Extreme live action role playing

Live Action Role PlayingLARPing for short has been gaining popularity around the world. This previously “cult” activity entered the U.S. mainstream culture when it was featured in the 2008 comedy “Role Models.”

In most versions of the game, people get together and dress up according to a fictional world and fight each other with foam or plastic weapons called boffers. Players adopt a character and always interact with each other in character while following a certain set of rules.

Russians has recently taken LARPing to a whole new level. This Russian blog post by StarTM (translated into English here) describes a LARP gathering based on the post-apocalyptic video game FallOut. Over 300 people wearing authentic costumes participated in this three day affair, battling it out in an abandoned silo base near St. Petersburg.

The organizers even put together a technical support group, rescue teams and medics. In addition to the costumes, the players modified airsoft guns to look like the original, put together a bar, and also set up a real-time radio station.

StarTM describes the allure of LARPing:

Just forget your name and for a few days live another man’s life in a new world of live-action roleplay game with it dangers and thrills.

Almost all the comments to the StarTM’s blog post have been positive. I wonder if that indicates that LARPing is more accepted in Russia. In the U.S., unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with it (just read its entry on UrbanDictionary) and English re-posts of the pictures inevitably garnered many comments making fun of the players.

However, some, such as this blogger, were impressed by the effort by the Russian LARPers and started to see LARPing in a different light.

Well, if your LARP-fest included Brotherhood of Steel members wielding gigantic mini-guns, you might not be so skeptical (I certainly wouldn’t be).

I’ve never paid much attention to games in general, but after seeing this it makes me want to play as well. It’s kind of like being part of an improvised movie.

What I find strange is I rarely hear people talking this much trash about people who spend time playing video games at home. I think LARPing is definitely a more exciting and healthier alternative!

Pipi Problem in France

You will find many wonderful things in the streets of Paris or any major French city. There are outdoor markets, cozy cafés, and bicycles or mopeds zooming by. However, many people have discovered something extra splattered on the streets that diminishes charm from these romantic rues. Despite the 400-plus public restrooms and numerous other options available in Paris, Frenchmen still choose to unzip illegally. Making urine sauvage, or “wild urine”, is a risk that can cost around $650 for one violation.  In a recent post titled Euro-pee’in, Jon Cecero discussed some clever Dutch solutions for the public urination problem. Public urination is an issue everywhere but the French peeing problem has reason to be emphasized.

3 Frenchmen stop to relieve themselves on the Autoroute (captured by Google Street View)

Three Frenchmen unzip on the side of the Autoroute in France (captured by Google Street Views) Smile! You're on candid camera!

Public urination in France is more than just a problem. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s convenient. It’s a true test of friendship for partners in crime. Urinating in the street has been added to the Ô Chateau-Parisian Wine Tasting blog, “Stuff Parisian People Like“.

In 2007, the Mayor of Paris was, quite literally, pissed off at the situation and its stench. The Brigade des Incivilités, or “bad behavior brigade” has been sent to fight the war on public urination in Paris. The number of fines they distributed for public urination have drastically increased over the past 3 years. In addition to the brigade, the new mur anti-pipi, “anti-pee wall” has potty trained some violators. This is a horizontally jagged metal wall that ejects the urine back onto the peeing offender. The problem: the offender may continue to urinate publicly, but will avoid the trick walls. A French blogger suggests the new Axix. This Mexican invention will not end public urination but will help preserve buildings and contain the unwanted. What will it take to end the war on public urination? Where else is this a problem and what is being done?

The Following Is Not a Test.

You know how it goes. You’re watching your favorite program and bam it happens: a commercial that seems harmless comes on. Then you find yourself singing the product jingle in the shower, on the bus, or at work. It’s there to stay!  In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken extensive measures to prevent this problem for French viewers:

As of Jan. 5, after 8:00 p.m. there are now no commercials on public television in France and commercials will be phased out entirely by the year 2011.


According to www.guardian.co.uk, Sarkozy introduced the ban idea to public stations, Television France 2 and France 3, in 2008 in an attempt to improve the quality of public television and compete with the BBC model. According to online.wsj.com, the loss in advertisements would be made up in a balancing scale, rearranging taxes for others:

The government has pledged to make up the resulting budget shortfall — which it estimates at €450 million in 2009 — with a new tax on Internet-service providers and mobile-phone operators, plus a levy on the ad revenues of private TV channels

However, some critics think Sarkozy is less concerned about upping quality of France’s public television and more about upping the money in the pocket of his friend Martin Bouygues owner of private channel, Television France 1:

…the only sector to benefit from the advertising ban would be private stations like France’s most watched TV channel TF1, which would face less competition for advertising revenue.

Not only will Sarkozy be controlling the advertisements on France television, he will also be controlling the content. After approval from The National Assembly, the head of France Television will no longer be selected by an independent party, but will instead be the choice of Sarkozy.

Responses from the media included strikes,  the possibility of television as political propaganda, and a book analyzing the mass effects of Sarkozy’s move with French television.

Sarkozy had this to say of his reasoning in a February of last year:

If we keep commercials we are subjecting ourselves to the tyranny of audience ratings. And this always means the worst programming dumbed down to lowest levels.


Almost two years later as Sarkozy’s plan starts to come into action in French programming, with no effective rebuttals, one has to look at the validity of his efforts. How far is too far? Should his son make it into office, would he agree with the policies? Does Sarkozy’s plan take away the people’s voice?

Would this work in America?

Adolf Hitler was a soccer coach?

hitler-livesSometimes you have to wonder how it is that people manage to twist around common knowledge that is written in every history textbook and turn it into something ridiculous. Is the educational system at fault?

Recently, a survey was given to 2,000 students in England and the results were shocking. Every 20th student was convinced that Nazi-leader Adolf Hitler was a German soccer coach. Even worse, the same amount of students believed that the Holocaust was a celebration that was held because of the end WWII. Every sixth student was sure that the Concentration Camp in Auschwitz was an Amusement Park and some believed that “Blitz”(air strikes on London) was some sort of clean up attempt after the war was over.

The survey was made shortly before British Rememberance Day, a day in honor of the fallen soldiers of both WWI and WWII. The results were shocking. Not only did 40 percent of the students have the slightest idea what Remembrance day even is; one-fourth of them admitted that they could care less about the soldiers who fought in the World Wars.

ronald_mcdonald_jumping1The only positive thing that came out of the survey was that 70 percent of students admitted that they would like to learn more about the World Wars.

A similar study was conducted in the US in the documentary film Super Size Me. The film attacked corporate America and the way it advertises their items and ideas for kids. The results showed that kids could easily recognize the face of Ronald McDonald. Yet they struggled to realize that the guy in the picture in front of them was Jesus Christ.

According to the PISA 2000 study , the knowledge and skills of German students were consistently below the performance of US students that year. There is some controversy going on about PISA, but it is still a good indicator on how countries are performing academically (US scored around the international average). It is intriguing how the youth of a country that scored so well in the PISA study struggles with common knowledge. It is also puzzling how a country with an educational system that has a reputation of being the oldest and best, scored below the international average. Is the education system in the US flawed or inferior to the German version of it?

There are huge differences between both educational systems. High School education consists of all students attending the same school till they are off to college. Germany has tried this and called it “Gesamtschule.” However, many Germans were opposed to them because they believed it to be too socialistic. That point of view disregards the fact that the quality of high school education depends on the area it is located and whether it is public or private.


Gymnasium in Germany

The traditional German school system divides students at age 10 (after 4th grade) into three groups. Only one of those schools, the Gymnasium, leads to University provided you make it through school and receive the Abitur. The decision on what school you are assigned to, is based on your performance. It is possible to switch over to the Gymnasium in later years, however it is very difficult and rare. On the other hand, getting kicked out of the Gymnasium or repeating a grade is very common. All it takes is one 6 or two 5’s (6 = F; 5 = D) and you have to repeat an entire school year. If at some point in your school career you mess up like that again, you are officially out of the Gymnasium.

There are a lot more possibilities of points at US high schools. Even if you perform poorly at an exam you can still make it up with quizzes and homework. German schools will not give that opportunity and the main focus of students are the exams.

US students have a lot more vacation time than German students. Then again, German school days are usually over by 1 pm, while US school days last until 3 or 4 p.m.

US high schools are perceived to be easy, but it all depends on the student. If they were to take only AP (advanced placement) classes, it might prove to be a lot more challenging than a student taking only regular classes.

It is hard to tell which educational system is superior and they each have their pros and cons. However, this does not make the survey results or the Super Size Me documentary any less shocking.

McDonald’s turns green in Germany


Out with the ketchup-red. By 2010, all new McDonald’s restaurants in Germany will have its “golden arches” emblazoned on a hunter green background instead.

The reason? McDonald’s Germany wants to reposition the restaurant as a bastion of environmental friendliness, Der Spiegel reported.

“Simplicity and a focus on the essentials is the new design philosophy,” Holger Beeck, deputy head of McDonald’s in Germany, was quoted in the report.  All 40 new restaurants set to open in 2010 will adhere to the new design sensibilities. In addition, the façade of the new restaurants will include natural stone and wood. By the end of the year, more than 100 McDonald’s restaurants will be outfitted with the new design style.

“With the new appearance, we want to clarify our responsibility and relationship with natural resources,” Beeck said.

It’s a big move for one of the world’s most recognizable logo. So much so that some in the Twitter community thought it was a joke. A tweet from Twittizen23 wrote: “Erst greenwashing, jetzt greenlabeling?” Signs of green have already started appearing at its 1.4 million euro (US$2.1 million) flagship store at the Munich airport that recently opened. Some of their commercials have already started to spot the green logo too.

McDonald’s is “trying hard to distance itself from the competition (think Burger King) based on the theme of sustainability, and it fits with the recent developments in the market,” a German marketing blog wrote. Most Germans still associate McDonald’s with obesity and litter, according to Der Spiegel. A greener color can probably help change its image, the article suggested.

mcdonalds-koelnDesign-conscious Germans agree, with some calling it a “bold” move. Others begged to differ. One commentator on a German  design blog said it was a bad call and might cause the brand to lose its unique identity it’s built up over the years. Another said if the yellow and red was a reflection of its food (think fries, buns and ketchup), then the deep green in its logo made it look like it makes bad salads.

“Im Photo mit Kai erinnert mich das Gruen ein bisschen an das Gruen was sie in FIlmen wie Platoon benuetzen oder an schlecht gewordenem Salat… aber irgendwie nicht an was gesundem, ” commented Sascha.

The move didn’t quite resonate with an environmentally-conscious German blogger though. Suggesting that McDonald’s was being hypocritical about going “green”, he said the company should have done more to reduce its product packaging. “When I was with my wife and my 2 sons to eat there, this produces more packaging waste as regulated 3 days eating at home,” he wrote in German.

Not everyone agrees. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace, which has heavily criticized McDonald’s (and practically everyone else) for its food processing methods, lauded the logo change. McDonald’s has to be given some credit for trying to be more environmentally friendly, though much of what it has done to go green has taken place in the US. Last year, they opened their first “green restaurant” (in Chicago) for a new pilot program on green building and received the Gold LEED rating. In one location in North Carolina (opened last month), it has actually installed a charging station for electric vehicles.

This is not the first time McDonald’s in Germany has gone out of the way to align itself environmentally with folks of Germany, one of the world’s greenest countries and McDonald’s third largest market, behind the US and Japan. In March last year, the company went to the extent of redesigning the lids of its McFlurry ice cream lids to save German hedgehogs.

Do you think going the green way will cause McDonald’s competitors to turn green with envy? Or is going eco-friendly a moral obligation it has to fulfill? And if so, is the fast food chain doing enough?

Why There Will Never Be a Female Lance Armstrong

For most people, watching men ride bicycles at a ferocious speed in Le Tour de France is not very interesting…that is, unless someone crashes or Lance Armstrong is involved. But even then, are  bloody knees, Lance’s “Live Strong” bracelets and svelt form enough to keep your attention for the entire race?

As hard as it is to get into France’s lauded Tour de France, imagine how much more difficult it is for women cyclists and their event, “La Grande Boucle Féminine” or the “Tour de France Féminine.”

The winner of 2009's La Grande Boucle Feminine, Emma Pooley of the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of vannevar.blogspot.com
The winner of 2009’s La Grande Boucle Féminine, Emma Pooley of the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of vannevar.blogspot.com

Unfortunately, most women don’t partake in Le Tour de France, and many blame that on the fact that women have less strength and body mass needed to excel in the race. But physiologistssay that doesn’t make sense because women have much better endurance than men, so they would be better at holding up in long races such as the Le Tour de France. Some men even object to women being included in the races due to…well, unavoidable “arousal.” During the 2006 race where Flora Eloise Hobble won the “Mayo Journe” part of the race, a male competitor by the name of Jan Ullrich put in his two cents about women riders being an “unnecessary” distraction…and it was a little too much information:

“I haven’t seen my girlfriend for over two months,” he said to Associated Content.  “And if you think it’s easy hiding your feelings in these skimpy, skin-tight cycling shorts, you’d better think again.”

To have an even playing field, women cyclists participate in the “Grand Boucle,” but chances are, you don’t know this race has been around since 1984. You probably know nothing about it at all, really. Why? The marketing for the “Grand Boucle” is tres terrible! But it might not just be the PR team that needs to be reprimanded. Sadly, most women’s sports don’t get the same attention as men’s sports. Many women don’t even watch women’s sports. Not unless a woman is taking cheap shots at another player, threatening an official or ripping her shirt off after a goal. So yes, although the “Grand Boucle” is touted as the most grueling cyclist race for women, it is not promoted at the same level that Le Tour de France is. When asked why the female cyclists in the event are barely known, Nicole Cook, winner of the 2006 and 2007 race told The Observer Sports Monthly plain and simple: the sport is sexist. Duh. But let’s hope things won’t be like this for all women’s sports years from now.

Women bike down a road during the 2009 Tour de France Feminine. Photo courtesy of justinsomnia.org
Women bike down a road during the 2009 Tour de France Féminine. Photo courtesy of justinsomnia.org

France’s Workout Plan

Just before writing this post, I was driving in my car and Lo! – a radio advertisement about a new and practically pain-free way to shed unwanted pounds pulsed through the speakers. A woman’s voice repeatedly said something along the lines of, “Call 1-800-588-SLIM today to get the body you’ve always wanted!”

Image courtesy of dreamstime.com

Image courtesy of dreamstime.com

After a silent laugh, I wondered if you’d hear an advertisement like this while driving through French cities and towns. My intuitive answer? Probably not. “Probably” being the key word…

Anywho… whether it’s diets, diet books, diet pills, protein shakes, exercise regiments, personal trainers or the like, Americans seem to have an obsession with fitness in a way that is foreign to the French.

In an article on FindArticles.com the author writes, “The French don’t need to don lycra bike shorts or join a gym — exercise is a way of life. And because it is, it seems they can pass the beurre (butter) and secretly laugh at our American obsession.”

(Note: This “obsession” probably has something to do with the popularity of Barbie, GI Joe, Michelle Obama’s arms, and the $33 billion Americans spend every year on diet books.)

So, what seems to be different about the French fitness attitude?

Some call the secret to the naturally healthy French way of life the French Paradox – an idea comprised of about four key cultural differences from the American way of life: a varied diet, portion control, red wine consumption and daily exercise (i.e. riding a bike or walking instead of driving – but no gym)

In a Salon.com article, Claude Fischler, a nutritional sociologist at INSERM (the French equivalent of America’s National Institutes of Health) says some of the paradox is myth. Nonetheless, he says the French eat “Comme il faut”“As it should be.” He adds that unlike American women, French women eat exactly what they want and don’t spend hours at the gym trying to get in or stay in shape.

However, from one French blog I came across, this American diet/fitness obsession seems to be infiltrating the non-chalante attitude of the French…

Valerie Orsoni, French fitness guru, CEO and Founder of MyPrivateCoach.com and LeBootCamp.com said on her blog: “Votre coach et vous – blog minceur – maigrir vite et bien” : translation :Your coach and you – slimness blog – lose weight fast and well,” Orsoni discusses her life, companies and most recently, a new television fitness program based on her last book, “Secrets de Coach.”

One of the subheads of this book, as well as her blog is “…sans régime stricte.”

Translation : “…without a strict diet.”

Hmm…sounds a bit like the “practically pain-free” weight loss radio advertisement I heard in my car earlier.

So, to all American women (and men) bombarded with “how to get fit” books, diets, pills and media in hopes to achieve the perfect body, or to perhaps unlock the secret to French attractiveness, internalize the words of one young, French, Marie Claire intern:

I’ll tell you the secret of the French sexy way of being: Everybody thinks that we are. We call it an idée recue, an accepted notion. No matter if we are blonde, brown, tall, or small, from the moment we start to speak with the accent, we become the natural daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Coco Chanel. We aren’t. Really.”

The Smartest Man in the East

Sure, you’ve heard of Ken Jennings, the guy who won 74 Jeopardy games in a row. But have you heard of Anatoly Vasserman? You should have, he’s quite a character.

He started gaining fame on Russian T.V. game shows such as What? Where? When? and Svoya Igra, a show similar to Jeopardy. In 2002 he finished a winning streak of 15 games in a row. Although it’s not as large of a streak as Jennings, it was still the largest for Russia in a decade, according to his Wikipedia page.

It makes sense that he had so much success on the trivia shows though. He graduated from Odessa in the 1970’s with a specialty in thermal physics. He currently works as a journalist.

After his television success, he became something of a cult celebrity, very similar to Chuck Norris. His extraordinary intellect paired with his frazzled beard and triple-layered vest has become the center of multiple jokes and exaggerated rumors. I found a joke page for him on Uncyclopedia that claims he created the world, studied kung-fu in Tibet, and is currently presiding as the headmaster at Hogwarts. As I stated before, there are numerous jokes on the page mimicking the form of our Chuck Norris jokes, one reads

Anatoly Wasserman invented the nuclear reactor in his childhood dismantling the juicer.

Not only does Wasserman have a distinct level of intelligence, but his appearance is just as unique. He regularly wears a heavily-pocketed vest that has many media sources and bloggers questioning, “What’s in it?” This article from English Russia provides a picture of some of the vest’s contents and mentions the rumors surrounding the apparel.

And the most interesting thing in this guy, of course besides his beard, is his vest. It has 26 pockets and weights 7 kilograms (~16 pounds). But what does Wasserman has in all of these pockets? Someone guesses that there are even oil or gold in them. Someone tells that the vest is a source of his mind power, and that Anatoly keeps rest of his brain there, because it’s so big that it can’t be placed in the head entirely.

Ria Novosti, a Russian News channel, featured an interview with him explaining why he decides to wear the vest.

I’ve already compared him Chuck Norris, but it’s clear that Anatoly Vasserman is an exceedingly unique individual despite any of his similarities to the former. I’d just like to see him go against Ken Jennings in a Jeopardy match, or at least team up with him!

This birth control doesn’t work in France!

What is repulsive in one country can be high-fashion in another.


The last time I traveled through France, I was repeatedly stopped by strangers on the street (and if strangers talk to you in France, they must REALLY want to know whatever they are asking) inquiring where I got what has to be the most repulsive element of my entire wardrobe.

What was this oh horrible of most horrible of things you ask?

U.S. Army issue glasses… affectionately known as BCGs.

B.C.G. stands for Birth Control Glasses, because no woman would ever sleep with you while you were wearing them. They are issued to soldiers who need corrective lenses during their basic training. Soldiers that have passed basic training have the option to get a more human looking pair.

I'm to sexy for my specs!

I'm to sexy for my specs!

These things are virtually indestructible, we played hockey with a pair at my old unit for over a year.

I was wearing this monstrosity around Paris because I had lost every other pair of glasses I had and I’m almost blind without them. To my surprise, I was suddenly a god of high-fashion.

I was asked over and over where these glasses could be bought, however no one was particularly pleased at the prospect of enrolling in the U.S. Army to get a pair of their own.

Fashion varies all over the world, who knows, maybe you don’t need to buy new clothes to stay in fashion, it might be easier to just move.

Check out more French high-fashion at the 2009 Paris Fashion Week.

Chirac is back, Sarkozy slumps

Book cover for Chiracs memoirs

Book cover for Chirac's memoirs

France media has been abuzz with the stories of former French President Jacques Chirac lately. His 500-page memoir of life in politics up to 1995 came out at the same time he was ordered to face charges of corruption. He has been accused, along with nine others, of creating fictitious jobs while mayor of Paris.

But a recent report on France 24, says that the French still admire the former French president, and think he should stand trial. Some hope that his memoirs will offer stirring details about the corruption scandal, but so far the only parts that have been leaked to the press and TV show his admiration or disdain for particular political leaders.

“These leaks put us on the spot, especially since no bookstore has received the book yet,” explains Catherine Bourget, a press attaché from the book’s publishing house, Nil Éditions.

See a video interview with Jacques Chirac for more about the content of his memoirs. He reveals very little beyond politics.
But Chirac isn’t the only French politician making headlines. President Nicolas Sarkozy has seen his popularity ratings drop after the push to name his son, Jean, as head of the agency in charge of Paris’ La Defence business district.

The charges of nepotism were loud and strong — and they came at a time when his administration was roiling with underage sex scandals about the culture minister and a court battle with a former prime minister.

“Something has changed in the country,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, a senior Socialist deputy said. “The air has changed. The thread between this president and the French people has broken.”

How much of Sarkozy’s popularity was tied to the debacle with his son Jean? Will the nepotism scandal change French opinions about their president? What affect with Chirac’s corruption trial have on French politics?

Controversial Couture

Victoria Andreyanova, a fashion designer, has caused quite a stir because of her new line of clothing that is based on attire that a nun might wear. Russia Today tells the story of why Andreyanova chose this particular clothing line for her new design.

It is interesting to see where the fashion world is heading. Who knows, maybe in a year or so this line will become popular in the United States. Instead of sporting jeans and a t-shirt, women might switch to long robes and skirts. Is it controversy that makes it so much more appealing to wear?

The video below also taken from Russia Today, is about fashion in Chechnya. They are trying to reach a compromise between European and Islamic fashions. Clothing stores are even at risk of getting shut down, if the clothing they sell is too revealing.

explains that the fashion world has been butting heads with religion for a long time.

Some years ago, Versace was forced to retire a t-shirt in Italy that bared the sentence “the devil made me do it.”

They also have galleries filled with controversial fashion that has made the Catholic Church upset. This ad for Equinox gym has made a few heads turn, and has lead Catholics to be critical of the fashion industry.

This is what the Catholic Church had to say about it.

“It says a great deal about this perverse obsession in both the fashion industry and the advertising industry of exploiting and mocking and sexualizing Catholic religious imagery,” — C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

This blog talks about religious accessories hitting up mainstream clothing stores such as Urban Outfitters. It also explains the controversy behind certain items and why they are being pulled from store shelves.

Personally, I believe “more is less” and the Russian fashion world is heading in that direction with clothing that are meant to be more conservative.  Adding a hint of religion in fashion is not a bad idea, in fact controversy sells. So what do you think about the new clothing line? Is it okay to incorporate tradition with every day attire?



Yes, that’s right in Amsterdam you can go pee in the open on the sidewalk. Many might think this is a crude and disgusting way for a city to handle public bathrooms. However, the clever Dutch might be on to something. Not only are these toilets free but they cut down on public urination on streets and side walks. Amsterdam is known for its more open-minded approach to issues in society than most places. For example, its famous Red Light and sex district is home to many prostitutes and sex shops. It is also very popularly known for its liberal use of marijuana in many coffee shops scattered throughout the city.

Most bathrooms in Europe cost money and can be quite expensive depending on what city you are in. It is so rare that the BBC actually did a story on Paris installing free public restrooms in the city. In fact, free public restrooms might start becoming more popular in Europe because of the increasing problem of public urination. For example, a city in Ireland is having such a problem with people urinating in public that they proposed hiring urine wardens. They hoped to discourage people from public urination by handing out fines and reporting them to the police.

Amsterdam may be considered a visionary by not only creating toilets that are free to the public, but are also little maintenance to the city. They are becoming so popular, that there is a Facebook group for people who have used the urinals.

Two Americans who have a blog travel around the world and write about their experiences on a blog site I found called Travelpod. They blog about Amsterdam multiple times and take a few pictures of people enjoying the urinals.


The Dutch are also pretty creative, almost artistic, when it comes to urinals, they make sure people want to hit their target. In a blog I found called nudge writes about urinals that have a tiny black fly painted on the toilet to improve accuracy. The article jokes that the fly is there to give men something to aim for while they are using the bathrooms in airports and other public places.

Amsterdam may not be the first place to come up with this ingenious idea. In a blog called Say No to Crack, it cites China as the first place to install public urinals meant for out in the open daytime use. Germany also has similar free public toilets, although they are not quite out in the open as urinals in Amsterdam are.

Are these places on to something? Or is it too disgusting to imagine walking down the sidewalk and seeing someone peeing right in front of you? Either way, you have to admit it would be fun to try something so out of the ordinary.

But where are the free toilets for women? Well, I guess that will be Amsterdam’s next challenge.

For another perspective of the public urination problem check out fellow blogger Monica Germinario’s post PiPi Problem in France.

Russian: to speak or not to speak?

Last month, Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, dropped Russian as an official language, according to this news report. There are about 50,000 native Russian speakers remaining in Tajikistan, and is often used as the lingua franca between different ethnic groups in the country.

This is nothing new in post-Soviet states, as there has been a trend since 1991 to promote their native language and shed Soviet influences. Currently, only three countries still list Russian as an official language: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus.

Here’s a cool New York Times graphic describing the situation of the Russian language in post-Soviet countries.

It’s more complicated in places like Ukraine and Latvia, which still have a sizable number of Russians living there. According to this blog post by Jeffrey White, Latvia will not grant citizenship to anybody who cannot show mastery of Latvian language and history. The government has also closed Russian schools and required classes to be taught in Latvian for more than half the time.

When White proceeded to ask a Latvian woman something in Russian, he received a cold reception.

I awakened her ire with my Russian greeting. She returned it with something I didn’t understand, and proceeded to answer all my questions decidedly not in Russian.

Most ethnic Russians escaped Tajikistan during the civil war following independence, but there are still many factors and consequences to making such a move. It’s not as simple as it seems.

Tajikistan president Emomali Rakhmon aims to return prominence to the Tajik language, which was relegated to home use during Soviet times. He believes that the greatness of a nation depends on the respect is given to its national language.

Tajik blogger Botur agrees that making Tajik the only official language is crucial to national unity. In this Tajik language post (which fortunately has been translated and re-posted on NewEurasia) he writes,

Until we learn and master our language we will not be able ever to stand up, ask, and demand for our rights and choices in a civilized, organized, and effective manner.

Russian politicians are furious over the new law, and according to this article, have suggested that any attempt to reduce the importance of Russian will result in punitive economic measures, such as ceasing to allow Tajik migrants to work in Russia.

This is a big deal because a big part of Tajikistan’s economy is supported by money immigrant workers in Russia send home.

There’s also a debate about the option of schools teaching in Russian. While some people point out that Russian education is essential to communication with former Soviet states, Botur argues that people who are educated in a non-majority language will have trouble being integrated into society.

Not everyone in Tajikistan is happy about this, though. 20% of the population are ethnic minorities, who do not necessarily understand Tajik well. Nigina Rusianova, a schoolteacher said,

My mother is a Pamiri Tajik, and my father is Russian. My husband is from Belarus, but he is not sure about his ethnic roots. And who are my children? They are not Tajiks, but they are Tajikistani! We have always been proud of our multiethnic past.

Botur’s post has sparked a number of comments, most of which disagreed with him.

Max Kalininski, who is Russian, says,

If anything, I think Russian should be promoted more than it is now – it will speed up the modernisation of the country, integrate it more tightly into the CIS social sphere and institutions, help education, and will enable more business, etc… to flourish. Such a process, if applied carefully and with due respect to the native Tajik language, will lead to as a good knowledge of both Russian and Tajik.

According to this blog post, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is alarmed that Russian is losing ground to local languages and English, and launched a campaign in 2008 to promote Russian as a global language.

To me, it almost seems natural for a country to want to rid itself of traces of its foreign conquerors, and the first thing people would do is revert to their original language. However, it is a delicate situation, especially when many young people in these post-Soviet republics look towards the United States and Western culture.

When I was in Mongolia this summer, I noticed that most people over 40 loved Russia. They loved to speak Russian when they had a chance and lament the “good old socialist days when everyone had jobs.” Though not part of the Soviet Union, Mongolia was practically under Soviet control for 70 years. However, most young people don’t care as much. They like hip-hop, burgers and study English instead. They want to be part of a greater global community, not just one bloc under Russian influence.

I spent much of my childhood in Taiwan, which was ruled by Japan for 50 years. To some degree, I think the “official language” thing is more or less a symbol of ethnic pride. Even though Japanese is no longer an official language, many old people still speak it. Due to close business ties and popularity of Japanese culture amongst youth, most students in Taiwan learn Japanese in high school and can use it at least on a basic level. It is still important, but it does not have to be official.

The problem is that many people on the island did not speak Mandarin Chinese when it was made the official language. There were many clashes, and the government openly employed blatant discriminatory practices. 54 years later, it doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore, as almost everyone can understand Mandarin now. However, this has caused irreparable loss to many language communities, especially the Taiwanese aboriginals, who have been gradually assimilated or marginalized since settlers from China began arriving on the island in the 1600s. On the other hand, learning the official language gives a kind of sense of unity to the whole island, and empowers the minorities to be able to fight for their own cultural rights nowadays instead of remaining separate and being discriminated against.

Where is the middle ground?

French Cuisine: With a Side of Protest

Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou Centre is a work of art. Encased in glass and steel, the restaurant is popular for its view of Paris. Look around and you will see that the food as well as the furniture is modern. On top of that furniture sit illegal immigrants. But they aren’t there to eat, they’re present for protesting purposes.

In less reported news, Georges has become a setting for protests by immigrants from Senegal and Asia who work at the eatery and are fighting to get recognized in order to obtain France’s version of the green card, the “une Carte de Séjour.” They sit there all day, in the restaurant and outside of it, quietly hoping to get the attention of the French government. They have been doing so since October 23, and have no plans to cease their demonstrations until they are recognized as French citizens.

Senegal protestors sitting in Georges as part of their demonstration, one that has been going on since Oct. 23rd. Photo taken by Adam Sage of Timesonline.com

Senegal protestors sitting in Georges as part of their demonstration, one that has been going on since Oct. 23rd. Photo taken by Adam Sage of Timesonline.com

“French cuisine is famous throughout the world,” says Mamadou, a 36-year-old man from Senegal and assistant chef for Georges who was interviewed by the UK’s Times Online news. “But without the Africans, the Sri Lankans and the Asians, there would be no one to cook it. It just wouldn’t exist.”

Georges isn’t the only restaurant facing the wrath of their foreign employees. There have been sit-ins all over France, not including the many other protests and hunger strikes staged over the past few years, that have taken place at popular eateries where illegal immigrants are employed. The site claims that there are 4,700 illegal immigrants floating around the country, and many say they pay taxes and do the things that French men and women born in the country do, but know they do not have the same rights. “I’ve been in France for nine years and I’ve worked all the time. I pay my taxes and social security just like any Frenchman,” says Dramane, a 38-year-old man from Mali involved in the demonstrations. “But every time I go out, it’s with fear in my stomach, because I could be arrested.”

The response is slow at the moment. The restaurant continues its daily tasks while trying to ignore the demonstrators, as do the customers who walk in, glance at the demonstrators, and go on about their business. The immigrants are benefiting though. Through the protests, protestors have made connections with a network of other immigrants that can relate to their struggles; something these men and women had a hard time finding before. It is unclear who has replaced the demonstrators in the kitchen at Georges.  And not every immigrant who has a hand in making French cuisine is protesting, but  those who are demonstrating at Georges are hopeful that their presence will slowly but surely have an impact on their status in the country.

The interior of the illustrious Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou centre in Paris. Photo courtesy of Jakob/MacFarlane of Flickr

The interior of the illustrious Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou centre in Paris. Photo courtesy of Jakob/MacFarlane of Flickr

Obviously, this story is reminiscent of many of the issues that Americans hear about daily regarding illegal immigrants from nearby Latin American countries. Many of the immigrants whom Americans complain about do the work that most feel they are above: janitorial work, working in hotels, landscaping work, etc. The same can be said in France, but the question arises from the above story about the protest in Georges: Would French cuisine, a major symbol of French culture, be as huge as it is (including the much lauded kabob) without the hands of illegal immigrants making it? Who really knows who is in those high class, five-star restaurant’s kitchens slaving over France’s world famous food? Whatever your response, it is interesting to see that problems with illegal immigration aren’t just a huge deal in America, but in France as well. Will these individuals stay parked in Georges for months, waiting to be recognized or arrested? Or will their demands continue to be ignored like the hopes for citizenship of many illegal immigrants here in the States? Only time will tell…

There have been many protests of this kind.  To see one done in 2008 by illegal immigrants and the response  it received, check out the video below: