Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Mary Doria Russell Duo


Some of the very best books on cross-cultural miscommunications are written in science fiction, and by some of the greatest names, the oldies but goodies. Now I know by naming a couple, I am going to offend some of those out there by leaving out your favorites – please feel free to jump in (comments section) and make additonal recommendations.

One of the great classics is Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. It is a hilarious book, with occasional moments of pathos, but an easy read, and an unforgettable book.

Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is another primer in the kinds of misunderstandings that can come with the best of intentions. She also deals with the changes that living in an alien culture makes in the visitor, as well as the visited.

More recently written is a duo by Mary Doria Russell. Her hero, Father Emilio Sandoz, is a Jesuit priest. Sent as an intergalactic evangelist, he runs into some serious problems. These are very strong book, adult books with adult topics and sexual content, not for those who want an easy read and feel good at the end. It is about spiritual testing, as well as survival. There are parts of these two books where you will laugh out loud, and parts where you will be so depressed you don’t want to continue reading. At the same time, they are deeply spiritual.

The saddest, funniest, most horrible part of all is that the worst things happen as a result of the very best intentions. Russel’s characters try to get into one another’s way of thinking – and fail miserably. The results are horrorific.

And yet . . . in the end, there is redemption. These are books that get you thinking, and keep you thinking for a long time. They stretch your mind, opening topics you never dreamed existed.

You can read either of these two books, The Sparrow and The Children of God as a stand-alone read, or you can read them together. I personally found The Children of God the better book, but because I find Russell so addictive, so insightful, I recommend them both. They are available from Amazon at around $10/each in paperback.

October 17, 2006 Posted by | Books, Cross Cultural, Poetry/Literature, Spiritual | 5 Comments

Gripes of a Native English Speaker

OK, you are right, this is very picky. I like language – I love a good word in the right place. There are some things you can read that make my heart flutter, they are so elegant, so eloquent.

It doesn’t have to be a big word, or a fancy word – it has to be a word that grabs your attention because of it’s . . . fitness, it’s rightness in the context.

So here are my two gripes. And these are words used and abused by native English speakers!

Anxious – Eager
People use anxious all the time when they mean eager. I am anxious to see you. I anxiously await your letter. Anxious has an undertone of concern. If you are anxious, you are a little worried about something.

While eager is 100%, no-stopping, no holding back, happy anticipation. I am EAGER to see you again. I am EAGER to get your letter (and I expect only good things).

Don’t worry. You will see it used wrongly all the time, and you will hear it all the time. I know I am writing this for nothing, I am just getting it on paper because it drives me wild. I am sharing the agony – you will start hearing it, too, and I hope it will drive you wild.

Decimate – Devastate

You would think newscasters would know better, but they use decimate all the time, when they mean devastate. Decimate has a very strict meaning – when Roman troops would decimate, every tenth soldier would fall out. A division would be decimated – it’s strength would fall by 10%.

Devastate, on the other hand, implies utter distruction. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The huge Tsunami devastated Indonesia and Thailand. An earthquake devastated villages in Pakistan – destroyed, destroyed utterly.

I feel so much better 🙂

October 17, 2006 Posted by | Communication, Language, Words | 2 Comments

Fantasy Dubai Skyscrapers

My very cool nephew who works at Google sent me an e-mail this morning telling me to look at these photos. One of these days I will figure out how to link, but meanwhile, cut and paste to see these fantastic images of Dubai skyscrapers soaring above the fog – looks like a science fiction set or fairy tale city.

“Somebody posted these on, thought you might enjoy looking at them. Very cool photos of Dubai skyscrapers piercing a layer of fog.”

October 17, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Middle East | 2 Comments