Unexpected last minute call to chat and gossip with ex-colleague Eye (still hopeful for future working together) in from UK. Cosy chat hijacked by Albanian and Bulgarian colleagues, so we tour the tourist areas of Plaka and Monastiraki, till the cold drives us to a café. We avoid several where we feel we will double the average age of the occupants, at the same time wondering why they aren’t at work if they can afford tourist places.
Sitting outside I order a hot drink and am mocked by the others who sign on for the usual Greek iced coffee. After a while Eye borrows the Bulgarian’s heavy coat (leaving him in shirt sleeves --- a hardy man!) and then orders tea to warm up. After the updating on work (not much progress) and the purpose they are in town (no agenda for the meeting) the conversation turns to more interesting topics.
I have to say my impression of Albania as a closed society before “the changes” is changing as I meet more and more officials. The one I know best spent time in China but also speaks Italian and now English. His daughter is studying in Rome. Today’s Albanian admits he is a “young generation” who doesn’t know Russian, unlike the Bulgarian who has been educated with Russian technical materials. He also says that until recently Dostoievsky was banned in Albania, which surprises us all. His daughter is studying architecture in Paris. How do they afford it all? Here’s me struggling to afford to support one daughter in the UK on minuscule home student fees, whereas they have to pay fees and living expenses. Maybe they have scholarships or the fees to study are not large, but on their salaries compared with mine? Perhaps one shouldn’t ask any more but just be glad they are spending it on education for their kids in such good places. Interestingly, the daughter had been surprised that architecture required the study of history of architecture and urbanisation rather than being just about engineering. The students all were surprised and were threatening a protest to the university. I always thought that that was an essential part of the architecture course, otherwise you end up with ever more concrete blocks since that is all the engineers can do. It was always more fun (and demanding) tutoring students at the AA in London who seemed to know no engineering than the students at Birmingham School of Architecture who knew no art.
Somehow we got onto a discussion of Scandinavians and their culture. Eye (an American married to a Swede) agreed with me that although seemingly more tolerant and open, they actually were relatively intolerant of foreigners and even groups at home who were different. Sloph (my daughter who went to school in Denmark) was shocked to find little old ladies in Copenhagen would spit at passing blacks or Afghanis. Eye agreed it was easier to make friends in Bulgaria and Albania than in Scandinavia.
And from comparisons of countries, the (male) conversation turned to which country had the most beautiful women, with the Bulgarian winning the anecdote competition. Eye and I retreated to the bathroom to giggle about this topic of conversation coming up all the time with the home country always being the best. I was tempted to start a competition for the most attractive men. We always used to remark that inevitably the women in Eastern Europe soon became smarter and better dressed, whereas the men (even young ones) made little effort on their appearance. Women were not nearly so patriotic as men. Women in Ukraine and Lithuania would say that any men were better than the local ones, but this was often based on their behaviour as well as their appearance. Personally I would go for the Scandinavians as a group.
One of my favourite “Lithuanian” jobs every year has been to improve the English captions for the annual Lithuanian press photography exhibition before they get printed in a catalogue. The first year I just got the captions and had to guess what the photos were of. That was hilarious, especially the military ones where the military terminology wasn’t part of my usual reading, and my Lithuanian there was nonexistent. Now I get the photos and my Lithuanian was not bad when I left. Almost the first one I opened, mentioned the beautiful girls of Lithuania!
I wish there was a website I could link to, to show the photos. However, in some cases you really need to know Lithuania or current events there to appreciate the photo.