A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Dress code at airports

Airports are great for observing how people dress, even for somebody only moderately interested in fashion, like me. (I am hard to convince to go buy clothes, unless we're talking about a new top for my wife and we're passing the shop anyway).

Today when leaving Kiev, I saw a fascinating choice of colour. It is fairly close to the prejudice from 20 years ago in Finland, about what people would wear in what was then called "the Eastern Block". I wouldn't mention that, if it weren't for the fact that most of those countries are now more fashion conscious than Finland ever was. Just make a comparative study of contemporary Estonia and Finland.

I was reminded of the even more fascinating fashion I had noted in Turkey in November. For particularly festive occasions, male Turkish travellers seem to go on group travel dressed in white towels! I saw some of them in Istanbul in June, and now ieven more of them in Ankara. Hordes and hordes of them in the passport queue. I managed to shoot a snapshot of two of these. I am sure there is a perfectly good reason for travelling in bathtowels, and I have to confess that I am curious to know what that reason is, and where they're going.

But who am I to judge. I haven't even had the common sense to go get a haircut, for a while.

Out of Ukraine: On sequential interpretation, non-smoking and "Europe"

This was my third time in Ukraine. I had been in Ukraine in August 2000, and in March this year. Compared to earlier times, this visit had about 100% less tourism and quite a bit more business interaction.

I had the opportunity to talk to Ukrainian Sun customers, presenting for the first time since many years using sequential interpretation. I say something, и переводчик переводит мне, and then I say something else, который является также перевод переводчик. You get the picture. It provides for some advantages:

  • it gives the audience two chances of getting the message

  • it gives the speaker time to think about what to say next

  • it gives the speaker a fair chance of catching at least some of the incorrect translations

  • it saves cost (no electronic gadgets needed)

  • it ensures that the speaker won't speak so fast as for the simultaneous interpreters to lose half of the message

The obvious disadvantage of sequential interpretation is that it takes more time than simultaneous interpretation.

A private observation: I would hope for a quick adoption of Ukraine into the EU, and EU wide non-smoking legislation. Now that even Germany smells good, it's time also for the rest of Europe to stop inducing unnecessary headaches to innocent bystanders, to provide for the undisturbed enjoyment of food, and to promote the freedom to breathe. (Ne paliti in Ukrainian = ne kurit in Russian).

Another private observation: Ukraine and Finland have several things in common (beyond having Russia as a neighbouring country). One of these commonalities is referring to the rest of Europe as "Europe", as if we weren't part of it ourselves. "I will travel to Europe". "When were you last in Europe?". That wording was more prevalent in Finland 10-20 years ago, so perhaps there is hope for both of our countries to be slightly less self deprecating over time.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Purging love padlocks in Riga increases Latvian divorce rate?

Before (22.9.2008)After (12.11.2008)

Less than two months after the MySQL Developer Meeting in Riga, I had the opportunity to visit Riga again. And to my horror, I discovered that the love padlocks I had admired last time were gone!

The idea of love padlocks, according to Giuseppe Maxia, started in Rome. They are described by Wikipedia as follows:
Love padlocks are a custom by which sweethearts affix padlocks to a fence or similar public fixture to symbolise their love. [...] Similar customs exist in Riga, the capital of Latvia, where married couples clamp padlocks on the railings of a bridge and throw the key into the lake below.

Horror! The love padlocks had been cancelled, deleted, purged, removed! What will this mean for the divorce rate in Latvia?

I got further melancholic moments walking through Riga, all alone, without fellow MySQLers who made the prior visit so fun. Here are a few pictures that I took during a late mid-November afternoon in Riga:

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: A Tour of the Three Baltic Countries

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the three Baltic countries for Sun Microsystems, talking about MySQL powering the Web economy. The tour started on Monday and Tuesday in Vilnius, Lithuania, followed by Riga on Wednesday and Tallinn on Thursday. Many similarities between the countries, which are externally often seen as one unit and which internally sometimes view each other as siblings.

I was joined during the trip by Dutch Sun colleague Martin de Jong, who observed that each of the countries have a larger area than the Netherlands, whereas the combined .lt .lv and .ee population isn't even half of that of the Netherlands.

But the economic importance of the Baltics is increasing. The Sun Microsystems activities are being managed through Sun Finland, whose country manager Hannu Nyländen accompanied Martin and myself through most of the tour.

I'll offer some country specific observations, but let me start by saying that the countries don't share a mutually intelligible language. While Lithuanian and Latvian are related and share some words, they are at least as far apart as German and English. They're both very old Indo-European languages, with Lithuanian being the older one, with one well-informed Vilnius attendee claiming close relationship between Lithuanian and Sanskrit. Estonian isn't Indo-European at all, but related to Finnish. Probably a bit closer to Finnish than German is to English (but quite a bit more distant than, say, Danish is from Swedish). At any rate, this leaves young Baltic people speaking English to each other, a bit older ones speaking Russian, whereas a generation or two prior to that, many would likely have spoken German to each other.

The trip started in Vilnius. Sadly, long-time MySQL colleague Domas Mituzas was in the US, so I didn't meet with him. Instead, we were hosted by Sun Microsystem's local Business Development Manager Rolandas Kymantas, who had gathered perhaps 60 Lithuanians into Reval Hotel Vilnius, where the venue was held.

I was very challenged to give the first five minutes of my speech in Lithuanian, as pronunciation is non-trivial and the stress was very challenging, on a par with Russian.

To continue my habit of writing blogs in languages I don't speak, I started a blog also in Lithuanian. The blog is at http://blogs.arno.fi/laisvas_zodis/, where Laisvas žodis means (or at least is supposed to mean) "Free speech".

The second destination was Riga, familiar to many MySQLers from our Developer Meeting two months ago. Here, we were hosted by Evijs Taube, Sun's Business Development Manager for Latvia. The event was in Reval Hotel Riga (the one with the bar on the 26th floor), and coincided with the Latvian Open Technologies Association's event. LATA (for Latvijas atvērto tehnoloģiju asociācija) and its sponsors (among them Sun) had managed to collect a whopping 350 participants to the event.

I was happy to note that my attempt at speaking Latvian was greeted by the audience. One attendee, Janis from Daugavpils (also known as Tvinky), posted a recording of it online. And my Latvian blog is live on http://blogs.arno.fi/labrit/, named Labrīt! for "Good morning!". I'm curious to see whether there will be any reaction to them, by MySQL's Latvian friends, such as Michael Dexter, who helped us a lot in September and whom it was a pleasure to meet again.

Estonia and Tallinn was the third and final destination. Again, the hotel belonged to the same chain. Reval Hotel Tallinn is somewhat of a double name, as "Reval" is the old Swedish and German name for Tallinn.

Martin de Jong and I were alone here, as Hannu had left for Finland. Our host was Sun's Estonian BizDev mgr Maidu Harjak. He had collected roughly as many attendees as Rolandas in Lithuania. On account of knowing Finnish, the Estonian speech wasn't quite as difficult as Lithuanian or Latvian. Creating an Estonian blog was a bit harder, though, as Google Translate doesn't help me with that. Instead, I had to resort to Aivar Joonas, my Estonian friend and reconstruction expert working at my country house in Finland. With his help, I chose to host the blog on http://blogs.arno.fi/vaba_lava/. Vaba lava is what you say when it's time for anyone to speak up, "The floor is open".

My blogs in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian so far only contain my speeches in the respective languages. And realistically, I won't post very frequently to them (in particular, Estonian is not supported by Google Translate). Nonetheless, I hope there is some benefit from having my local presentations online.


Thursday, 6 November 2008

Del Ruiz meets his jefe in Montevideo

My colleague Del, the MySQL Sales Rep with Lat Am as his territory, met his boss Kerry Ancheta in Montevideo. Kerry is a user of Dior pour homme.

Del has just one "l" and works for Sun Microsystems.

(OK, so this isn't of interest to anybody else than those who have met Kerry)

Buenos Aires-Montevideo-Buenos Aires: Dual licensing passport control

1:55: The alarm goes off, as I had set my mobile phone to 4:55, forgetting that my mobile phone is in my home time zone of Munich
2:00: While brushing my teeth, I understand that I got up too early, so I got back to sleep
4:55: The alarm goes off again
5:15: Del Ruiz picks me up at the hotel
5:30: We're at the semi-domestic airport of Buenos Aires
7:00: We check out of Argentina and check in to Uruguay at the same dual-licensing counter, with one lady from .ar, another from .uy

7:15 The flight leaves Argentina

19:05 We check out of Uruguay and into Argentina at the same dual-licensing counter, with one lady from .uy, another from .ar

19:35 The flight leaves
20:20 We land in Buenos Aires
20:55 Back at the hotel

Buenos Aires: La Boca and the colourful houses of Caminito

Founded by Genoese labourers, La Boca is one of the prime tourist attractions for visitors to Buenos Aires. It's famous for its colourful houses, which according to my tourist guide originate from the fact that the workers got paid "in natura", in the form of paint.

The houses are very colourful indeed. Walking around here is a great way to spend quality tourist time in Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Diego Maradona is omnipresent in La Boca

Diego Maradona's team was Boca Juniors, the most famous football club of Argentina. I spoke positively of it to a local (one of the "where are you from?" encounters), but I shouldn't have, as he was cheering for River Plate. Of course, I told him of my son's dilemma, contemplating whether to swap loyalties from Bayern München to TSV München 1860.

Diego Maradona in front of one store

Diego Maradona in front of another store

Just three days ago, Diego Maradona got elected to be the coach of the national team of Argentina. He is still as big as Kaiser Beckenbauer in Germany.

Local transport: About bus 152 to La Boca, and the lack of monetas

I like travelling by public transport. It's convenient. I can delegate the driving to somebody else. Also, with a bus, one sees other people, where they go, what they look like, how they behave -- which is a better way to learn to know a place than sitting in a taxi. At least if there's time.

And Monday morning, I did have some time. But what I didn't have was something else needed, if you want to ride the bus in Buenos Aires: Monetas. No, that's not to say that I didn't have any local money. I gave the bus driver a well-worn five pesos note. But he didn't accept it, as you'll need coins to pay the bus.

On the way to La Boca, my wife and I had 1,50 when we would have needed 2,00. A friendly, young porteño (inhabitant of Buenos Aires) just gave us 0,50 (worth roughly 10 Euro cents). Very kind.

For the way back, we knew we were in trouble. We tried to persist, but no, the bus driver was more persistent than we were.

So we went for a bar, another bar, a kiosco, and a number of shops. "No, we don't change money". I offered to exchange a five-peso-note for four peso coins. Still no. "The bank is eight blocks that way". Well, I may like going by bus, but I am not going to walk eight blocks in order to change coins which Hotel Sheraton should have understood to give us to begin with.

Hence, after a bit of raised voices, I decided we would just board the bus, coins or no coins. With just four hours allocated to tourism, I wasn't going to spend any time running around trying to change coins.

Sure enough, the bus driver didn't accept the five peso note. "Change it in a shop somewhere", I think he said (in Spanish). "No shop was willing to change any coins", I know I replied (in Swedish). We just sat down, and after a minute of hesitation, the bus driver felt obliged to drive off anyway, mumbling something about the "policia" and implying all kinds of trouble for us.

Ha! The world is a much better place than that. Ten minutes later, along our route, an official-looking, uniform-dressed person boarded the bus, got briefed by the bus driver, and approached us. I had no intention of accepting any abuse from his side, but decided (as usual) to start in a friendly way, giving him the five peso note. And he happily exchanged it for five one-peso coins, with which I paid. No fine. No bad language. Gracias!

Update: Later on, when buying tea in a cafeteria, we wanted to get monetas in return. No tengo monetas. My (German) wife asked in English for coins. Nobody spoke English. But a fellow tea drinker approached my wife and asked her "talar du svenska?" ("do you speak Swedish?"). She sure did, and got some notes changed.

Don't show this to my colleagues

I may have travelled a lot since joining Sun. I have even got to see places I haven't been to before, such as Izhevsk or Bangalore. But despite this year's over 200.000 km (the equivalent of more than five times around the globe), usually, I've been to places I've seen before, and I hadn't been to a single new country. Even working for MySQL, there was only one country I hadn't visited privately before going there for MySQL, and that was Serbia in 2001.

Not so this time! I'm in Argentina for the first time ever, and I'll later this week be in Uruguay and Chile for the first time ever.

This also meant I appended an extra day to the trip, so that I could do a day of tourism, wearing my Panama hat. It got to be half a day as I have meetings at Sun, and a University event at Universidad Nacional de la Matanza but nonetheless, I got some time off. And I celebrated it by taking some 8mm pictures!

Pictures: Top right: Yesterday's hard work, drinking Brahma. Left: Brahma is local beer.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Jacaranda Connection: Westwards on the Southern Hemisphere

After a few days at home in Munich, I was fortunate enough to fly to the Southern Hemisphere again. This time, I'm in Argentina, planning to visit also Uruguay and Chile.

And there are commonalities with South Africa. Same season. Same hot weather. Even the same blossoming Jacaranda trees! The one on the picture is in Jardin Botánico in Buenos Aires.

Blue flowers on the sand, just as in Johannesburg.

But unlike Johannesburg, there was another tree with big (15-20 cm) "balls" hanging in it. I don't know the name or origin of this species.

Update: As Anabella tells me, the tree is called "palo borracho". I tried to translate it into English by Google. It said "Stick drunk".