26 september 2011

Stir-fried fish with barbecue sauce – Estonian style

It worked like this. The buffet was full of raw seafood, fish, meat and vegetables that you should put on your plate and take to a kitchen counter. At the counter you would choose a sauce, the chefs would stir-fry the contents of your plate and the waitress would bring the resulting meal to your table. At an Asian-style wok restaurant in Tallinn that is exactly what we did.

As we sat at our table and waited for the meal, we nibbled on sushi and salad. The waitress approached with our stir-fried food. One of my travelling companions, who is always friendly, smiled at the waitress and said

‘Mm , this’ll be good. Barbecue sauce, what d’you think?’

The waitress looked blankly at him, then at his plate and then back at him. Without the slightest flicker of a smile, she said

‘With fish? No.’

And she walked away.

Wow, we thought – that was direct! Not ‘I’m afraid I can’t say, sir’, or ‘Yes, some people like that combination’ but simply and frankly  - ‘With fish? No.’

This brief encounter highlights one of the ways in which culture affects communication. How direct is it ok to be before you cause offense? In Estonia, obviously, you can be pretty direct.

Different cultures have different tolerance levels for directness. Some cultures require a lot of ‘padding’ of the language in order for it be polite. Others don’t. But one thing to bear in mind is that, no matter if a culture is direct or indirect, both cultures are selecting what they say with care. The direct culture desires to be clear and honest with no misunderstandings about what they mean. The indirect culture desires to keep harmony in the relationship, not rock the boat and not cause upset. Both cultures feel they are being respectful.

So if ever you’re visiting Estonia don’t expect any pussy-footing about. Be prepared to take it on the chin and to be told exactly what they think.

With niceties? No.

12 september 2011

Turning off the motorway

Sometimes great things happen when you turn off the motorway.

Last weekend, I was looking for a place to stay in the Östergötland district of Sweden. After ringing several places that were fully booked, I managed to get a room in a little town called Söderköping.

Having never heard of Söderköping, I didn't know what to expect. But, what I found was not what I expected. Söderköping is a beautiful town with an interesting place in Swedish history. One of the oldest towns in Sweden, Söderköping has many beautiful buildings from the 1200's. In the 1800's the town became an important centre for trade, thanks mainly to its interesting location, clinging to the side of the Göta canal.

The Göta canal was one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken in Sweden. The canal stretches from Sjötorp on Lake Vänern to the east coast. It has a length of 190 kilometres and a total of 58 locks. Of this distance, 87 kilometres are man-made. Although disussions to build the canal were initiated in the sixteenth century, it wasn't until 1810 that the king issued a charter allowing it to be built. The Göta canal was largely built by 58,000 soldiers and it took 22 years to finish, dug mostly by hand. Throughout the 19th century, the Göta canal continued to be a very important transport route for both goods and passengers and today, it is one of Sweden's most popular and wellknown tourist attractions.

And one of the places you can see it is in the small town of Söderköping. Not only did I have a great eveníng in this town, I also learned something about Sweden's industrial history.

So, sometimes it's worth turning off the motorway.

Neil S

6 september 2011

The healing waters of Catalonia

It came warm out of the wall at 60 degrees celcius. It tasted slightly metalic and heavy. The healing waters from the spring of Caldes de Malavella in Catalonia, Spain, attract visitors from far and wide, all hoping to cure their various ailments. It is rumoured that, thanks to these waters, the locals of Caldes live longer and healthier than those in the rest of Spain.

The practice of travelling to hot or cold springs in hopes of effecting a cure of some condition dates back to pre-historic times. Many people around the world believed that bathing in a particular spring, well, or river resulted in physical and spiritual purification. Forms of ritual purification existed among the native Americans, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

In Caldes de Malavella there is Roman spa, now in ruins, which reflects the town's signifance throughout history. In fact, the word 'spa' comes from the Roman town Aquae Spadanae, now called Spa in Belgium.

Sitting on the terrace of Vichy Catalan, a thermal centre in Caldes, it's not hard to see that people still today believe in the potency of thermal waters - elderly people, people in wheelchairs or on crutches, zimmer frames parked against the wall, children with unusually-shaped heads, people with visible operation scars across their bodies  - all gathered on this Sunday afternoon.

But I'm here for it's youth-giving qualities. Another pint of your best brew please!


3 september 2011

Where was I ???

Yum….(or so I've heard)

Last month, I was found myself on this place which embodied the words, 'barefoot elegance'….

Where was I ???

Here are some clues:

- approximately 480 miles south of Miami
- population 52,000
- number of banks, 570
- 14 shades of blue and sand as far as the eye could see (at least for 7 miles) 
-  national dish, turtle stew (I'm afraid I wasn't daring enough to try it)

While I was only there for a short visit, I felt a longing to return the moment I left. Not to try the various types of green sea turtle dishes available at the local restaurants - but to dive into the workings of this tiny place (22 miles/35km long, 8 miles/13km wide) where a blend of of 100 nationalities live in harmony.

Any guesses???

Lynn G. (scroll down for answer)

Grand Cayman