Wednesday, December 2, 2015

SΩ13 - Think, Give, Love

‘It’s the thought that counts.’ This age-old saying suggests that an act of kindness should matter, regardless of how small or imperfect it may be. It’s definitely worth considering as we start hunting for our holiday gifts. The tradition of gift giving is rather fascinating and is one that spans both time and across cultures. There are various events that involve gift giving from birthdays, to weddings, to Ramadan, to Christmas, to Chinese New Years, to Hanukkah, and many more.

Yet the cultural and personal differences in gift giving are just as vast! Regardless of those differences, I believe it’s important to put some thought into the gifts we give. Also, to consider our reaction to receiving a gift! The idea of this gift-giving post is to spark some thought in your gift giving.

To help me with this my cousin Sarah, all the way in Australia, will give her thoughts in this Q and A style post. It's worth noting that although we are blood related, we've only met on two occasions back in 2012. Both our paths have been rather different and yet our values do tend to cross at times. Hope it'll be of use to you this holiday season!


What’s your personal interpretation of ‘gift’?
SarahMario
A gift can be defined as: ‘a thing given willingly to someone, without payment’. This seems apt. A gift doesn’t require or expect reciprocity, giving is selfless. At least, it should be. Gifts can be objects, actions, words, etc., yet the core essence being an act of generosity & kindness, without desire for equitable return. It’s usually an unspoken form of communication that conveys to someone that you are grateful for his or her presence. Although most of the times gifts are physical objects, I believe time and actions are often gifts we tend to take for granted. For example cooking a meal for someone or teaching someone a skill.

Is it better to give or receive a gift?
SarahMario
I believe this depends on who is on the other side of the transaction, when both giving & receiving. Every holiday I go over my budget on gifts. I love finding things that are perfect for my friends and to a lesser extent family; but even some of my closest friends aren’t all that great to give to. A grateful recipient heightens the joy of giving! As a recipient, getting a spontaneous gift, or one that I know has been bought because the giver knew it was right for me, these are the best times! Overall though, I enjoy giving more than receiving - I have everything I need and if presents are just bought because they should be, I’d prefer to be given the cost in cash rather than accumulating more ‘things’.
This is a rather conflicting topic for me. Over time I’ve grown to appreciate mutual give and take. Is pure altruism even possible or realistic? Although, I prefer giving it does feel better to get a thanks and a gracious smile. It’s like a receipt for giving.

Additionally, we often take human kindness as well as the time and effort people spend on our behalf for granted, myself included. After all, how much does a sincere ‘thank you’ cost?

Finally, some of us will take more than they give, sometime unintentionally. Thus, I feel it’s key to balance give and take. To start off, be more aware of the give and take that occurs around us. For example if you enjoyed this post, you may like to know Sarah and myself gave at least a few hours to write it. If you wish to keep up the giving, how about sharing this post with someone?

What is your advice for getting the ‘perfect gift’?
SarahMario
Follow your gut! So often I will pass a shop window, or come across something online and just know it is right! I flatter myself that I’ve gained a reputation for giving ideal gifts; I’m able to do this because I know the people I am buying for. This doesn’t simply mean knowing their likes & dislikes, it also means knowing what is important to them, knowing their values and goals/dreams. I may not be the nicest person on the planet, but I am generous and I do care that recipients of my gifts are affected by them, just as I am when I walk past the shop window…
My suggestion is to gift an experience and better yet one you can share! This works best if you listen to someone and know them. A few years ago, I invited my father (biologic father) to the Moers jazz festival. Before this I had never even listened to jazz. As the festival commenced, his jazz filled world engulfed me. In many ways it was a chance to truly be with him. I shamefully wonder if I got more out of the gift than he did.

Even if you’re unable to gift an experience, I think the perfect gift should be something that adds to a person’s life based on their interests and/or personality. The key is to listen.


Do certain events, like Christmas, make you feel obligated to give gifts?
SarahMario
Yes. I love Christmas, for what it means and the traditions but, if I had my way, I would be spending the day with friends and it would be that shared time which constituted a celebration, rather than the unwrapping of gifts with family. Buying gifts for people is a pleasure, but at Christmas one can feel pressured into the action. I would prefer to buy for people as I see things they would like, rather than having to find gifts at particular times of the year. However, on the flip-side, friends who do not like getting spontaneous gifts, Christmas is an excuse to give to them!
A few years ago, my ex-girlfriend randomly gave me a wallet. At the time I was rather ungrateful, since I had a wallet, albeit beat up.
Only later, did I realize it’s more natural to just give whenever we feel compelled to. After all Christmas should be about spending time with loved ones, right? So just consider that while you’re out buying gifts this holiday season! Embrace the spirit of Christmas and ignore Mr. Consumerism. By the way I did switch wallets and still use it till this day. Thanks Huihui!

What is one gift you’ve received which feels like it keeps on giving?
SarahMario
For my birthday, perhaps six or seven years ago a friend bought me a chess set, knowing that I didn’t play the game. He then took me to the pub after work and taught me the game. While we have less time than in the past to engage in this pursuit, it still remains one thing that is ours - playing chess at the pub. It is a game which still frustrates me, but I am glad I know how to play and one day, I will win.This may sound bizarre, yet it’s for sure running. When I was younger my dad (step-dad) would bring me on runs. At first it was frustrating, since I could only run a fraction of what he ran. Yet over time it grew a part of me. Feeling the wind woosh past me  truly reminds me that I'm alive! Since, 2011 I’ve been struggling with different injuries. Yet a few weekends ago I had an orienteering race and the joy of running came flowing back to me. Thanks Dad!


From what Mario and I have written, I think it is clear that both of us value gifts that have been thoughtful and that we ourselves do not give frivolously. This has been an interesting exercise for me to see both our similarities and differences, especially since we've just been in touch for the last few years. This indicates that thoughts and feelings about gift giving may be quite universal. If you’ve found our writing interesting or useful, feel free to share it. Also, we’d like to hear your thoughts on gift giving!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

SΩ12 - Our Global Impact

Beauty and chaos exist side by side in this world. Having children is a perfect example of this. It’s a complex balance of showing one’s child the best of the world and at the same time preparing them for all the uncertainty and hurdles to come. When parents are unable to remain together it opens an entirely different beast. Looking back on my childhood, I do feel my parents prepared me for this world.  Yet I believe they could have handled their separation differently. Reflecting back, I believe that had they dealt with it as a team and supported one another, it would have been far better for all. However, the past is the past and so I’ll focus on what came from it: my desire to help others.

I think as a child this ambition developed unconsciously, sparked by my parents’ separation. Digging through some of my previous texts, I came across a snippet I wrote at 19: I will try my best to better society & make it livable for my children and the generations to come”. Although I have no recollection of what this piece was about, this message still rings true.

For me it seems clear that if humanity wishes to progress it must develop a collaborative environment. Although that has been clear to me for many years the way to reach this has developed over the years. During my university years, I was certain that bringing technology, like solar energy, to underprivileged countries was my calling. After university I realized that although this will help, it’d only make a tiny dent in improving societies ways.

Another realization was that the world’s inequalities, in many ways, have been created by society, especially due to trade & capitalism. Remember that we are globally connected and many of our actions have a direct/indirect impact on other people in the world. Shortly after moving to Barcelona I had a eureka moment: education was the answer! Children are key to building a truly collaborative society. What we teach our children shapes the global boundaries they perceive and follow.

 

Yet the reality is that although I believe in helping others and a collaborative society, my knowledge is limited on how to do this successfully. To educate myself, I’ve been finding ways to help others. To further this this knowledge, I created ‘The Project’. In a nutshell, I ask people to anonymously submit a problem and I try my best to provide advice/suggestions to solve it. Last month I asked 7 people to test it. Here are the 5 abridged queries I received:
  - How can I help the Syrian refugees?
  - What is the most efficient way of finding one’s calling in life?
  - What is the best way to help others?
  - How to budget if wages are fixed & living costs keep increasing?
  - Should I date, if I’m still uncertain of where I want to live?
You’ll find the detailed problems and suggestions here: The Project

My findings thus far are quite revealing. Here are my observations & follow-up questions:
  - People seem reluctant to ask for & accept help from others
     - Why do people feel they need to solve their problems alone?
     - What’s the best way to offer someone help, if you don’t know his/her problem(s)?
  - How we help people can differ from what someone needs
     - How can we improve the way we help others?
  - Helping others can feel amazing, especially if we know we’ve helped
     - How can we encourage people to provide honest feedback?
     - Why is appreciation difficult to come by?

Now I’m opening ‘The Project’ to the public! If you believe in a collaborative society, voice your ideas, feedback below in the comments. Also, if you need help with a problem, post your burning problems & queries here: The Project Form. For now, I'm accept 10 queries per month.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SΩ11 - Welcome to Alpland

This is where it all began (for me)! The place some might call the ‘land of Alps and perfection’: Switzerland. Although, I’m a purebred Swiss the reality is mentally I’m Swiss-American. For this reason I have a mixed perspective on my homeland. Thus, I decided to find someone with a contrasting viewpoint.

To properly introduce this post's co-writer we go back to 2011. I was back in Switzerland and starting my first proper job. Fortunately, I was not alone and met a diverse group of Canadian interns. They introduced me to the joy of traveling. In particular, I met one whimsical intern with Indo-Canadian roots: Parth. Our travels thus far range from the Fjords in Norway to the cobblestone streets of Firenze, Italy. Like myself, Parth has a unique perspective on life and society. We recently reconnected after he discovered my blog. And now we’ve agreed to co-write this post.

Without further ado, let’s discuss Switzerland! This will be a Q&A style post where both Parth and I give our insights. Have any more burning questions about Switzerland?  We’ll gladly answer them in the comment section below.

How was your experience with Swiss people?
Parth Mario
When I first moved to Switzerland, I felt a bit like a hatchling leaving his nest for his first big adventure. It was both exciting and intimidating at the same time. Making friends was key to surviving and maintaining my sanity.

Luckily, there were other students in the same boat. However, for someone who is the infamous “Sheldon Cooper” of the group, it was quite difficult making new friends. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t take me long to bond with the locals as they quickly accepted me and my shenanigans.

The Swiss in their prime seem to be far more sociable and welcoming to friendship than in other countries or those in other age groups - not sure why that is. Also, I often prefer to confide in my Swiss friends than my Canadian friends. This is mainly because when I ask them for advice they provide direct and efficient advice as is the local culture. In my experience, the Swiss and even long term expats offer a refreshingly unique perspective to my queries and problems.

Suffice to say, I made many friends during my stay in Switzerland and still remain in touch with several of them. I can count on them to be there in my time of need.
“Grüezi!” The sound of Swiss German rings right to my core. My gut reaction is to connect to whoever is speaking, but at the last moment I hold my tongue. This bizarre phenomenon shows my mixed feelings towards Swiss.

At my core I believe in a few Swiss ideologies. Swiss seem connected to nature and humanity. Many Swiss enjoy both nature and take care of the Swiss environment. Also, the Swiss believe in peace. War isn't a reasonable solution to any problem. In terms of national politics, it’s great that the top parties must share the executive power.


Oddly enough, mingling with Swiss isn’t my cup of tea. While living in Switzerland I tried to connect to Swiss both at the various running clubs I went to and at university. However, many Swiss have a tight circle of childhood friends and few seemed interested in new friends.

With the Swiss willing to talk there is often an utter disconnect. The topics and humor are rather flat. Also, Swiss reactions seem predicable, like they’ve all been programmed with the ‘Swiss Life Rules’. Finally, the Swiss wealth has placed them on pedestal and few Swiss seem open minded to the outside world.

Yet there are always exceptions. Parth seemed to have quite the opposite experience. There’s also a rumor that Swiss friends are honest and loyal.


Why is the cost of living so high in Switzerland?
Parth Mario
I really think the cost of living in Switzerland is high to discourage immigration; the Swiss have a very pretty country, and want to keep it that way. In many ways, even though I am an outsider, I agree with them and their methods.

Why pollute what you already have with an influx of people, and not have anything to show in the future? If you discourage immigration - the benefits are 2-fold; keeps foreigners from taking jobs away from locals, and it also encourages tourism. This is essentially a double-win for the Swiss government as it improves the GDP by reducing the exports (keeping jobs local), and also generating income via the various sectors funded by tourism.
Did you know until the 19th century most Swiss were poor farmers? There are a few factors that led to Swiss prosperity. My father, always full of stories, was kind enough to share his historical wisdom on this topic. Along with some further research, I explain the Swiss prosperity.

Being a landlocked nation with limited resources the Swiss missed the chance to lucrative colonies. However, the industrial revolution presented the train to Switzerland. In the 1850s Alfred Escher founded Credit Suisse to finance his railroad company. The railroad system also brought tourists closer to the Alps. The first tourists were Brits obsessed with Alpine peaks. In the 1890s the Norwegian sport of skiing brought even more tourists.

This trio (trains, tourists, & banks) was the key that led to quality products and services. The majority of those tourists were wealthy and excepted ‘the best’. The trains and banks supported this high quality market.

Shortly after in the 20th century Switzerland became the safe haven of Europe. The Swiss neutrality brought all those with treasures to hide. I presume around this point Swiss businesses took full advantage of this ‘Quality & Security’ label. After all the wealthy tend to go for the highest price tag!


If you had to recommend a place in Switzerland, where would it be?
Parth Mario
I like the atmosphere in Montreux. The humidity of the lakeside coupled with the vivid splashes of green foliage and the plentiful flowers along the shore provide for a very picturesque and relaxing facade that hides a city filled to the brim with culture. It is a small city by any standard, but the people are very friendly and seem to encourage large social gatherings, most famously in the form of the Jazz Festival. This is something I really look forward to when visiting a new city as a tourist or to ponder on whether it is a worthy place to settle down if forced to do so in the future. I’ve always had a deep connection with the Alps. I’d say this ‘Alp love’ is one of the few Swiss qualities I have. Actually, all my life I’ve enjoyed exploring mountains, including the Rockies (US), Pyrenees (Andorra) and Middle Atlas (Morocco). However, visiting the Swiss Alps always puts me in a heavenly bliss!

I find Luzern to be the true gateway to the Alps. Stepping off the train you’re instantly greeted by a medieval city center on your left and a picturesque lake on your right with the Alps as a backdrop. You can also jump on a boat tour of the  ‘Vierwaldstättersee’. The boat tour takes you to gondola access points to visit various peaks like the Rigi and Pilatus.


Which transit system do you prefer: Swiss or Japanese?
Parth Mario
As an outsider, the Swiss public transit system was one of the best in the world. Everything just made sense, and the system really seemed to be designed to optimize public transport and minimize travel time. This is unlike in other countries, where the transport system seems more a means of milking money from you in additional to taxes.

The real standout feature of the Swiss system, apart from the automated announcer lady voice in the trains which always puts a smile on my face, is the sheer number of connections between places. You want to go from Zurich to Geneva, but want to stop of at Basel for some odd reason - No problem, there’s a train connection for you. Every train station has a teller too so you can buy tickets if you don’t speak the local language or are illiterate. The ticket machines also have an option to top off your cell phone credits - I did not know I wanted this feature until I used it!

On the flip side, Japan’s transit system is more efficient, but it is less tourist-friendly. This is in part due to the language barrier, and in part the geography of Japan itself. Even with the bullet-train, it still takes over 3 hours to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the aforementioned extra services offered in Switzerland, are a bit more difficult to find in Japan.
Both transit systems are top notch, yet I'm going with the Japanese transit system. However, there are a few distinctions to make. There is the city transit system (ie Zurich or Tokyo) and the national transit system.

For me the Tokyo metro system and bullet trains (Shinkansen) are likely in the top in the world in both convenience and in terms of time. However, the regional service (JR) and metro are fairly complicated. For me the punctuality of the Japanese system is superb (The average annual delay of the Shinkansen is under a minute).

The national transit system in Switzerland is fairly convenient and easy, but city systems rely on bus/tram systems which are fairly slow.


Your most and least favorite aspects of Switzerland?
Parth Mario
I liked the efficiency the most in Switzerland. I even picked up a few tricks to be more efficient with my time a well. For instance, I learned how to prioritize my assignments on the fly. This efficiency is apparently being noticed by those around me and they either compliment me, envy me, or drop their jaws in horror at the amount of workload I am capable of handling without going into a meltdown.

The prices of basic commodities in Switzerland were my least favorite. Basic goods are very expensive such as bread or cheese or even a cab ride to the airport. However luxury goods like a high-level mountain bike are peanuts compared to other countries and this was flabbergasting. One really has to be more conscious with their money and rations here than in other countries.
Let me make this short and sweet. The Swiss Alps are truly breathtaking, which also provide the milk that's used to make delicious chocolates.

Now on the sour side, I find Swiss are obsessed with rules and could be more open minded. Perhaps the wealth has blinded Swiss to the wonders of life.

Hopefully, you now know more about Switzerland. Once again, we'll be more than happy to answer any further questions!

Friday, July 31, 2015

SΩ10 - Emotions Uncorked

My friend, Parth, recently asked; “Mario, when is your next post coming out?” Thanks to him, I’ve returned to Society Ω! Actually, he helped edit this post and is now a co-editor, please give him a warm welcome.

Well the truth is my life has been filled to the brink! At the start of the month I snuck into the EduLearn15 conference in Barcelona. Met some unique people from all over the world and heard about their projects. Simultaneously, I began collaborating with a guy on an EdTech related venture. We almost reached an employment agreement. Yet, at the last moment it fell through. The silver lining is that I am now committed to exploring EdTech and it’s a high chance I'll pursue a career in it. Currently, I’m taking the edx.org online course "Implementation and Evaluation of Educational Technology". Hope to post more on EdTech in the near future.

Freedom to Express
Now onto the meat of the post! I'd say most of us have dealt with emotional turmoil and difficulties. We've all had similar experiences: an argument with a friend, a breakup, feeling lonely, etc. However, why do most people, especially guys, feel the need to keep emotions bottled up? For this reason, I was super excited that Pixar boldly showcases the beauty of emotions in their latest movie "Inside Out". I can highly recommend it for people of all ages!

http://i2.wp.com/bitcast-a-sm.bitgravity.com/slashfilm/wp/wp-content/images/Inside-Out.jpg
Source: i2.wp.com

True Friends Listen
I could talk all day about emotions and "Inside Out", but how would that help you? Recently, I was talking to a friend about his relationship problems. For me this is part of a good friendship; being able to share and support each other's personal challenges. Yet, it’s difficult to find someone who has the time/interest to truly listen and be present. Nevertheless, if there is a someone whom you trust, try to share little by little. Either it brings the two of you closer together or makes it clear that you need better friends. in that case, why not reach out to someone you lost touch with. Just be cautious not to load all your burdens on one person!

The Therapeutic Way
Getting back to my friend, it soon became apparent that he needed help with someone more experienced. This happens sometimes, either a friend lacks the experience or you’re uncomfortable sharing the details. So, what other options are there? Another option I've previously used is going to a therapist/counselor. Please keep an open mindset to this, since the media portrays this option in a rather negative and exaggerated way. In order for this option to go successfully, it’s important to research the options and  test out different therapists/counselors. It’s important to note a common misconception, if you want a psychiatric evaluation or medication, only a certified psychiatrist can give this.

http://www.wiserstrongerbetter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/choices-counselor-therapists.jpg

Here is a brief guideline to finding the right counselor/therapist:
  • First, you have to know the problem(s) you wish to deal with and a rough idea of what kind of support you need (someone to listen to, medication, etc.)
  • Second, based on the first find a specialist or support group that fits your needs (There are plenty of options, so try a few!)
  • Third, choose a place you feel most comfortable with (location of the building, room of the counselor, feel of the chair, etc.)
  • Fourth, go with a professional and experienced counselor/therapist (If he/she constantly asks 'how does that make you feel?'…they are likely inexperienced and can’t effectively connect to people…so find another one)
  • Last, but most important trust your instinct and go with someone you'd feel comfortable talking to about anything (In my experience, I'm only able to expose deep issues with male counselors)
7 Cups of Tea
Even after all my tips, some of you might still be skeptical. Recently, I found an alternative that might be perfect for your emotional turmoil. It's called 7 Cups of Tea and there is a website and app. In a nutshell, it's a social community of trained active listeners, who anyone can talk to anonymously. Well my experience thus far has been a good one, with a small caveat. This week I talked to two listeners about where to find friends that better fit my diverse lifestyle. Both suggested I try dating. However, at the moment I'm just interested in friendship. One listener was very curious and we discussed the issue in detail. The other kept pushing this idea and talking about his experience and that sex is important too! Thus, the caveat is that although each listener goes through training, his or her skillset varies greatly! Also, realize that these are NOT professionals so for a deeper psychological problem a professional is advised.

To sum things up, if you have an emotional problem: accept it, find an emotional outlet, and resolve it! Feeling the need to bottle one's emotions will likely lead to larger future problems. As a whole, we have to accept that emotions exist and together we can learn to handle them. Emotions make us human, so express them with pride!

Special thanks to Betsy for helping edit numerous posts and is a truly inspirational force to everyone who's met her.

Monday, June 1, 2015

SΩ9 - The Education Evolution

What is the objective of pre-university education? This question has been buzzing around my head for the last few weeks. I believe two main objectives are; provide a general understanding of the world and prepare youth for the ‘job world’. This begs the question: Do current systems achieve this?

Education systems across the world and even within a single country vary greatly. As this comparison is a massive undertaking, I will focus on three areas I believe should be improved. They are as follows:
  • Deeper exposure to career choices
  • Promoting appreciation/understanding of other cultures
  • Merging of technology and education
The ‘Job World’
In the past children often got a taste of the ‘job world’ by helping to support their family’s business/trade. Many of my friends and I feel the shift from education to the ‘job world’ is like jumping into a foggy void. In pre-university education, most systems focus on a few core subjects. Many will then choose a university major based on the core subject(s) they excelled at and/or enjoyed. Yet these core subjects give a limited insight to the career options available. Also, choosing a career path without any exposure is similar to choosing to do the Tour de France, without ever riding a bike!

I suggest a pre-university system that enlightens and encourages students towards a specific career path. In my opinion the final 1-2 years leading up to university should be devoted to self-discovery. An idea could be having 2-3 projects where students choose a specific career or topic to explore. Students can either choose from a list of choices or a program can give suggestions based on interests/personality. Additionally, for a final project the students could do an internship or shadow someone in the specific field of choosing (perhaps even virtually).

The Global Melting Pot
Being immersed in different cultures is a truly eye opening experience.  In my opinion this expands ones perspective on the world and allows for creativity beyond the cultural norms of a given culture. However, most people only learn about the history of other cultures, rather than the current cultural customs, norms, and beliefs. Sticking to one’s own culture is rather futile, since globalization is rapidly pushing different cultural groups to mingle. Also, the desire for companies to succeed internationally requires employees to interact with people outside their culture on a daily basis.

Although, cultural differences are intriguing they can also cause misunderstandings and serious problems. This is why I believe school systems need to actively promote understanding and appreciation for all cultures. If schools are culturally diverse to begin with, the schools should find fun ways to highlight all the cultures present at the school. For younger children, schools can celebrate and/or teach the holidays and festivals of other cultures. For teenagers schools can arrange cultural excursions to museums, restaurants of foreign cuisine, other countries, etc. Another idea is a Skype pen pal program, where students are paired with another student of another country. Of course students also benefit greatly from learning one or more foreign languages. Especially important is to view other cultures objectively, instead of adding negative labels, like strange or bad.

The Tech & Edu Bond
To be continued…

Sunday, April 19, 2015

SΩ8 - Exploring the Job Jungle

A new topic for me, yet one that most readers are familiar with: job searching. For over a year I’ve been job searching. While I’ve succeeded at freelancing, I’m still looking for the job that’s a ‘perfect’ fit. Here I give some insight into my job searching experience. In the future, I’ll write my ideas for improving the entire process! 

Problems and Suggestions
I believe most problems of the job searching process stem from the fact that it’s an imperfect puzzle. An employer searches for a ‘perfect’ candidate, which is near impossible to find. The employer must thus opt for the ‘best fit’. Here are a few problematic areas (left side) and suggestions to deal with each (right side).

Finding ‘The One’ 



Your Holy Document


Friendly Chat or Interrogation


Suggestions for the Job Post Factory
When looking through job posts, it seems most follow the same generic template:
  • Talk about how amazing the company is
  • List the tasks involved
  • List the requirements
  • List benefits and salary (sometimes)
Do these posts give a good idea of the job? I’d like some transparency and details of what the job truly is like. Perhaps a schedule of a typical workweek or for some jobs a video showing what the job and company is like. Better yet some examples of previous projects. Finally, make it crystal clear which 2-3 requirements are necessary and which are just bonuses.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

SΩ7 - Culture Talks: Digi-Comm & Laughter

Drumroll, please…the winner is ‘Difference in Communication Between Cultures’! Thanks to all that voted. The main page poll had twice as many votes as the poll on ‘You: The Reader’. New poll coming soon and suggestions are welcome!

It’s my belief that learning about someone’s culture is key to understanding one another. To spark cross-cultural conversations, I offer insight of cultures most familiar to me: American, Swiss, Spanish, and Chinese. I’ll do my best to refrain from creating or supporting stereotypes.

I’ve been contemplating for a while, which differences to share. There is a wide scope of differences: from typical topics in each culture, body language, cultural habits/norms, and much more! For this post I will focus on just two: forms of socializing and humor. In future posts, I’ll discuss other differences.

Cell, Web, or Bar
The advancement of technology has given us many diverse forms to keep in touch. With just a smartphone one can socialize using any of the following: emails, calling, texting (SMS), and more. It’s been my experience that both American and Chinese have embraced digital communication, especially texting! Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say most people prefer talking in person.

When I returned to Switzerland, I was surprised how few Swiss used social networks, texting, and emails. In Switzerland friends generally meet for lunch or dinner to socialize. Calling is also fairly common.

On the other hand, in Spain meeting in a bar to socialize is the norm! If you walked for 2 minutes from almost anywhere in Barcelona, you’d find a bar. Spanish typically send text messages to arrange a meeting at a bar. I’ve found that Spanish rarely use social networks and emails.

Here’s a rough graphic to illustrate which form of communication is more common in each culture. If you find any factual evidence that disagrees with this, please tell me!


Sunshine & Laughter
We humans invented a nifty way to spice up talks, by using humor! When used correctly, it creates a warm vibe filled with laughter. If it fails, it can lead to misunderstandings and provoke unpleasant emotions. Through the evolution of humor, many types have emerged, such as: wit, play on words, double entendre, sarcasm, slapstick, ‘bathroom’ talk, and other forms. Due to this complexity humor rarely translates well.

Besides the differences in humor, I believe there is also a general difference in how much humor a culture uses on a daily basis. It’s my belief that this is loosely linked to climate. More exposure to sunlight induces higher level of serotonin, which in turn means a ‘happier’ mood. The following graph illustrates the mean annual sunlight in selected major cities from each country.


Regarding the style and topic differences of humor between cultures, some prefer more formal or informal humor. Enclosed is a graph illustrating this, the opposite ends of the spectrum are Spanish and Chinese humor. In Spain people are full of laugher and joke about every topic. I’ve even heard 10-year-old children make sex jokes with their parents! 

Chinese humor tends to play on the complexity of the language, how certain characters sound similar, but have different meanings. Also, due to the complexity of the language, I fathom humor is limited to prevent misunderstandings. Usually, jokes about sex, death/violence, and politics are uncommon.

American humor also tends to be informal. This is fairly evident in American TV shows. Although the topics are diverse, sexual and political jokes are rather popular. In my opinion American humor often has rather simple structure and content. This is perhaps why American TV shows are so international, since the humor can be easily translated. 

For me Swiss humor is the most difficult to understand. Many jokes rely heavily on German grammar, which requires a native understanding of the language. Although jokes can contain informal content, the topics shy away from controversial topics. 


There is one style of humor that seems fairly unique to English and German speakers: sarcasm. Perhaps due to my cultural background, I tend to use a lot of it! However, would recommend using it sparingly, especially with people from other cultures. It can be extremely easy to misunderstand and even worse be taken offensively. In my experience Chinese rarely understand English sarcasm.

As they say: ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ Just be aware of your audience, so they can share in the laughter! Also, lets all learn Chinese so we can understand their jokes as well! ;)

Your Turn!
This post only explores differences between four cultures. Would be great to learn more about other cultures. Feel free to share about your own culture! Also, I ask you to kindly correct me, if I’ve misspoken.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

SΩ6 - Global Kindness: Cultural Tales II

This post includes two combined concepts. From my last post, I wanted to give examples of how to ‘nudge’ and support other people’s dreams. Also, many people liked my previous “Cultural Tales”, so figured I’d use that style.

Small gestures of kindness can be quite valuable and take a mere few minutes of effort. Every month we are awake for over 30,000 minutes. How about using a few for a gesture of kindness?

Good Samaritan of Lost Valuables
In my previous post I gave a short preview of Tokyo, Japan. Let’s start from there. There are plenty of good things to say about Japan, for now I’ll focus on Japanese culture. I believe Japanese tend to be honest and courteous people. I’d like to share one event, which I hope will convince you as well!

My first trip to Japan I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. Now I can’t imagine traveling between these cities, without the Internet. The public transport system is effective, yet can be rather intricate and overwhelming. During a subway transfer in Kyoto, I just had enough time to buy a drink from a vending machine. After a few stops I realized my luggage was rather light. I had my backpack, but had left my other bag at the vending machine! When I returned to the previous stop, my bag was gone; the subway employees were unable to find it. Later, a Japanese friend called various stops and offices to find it. It soon became apparent; my bag was lost for good!

With only a few days left in Japan, I did my best to forget my loss and bought some replacement clothes. 
A few weeks later, I received a mysterious package with foreign writing. To my surprise, it was my bag! Everything was there and my clothes were clean and neatly folded. Seems my bag ended up at the local police station and my Japanese friend had successfully tracked it down. His wife even went the extra mile to clean the clothes and pack the bag nicely. I can only imagine all the effort my friend and his wife invested to return my bag. Alternatively, if you ever find a wallet, phone, or other valuable, it’ll likely take less than an hour to return it. Be a Good Samaritan and return it!
Befriend a Traveler
Usually, I travel solo. This lets me plan my trip the way I like and encourages me to meet new people. I tend to meet fellow travelers in hostels and spend a day or two together. What’s even more exciting, is meeting locals! Yet that’s rare, since travelers are mainly viewed as business opportunities.

My experience in Istanbul, Turkey was extraordinary. The first day, a local teenage boy approached me on the beach. First, I was skeptical…maybe he wanted to scam me!? Yet what started as skepticism ended in a pleasant walk through the city as the boy explained the history and buildings to me. Even to this day, we still stay in touch.

A day later the excitement continued! I was visiting an Island close to Istanbul. On the ferry ride there, I sat across from two teenage couples. Suddenly, one of the girls smiled at me and offered me a piece of fresh pretzel. As we got to the Island they invited me on a bike tour of the Island and lunch! I’ve probably told this experience 100 times, since it’s rare that travelers are shown such kindness. Make travelers feel welcome in your city.
 
Encourage a Friend
Have you ever hit rock bottom? This is how I felt, when I returned to Switzerland. Reality had knocked me down and I was a stranger to myself. While I sorted through the pieces of my identity, my only comfort was escaping reality to travel the world. Traveling introduced me to many amazing places and I asked myself, why was I in Switzerland?

Eventually, a mentor of mine encouraged me to move to Barcelona. This push has definitely helped me turn my life around. Before, leaving Switzerland, I had lunch with a dear friend. We had a lengthy discussion about the world and plenty more. Towards the end of lunch he said: “You should write a blog”. This was the 'nudge' I needed to get my blog rolling. Life is full of uncertainties and difficult choices, so encourage your friends towards greatness. 

Key Message
There are plenty of ways to support and help others, here are just three examples: 
“Be a Good Samaritan and return it!”
“Make travelers feel welcome in your city.”
 “Encourage your friends towards greatness.”

All pictures  © Mario Christiner 2011, except picture of Simit (Turkish Pretzil) from visualhunt.com

Friday, February 13, 2015

SΩ5 - Money-Worship or 200 Dreams?

Back again, after a long break! Both my time and brain have been some what occupied. My time is mostly spent on getting my freelance lifestyle to run smoothly. My mind on the other hand is like a chaotic web of ideas and thoughts. For the most part I've been thinking about my recent interactions with other people. One question keeps reverberating in my head: “How selfish am I?”

In my opinion selfishness comes from our instinct to fulfill our basic needs. Our selfless ways most likely originates from our emotional need to feel connected with others. To me this clarifies the 'give and take' nature of society. We usually take, until our needs are met and only then are we willing to give to others. 

Considering some of my recent experiences involving 'give and take’ makes me understand the usefulness of money. For example, if I cook dinner for you and give you my old TV, what is the 'value' to you? Now consider we were friends, coworkers, or just neighbors. What if you were sick? Depending on the situation, the 'value' is completely different. Also, depending on the situation, I might be satisfied with a "thank you" or expect something more in return.


Although, both selfishness and money bother me, I'm slowly learning to accept them as part of life. This brings me to the quote I mention above, which comes from a book I can relate to and recommend. Once a person has enough wealth to support both himself/herself, what is left to do? Society propels us to believe that more wealth means being more successful at life. Why?

How about, I suggest an alternative! Measure your life's success based on how many people you help push towards their dream. If you're reading this post, you're likely in a privileged country and earn enough money to support yourself. Thus, I urge you to spend an hour or more to help someone you know, who could use a push towards their dream.

This earth is our home and we all want humanity to thrive! One person has 20 million and the other pushed 200 people towards their dream, who was more successful at promoting humanity? Your choice!

Monday, January 26, 2015

SΩ4 - You: The Reader

After only a week, since ‘Society Ω’ became public, I’ve been blown away by the praise and support. I’m genuinely surprised that so many enjoy my writing! From the feedback I received, most found ‘Cultural Tales’ entertaining, while ‘The Pursuit of Curiosity’ and ‘Society Ω’ got many people thinking and sharing their own ideas. That’s perfect, since that's the aim of this blog! In case you’re wondering about fellow readers, here are some stats:

Page Views  - 100+ (Blogger counts my views, so exact number unclear)
Number of Readers - 20 to 30 (estimate based on feedback & page views)
Countries - US, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, & Slovenia

While pondering the next topic to write about, I asked myself: how should this blog develop? Either I could stay focused on a few topics or write about every tangent I think about! In some ways, I believe its quality versus quantity. My opinion is that a more focused blog with quality posts has a deeper influence. For now I’ll stick to this path and in the future will add other topics. My plan is to write around 4-8 posts per month.

Apart from this, I’m thinking of ways to get readers involved in the development of this blog. Would be greatly appreciated to receive honest opinions on what should be improved or changed. Maybe this is only possible if the identity of the person is kept anonymous? Will look into adding an online suggestion box to test this out.
On a similar train of thought, I was toying with the idea of letting readers vote on what the next topic should be! Here you can vote to choose the next blog topics: Blog Poll. Feel free to write ideas to be voted on for future polls.
Last, but not least, I’d like a better name for the blog. It should be something that describes the topics well and be easily found on Google. A search for the blog name should only return a few thousand hits, if possible. 

What would be incredible is getting all the readers in the same room and having a discussion! Since most of the readers are spread across the globe this isn’t possible. In the near future, I think a brainstorm via group video chat would be great. Let me know if you’d be interested in this!
In the future, I’m imagining a merge between a forum and group chat. Or perhaps create something new entirely! I think ideal would be if different platforms were made optimized for brainstorming and problem solving. Below is a concept I have for a brainstorming platform that’s a mix between a group chat centered on an ideas list that’s voted on by the present members. The central piece could alternatively be a shared whiteboard.



Looking forward to your remarks, comments, queries, and more!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SΩ3 - Cultural Tales

My first posts have been filled with some rather thought provoking material. I figured it’s time to change it up a bit. As promised, my blog will also provide insight into other cultures. To start off, I figured I’d share some playful anecdotes from my experiences thus far with other cultures! If I made any blatant errors regarding my understanding of any of the cultures mentioned, please let me know!

She Kissed Me
When I returned to Zürich in 2011, I was certain I’d fit right in. It was my city of birth, my parents were both Swiss, and I was fluent in Schwiizerdütsch (Swiss German). I quickly realized my homeland was foreign to me!
Other Swiss found it difficult to pinpoint my origin and I was once asked if I was Norwegian!? Most Swiss know various regional dialects. Mine was a bizarre mixture from Zurich, Luzern, NYC English, and some standard German.
The language aside, I had trouble adapting to the various cultural norms and the countless Swiss rules. On the plus side I had inherited the Swiss tendency to be honest, organized, and direct. Great, maybe I am Swiss after all!?
There was one norm that took a while to get used to. This first caught me off guard while I was helping my roommates move. Two of their female friends arrived to help us move. One of them was exceptionally pretty. As I greeted both with a smile the pretty one kissed me! Not just once, but three times on the cheek! That’s right, in Europe it’s fairly common to greet with kisses. In Switzerland it’s typically three, in Spain it’s two. In Swiss culture, it’s usually more common to kiss people one is familiar with. Always amusing to extend a hand and instead get three kisses!

Lunch for Dinner
A few months upon arriving to Barcelona, I decided to try a work exchange. A family in the suburbs of Barcelona was looking for an English tutor for their two children. In exchange I would have my own room and free meals. Being such a tasty offer, I decided to take the Catalan plunge.
It turned out to be a two-month cultural ride. On a daily basis I received tidbits about Catalan culture, traditions and language. For example that Barcelona is in Cataluña, which is trying to gain independence from Spain. A rather overwhelming experience to be with a family so passionate about a conflict, I have limited understanding of. I was clearly out of touch with the culture I had immersed myself in.
One day I decided to show my gratitude and cook dinner for the family. Being Swiss, I naturally decided to make Tortellini with Bolognese sauce. Yes that’s right, my forte is Italian cooking! Well I’ll save the culinary post for next time, back to the story!
At around 9:00pm dinner was ready to be eaten. I made enough to feed all five of us: a full pot of tortellini and a large brimming pan of Bolognese sauce! Like a good cook, I served everyone with a gracious serving. They ate with gusto and I got ready to serve seconds. As the family was halfway done they came to a halt. Almost in unison they said to me “This is too much!” That day I learned in Spain and Cataluña they typically have 5 meals per day. Most, including dinner are fairly small and lunch is the biggest meal. I had served them lunch for dinner!

Package of the Forgotten
My first taste of Asia was a sweet one. In the summer of 2012, I finally got the chance to visit Japan. This had always been a dream location of mine. As a child I got hooked on anime and manga. Especially fascinating were the movies created by Hayao Miyazaki. I also enjoyed sushi and was intrigued by the elegant architecture of Japanese shrines and temples. Could Japan meet my expectations?

To be continued...

SΩ2 - The Pursuit of Curiosity

Born to be Curious
My childhood was driven by curiosity. I was especially intrigued by mechanical and electronic gadgets, of all shapes and sizes. Besides that, I had a deep fondness towards nature and understanding how ‘the world’ worked. As a child I had two dream jobs: detective and inventor.
At some point I discovered to become a detective, it was required to be a police officer for many years. For some unknown reason, this was a deal breaker… I didn’t want to be a cop! Nevertheless I was content exploring the world around me. Being a decent student it became clear that university was on my horizon. Yet I was a dismayed when I couldn’t find a university that offered an “inventor degree”. Thus, I decided to embark on a journey into the world of electrical engineering.
During my university studies, every minute felt like a dream! The knowledge gained, the experiences made, and people I befriended were exceptional. Yet, we all have to wake up eventually. After a year in the industry and another pursuing a Masters program I came to the realization – my curious nature needed more.
For me an inventor has the freedom to let his/her mind wander. An engineer on the other hand focuses on a specific problem or field of expertise.  Thus, I continue to search for the inventor’s path.

The Age of Inventors
Upon further reflection, I ask myself, how have inventors changed over time? Originally, inventors helped to ensure human survival. Once humans could survive the elements, inventors focused on improving all other facets of life. Around the 19th century many inventors focused on bringing humans closer together via new forms of transportation and communication.
This was the time of my idol, Nikola Tesla. In 1887 he designed the induction motor that gave birth to alternating current (AC). AC power allowed electricity to become a global commodity. Then in 1889 he invented the first remote-controlled boat, which led to the invention of radio.  Fourteen years after, in 1903, the Wright brothers had their first test flight. In less than 20 years, at least 3 inventions came to be, 2 of which were from Tesla!


Reading Tesla’s autobiography it was clear that for the most part his curiosity was free. He spent most of his time in his lab and resulting in hundreds of patents. However, he had trouble working for corporations and supposedly died penniless. A man truly devoted to his inventions!
Humanity had taken off to the skies and was looking for new limits to surpass. At the turn of the century American commercialism spread globally like wild fire. I believe due to this, companies started tightening the filter on new products they introduced to the market. They wanted to ensure the products were profitable. Most likely this caused companies to use teams of engineers, instead of searching for the right inventor, to create products. How could the inventor’s curious minded nature survive in this profit thirsty world?

Progress with Curiosity
I believe the curiosity to invent must be reborn. Currently, the progress of technology is primarily dictated by the readiness of the market. The personal computer (PC) and mobile industry are prime examples of this. Each year PCs and mobile phones become faster, thinner, and shinier. Besides these improvements, how significant are the changes? Nevertheless, the updates are just enough that consumers flock to buy the newest PC or mobile device. Does this consumer driven system truly promote technological progress?
Yet there are some sparks of curiosity remaining… There has been a steady increase in open-source software development. Another fascinating development is the use of 3D printers, which allow individuals to easily make prototypes and other creations. Finally, the introduction of crowd funding websites has opened the doors to inventors globally. These are definitely steps in the right direction and hopefully ones that will lead to future inventions.

What would be truly inspirational is the development of a system to create an inventors co-working space. People with the curiosity to invent should be allowed to do so. Yet if employed by a company, these people are restricted by the constraints of products the company deems profitable. Perhaps a co-working space could exist that provides housing, common amenities and a base salary. The base salary would remain constant, with a bonus split among the inventors for successful inventions. The inventors would be free to invent solo or together. The inventions created, would be offered externally to interested buyers. One concern with this system, would it be enough to keep inventors motivated? Perhaps external projects could also be commissioned in house. Also, would the system still require restrictions to ensure suitable inventions? A suitable invention would be one that creates a positive progress to society.

I’m certain we all want our society to progress forward. To achieve that, there are many ways and ideas of how to do so. My opinion is to reshape the monetary system to sponsor technological progress and keep it from being the primary motivator. Let Society Ω be fueled by our natural curiosity and allow this to motivate our inventions!