Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Donna Leon and The Golden Egg

“What are manners?”

“What is ‘nice’, what does it mean?”

“What is ‘kind’?” the most adorable little boy in Pensacola asked me. It was bath time, a time when we have some of our best conversations, and you never know where the conversation will go.


I love these conversations because I have to think, too, but most of all, because I love to watch this little boy’s mind grow in grasping concepts and perceptions. He is four; his class in school is on the letter “U” this coming week, and already he can sound out words in the books we read together. He knows what a globe is, and how it differs from a map. He knows his address, and he can point to Pensacola on the globe.

He knows things because we talk to him, and because he goes to school and his teachers talk to him. His mind is wide open and he is eager to learn, and he asks the most wonderful questions.

 Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 2.15.00 PM

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has a new case that troubles him. He knows the dead man, not well, but he would see him in his quarter, and he often saw him helping out at the local laundry. He assumed the man was deaf and retarded, everyone knew that. When the dead man has no papers, in bureaucratic Italy, no birth certificate, no medical records, no finance records, no record of social aid (he is poor as well as disabled) Brunetti is troubled. How could such a familiar figure be so undocumented?


His mother is no help; her stories are transparent lies about travel to France and her son having grown up in the country with people whose name she cannot remember.


It is a troubling book. If you read Donna Leon, you will understand how close and wonderful and articulate Brunetti’s family is, how loved and cherished their children. We eat meals with them, we understand how the Venetian vernacular distinguishes those to whom one speaks more frankly and those to whom one lies. Brunetti’s a detective; the things he sees often trouble him, but this case troubles him more than most.


I can’t tell you more without spoiling the ending. All I can tell you is that it will encourage you to love your children, hold them closely, and give them all the benefits in their life-toolbox of attention, instruction and loving discipline that a parent (and grandparent!) can give.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Communication, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Fiction, Interconnected, Italy, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Parenting, Relationships, Values, Venice, Words | Leave a comment

When Strangers First Kiss

Fascinating video from Huffpost on AOL News:

In seconds, a first kiss can go from insanely awkward to completely perfect.

Filmmaker Tatia Pilieva managed to capture that transformation in her short film, where she pairs off 20 strangers and asks them to kiss.

Watch above as the couples’ uncomfortable introductions turn into small, sweet romantic moments.

UPDATE 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, March 11: Wren studio, a womenswear brand based in Los Angeles, announced on Twitter that this video was shot as part of an ad campaign for their Fall 2014 collection

March 11, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Cultural, Experiment | 2 Comments

Headlight Flashing to Warn of Police is Free Speech

This is big news for people in my area, because they often flash lights to warn of speed traps ahead.

Warning Drivers Of Speed Traps With Flashing Headlights Is Free Speech
A federal judge in St. Louis has set the benchmark

A federal judge in St. Louis ruled Monday that a driver flashing their lights to warn other drivers of an impending speed trap is protected free speech.

On November 22, 2012 Michael Elli received a ticket for flashing his lights to warn fellow drivers of a speed trap, according to Fox 2. The American Civil Liberties Union helped Elli fight the $1,000 ticket all the way to federal court.

Judge Henry Autrey of St. Louis ruled a driver has the right to flash their lights under the First Amendment. Autrey issued an injunction to stop Ellisville Police from enforcing the policy.

“If you’re at the gas station on the corner and someone says ‘Hey be careful over there, there’s a speed trap,’ that’s protected speech. You can’t be ticketed for that. This is no different,” Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Fox 2.

A lawyer for the police in Ellisville said the department isn’t affected by the ruling, as this kind of ticket has only been issued five or so times in the last decade. Across the country, however, the ruling will be considered the benchmark for such cases.

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Communication, Community, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Free Speech, Law and Order, Safety, Social Issues | | Leave a comment

Humbling Intlxpatr Statistics

I have a lot of followers. Many of them “like” my articles. Some write me in the background, asking how they can achieve blogging success.

I answer them truthfully. Since I left Kuwait, blogging hasn’t been so much fun and it’s harder for me to find interesting things to blog about, other than the news, and the kinds of odds and ends that catch my eye. At my peak, I had between 1500 – 1800 viewers every day, and once, over 10,000 in one day.

But blog entries attain a life of their own. In all humility, I will tell you that the entries I just wrote because it was mildly interesting to me seem to be those that live on and on. It’s not the impassioned plea for parents to put every child in a car seat, or at least put the children in the back seat, it’s not the photos of Mubarakiyya or the changing Doha skyline . . . it’s the trivia that keeps the readers coming back, LOL.

Here is the list of favorites just since the start of January:

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 3.39.09 PM

And here are the all time favorites, from the beginning of the blog:

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 3.48.36 PM

Humbling, isn’t it?

So my words – maybe not wisdom, but my experience – to those who aspire to statistics if not longevity – is to please yourself. Blog because you have something you want to say. Blog persistently, even if you don’t particularly have something to say; something trivial that interests you may interest others. Every now and then AdventureMan will hoot with laughter; he will Google something and one of my entries will end up being in the first three or four references. It’s not that I’m good, it’s that I published, even on something obscure, like the African tribe, the Lemba, who claim to have the Ark of the Covenant.

There are times I don’t feel like blogging; we all have those feelings at some time. It’s your blog. You can blog or not as you please. If you don’t feel like blogging today, you might have some inspiration tomorrow.

For me, this all started as I read some letters I had written from Tunisia, with episodes and events I no longer even remember. They came back to me in such vividness as I read that I wanted to find a way to write a little about my daily life in a way that down the road I could look back and wonder at how so many interesting things had happened that I had forgotten. Sadly . . . it’s already happening, there are stories from Kuwait and Qatar that I’ve already forgotten, but that they are written here.

Blogging is selfish. You do it because you can and because it fills a need. You can dance as hard as you want, and if you dance for your own joy, you will be happy, but if you are dancing for the attention of others, you will be disappointed. If there are readers now and then who enjoy your writing and come along for the ride, all that is good, but . . . most of them just want to know the benefits of drinking green tea ;-)

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Blogging, Civility, Communication, Community, ExPat Life, Statistics | Leave a comment

From Yen to Compulsion

If you were to overhear conversations between AdventureMan and I, you would think we are whacko. It’s a funny thing about love; sometimes odd ducks can find one another and live happily ever after, or at least, have some really good times.

The other day we were on our way to lunch, and had no great preferences for going anywhere. We made a decision (and now I can’t even remember what it was, it was such a negligible decision) and AdventureMan said he kind of wanted to eat this, and I said his want was greater than my yen . . . . and off we went.

All the way to the restaurant, we were inserting words on a spectrum and debating now and then on their proper placement on the continuum. Like is a “yen” milder than a “want?” On the far end, does “obsession” precede “compulsion?” Is a compulsion truly related to a want at all, or does being driven to something take out the want-factor altogether? Yes, like I said, we are totally whacko, and thanks be to God, often whacko in the same direction, or we would drive one another totally crazy.

(No. This is not us. This is just a photo I found online)

Here is our “want” line, from “yen” which we consider a very mild want, to compulsion, which drives out all other wants. We have probably left out some words you can think of, if you are a person who is still reading this far, please feel free to suggest amendments, or specific additions to make the line more flowing. You must defend your suggestion rigorously :-)

yen – hankering -like – want – desire – crave – obsessing for – compulsion for

January 26, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Language, Marriage, Random Musings, Relationships, Words | Leave a comment

“We Are All Children of One Heavenly Father”

I am not Catholic, and I like this Pope. I like his humility. I like his down-to-earth behavior. I believe he will bring more people to belief than those who revel in the pomposities of an exalted role. I like it that he believes we are all children of the same God.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis, laying out his hopes Wednesday for the just-begun year, urged people to work for a world where everyone accepts each other’s differences and where enemies recognize that they are brothers.

“We are all children of one heavenly father, we belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny,” Francis said, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, jammed with tens of thousands of faithful, tourists and Romans.

“This brings a responsibility for each to work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other in one’s diversity, and takes care of one another,” the pope said.

Setting aside his prepared text for a moment, he expressed impatience with violence in the world. “What is happening in the heart of man? What is happening in the heart of humanity?” Francis asked. “It’s time to stop.”

He told the crowd this reflection was inspired by letter he received from a man — “maybe one of you” — who lamented that there are “so many tragedies and wars in the world.”

“I, too, believe that it will be good for us to stop ourselves in this path of violence and search for peace,” Francis said.

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Character, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Faith, Living Conditions | , | Leave a comment

Your Emotional Intelligence

AOL News has this fascinating article on successful people and emotional intelligence:

How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? Here’s How To Tell

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 12/05/2013 8:39 am EST  |  Updated: 12/05/2013 2:22 pm EST

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Social Brain

What makes some people more successful in work and life than others? IQ and work ethic are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Our emotional intelligence — the way we manage emotions, both our own and those of others — can play a critical role in determining our happiness and success.

Plato said that all learning has some emotional basis, and he may be right. The way we interact with and regulate our emotions has repercussions in nearly every aspect of our lives. To put it in colloquial terms, emotional intelligence (EQ) is like “street smarts,” as opposed to “book smarts,” and it’s what accounts for a great deal of one’s ability to navigate life effectively.

“What having emotional intelligence looks like is that you’re confident, good at working towards your goals, adaptable and flexible. You recover quickly from stress and you’re resilient,” Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, tells The Huffington Post. “Life goes much more smoothly if you have good emotional intelligence.”

The five components of emotional intelligence, as defined by Goleman, are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, social skills and empathy. We can be strong in some of these areas and deficient in others, but we all have the power to improve any of them.

Not sure how emotionally intelligent you are? Here are 14 signs you have a high EQ.

1. You’re curious about people you don’t know.

friendly conversation

Do you love meeting new people, and naturally tend to ask lots of questions after you’ve been introduced to someone? If so, you have a certain degree of empathy, one of the main components of emotional intelligence. Highly Empathetic People (HEPs) — those who are extremely attuned to the needs and feelings of others, and act in a way that is sensitive to those needs — have one important thing in common: They’re very curious about strangers and genuinely interested in learning more about others.

Being curious about others is also a way to cultivate empathy. “Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own,” Roman Krznaric, author of the forthcoming Empathy: A Handbook For Revolution, wrote in a Greater Good blog post.

2. You’re a great leader.

work leader

Exceptional leaders often have one thing in common, according to Goleman. In addition to the traditional requirements for success — talent, a strong work ethic and ambition, for instance — they possess a high degree of emotional intelligence. In his research comparing those who excelled in senior leadership roles with those who were merely average, he found that close to 90 percent of the difference in their profiles was due to emotional intelligence, rather than cognitive ability.

“The higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness,” Goleman wrote in Harvard Business Review.

3. You know your strengths and weaknesses.

A big part of having self-awareness is being honest with yourself about who you are — knowing where you excel, and where you struggle, and accepting these things about yourself. An emotionally intelligent person learns to identify their areas of strength and weakness, and analyze how to work most effectively within this framework. This awareness breeds the strong self-confidence that’s a main factor of emotional intelligence, according to Goleman.

“If you know what you’re truly effective at, then you can operate from that with confidence,” he says.

4. You know how to pay attention.


Do you get distracted by every tweet, text and passing thought? If so, it could be keeping you from functioning on your most emotionally intelligent level. But the ability to withstand distractions and focus on the task at hand is a great secret to emotional intelligence, Goleman says. Without being present with ourselves and others, it’s difficult to develop self-awareness and strong relationships.

“Your ability to concentrate on the work you’re doing or your schoolwork, and to put off looking at that text or playing that video game until after you’re done … how good you are at that in childhood turns out to be a stronger predictor of your financial success in adulthood than either your IQ or the wealth of the family you grew up in,” Goleman says. “And we can teach kids how to do that.”

5. When you’re upset, you know exactly why.

grief management

We all experience a number of emotional fluctuations throughout the day, and often we don’t even understand what’s causing a wave of anger or sadness. But an important aspect of self-awareness is the ability to recognize where your emotions are coming from and to know why you feel upset.

Self-awareness is also about recognizing emotions when they arise, rather than misidentifying or ignoring them. Emotionally intelligent people take a step back from their emotions, look at what they’re feeling, and examine the effect that the emotion has on them.

6. You can get along with most people.


“Having fulfilling, effective relationships — that’s a sign [of emotional intelligence],” says Goleman.

7. You care deeply about being a good, moral person.


One aspect of emotional intelligence is our “moral identity,” which has to do with the extent to which we want to see ourselves as ethical, caring people. If you’re someone who cares about building up this side of yourself (regardless of how you’ve acted in past moral situations), you might have a high EQ.

8. You take time to slow down and help others.

good samaritan

If you make a habit of slowing down to pay attention to others, whether by going slightly out your way to say hello to someone or helping an older woman onto the subway, you’re exhibiting emotional intelligence. Many of us, a good portion of the time, are completely focused on ourselves. And it’s often because we’re so busy running around in a stressed-out state trying to get things done that we simply don’t take the time to notice (much less help) others.

“[There's a] spectrum that goes from complete self-absorption to noticing to empathy and to compassion,” Goleman said in a TED talk on compassion. “The simple fact is that if we are focused on ourselves, if we’re preoccupied — which we so often are throughout the day — we don’t really fully notice the other.”

Being more mindful, in contrast to being absorbed in your own little world, plants the seeds of compassion — a crucial component of EQ.

9. You’re good at reading people’s facial expressions.

grumpy cat

Being able to sense how others are feeling is an important part of having a good EQ. Take this quiz from UC Berkeley to find out just how skilled you are at reading others’ emotions.

10. After you fall, you get right back up.


How you deal with mistakes and setbacks says a lot about who you are. High EQ individuals know that if there’s one thing we all must do in life, it’s to keep on going. When an emotionally intelligent person experiences a failure or setback, he or she is able to bounce back quickly. This is in part because of the ability to mindfully experience negative emotions without letting them get out of control, which provides a higher degree of resilience.

“The resilient person isn’t papering over the negative emotions, but instead letting them sit side by side with other feelings,” Positivity author Barbara Fredrickson told Experience Life. “So at the same time they’re feeling ‘I’m sad about that,’ they’re also prone to thinking, ‘but I’m grateful about this.’”

11. You’re a good judge of character.

eye contact

You’ve always been able to get a sense for who someone is pretty much right off the bat — and your intuitions are rarely wrong.

12. You trust your gut.


An emotionally intelligent person is someone who feels comfortable following their intuition, says Goleman. If you’re able to trust in yourself and your emotions, there’s no reason not to listen to that quiet voice inside (or that feeling in your stomach) telling you which way to go.

13. You’ve always been self-motivated.

Were you always ambitious and hard-working as a kid, even when you weren’t rewarded for it? If you’re a motivated self-starter — and you can focus your attention and energy towards the pursuit of your goals — you likely have a high EQ.

14. You know when to say “no.”

hand cookie jar

Self-regulation, one of the five components of emotional intelligence, means being able to discipline yourself and avoid unhealthy habits. Emotionally intelligent people are generally well equipped to tolerate stress (a bad-habit trigger for many of us) and to control their impulses, according to Goleman.

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Character, Civility, Communication, Leadership, Relationships | 3 Comments

Kuwait Drivers Without Drivers’ Licenses

This disturbing piece of writing is from the Arab Times. Disturbing not just because Kuwaiti citizens are driving without licenses – that’s nothing new – but also because some editor let this piece run without some badly needed editing. Ayb!


Some Citizens Said Driving For Many Years ‘Without’ License


KUWAIT CITY, Nov 23: Intensive traffic campaign the Interior Ministry’s Assistant Undersecretary for Traffic Affairs embarks upon since the past few months uncovered that some Kuwaitis have been driving for many years without license, reports Al-Watan Arabic daily. A source disclosed that a Kuwaiti in his 40s’ recently applied for driver’s license at a driving test section. The added the act is strange in Kuwait since almost every Kuwaiti goes for driving test at the age of 18. Other driving test sections have received similar applications from many Kuwaitis in their late 20s and 30s. Some of the concerned citizens changed their minds to apply for driver’s license after they were caught by traffic officers. He also said many others were caught driving


“The added the act is strange . . . ”   Gibberish. And what about that lead sentence?

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Communication, Cultural, Just Bad English, Kuwait, Language, Living Conditions, Safety, Social Issues | 3 Comments

Speaking More Than One Language Delays Alzheimer’s

From AOL Everyday Health:


WEDNESDAY, November 6, 2013 — A small but growing body of research is finding that people who are proficient in multiple languages have a lower risk of cognitive decline. In the largest study to date on the relationship between bilingualism and dementia, researchers from Hyderabad, India, and Edinburgh, Scotland, demonstrated that bilingualism may stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia for several years. Their study was published in the journal Neurology.

The research team in Hyderabad  evaluated 648 people who had dementia symptoms for 6 months to 11 years before enrolling in the study; 391 of the subjects were bilingual. The researchers found those who were bilingual developed dementia on average 4.5 years later than people who spoke only one language. On average, bilinguals developed dementia symptoms by age 65.6 compared with age 61.1 in people who spoke only one language.

“Nowadays, a lot of companies are having expensive brain-training programs, but I’d say bilingualism is very cheap,” said Thomas Bak, MD, a lecturer in human cognitive neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, and second author on the study. “The crucial thing about bilingualism is that it offers what we say is constant brain training. A bilingual person Is forced to switch to different sounds, words, concepts, grammatical structure, and social norms.”

Dr. Bak’s study demonstrated the impact bilingualism has not only on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but also on other types of dementia. Though the majority of patients in the group studied (37 percent) had Alzheimer’s-related dementia, 29.2 percent had vascular dementia, a type caused by reduced blood flow in the brain from stroke. Frontotemporal lobe dementia — from atrophy or shrinkage of certain areas of the brain — accounted for 17.9 percent of the diagnoses. Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia and one that is related to Parkinson’s disease, accounted for 8.5 percent, while 7.4 percent of people in the study were diagnosed with mixed dementia.

The researchers found bilingualism had the most dramatic effect on people who were diagnosed with frontotemporal lobe dementia. Knowing multiple languages delayed dementia symptoms by as much as six years in this group. Individuals with vascular dementia had an average of almost four extra years before dementia symptoms set in. However, individuals who knew three or four languages weren’t protected longer from dementia symptoms than those who were only proficient in two languages.

The More Different the Languages, the Better

The World Health Organization estimates 35.6 million people in the world have dementia, with 7.7 million new cases every year. And in India the problem is expected to grow even more dire. In 2009, the World Alzheimer’s Report projected India will have 10 million dementia patients by the year 2020. This was the impetus behind the new research, said Suvarna Alladi,MD, lead author of the study, which was funded by the Indian Department of Science and Technology.

“Dementia has become a major public health problem in India, and research that explores potentially protective mechanisms is of tremendous importance,” said Dr. Alladi. “Since many people in India can fluently speak two or more languages in their daily life, it’s heartening for us to know that something that we take for granted may protect our brains from developing dementia early.”

Teluga is the official state language in Hyderabad. Natives of the city are often also proficient in Hindi and Dakkhini, which more closely shares roots with English than with Teluga. This raises questions about the brain and “linguistic distance,” said Bak.

“You could argue the more different languages are, the better they are for the brain,” Bak said. “However you can also argue that when you speak languages that are so closely related you have to suppress one.”

Scientists have also become interested in whether cognitive abilities can be retained in similar ways if a person doesn’t learn a second language until later on in life, but there are yet no studies on this topic. However, many researchers, including Bak, speculate that a person who learns a second language later on life could glean similar benefits. “There are theories that would say you need the constant practice,” he said. “The fact that I can swim won’t make me healthy. If I actually go swimming it will make me healthier.”

Exercising the Brain

Numerous studies have found one of the best ways to slow cognitive decline is by mindfully engaging in brain-flexing activities, such as playing Suduko and crossword puzzles or reading books. I-Chant Andrea Chiang, MD, a professor who specializes in language psychology at Quest University Canada in Squamish, B.C., sees very little difference between language learning and any other type of brain exercise. “The brain is a muscle and it needs to be worked out like any other muscle,” said Dr. Chiang. “All those mental activities stimulate the brain and build up a cognitive reserve, even though there may be physical decline.”

Chiang has consulted with Ryan McMunn, who runs BRIC Language Systems headquartered in New York City. McMunn said a number of Alzheimer’s patients have sought out BRIC language classes online to help offset the symptoms of the disease, or are learning a second language because Alzheimer’s runs in the family. McMunn, who is American and lived in China after college, said his grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease, but he wasn’t aware of the research on bilingualism and dementia until after he began learning to speak Mandarin, which he now does fluently.

“Honestly I can’t think of a more fun way of trying to postpone these things,” said McMunn. “Learn any language; it’s a fun thing to do and it allows you to communicate with new people. I look at it as very beneficial.”

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Aging, Communication, Cross Cultural, Health Issues, Words | Leave a comment

“Mind Your Own Business”



You can be married for a long time and still be surprised. :-)


I was thinking about other cultures, and then I thought about growing up in Alaska. Alaska is one of those kind of end-of-the-line places. Maybe it’s changed, but except for the native Americans, most people had come from somewhere else. Very few were second generation.


People at end-of-the-line places often have backstories they don’t want to talk about – bad divorces, or worse – bad marriage –  no divorce, criminal records, or a million other situations they don’t want to talk about. From an early age, you learn not to ask. There were also a lot of laconic Scandinavians around; they talk about fishing and hunting but are seriously tongue-tied if asked a personal question. So again – you learn not to ask.


“Mind your own business,” I can remember my own mother saying, so I thought it was a rule. “Don’t be a Nosey-Parker.”


All my life I thought that was the rule. It was the way I was raised. Every now and then that curtain of pre-conceptions parts and a light gleams through. I was thinking about other cultures and it occurred to me to ask AdventureMan if he grew up with the same rule.


He just laughed.  He looked at me in utter amazement, and laughed.


“I grew up in a town of 3,000,” he laughed, “and some of those were relatives, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins – everyone knew everything!”


“There’s no such thing as ‘mind your own business’ when your entire life is known by every single person in town!”


He hooted with laughter at the very thought.



“Everyone knew everything!” he repeated.


It’s expat world right here in my own house. This is a whole new way of thinking about things. I’ve always thought personal privacy was sort of universal, but not so.


One of the many times we lived in Germany, we lived in a small village where people told us everything. It was amazing, a whole different world, being on the inside, but not really being a part of it all. People seemed to feel we needed to be filled-in. One family didn’t speak to another family in the village, and it was awkward, because there were only like 300 people in the village, but many years ago someone’s grandmother had a terrible disagreement with the other family’s grandmother and no one in the families speak to one another now, even though no one can remember the reason.


I’ve escaped a lot of that being an expat, not sticking around longer than five years max, not long enough to develop a reputation you can’t shake. :-) But it makes me wonder if things are looser these days, if you can grow and change and be allowed to outlive your mistakes in small places where everything is everyone’s business . . .


November 7, 2013 Posted by | Alaska, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Marriage, Random Musings, Relationships, Social Issues | Leave a comment


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