Friday, February 26, 2010


Now, I realize that in previous posts I've talked a lot about Russia, which may make me seem bias. However, I believe it's only because I had the most amount of time there and the culture seemed to be a bit more different to the American culture than others can be.

One that has become my favorite though, and one which I want to become my home in just a few short months (August). The United Kingdom, England in particular. I visited the U.K. twice last year to visit a few friends, and just fell in love with everything.

Here are a few photos from my trip which have particularly impacted me.

(Click on photos to view captions)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Public Transportation

When many of the International students come over to study at my university, they often wonder how we get from place to place. "Is there a bus that goes down town?" No, sorry. "Is there a train to get to the closer big city?" No, sorry. Many places in the countries they come from are equip with these travel tools to get from place to place. In the U.S., there aren't as many available niceties.

In other places, there are different fantastic metro systems. I'm from Queens, and I am used to using a form of public transportation. I've also traveled on my fair share of metro systems.

Public transportation, or in the more common use, metros, help to make life a lot simpler for people on their daily commute.

One of the most bizarre, has to be the St. Petersburg metro. It started in the 1950s, and each station has such an old fashioned look about it. Some of the floors can be marble with the marble continuing throughout the entire station, with a chandelier on the ceiling.

The stations are also built over 100 meters underground because of the city's geology. So, after you enter the metro via the usual staircase, there is an escalator in which you cannot even see the bottom at first. Usually in the morning rush, you can see people trying to run down the escalator. And once at the bottom, you can't see the top.

It also is one of the busiest subways in the world (Tokyo rates number one, however I've never had the pleasure of visiting said metro system).

According to the number of people which ride the subway every day, here's a list of the top ten busiest subway systems.

  1. Tokyo
  2. Moscow
  3. Seoul
  4. New York City
  5. Mexico City
  6. Beijing
  7. Paris
  8. Hong Kong
  9. Shanghai
  10. London
(St. Petersburg is number 13.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The world of body art

Throughout the world, tattoos are everywhere, for many different reasons, for different cultures. They started out becoming popular in the 1950s and started to spread. While viewed as tabu, and today have spread to a very popular form of art.

One of the older forms of this is Celtic tattoos. These tattoos can be associated with the Celts, mainly in Ireland and Great Britain. One of the more famous ones is the Celtic knot, a knot which is meant to be an unending knot, or eternity. It dates back as far as the seventh century.

However tattoos go farther back than this. The oldest known tattoos appeared on a man who has been named "Otzi." The Ice Man. Found in the 1990s in Europe, his body dates back to 3,300 B.C. and he had many tattoos on his body, however these are not so much associated with symbolism, but with spirituality and healing.

With piercings there is also a rich history. Piercings originated in the Middle East, and then spread to India. In India, it is common to have a nose piercing, especially for woman and in the left nostril, which is associated with fertility in some cultures.

Within my own experiences, I have found in many other non-west cultures, body art remains slightly tabu. With previous students from Japan, many didn't have any piercings including ears, and were soon brought to a tattoo parlor by other friends to get their first of what has become in some circumstances many piercings.

While in Russia, I was looked at strangely for my piercings, and didn't meet anybody with any piercings, and very few woman with ear piercings.

When calling something "modern" or "tabu" it is important to take a look at which side of the spectrum you stand on.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Through the love of chocolate

Chocolate, does not need to be translated. In almost any country, if you say anything along the lines of “chocolate” or “coco,” people are going to know what you’re talking about.
It’s the universal language, such as the language of love can be universal on a day like today.
Here are 10 different languages and how to say chocolate:

  1. Spanish—chocolate
  2. French—chocolat
  3. Italian—cioccolato
  4. German—schokolade
  5. Dutch—chocolade
  6. Russian—шоколадом (chocoladom)
  7. Icelandic—súkkulaði
  8. Arabic—الشوكولاته (sho-co-la)
  9. Japanese—チョコレート (cho-ko-let-oh)
  10. Polish—czekolada

Throughout my travels I have sampled Russian, German, Arab, British and American chocolates. Each separate country “knows” their chocolate is the best. This statement would be false. I am no chocolatier, however I believe I know my way around the coco bean.
Also most of the chocolate in other countries comes in many different varieties, such as caramel, nuts and fruits, white mixed with black, dark, etc. If you buy the standard Hershey bar in the U.S., you’re likely to get the standard milk chocolate, nuts in an extra occasion, dark in rare occasions but I have yet to see fruit in a Hershey bar.
Some of the popular brands have been The Saint Petersburger in Russia, Milka in Germany (also sold in many other other countries, such as the U.K.), Cadbury in the U.K., and many other brands sold internationally, but not in the U.S.
So far, for all it’s hype, The Saint Petersburger has not met my standards. In Russia it is considered the darker the better, and in the U.S., I don’t believe we’re raised in the same fashion.
I hope everyone has their fair share of chocolate on this holiday, and can one day test the taste buds outside the U.S. border.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Personal Bubble

In the image above, the different levels of space, or the “personal bubble” are depicted. Usually, the average person spends most of their time within the “social” bubble. For instance, when going to get on a subway in New York City, if the car is completely empty save for one person towards the back, chances are, you’re not going to sit next to them. If you’re in a crowded café, with a longer table and only one or two people sitting at the table, you’re not going to sit at the same table. It’s “normal.”
That norm however does not continue when dealing with people from different countries. When visiting “Chinaya Lojka” (Russian for “tea spoon”) in Russia, a nice place to get an afternoon blini, it was common to sit towards the end of a longer table, and have other people sit with you throughout your meal.
After having a program with many people from Saudi Arabia, some friends of mine couldn’t help but comment on how close they would get to your face when talking to you.
Other cultures aren’t afraid to get up close and personal. To me this helps when you’re in another country to get to know the “locals.”
In congunction with this, it was noticed also a certain type of personality comes with each different culture, which is semi self explainatory. While in Russia, it always seemed at first that sales clerks were intelligent, but would give you hell for help, even though you’d get it in the end. In the U.S. sales staff is taught “the customer is always right,” and thus our society can be based on this sense of false niceness.
The combination of being in somebody’s personal bubble, and lacking the “fakeness” associated with the American culture, many better relationships can be had.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Through the art of vocabulary

For the past three years, I have had many experiences with people from different countries, and something that always seems to get in the way is words. When we communicate to each other, we use a certain amount of vocabulary which can be considered difficult for certain others. And one instance which I never thought it would be such a big problem, is when I’ve had friends from the United Kingdom.

Upon meeting three British students nearly three years ago now, there was a certain amount of confusion throughout the first few weeks of their stay in the U.S. For instance, they didn’t wait in queues anymore, they waited in American lines. And they didn’t wear jumpers anymore, they wore either a hoodie or a sweater, not a crazy combination. Chips were now fries and crisps were now chips. It’s just a topsy tervy world for them.

The same was for me upon visiting the U.K. last March and May. When I sliced my finger open, nobody came to my aid when I needed a band-aid. I needed a plaster. My luggage went in the boot, not the trunk, and when we went through the mud I needed wellies, not rain boots.

The concept can be even greater when it comes to larger concepts between those students from Asian countries staying with me. Entire concepts would have to be explained, and rationalized. Through this comes the great gift of patience. A virtue which I was lacking before acting globally. A virtue, which has stuck with me since.

I leave you now with my top ten British translations:

  1. Arse— Ass. Simple enough, however was quite hysterical during a “Friends outtake.”
  2. Chips— French fries.
  3. Chrisps—Chips. Everything gets a little bit confusing when you order a bag of chips and get a bag of fries, and when you’re asked if you’d like chrisps with your sandwich and out comes a bag of potato chips.
  4. Plaster—Band-aid. Accidents happen, and they will look at you silly if you stand there asking for a band-aid. “A what?”
  5. Queue—Line. Don’t stand around waiting in the “line” all day, it’s a queue.
  6. Torch—Flashlight. They’re not that old fashioned.
  7. Lift—Elevator. “Taking a lift” does not involve anybody lifting you up.
  8. Biscuit—Cookie. These biscuits are nothing like those flaky bits you get at Bob Evans. No butter needed.
  9. Jumper—Hoodie or Sweater. No jumping involved.
  10. Pudding—Dessert. They do not have an obsession with the snack loved so dearly by the elderly. Pudding can be cheesecake, chocolate cake or any other variety of snack. Yum.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The start of a world of communication

To start off, I think I'll explain a little bit about this blog. I would by no means consider myself a world traveler, but I do love to travel the world. I have been to a few places, and in just those few places I have had a world of experiences.

There are so many things which are part of the never-ending "globalization." For anybody who has studied Thomas Friedman in a classroom, this word is all too familiar. The definition of globalization by Friedman is as such:
The interweaving of markets, technology, information systems and telecommunications systems in a way that is shrinking the world from a size medium to a size small, and enabling each of us to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before, and enabling the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before.

Through this, as Friedman states, the world becomes in an essence, smaller. In the United States, your clothes can be from Taiwan, your food from Canada, technology from Japan right before you call India to solve a problem. There are everyday international experiences, which can lead to greater worldly ones.

I hope to use my experiences to try and take a look at different ways that people interact throughout the world. Also, the meaning of this blog, Hoppipola, is "jumping through puddles" in Icelandic. It's a song done by Sigor Ros, an Icelandic band. I have taken the interpretation of this to be myself, jumping from one "puddle" to the next, taking you through the puddles of my experiences. Come along for the jumping.