28 januari 2011

The silence of the lands

Gateway to old town, Tallinn

It's been said that the further north you go in Europe, the more tolerant people are of silence. Due to smaller populations and therefore less competition for the word, the nordics are a prime example of this.

This acceptance of silence is also a key to successful communication in the Baltic countries. This week Lynn and I have been in Tallinn, Estonia running an intercultural workshop. The participants were from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland,Iceland and Sweden. One of the questions we asked on the workshop was what is the meaning of silence. Thoughts differed on this one. It means I agree, it means I disagree, I like you, I don't like you, I am angry, I am respectful, I have nothing to say, I have no opinion, I am shy, I am tired, I didn't hear you. No surprise then that it's easy to jump to the wrong conclusion when people are quiet.

The overriding similarity between the Baltic countries however is the feeling that silence is 'comfortable', not to be feared or avoided. The same attitude exists in Finland. This may seem strange to those of us from cultures where we interpret silence in group situations as embarrassing and fill the gaps with chatter and noise. A skill to learn for those of us from cultures less tolerant of silence is to patiently wait the more silent cultures out. In Sweden, when we are running training courses and we ask a question to the group, we slowly count to 10 in our heads while waiting for a response. The technique usually works. In Estonia, the key was to count to 35. And, even then, we didn't always receive an answer.

There, you can talk as much as you want about being comfortable with silence!

Neil S.

14 januari 2011

Spoiled in Smokefree

I've finally understood and grown to accept that I am no longer the intrepid traveler I once was.

Upon entering Lipscani, the 700 year old OLD town of Bucharest,  Romania, I would expect my sense of adventure about what lay before me to be on high. And why shouldn't it be? I had already noticed and was facinated by the city of Bucharest which is truely a work in progress. The neglected stands beside the restored, the intricate, ancient and ornate beside the ultra modern, and the glamourous beside the gutted. Somehow it all melds together to give character to a place that has been experiencing rapid transformation over the past 21 years.

Our 4 day stay was in the Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel. Originally part of the buildings of the Casa Poporuli (known today as Parliament Palace) the hotel is by all appearances quite beffitting of the name 'grand'.  The Casa Poporuli is unquestionably Romania's most famous building.  Built during the darkest days of the Ceausescu regime, it was host to the former communist government. The expansive main building of the Casa Poporuli, no longer shrouded in the secrecy of the communist state, now houses the Romanian
Parliament, the Museum of Contemporary Art, a modern conference center and it's open for tours to the public! Desipte all this, due to its enormous size, much of building still remains unused.

Now, back to the old town....we decend further into the pedestrian streets of the area. After some brief time exploring we are ready for a coffee break. So what do we search for? Is it the authentic little place with local food and flare-NOPE. Is it the trendy hot spot where the hip city dwellers hang-again, NOPE! I take my small family on a search for the only known fully smokefree cafe in the whole of the old town.

Finally we stumble upon the place. I was not entirely surprised to find it empty and with a menu as bland and dull as the placed itself seemed.

Tempted to stay anyway and avoid the smokey assult on our on senses that we were no longer accustomed to, we dig deep into our travelling past for a bit of the long lost adventurer spirit. Finding a spark, we venture to the place next door - the French Cafe. I understand this as some sort of compromise- minimal risk on the food- in fact, we enjoyed what is said to be the best espresso in Bucharest together with an extraordinary onion soup. This was, of course, accompained by a chain smoking crowd in lively conversation.

Definately worth a trip to the dry cleaners when we are back in our "exciting" smokefree paradise.