of mine (when we have enough time not to be superficial), my grandma, my brother and parents. I miss an attitude that makes difference with the Western world such as : a kind of relaxed or at least not anxious attitude in the worst conditions, which - I have to admit - can be often irresponsible or lacking of long term view attitude. I also miss a certain simplicity/humanity in relations, which is unfortunately changing as people start to calculate (relation to money), start to isolate themselves. I also miss certain simplicity/spontaneity in doing things or getting access to things, which is unfortunately very often the result of lack of rules or of "small" corruption, corruption being precisely smth I hate... Finally, I miss our buckwheat:) (that by the way was domesticated and first cultivated in China....).

France:

When I am in Ukraine (or elsewhere), French things I miss are: 

- "esprit critique".

- pastry, good bread.

- a certain "civilisation" i.e. basic superficial common culture or rules "of living together" (bonjour, au revoir, ça va? merci...can be considered as smth completely hypocrite, but still I prefer it to a very special post-soviet ignorance/aggressiveness/treatement depending on some status).

- language, some TV programms.

- big plates :) everywhere they use small or middle-size plates and I need to have a big plate even if I eat smth small:).

- my home (I always enjoy getting back to France as it is my home even if I do not have a French citizenship).

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

France:

- some superficiality/hypocrisy in human relations (well, depends on the people/regions:))

- anxiogenic, stressful atmosphere, everyone is stressed, even children are stressed (because of their parents/surrounding)...doctors, psychologists, waiting rooms are fool, drugstores are full, bars-tabac are full, social security/public welfare system is empty, tv is full of economic and other catastrophes...easy to be trapped by all this (well, depends on people and regions:)). - hidden communitarianism (again depends on the people and regions:)). - "fonctionnaires des préféctures". - a certain veneration of America, or let's say "complexe du conflex" (by the singer M) ( again and again it depends on people:)).

Ukraine:

- slave/inferiority complex, fatalism, impossibility to draw lessons of our history and use correctly the country ressources/potentiel.

- "sovok" mentality.

- lack of "esprit critique".

- absence of national interest oriented/long term policy.

- young people's bad tastes.

- adults' bad tastes.



We studied together at the University in Russia. She wanted to be a teacher and a translator. Now she sings and plays keyboards in the SisterMonkband in New-York. If you still haven't heard Sister Monk, you should : very original folk, funk, rock music with poetic lyrics. From her previous Russian life into her new American life, Tani brought her passion for music, her creativity....and also her gusli, balalaika and wooden spoons.... for her next performances.

Name: Tani

Occupation: musician (keyboardist/vocalist for SisterMonk: SisterMonk.com)

Nationality: Russian

Countries you lived in: Russia, Senegal, USA

Current city of residence: Paterson/NJ/USA

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What did you really like/ still enjoying every day (or your every visit):

US:

I very much enjoy living close to the ocean. I grew up in the central part of Russia, the closest sea shore is a 1000 miles away, and now I can go to the beach whenever I feel like it. Simple joys of life. The biggest joy is of course being able to play music. In The States success of an indie band doesn't as much depend on who you know though it is of course important. But if your product is unique and original and of great quality there is a greater chance to make it here than in my native country.

Russia:

Sounds silly but food is one of the great pleasures of coming back. Favorite foods and favorite people is all I need when I'm there.

What do you really miss in your native country or countries you lived in:

US:

I live in The States so I don't get to miss the country much but if I happen to be away for a long time I really miss playing music. We play in NYC a lot and you might call it my social life. I don't go out to clubs to drink, dance and meet people. I would play a gig and get all of that plus a healthy dose of adrenalin.

Russia:

My folks love to party so every time I'm in Russia there are plenty of family gatherings, and every one of them ends with singing folk songs, a cappella or accompanied by my aunt's accordion playing. I think the songs is what I enjoy and miss the most. They got me started on the whole music thing, I think I started singing right when I started talking.

What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

US:

Eating habits in America surprised me. The amount of food commercials on tv is pretty scary. If in a five-minute commercial block three minutes are taken by food and the remaining two by different weight loss programs there is obviously something very wrong here. Kids menus in restaurants is another topic too.

Russia:

Russian pop music is pretty awful. Seriously it's torture. Perfect example of quantity over quality. This is one of the reasons I never go to Russian clubs and Russian parties, can't stand the music. I can only hope smth will change eventually. But where there is demand there is supply. There is plenty of amazing musicians there, but they are outnumbered. What you hear on the radio there is often even far to be called mediocre.



When I first met Gilles he surprised me by saying a few words in Russian. I was even more surprised to see him making conversation in Russian. All of the French or Americans I knew, who pretended to speak Russian a bit, were already lost after my second question to them. Then I found out that Gilles lived and worked in Japan and (!) speaks Japanese fluently. You could meet a French person able to speak fluently both Russian and Japanese, when pigs fly. Gilles is a walking encyclopedia and thinks out of the box. Even his replies in this mini-interview were outside my framed questions. So I decided to keep them as they are.

Name: Gilles

Occupation: Engineer & father

Nationality: French

Countries you lived in: Russia (Moscow), Japan (Tokyo), US (Vermont and Silicon Valley)

Current city of residence: Sunnyvale/CA/USA

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What did you really like/ still enjoying every day (or your every visit):

Japan: 

This is a country I felt “at home”. This may surprise many who have heard about rejection of the foreigners are a usual issue. Well, I think this is mostly due to people not trying… First and foremost, I have worked very hard to learn the language. I did not stay with other foreigners. I made it so that I had no choice but to discover Japan. I loved the food. I think this is one thing that made it enjoyable to be. In general, I think there are a lot of common ground in the “way of thinking” of the Japanese and the French. Culture, food, dressing, family values. After food, the second thing I loved in Japan are the public bath ! I could spend hours in there…

Russia:

I actually first discovered Russia when I was in my teens, as part of a school trip, the year right after the Moscow Summer Olympics (I studied Russian as my first foreign language). On my first “real” stay there, I was privileged to work as part of the French Embassy, at a time of transition with a lot of things changing. Because of that, (and since I was part of Embassy staff), I was able to take advantage of things unthinkable… I paid the Russian price for train/hotel and planes… Even for the most expensive hotel in Saint Petersburg, I could afford it with my modest “military compensation”. This was a time of very large inequalities and paradoxes… I remember having a 1 kg box of caviar in my fridge, but not being able to find bread to eat with it… My second assignment (with my current company) was also very good, yet very different. Materially, I was well off, and interestingly occupied the apartment of Mr. No (Mr Gromyko), in the inner circle of Moscow. The changes were drastic between my 2 assignments – but in both times, I really enjoyed the easy access to culture (concerts, expos, theatre). Moscow is definitively a cleaner city now, and you don’t see old ladies selling mushrooms (morels) (maybe it’s a shame) in the spring at the exit of the metro stations. Seeing a lot let drunk people as well… But it is still a very unbalanced city. The inner city markets are all disappearing to be replaced by expensive new apartment complexes, and the differences between the poor and the rich is very, very obvious.One thing that marked me in both visit, but also probably more in my second time… The way people dress-up in Moscow. Specially after leaving in California… There is no way you catch a girl walking in her tennis shoes in the streets of Moscow, with her hair not done and without make-up :-)

US:

Life is easy as long as you have money… I am here because I work here, and also because of some of the freedom that California offers. My family would not be possible in Japan or in France. But I am not sure I would live here forever… 

Now… some cross-cultural comparisons, if I dare…

Both Japan and Russian like bath. There used to be public bath in France, but they were mostly an "hygienic" place, not a place to be enjoyed. There are definitively "bath houses" in California, but they are not the kind where you would casually enjoy the steam. However, both Japanese and Russian have a definitive culture of the bath… It is different, yet it is the same… There are rules you have to follow… and there is even special idioms that have to be learnt before you are allowed to be a real "part of it".



What did not you like/ was something you never get used to/ never accepted or understood in the culture:

Japan :

What is different between French and Japanese… ? I think the biggest difference is Japanese Resignation (reflected in a phrase.. "shoga-nai (it can't be help)). It soooo got to upset me when someone said that… and did not try to do anything about the issue… because it is the way it is and the way it is expected to be…

US :

US and Japanese… well… it is just 2 completely different cultures… Not sure where to start.. already covered food and culture. Even for us here in the very cosmopolitan Silicon Valley, with San Francisco not far away… I don't think we come close to Tokyo… (or Paris, or Moscow). But I will focus my negative energy on american culture on the "service" area - or lack of thereof. If anything was to happen to my plumbing in Japan, I would be able to get a technician within a few hours - and on time (to the minute) at my door. This holds true as well for utilities (installing a phone line) electrical or Gas…. This is simply un-thinkable in the US. It feels to me that here, we are "at the service" of the utility company…

Russia :

Russia and Japan… disorganized and inconvenient are the terms that comes to me when I place these two experiences next to each other. Getting something done (anything) in Moscow is always an adventure and requires you to "know someone". Shopping is all (mostly) on the outskirt of the city as all real-estate is for luxury shops in the center of the city. This would be un-thinkable for Paris or Tokyo.

Should I stay or should I go ?

With all that put down… Is there a place I prefer ? I think I would say Japan. But I have to remember and caution myself that my experience was a privileged one. I was living in a house (yes) with a walled garden… within the inner circle… I was not commuting to work, but walking to work… But then again… all of these experiences are a lot what one makes out of them… 

Friday 14 June 2013

Moving Memories

Where do you keep all your pictures, diplomas, your kids' paitings, postcards from your trips, your memories? At home, on your computers, in photo albums and boxes on your shelves. You might also have some memories in your phones, so you can show some funny pictures of your kids and hear "Oh, he's a big boy now" or "Your girl's growing into quite the little lady" or something like this.

Sometimes you can display family pictures at your office desk: "Look at my little ones!"

Americans love transforming their cars into moving business cards. Sometimes stickers and license plates can say a lot: family status, political views, hobbies, places you visited..... People even put thier kid's names on thier license plates, in case they forget them back home...



Hey, I am a proud mom.

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Hey, I love soccer. If you love football, change the lane.

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Hey, I love Obama. And I love hiking in Hawaii too. If you are Republican, change the lane.

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Saturday 8 June 2013

Memento Mori!

I always thought that there are some taboo subjects universal to all modern societies. Like death. Of cause there are some ancient societies where death was celebrated: Ancient Egypt, some tribal cultures. But it is all in the past and now people usually do not like speaking about death. We fear it and we do not want it. Hey, are you still alive? - is just a joke. But even this joke can be perceived as rude and tasteless.



Imagine my surprise when I received this letter?



Why? Why?



Ok, ok, it makes sense, I understand. Though when you are already dead, nothing in the world makes sense anymore.

I could even win a pre-paid cremation! Wow!



Oh, I am happy for David Casey! Congrats! How are you doing Mr Casey? Are you still alive? Oups.



And, oh suprise again, in May I received one more:





No, guys, it does not make any sense for me. Please check my age in your database or just do your marketing differently. May be a small event on the cemetery with champaigne and orchestra would be a good idea or a small talk with elementary school kids "Cremation just makes sense"?



Memento mori, guys,.... and do not forget about money!

Saturday 4 May 2013

American and Russian Daycares in the US or Do We Love Our Kids Differently?

It has been a while I did not write anything for my blog. I still live here, in California. Time flies. Life goes on. Things became pretty familiar and somehow aren't worth describing them.

Though I still see things that suprise, impress or even profoundly disturb me here in the USA.

My 2 years old daughter goes to the American daycare twice a week. I also consider to put her later in a Russian daycare. There are some of them here in the Bay Area: teachers are Russian and speak Russian with students, the way they deal with kids is somehow also familiar and known from our childhoods.

From what I saw until now, there are 2 main differences between Russian and American approaches to early childhood education. For convenience I'd call them "treatment" and "methodology".

1) treatment.



I will never say that Russian or American daycares treatments are better or worse. They are just different and basically reflect what we call "normal" in our respective societies.

a) food.

Russians, we all know what "goryachee pitanie" means. I'd translate it as "hot lunch" but it is not a word-for-word translation because in American culture you just do not have such a phenomenon. While in Russian daycares lunches are provided by a school with almost no exception, in American daycares lunches are often provided by parents and can be just a sandwich and chips, macaroni, cheese, carrots. Sometimes kid's lunch is the same as snack is, big snack but still a snack: one or two cheese slices, baby carrots, goldfish crackers and a fruit, no fish or meat included.

b) nap.

In most Russian daycares kids nap in pajamas, in beds. In American daycares kids nap with their shoes on (for fire safety reasons) and on the cots with or without a blanket. I am really not sure kids need those shoes on while napping but it is obligatory.

2) methodology.

Russian moms ofter want their children at an early age and later, of course, to learn. Do you remember Lenin's "learn, learn, learn"? Yes, we all remember it and basically follow this way. In American daycares academics are not so important at least for children 1 to 5-6 years old, social skills are, fun is. At American daycares teachers are here to accompany rather then to teach. If a child does not want, they do not force, sometimes do not even insist. They let it go.

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Friday 11 January 2013

Guns without Roses

There are a few things which are really disturbing for me here, in the US. One of them is the fact that everybody can buy a gun in every sports magazine along with a basket ball, a snowboard, a fitness outfit or whatever it is.
Every single month you read about school shootings, domestic or gang violence involving guns or tragic accidents like the recent one when 5- year-old Kentucky boy fatally shot his 2-year- old sister.

Fortunately, all the schools shooting do not end like Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy which claimed the life of 20 small kids and 6 adults. But still you see these pictures of terrifyings kids and crying parents and again and again a debate about a ban of assault weapons and a plan for curbing gun violence is back.

To understand this profound attachment of Americans to guns you have to understand that individual right to bear guns is a constitutional right and is a part of the 2-nd amendment dated December 1791.

But sometimes I just want to say "Come on guys, take it easy, you are safe and do not need guns anymore: Indians will not attack you". May be in a country where gun violence is one of the highest in the world, you might finally admit that 1791 and 2013 are two different epochs and there is something that needs to be changed.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Playing with words...

In the US it's better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick.
In France sometimes it's better to be poor when you're sick: social security is in charge of everything.
In Russia, if you're rich and healthy it's better not to tell it. Otherwise you can be poor and sick very soon.

Question of Trust

Americans trust the System, not people. Russians trust people, not the System.

Monday 5 November 2012

My American Election Top 5 Why's

The 2012 United States presidential election is scheduled to be held tomorrow, the 6th of November.

Here are my top 5 why's about this election:

1. Why American election takes place tomorrow, on Tuesday and not on Sunday as everywhere else?

2. Why American president Barack Obama voted before the election day and without his wife?



3. Why in the US presidential election the information about how much money Romney and Obama got in fundraising is more important that everything else?

4. Why Candidates' wifes convention speeches are so important and why they are so....stupidly touching?

Michelle Obama:
Our life before moving to Washington was filled with simple joys...Saturdays at soccer games, Sundays at grandma's house...and a date night for Barack and me was either dinner or a movie, because as an exhausted mom, I couldn't stay awake for both.

And the truth is, I loved the life we had built for our girls...I deeply loved the man I had built that life with...and I didn't want that to change if he became President.

I loved Barack just the way he was.

Imagine Ludmila Putina or Valerie Trierweiler saying this in front of a crowd of people.



5. How you can have a candidate running for a president (and, even more surprising, a candidate who can become a president) saying:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement."


"If I'm president of the United States, I'm making it very clear, I love free trade. I want to open markets to free trade. But I will crack down on cheaters like China. They simply cannot continue to steal our jobs… "


"So in terms of a geopolitical foe a nation that is on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council and is of course a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe and the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he’s not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming".



The only answer I can have for all these questions is "It's because we are in the United States".

Sunday 28 October 2012

How did I become a Halloween hater?

I do not like this holiday. And actually, I've become a Halloween anti-fan here, in the US. In Russia or in France it is somehow a marginal holiday. You can love it or not, you can celebrate it or not. There are some Halloween sales here and there, some nice Halloween parties for aduts and kids, kids knocking on the door for "Trick or treat"...

And it is fun when it is unique.

Here in California you can see pumpkins everywhere, costumes everywhere, obligatory Halloween parties in every single school, Halloween theme in every single shop and house. Everybody decores a house for Halloween and even transform their homes into haunted scary houses.


"How do I make my house look scary for Halloween so the kids are already scared". Are you crazy guys or what? How parents can even think of scaring their own kids? For me Halloween now is tons of thrown away pumpkins for pampkin carvings and all these scary bloody ghosts and monsters everywhere.

Halloween is a celebration of death although by definition a holiday for me is a celebration of life. Ironically I did not feel it this way in Europe. Why?

May be just because less is better and too much is too much.

Boo and pampkin cakes. They are ok for eating. But in some shops you can see bloody monster's hands or hearts as cakes.... you would never eat, at least me.

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Pampkin theme is everywhere

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Tuesday 25 September 2012

City-Sunshine

This charitable organization's name is City-Sunshine and it operates in Lipetsk (Russia) only on Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 3 pm. I do not know exactly what questions City-sunshine's members discuss and what project they carry out. I have never attended meetings they have during these 2 hours per week (I regret). But when I saw their door, the only thought that passed through my head was: Guys, before making your city shine, try to sweep your own doorstep and at least paint the door."


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Tuesday 18 September 2012

My Russia

This is my Russia.
Tradition and modernity, speed and slowness, beauty and lack of harmony and chaos, chaos everywhere....


Belaya ploshchad business center. Belorussky Station square. Moscow.


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