28 March 2013

Welcome Tourists?

A recent survey by the World Economic Forum asked people in 140 countries this question:
How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?

According to the World Forum Economic survey, the most welcoming countries are Iceland, New Zealand, and Morocco.  The same survey identified Bolivia, Venezuela, and Russia as the least welcoming.

More details on the survey are here and here.

27 December 2012

What's Wrong with This Picture? Part III

Americans are generally oblivious to foreign exchange rate fluctuations.  This is because the US dollar is one of the (used to the "the only") de facto international currencies.

In countries where this his not the case, like Russia, foreign exchange rates are widely publicized to the public.  After all, whether you are 5% richer or poorer on any given day compared to your neighbor in the adjacent country, while meaningless, does much for nationalistic feelings (and, if you are smart, for solid macroeconomic policy making).

I snapped this picture in a bank lobby two days ago:

The first digitized column is the bank's buying rate; the second is the bank's offer rate.  Notice that the offer rate is higher - as it should be - for the euro, Australian dollar, and British pound.  However, not only it is lower for the US dollar, it is much lower.

If these buy/sell rates were true, someone with a $100 could become a $11 billion+ man in just after 36 roundtrip trades.  After all, he would be selling high and buying low.  And, in the age of rapid on-line transactions, these trades would take less than 1 second.

The moral of the story is that in Russia, as many government officials have clued in, it is possible to make big money fast with just a few trades and as many slights of hands.

26 December 2012

What is 50 Grams to You?

50 grams, to most people around the world, is a weight measure.  In Russia, it is a volume measure:  Specifically, it measures a shot of vodka.

I was given a test recently and failed miserably.  I was asked "what is 20 times 50 grams?"  I quickly responded "1 kg."  My inquisitor told me that I failed miserably and definitely do not qualify to be a Russian after having lived here for three years.  You see, most Russian men would respond "1 liter," as in 1 liter of vodka.

See my blog:  Live Fast and Die Young: Alcohol, Tobacco, Heroin.  No more comments needed.

24 December 2012

Frozen Inside and Out

It's cold in Moscow:  -23 C or -10 F.  This is a picture of my front door, from the warm and toasty interior where the ambient temperature is 24 C or 75 F.

Where there is a slight perforation allowing a sliver of air to seep in, we have a nice chunk of frozen precipitation (see the white stuff).  

29 September 2012

Cultural Clash: To Compliment vs. To Desire

It was three years ago when I arrived to Moscow.  It did not take long to realize that relationship between men and women were radically different here than back home.  It took me a while to get used to the differences.  But, I became so used to them that I forgot about where I had come from.

In the US, there is a heightened sensitivity to a man's compliments of a woman.  Compliments often are taken as coded desire signals.  "You look beautiful today" can be construed as "I like you.  Can we go to bed?"  The same compliment in Russia is seen just as that:  a nice statement intended to be appreciated by the recipient.

A few weeks ago I was in the US and meeting with a good friend.  It has been a while, so there was much to catch up on.  At one point, and apropos to the conversation, I remarked to my friend that she was "beautiful."  She then asked:  "Are you hitting on me?"  I stated that I was not, and reiterated my negation for her reassurance.  Then I realized that I was back in the US and had to remind myself of the gender relation rules.

Back in Moscow, I was having lunch with a male colleague.  A female colleague walked up to us to discuss a business matter.  Once the conversation was over, I looked over to my male colleague and indicated that I wanted to conduct an experiment.  After that point, I turned to our female colleague and said:  "You are a very nice, beautiful woman."  She, flattered, said thank you and smiled.  I then explained how the same interaction would be interpreted in the US.

More recently, I was attending a multi-national wedding in Asia where I struck up a delightful conversation with an Israeli woman about various topics.  When it came to say goodbye, I decided to test the can-be-interpreted-as-a-come-on-in-America statement to the lady.  After saying goodbye, I told her that she as a "nice, beautiful woman."  Flattered, the lady appreciated the comment and left the party.

There it is:  There is just something strange about how men's compliments to women are interpreted in the US.  There is a difference between complimenting and desiring, but that difference seems to be lost in the milieu of the American culture.  This is somewhat sad.

16 September 2012

The NFL, and Russia

I like American football (NFL).  It is a complex and rich sport.  The 2012 season has barely started, this Sunday marking this second of seventeen weeks.  Dynasties - team empires - are in the process of being made and dismantled every week of this football season.

Joe Montana and the San Francisco Forty-Niners:  An Empire Eventually Lost

 Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers:  An Empire In the Making

To the uninitiated, the American football game looks like bunch of big, fat, armored men colliding into each other at full speed while some egg-shaped object moves around the field in strange increments.  In fact, it is a microcosm of a military battle being played on the field, where strength, agility, precision, strategy, and tactics come together time and again over a one hour (play time) period to determine a winner.  Extrapolate this over a season, and the team coach is a general commanding an army to win most battles and, ultimately, the war in the Super Bowl.  Luck plays a part, but luck favors the prepared:  those who have the more potent combination of strength, agility, precision, strategy, and tactics.  Over a multi-season timespan, how dynasties (winning football teams) maintain their edge or lose is akin to how empires are born and eventually dismantled.  It many ways, football has analogs the arc of human history being played out in the sports arena.

Like human history, football has its ugly underbelly:  In pursuit of speed, mass, agility, and durability, players sacrifice themselves in search of glory.  Week after week their bodies are pounded and abused.  Some of those abuses come on the game day on the field; much of the affliction is inflected off the field through voracious diets and what is drug abuse:  Asides from the constant medication needed to mask over injury symptoms, players rely on performance enhancement drugs  to keep themselves worthy of a cut-throat league where only the best of the best play.

The end result, according to a 1994 study of 7,000 former players, is an average lifespan of 55 years while the average american male lives over 75 years.  In other words, the average NFL player lives one generation shorter than the average American.   This is an American human tragedy:  A few men, in search of glory, shorten their productive lives by a generation.

This being said, my current surroundings - Russia - forces me to ask the following question:  Why is a country, potentially as developed and advanced as the one that I am living in now, only affords a 64-year lifespan to its men?

Could it be that half of the men in Russia are NFL players?  Are there empires being won and lost?  Or are there other significant life abuses that sap the productive life of the Russian man out of him, at least 10 years before his time?

28 August 2012

Taking a Seat on His Wide Cushy

The decorator at this higher-end restaurant seems to have had a sense of humor - or poor judgment - when choosing seat cushions.

Sitting On My Wide Cushy