Bye Bye Brazil

The first thing you may think is “What about ‘Hello Brazil'”? Of course, you’d be justified in thinking that since there’s been over two years since my last blog post.

The thing is that after leaving Ukraine I spent a long time working in a certain oil-rich nation. It left me being able to save and change my lifestyle, but unfortunately it had the undesired effect of stifling creativity. That’s now in the past and a lot has happened since then, so let’s run through it.

How and why did I get to Brazil in the first place? It directly connected with my time spent in Ukraine. Whilst I was there I got into yoga and wanted to do a teacher training course on it (I love collecting certificates!) I didn’t really feel it mattered too much where I went, since I was going to spend most of the week in the forest practicing yoga, so I decided to go for Brazil. I arrived almost nine months ago on the 28th of December, 2015.

The first month involved more forest, more insects and less sleep than I thought I’d be getting, but it was a wonderful experience. At this point I didn’t really have much of an idea about what to do after. Sure, I wanted to travel around Brazil and see as much as I could, but money doesn’t grow on trees! For that reason I set myself up as a freelance teacher and translator. The only limitation was a good internet connection (and my patience!)

Over the next few months I spent time living in Florianópolis, Porto Alegre and Salvador, as well as going on many cool adventures. Next stop, Peru, which opens the door to a whole variety 0f adventures of a different nature, which I’ll be sharing next time.

Here’s a video of me describing, in the relevant languages, what took me to Brazil, what I’ve been doing here and what comes next….



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A take on Italy

I recently spent a week in Sardinia. During this time I travelled extensively on public transport. Of course, travelling may be something of a strong word, because it was fraught with unpredictable events which involved lots of waiting. Whilst waiting, I spent my time reading several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, which helped me develop a fresh picture of how the state of affairs rose.


Imagine a situation. It’s a hot summer day in Cagliari, the capital of the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia. A meeting has been called for the officials from various branches of the Sardinian government. A serious matter needs to be discussed and a solution needs to found. People are sweating and impatient, waiting for the meeting to commence. A solution needs to be found quickly.

A elderly gentleman coughs and calls for order in the room. Everyone looks at him attentively, hoping this business can be concluded speedily. “Thank you all for coming at such short notice.”, wiping the sweat away from his brow he continues “We know that changes are afoot and that we need to move with the times. Thanks to the prevalence of low cost airlines, more people than ever are coming to our beautiful shores. We need to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place for our guests when they are moving around the island.” A general hum of agreement goes up around the room. No one present doubts the truth of the words uttered by The Grand Sard, a figure know for his indispensable wisdom in these matters. “First things first, how can we ensure that our system flows flawlessly?”, The Grand Sard asks nodding in the direction of a bespectacled individual.

The Master Chronograph Preserver, waits for what seems like an eternity before answering, staring attentively at a circular, ticking device clasped in his hands, before suddenly flicking the lid shut, with a click. “Timetables. Everything runs like clockwork in a universe where you already know what will happen and when. This is our key to success. It’s almost as if the arrival and departure of means of transport can be… preordained.” Uncomfortably The Grand Sard stated “This sounds most irregular. Are you suggesting we play at gods? Surely, it is not for the likes of a mere mortal to know when things should happen.”

“I hear it works well in other countries.” the Master Chronograph Preserver volunteered. “Besides, it will give guests a feeling of being at home.”

“What about having a timetable which is wrong!” Exclaimed The Reader of Relative Scripts, raising his right index finger into the air with an impressive grin on his face. “Then we can help visitors by giving them the feeling of being back home, without being sacrilegious.”

“Preposterous!” advanced the Master Chronograph Preserver. “Why bother having timetables in that case? It will just make the situation more confusing for everyone concerned.”

“Gentlemen” came a voice from the corner of the room. “In these situations, it is of course natural to come to a compromise, and of course what compromise can be better than that which serves to fulfil the goals of none of the concerned parties.” Everyone listened intentively to what would come next. In a situation which could be perfectly straightforward, but for unclear reasons wouldn’t be, every knew Schrödinger’s Dog could put things right.

“It’s quite simple really. We make two sets of timetables! One is easily available and visible at each bus stop, whereas the other is somewhere else.” A round of applause went round the room, this was, of course, sheer genius at work. The Reader of Relative Scripts was quick to see the quantum possibilities at this presented. “Of course, no one will know which timetable is valid until the bus actually arrives. What’s more, I feel it will be too much to ask to have to buses arriving on time anyway.” he said whilst hastily scribbling some notes on a piece of paper, making the finer calculations. “It goes without saying that the other timetable should be in the same place where the tickets are bought so that things don’t get too inconvenient…”. The Master Chronograph Preserver butted in not being able to refrain himself from making, what he felt to be, an important point. ” wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait. Just a minute. From where the tickets are bought? Doesn’t the driver sell the tickets?” A chuckle went round the room after which The Grand Sard reassuringly added “I know you are new to these meetings, but the driver selling tickets? That is short of madness! He’s not called the “ticket seller” after all, but the driver. It just wouldn’t match his job description.”

The Reader of Relative Scripts raised a hand to get catch the attention of all present before mentioning “As you will remember, we agreed on the meeting from the 29th of February that we would allow drivers to sell tickets on Sundays, which would nevertheless incur an additional payment of €0.50 because of the inconvenience presented to their standard duties.”

“Absolutely right, and thank you for the reminder, Scribbler” Said the Grand Sard, calling him by his somewhat un beloved nickname. “And what is the point or having rules, if we can’t have more exceptions? What solution could be more perfect…”

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Posted in Language experiences

The importance of intercultural understanding

20140213-191643.jpg  Any of my friends and colleagues know that I’m not the kind of person to mince words. In fact, I often feel an obligation to deliberately say things which are somewhat provocative. You may find yourself asking why that is, and that’s exactly why I do it. I find it’s very important to be able to ask questions, since by doing so we allow ourselves to develop. If you stop asking questions then you find yourself on the slippery slope known as complacency, i.e. accepting things purely because of the fact that they exist and not asking why that is the case or if it should be.

Of course, there are a great deal of things which cause offence to people, and in some cases this isn’t because of disrespect but because the people saying these things aren’t aware of the resultant impact their actions may have on others. When learning another language it’s important to realise the consequences of what you’re saying and doing, since the things which are seemingly innocent from your own cultural point of view can have negative consequences for someone else. Here are some examples from my personal experience that we’re going to look at today. Here’s a list of some of my favourites:

1. Nigger

In the wrong hands, this can be of the most offensive and degrading words which English language has to offer, and there’s a good reason for it.  This word was originally derived from some Romance language and had the meaning black, and could have been used by the speakers of the said language to describe the obvious difference in skin colour between Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans. Eventually it got into English and developed a very derogatory meaning which means more than just “black person”.

Russian also has the word black?? of course, but when referring to people it means the colour of their hair. The (completely neutral) word for a black person is “negr”, which can obviously open a whole pandora’s box of miss-conveyed meaning! More often than not, people don’t realise he sheer brutality and inappropriateness of what they’re saying with the word ‘nigger’, but then again how could they? In Russia people were slaves based on descent, not skin colour, until the 19th century.

2. 2.

Yes, this is point to and the subject is the number two. People have different ways of showing it. In much of the English speaking world, people show two with their palm facing out, whereas in Central and Eastern Europe people have the palm facing inwards. What’s the result of this? That I often get flipped off more than I would care to think in English class. As any native English speaker will know (with the exception perhaps of North Americans) two fingers stuck out palm inwards means fuck you. This can be summarised in the formula below.

20140604-071141-25901099.jpg =2



I can’t think of any examples when people have taken offence at foreigners innocently asking for two of something, because this difference is well-known, but it’s never else’s good to bear in mind.

3. Whistling

I love to sing and dance when I’m happy. My students are sometimes shocked when they first come to me because of the way I jive around the classroom. If I’m busy doing something else, I’ll whistle. When I first moved to Ukraine I was surprised by the shock and horror I was confronted with when I did it. According to Eastern Slavic superstition, if you whistle inside then you’ll lose all your money. I’d point out that it’d already happened since I was now living and earning in Ukraine and not Western Europe. Maybe his was because I used to whistle in the UK as well and the superstition just has a strange way of fulfilling itself.

4. Shoes

I grew up in a house where people often worked around with their shoes on (although my mum would often keep telling us not to do it) I thought that wearing shoes in the house was just something people did. Oh no! There’s a wide spread of countries from Korea to Germany where it is completely unacceptable. If you want to make someone horrified, you don’t have to do much more than absentmindedly stomp into the hallway. I even get friends staying with me demanding I take my shoes off in my own house.

5. Space.

No, this isn’t the big black thing outside the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s that personal area each of us has around us. The amount of personal space varies according to culture. Different people feel differently about being a certain distance from each other when speaking, which kind of balances out if people come from the same place. If two people don’t, each often moves around to find a distance comfortable for them. I find that my personal space requirements are A LOT smaller than most other people’s I meet, meaning that when I speak to someone, I often end up backing them into a corner because I’m trying to get to a closer to find a distance comfortable for me whereas my partner is trying to find a larger distance which meets their needs!

So, what can we do to avoid intercultural misunderstandings? It’s important to know about them and how your actions can affect others and we can only know about it if other people tell us! Remember that life is a learning experience and we find these things out by making mistakes. You can either not do something because you may unwittingly upset someone from a different culture, or you can continue being you and adept accordingly when you find out what you need.

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Posted in Language experiences, Learning