Smile More!

At least in Europe, Americans have the reputation of being very nice and friendly when you meet them, in stores, or at restaurants etc. Whenever a European has been on vacation in the U.S., he or she always comes back amazed over how nice people were and how good service they got in various establishments. It is probably true more often than not (and it certainly was my experience in California), but not in Washington DC. There are obviously exceptions, but many times, people can’t even bother to say hello when I am  in a store or a cafe, not to mention smile a little. (And yes, I always say hi of course.) And when I first arrived here, I often felt degraded by the the fact that people looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the city when asking them something. I am not really sure why this is, because while I have now only referred to people that I meet in their professional roles, it is more or less the same when I meet new people in private, at my dance studio, or at a bar, etc. In fact, few of my neighbors say hello to me before I do when I meet them, and they normally try to avoid eye contact. I have of course met a lot of very nice people here too, but there is a notable difference from other places where I have lived. Only tonight, I got quite a nasty reply from a lady who worked in the metro, when I asked if there was a time table for the trains (given that I had to wait for 20 min last week). When I came back down in the metro again after my dance class, I heard her telling off her colleague who was sweeping the floors in the metro entrance. Not exactly spreading the love!

Right now, I am reading The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci and thought it might not be the most well written book, I think it is an important topic. Kindness is too often an undervalued quality in a person. Yet, who is more pleasant to be with: someone kind and considerate, or someone arrogant and self absorbed? I also believe in spreading happiness through kindness. If someone gives me a smile and some kind words in the morning, I get in a good mood and tend to smile and say something nice to the next person that I meet.  So my next mission is to try to convert DC into a more smiling and friendly city. Wish me luck!


During my week in (F.Y.R) Macedonia, the most interesting event was probably a meeting with a group of farmers, which we arranged to get a better understanding of the main obstacles for small scale commercial farmers in one of the regions. These farmers were very small in terms of the size of their farms. This means that they cultivated less than one to a few hectares of land, even for cereal production, and that they most of them owned no more than 10 cattle or 20 pigs. A few of them even rented their land. The majority of the farmers that attended the meeting were older men but there were a couple of women and a few younger farmers there. As for most small-scale farmers that I have worked with, what it all boiled down to was the difficulty in accessing higher-value markets and getting paid enough for their produce to have an incentive to invest more and to move out of poverty. When discussing the problems with markets and prices, one farmer suggested that the international organizations could buy food products from them for humanitarian aid for people in need around the world. A chorus of voices agreed with him and told us that if it was for aid for places like Africa (i.e. the Horn of Africa), they would give the aid organizations a good price. What really moved me though was one farmer who said that that if it was for Africa, he would give his produce for free. I hope to always remember that farmer and that some people are generous regardless of how little they have.

The Value of Nothing

So I am almost through the first of the four books that I bought last week, and I can really recommend this one! The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel gives a good introduction to basic economics and explains why free markets in the way that neoclassicists (and in particular neoliberal politicians and corporate interests) tend to refer to them are neither very Smithian (i.e. in line with Adam Smith’s ideas), nor very free. And certainly not optimal from an economic point of view. Here is a video teaser for the book that hopefully will inspire you to read it:

That 1 Billion People is Hungry Around the World is NOT OK!!

Post the food and financial crises, 1 billion individuals now go hungry around the world. This can be compared with around 850 million when I worked at FAO four years ago. FAO has initiated a petition to show politicians that none of us is OK with this. So I encourage everyone to sign the petition. Either you it directly through FAO’s website or you can do it through my signing tree linked here. And for those of you who wonder if there is enough food in the world, I can assure you that there is more than enough to feed us all.
If you want to see what my former colleagues at FAO did to launch this project in Rome, check out this link to another youtube clip. 

Cultural Differences

When I was in Moldova, I got into the habit of turning out the light whenever I left a room. All my colleagues did the same in the office and my friends did it at home. Now, when I was back last week, I saw that the office had put up small reminders to switch off the light also in the kitchen and in the visitors’ room. Here in Rumania, the light is off in the restrooms in the office, also outside by the sinks and the mirrors, and I make sure I turn everything off as I leave.

In my apartment in the U.S., my fridge is placed right in front of the light switch and in order to reach it, the fridge has to be pulled out a bit from the wall. When I moved in, the guy who showed me the apartment said that if it was his place, he would just leave the light on all the time. And right before I left, I got a note from my apartment manager asking everyone to keep the water-heated radiators on at all time, in order to not interrupt the system. Since keeping the radiators on for more than a few hours per week turns the apartment into a sauna, I think that the only way to keep the apartment at a tolerable temperature would have been to open the window to cool down the place. Fortunately I went abroad for a month, so I never had to ask.

The International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is an important day here in Easter Europe, and it is even a public holiday in the former Soviet Union. It is however celebrated somewhat differently from in for example Sweden. Instead of dedicating the day to discussing issues related to women, gender roles, gender discrimination, etc, it is more of a day of celebrating the female. It is kind of like mother’s day in many countries, but for all women. Women are celebrated, given flowers, and taken out for dinner by their lovers and male relatives. I am currently in Rumania and here, my colleague told me, it is also common that women have girls’ night out on March 8. Almost Moldovan Lars wrote on his blog that he had asked Moldovans why there in Moldova is not more debate around women’s issues on the International Women’s Day, and people looked at him as if he was crazy. Why would anyone want to ruin such a nice day with such a depressing topic??

I got a flower yesterday in the lunch cantina

An attractive topic or not, women are still, in 2010, depressingly discriminated around the world. And even though we have achieved a lot in many Western countries (Sweden not the least), there are still embarrassing inequalities and boys and girls are still coming into this world with different opportunities, regardless of personalities, talent, and interests. Not to mention the injustices in other parts of the world. I have to say that even the media reporting yesterday (was watching both BBC and CNN) was a quite lame. This widespread, systematic discrimination was just a parenthesis in the news and I maintain what I have written earlier: as long as Human Rights are only meant for 50% of the world’s population, and the other 50% are given something called Women’s Rights, conditioned on cultural and religious inheritance (which needs to be respected by any P.C. Minister of Foreign Affairs or international civil servant), the rights of this other 50% will always be a marginalized issue. It is sometimes difficult to believe that we are not a minority. But we are not – we are 50% of the world! So I continue to strive for true gender equality, though I often think of how grateful I am for the fact that I was born in a country like Sweden and am doing my career now and not 40 years ago. I was watching Mad Men yesterday and it is a bit of a reality check. Having had to live in different circumstances would for me with my personality have been completely insufferable. I feel so with all the women around the world who are trapped in circumstances that prevent them from being themselves. I hope that in a distant future, this differentiation between genders will be a parenthesis.

Unfortunately, clips from Mad Men cannot be embedded from YouTube, but here are two funny links:


Buy a Bottle – Save the World!?

I am not sure if this phenomenon exists in Europe, but here in the US, a number of “socially responsible” brands have popped up lately. With every bottle of water that you buy, you support the provision of clean drinking water to people around the world. Starbucks sold Etho’s Water (natural spring water) claims they help children get access to clean water, and One Water helps build water pumps in playground format throughout Africa. Without having done any type of research, I am convinced that you do more good by drinking tap water instead of buying that bottle that drains water sources, distorts balances in natural habitats,  consumes non-renewable resources through processing, bottling, transport, and waste management, contributing to global warming and ultimately diminishing water resources in large parts of the world. So if you really want to secure clean water for people across the world, stick to tap water. And if you do not like the taste or if it contains chemicals, use a filter!

                          Blog July 2009 001

         I got this bottle at a lecture. Should probably have left it there…

The End of the Line

Now and then, we are invited to documentaries that are shown during lunch hour in one of the World Bank’s auditoriums, and so also this week. The film that was shown was called The End of the Line; a documentary about the out-fishing of our seas and oceans. It had had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was very well-made, though I did not think it gave enough answers about urgent measures that can be taken by us consumers to help prevent a potential environmental disaster. According to the movie, today’s fish stock is down to about 10-20% of what it was in the 1950s, and with the volumes that we fish today, they estimate that there will be NO fish in the oceans by 2050. So it is all happening in our lifetime. I really recommend everyone to see it and can only hope that everyone takes this seriously, because we are the ones that have to do something about it.

The Swedish – Bosnian-Herzegovinian Connection

Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sarajevo was especially interesting for me because of all the people from there that lives in Sweden since the war. I have met so many “Bosnian-Swedes”, both in and outside of Sweden since the mid 1990s. Just before I leaving for the Balkans, I was contacted by a Swedish girl with a Balkan-sounding name who wanted to some development-career advice, and when we met up in DC, it turned out that she originally was from Bosnia and Herzegovina. And during the week I spent in the country, almost everyone I met has either had relatives or friends in Sweden, and many of them had been there. While waiting for my flight to Skopje at the Sarajevo international airport, which is in the size of having six check-in counters in the departure hall, they announced that the flight to Stockholm was departing. So there must be some traffic between the countries. (Croatian Airlines is also opening a direct flight to Gothenburg soon.)

Not all went to Sweden though. On my flight to Skopje, I sat next to a Bosnian-Macedonian couple, their two sons and one of the son’s American girlfriend. They now lived in LA and were on their way home for the first time in 17 years. They had not seen their parents and grand-parents since and the husband’s father had died in the meantime. (Their youngest son had been four at the time when they left.) So they were very excited but also emotional. I cannot even begin to imagine how they must have felt an hour later when they were finally reunited with their family.