Category Archives: society

Murphy’s Law

In my last month’s blog, I mentioned a fun run/walk to raise money for our local cancer foundation. Well, it was a success with over 1,600 participants finishing with gusto under the rain.

My Greek holiday was almost perfect till I got to Luxembourg airport. The airline company concerned emailed me this message: “After having contacted our legal department, we would like to inform you that you do not have the right to mention one of our employees nor our departments nor our Airline in your blog.” I wanted to write about my experience to warn travellers of unforeseen misfortunes, alert them of their rights, and contribute to making our society fairer (not to tarnish this company’s reputation).

Can an experience or true statement be defamatory?

“If a statement is actually true, then it cannot be defamatory”, according to the EU-funded manual on defamation. Freedom of expression is an individual right which is connected to the individual’s freedom of conscience and opinion (Article 19 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Article 10 of the ECHR).“ The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made this point repeatedly: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. (https://www.mediadefence.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/MLDI.IPI%20defamation%20manual.English.pdf.  Produced by Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University, for a series of defamation law workshops for lawyers and journalists in Europe under the auspices of the Media Legal Defence Initiative and the International Press Institute, and funded by the European Commission and Open Society Foundations.)

On 4 September 2019, our flight arrived in Luxembourg more than 30 minutes late and without my check-in suitcase. We were supposed to land at 10:00 PM and be at home at 11:00 PM; however, by the time we had finished registering online the claim for our lost luggage, it was almost midnight. Since the last bus for home, i.e. Thionville – France, was at 11 PM, I rushed to the train station; unfortunately, the train had already left. I proceeded to a nearby hotel thinking of staying there for the night, but the price prevented me from doing this. I was prepared to stay at the airport hoping that I would get my luggage the following early morning. However, I was told by the airport staff that I couldn’t as it would close in 10 minutes (i.e. at midnight). To cut the story short, I took the taxi home as it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (35-30 km – average evening rate 145-150 euros).

The next day at 1:00 PM, I got a call saying that they found my suitcase. To my surprise, it was just slid in a quarter-opened door with only the arms of the person visible to me. There was no explanation nor apology; not even a face to say “hello”. I felt like a non-human being. As well, the suitcase – which was a birthday present from my sister in Australia last April (only 4 months before this incident) – had been damaged.

I contacted the airline’s Claims and Customer Relations Department, and they responded promptly but with un-sensitivity and lack of customer care. According to them, my suitcase, though damaged, can still be used; the flight delay was less than the minimum hours required for compensation; and the luggage was returned less than 24 hours.

I do not have relatives and friends to bother at 1 PM to pick me up 30 km away. When I travel, I have a budget and bring just enough (including a pre-paid credit card) to avoid unnecessary spending. I was lucky to have 150 euros leftover that evening. Imagine if I didn’t? Hitchhike? Sleep outside the airport’s ground, on the bench somewhere, or …? Murphy’s Law – something could have gone wrong.

ActionAid’s survey on street harassment found that 75% of women in London, UK have been subjected to harassment or violence in public. A French study found that 100% of more than 600 women surveyed across the country had faced sexual harassment on the transit system. (http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/statistics/statistics-academic-studies/). Though violent crime is rare in Luxembourg, it does exist. It doesn’t have to be a violent one to have a lasting devastating effects on individuals and their families. Murphy’s law – if something had gone wrong that evening, who would have been responsible?

I received a negative response from the airline company though the European Court of Justice (CJEU) has established the concept of ’damage’ as both material and non-material (e.g. emotional). (https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/ecc-net_air_passenger_rights_report_2015.pdf). Regulation (EC) 261/2004 applies in cases where a flight is cancelled or delayed and the Montreal Convention establishes that it is the airline’s responsibility when a consumer suffers economic loss or damage due to a flight delay or damaged luggage.

I’ll keep you posted…         

Travelling vs tourism

I’m writing this while on holiday in Greece; however, it’s not about it but on Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia.

I know little about eastern and central European countries and their people, so I’ve made it my priority to visit at least one of these places every summer. My last month’s holiday in Ljubljana was relaxing and eye-opening in many ways. Slovenes are friendly and accommodating. The hotel where we stayed didn’t only allow us to use their locker for our bags after we had checked out but offered us unlimited tea. These were the exact words of its male receptionist “You’re still our guests and feel free to use our facilities till you depart from our city”.

I took every opportunity to mingle with the locals and be a traveller rather than as a tourist. The more I learnt about them, the more I became interested in their history and culture and able to empathise with them.

It’s fine to talk about the advantages of international travelling when you have the means to do so; however, for many families this occasion remains a dream. Where’s Ljubljana? Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia in central Europe and has borders with Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia.  The Roman Empire controlled Slovenia for nearly 1,000 years; most of it was under the Habsburg rule (Austria) in the mid-14th century and 1918. The state of Slovenia was formed in 1945 as part of Yugoslavia; gained its independence in June 1991; and today, it is a member of the European Union and NATO.

The Slovenian independence war in 1991 lasted 10 days, which was the fifth short war in the world’s history. [The shortest was the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896 when the British Royal Navy defeated the Sultan of Zanzibar in East Africa that lasted in 38 minutes. (“The Top Ten Shortest Wars” Independent https://www. independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-top-ten-shortest-wars-10267712.html seen on   04/08/19)]. With a population of just over 2 two million, Slovenia is the most industrialised and westernised among other less developed parts of former Yugoslavia.

I wanted to be a traveller while in Ljubljana, but I was really more of a tourist than the former. I carried a camera and map at all times (By choice, my mobile has never have Internet connection), and sometimes asked for information from shop attendants and hotel staff in English instead of trying to learn phrases in Slovene. Except for a long walk at the scenic and green Lake Bled, I only ventured in the city and landmarks.

I would have loved to explore the less-visited areas and interact more with locals (i.e. being a traveller) but managed only to have a chat with a fellow restaurant patron, who happened to be the brother of the restaurateur. Though our conversation was limited to food and tourism because of my zero-knowledge of Slovene and his basic English, I found it informative. According to him, the majority of Ljubljana’s residents are tourists and temporary inhabitants, which is an economic necessity and fun for him and his family as they’re able to practise their English and meet people from many parts of the world.

I took buses and trams to move around but also went on guided tours for convenience. So, I suppose I was a tourist; but, I would like to think that I was a traveller. I knew how I could have been a traveller. However, I wasn’t in the mood to go to places where locals hang around after work and when it’s dark. I could have had more conversations with Slovene people of all ages about their culture and country yet I did not because of lack of time squeezing in everything in four days before heading home. Most workers, like me, just need a vacation or a relaxing trip to wind down or recharge before starting the year.

Were you a tourist or traveller last summer? How can we be more respectful and acculturated tourists (i.e. travellers)?

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotyping

I first came to Europe in 1985 and spent a few days in Innsbruck (Austria), a sunny city 168 kilometres from Salzburg and lies on a high mountain plateau with green alpine meadows and secluded groves. The classic 1964 movie ‘Sound of Music’, which is based on the memoir of Maria Von Trapp starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, made Salzburg famous; and more than 300,000 cine fans come to this place every year to walk into the footsteps of the Von Trapp family. 

Last month, after nearly 35 years, I visited Austria again but, this time, I didn’t see rolling hills and didn’t find its inhabitants cold and rigid. Contrary to my subconscious oversimplified image of Austrians, I experienced their friendliness and warmth. They are distinctly different from the Germans in terms of cultures and behaviours though they share the same language. However, it’s true that Vienna is bursting with classical music and schnitzel, and I joined the bandwagon by attending a Vivaldi concert and had a plate of the latter.

The more I travel to different European countries, the more I want to learn their diverse cultures and people and get rid of my stereotypes.

Stereotype is a set idea or opinion that we have about someone or something, which often focuses on the differences between groups rather than their similarities. It causes over-reaction to information that confirms such a stereotype and under-reaction to the one that contradicts it. Psychology research and essays reveal that stereotyping is one way to feel good about ourselves, i.e. we (our group – where we belong) are better than them (the outsiders – those who are not in our group).

Stereotypes have positive and negative impact on the individual’s relationships and professional life.  Positive stereotypes, which are favourable beliefs about people from a particular group, can hasten interpersonal and intergroup relations. One of my friends prefers to hire Polish tradespeople because they are known to be hardworking and trustworthy. When I was living in Australia, I heard these same stereotypes from employers of AbC (Asian-born Aussies). These positive stereotypes contribute to and perpetuate systemic differences in privileges and outcomes. Negative stereotypes, on the other hand, such as the rigid Germans and flamboyant Italians, have negative emotional and interpersonal effects (sometimes financial consequences). A lot has been written about severe negative impact of stereotyping of immigrants from developing countries and people of colour.

Jacqui Hutchison and Douglas Martin (Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology pp 291-301), on their research on ‘The Evolution of Stereotypes’ have stated “Stereotypes are template-like cognitive representations whereby membership in a social group is associated with the possession of certain attributes (e.g., scientists are geeky, Scottish people are miserly, women like the color pink)”. According to them, “stereotypes have the capacity to influence how cultural information evolves and how changes in the cultural environment have, in turn, influenced the content of stereotypes”. (https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-12697-5_23 seen 01/08/19).

Everyone is vulnerable to stereotype either as the doer/enforcer or the target/victim.  How can we avoid stereotyping?  Well, we should do the thinking and analysing as individuals, i.e ourselves, and stay away from generalisations; e.g. Luxembourgers are rich and French are snub. Though the majority of people in one social, cultural or national group may have something in common, it does not mean that all of them are the same — this message should be repeated at home and at school. At work, interaction between all employees from different backgrounds and a clear directive from management on fair treatment of every worker can prevent and stamp out negative stereotyping.

Psychology of feedback

Our highly competitive world requires good and service companies, organisations and employees to improve constantly to stay on the top of their game. Giving feedback, which is information provided regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding, is part of this “room for improvement” business.

Employees undergo appraisals periodically. Clients and customers have access to online reviews. During a birthday dinner party last June 15, I sat next to a lady who advised me to get into our city government’s website and expose my displeasure with their inaction regarding the pigeons’ invasion of my neighborhood that has caused financial and health anguish. 

Since we are all either employees, employers, consumers, clients, or mere citizens, we do give or/and receive feedback regularly. As well, we get and give remarks, comments and advice from our family and friends, which are actually receiving and providing feedback.

Feedback, if not positive, should only be constructive criticism. Positive feedback can be manifested in many ways. Above is a photo of flowers given to me by a language school where I have been working for 10 years. I consider this as a positive feedback – a show of appreciation and encouragement to continue performing well.

My students fill in mid and end-of-course evaluation forms, which can be awkward doing it in my presence, particularly in a diverse environment where cultures and personalities come into play. Nevertheless, I insist on going through this as I am adamant that giving and receiving feedback helps me aid them achieve their goals and maximise their potential.

I value my students’ feedback as when done in an objective and fair manner and with the right intentions, it improves my performance.  I have to know what I am doing well and not so effective. However, with voluntary feedback, you get the extremes – those who quite like you and think you’re so marvelous and those who are naturally critical and cynical. Those in between often don’t bother doing it. I had been told by a friend that there’s this teacher whose entire lesson involved watching films that his students hardly understood, but he always got positive feedback because his “favourites” (term they used to describe his friend-students) followed him in his courses and gave him comments that were the opposite of reality. Whereas, his colleague who’s a valued teacher received a lower score.  Thus, should we take feedback seriously?

Emotions, such as anger, envy, fear, friendship, indignation, happiness and sadness affect individuals’ perceptions, judgments and behaviours.  As such, their feedback – whether positive or negative – is  also about them. Online surveys have anonymity but do not guarantee honest responses. Should feedback be done face-to-face to have an opportunity for both parties to air their views? This is time consuming and has limitations due to power imbalance, as in employer-employee and teacher-student relationship. As well, even face-to-face or focus group feedback is not free from biases, which can be cognitive, confirmation or attribution.

According to Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bias seen 21/06/19), cognitive biases are repeated patterns of thinking that lead to inaccurate or unreasonable conclusions; confirmation biases refer to the brain’s tendency to search for and focus on information that supports what someone already believes while ignoring facts that go against those beliefs, despite their relevance; and attribution biases occurs when the person tries to attribute reasons or motivations to the actions of others without concrete evidence to support such assumptions. These biases help feedback givers make decisions and comments, which may not always be accurate. Therefore, when giving and receiving feedback, it’s important to be aware of these biases, particularly cognitive ones, and try to redress these. If you are the receiver of an unfair feedback, be open-minded and do not let this experience (which sometimes can be attributed to the critic’s bias or inadequacy to give feedback) damage your confidence and self-esteem.

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”. – John F. Kennedy (35th US President)

Our current society is competitive, demanding and complex that conflict has become a part of modern day living. There are squabbles or disagreements among colleagues, neighbours, friends, family members, and even strangers. The common causes of office disaccord are work style differences, personality clashes, and sense of unfairness. Many complaints made to the Police concern noises, fences, trees, rubbish and stray pets that turn neighbours into foes. 

According to www.unifiedlawyers.com, the world’s divorce rate has increased by 251.8% since 1960. Nowadays, nearly half of marriages end up in divorce with Luxembourg topping the list (87%) followed by Spain (65%), France (55%), Russia (51%) and the USA (46%).  India (1%) and Chile (3%) have the lowest rates. The most common reason given for divorce is incompatibility, which is nearly thrice that of infidelity. When marriage breaks down, in the majority of cases, those concerned knock non-hesitantly on lawyers’ doors and rush to tribunals or courts.

The legal system is long and costly, whereas mediation and arbitration involve much less time and money; but why do many people opt for the former? Why don’t they resolve conflict by mediation and negotiation?

In mediation, a neutral person helps disputants to come to a consensus on their own. Mediators allow conflicting parties to vent their feelings and expose their grievances, but they don’t impose their solution. It’s the conflicting parties that decide on the outcome of the negotiation. The mediators can help them come up with a resolution that is sustainable and nonbinding. 

In arbitration, the third party serves as a judge and is responsible for resolving the dispute. This man or woman listens thoroughly and non-judgementally to each side as they argue their cases and present relevant evidence before rendering a binding decision that is usually confidential and cannot be appealed. Then, they prepare and submit a report to the Court.

In mediation and arbitration, the conflict is resolved when the process in completed, i.e. the settlement is agreed and conflict is resolved. Contrary to what some people think, most mediations are confidential.

During mediation the underlying causes of the conflict is examined, and the solutions that best suit needs and interests of both parties are sought. This is done in a flexible manner without strict rules of procedure to make everyone participative in order to attain a win-win solution. As such, it helps end the conflict or problem; not the relationship. It can deal with multiple parties and a variety of issues at one time; for example, a family conflict involving inheritance of children and their relatives.

According to UK’s Citizen Advice (https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/ending-a-relationship/how-to-separate/mediation-to-help-you-separate, participants in mediation report higher satisfaction rates than people who go to court. As well, due to their active involvement, «they have a higher commitment to upholding the settlement than people who have a judge decide for them. Mediations end in agreement 70 to 80% of the time and have high rates of compliance”.

Of course, prevention is better than cure. Avoiding conflict is the best principle. However, since we can’t agree with everyone on everything, we should adjust our behaviours to ensure that we are in a peaceful relationship with others and accept responsibility for our actions. If we are respectful of others, mind our manners and apply the golden rule (i.e. treat others how you want to be treated), there’ll be no need for mediation, or expensive and long legal process. As the saying goes, “reconciliation is better than justice”.

Yes to healthy anger but no to violence

On February 19 (Saturday morning) while grocery shopping in our local supermarket, I heard a woman yelling. Since it sounded like she was only an aisle away from where I was, I pushed my trolley aside and had a look. She was pinching and hitting a young man in his early 20s, and I couldn’t believe how calm he was. Was it because there were several of us witnessing it?

I was worried that the young man would eventually lose his temper and fight back, so I hurried to the checkout and asked the cashier to ring security. Some minutes later, two sturdy men arrived and said that they saw it on their camera and thought it was just “problème de couple”. The young man approached and told us that the angry and violent woman had left.

While queuing to pay for my purchases, however, I heard loud voices again. The young woman came back with her two mates, and the safety of the young man bothered me. I turned my head right and left hoping to see at least one of the guards, but they were gone. My nervousness lessened when I noticed that the man was walking towards the male staff at the information/shop entrance. Then, there were piercing voices, but I could only see the staff’s work uniform because of the dozen people around them.

We all experience anger. Although it is a normal and healthy emotion, it can be a problem if we can’t keep it under control. It is everyone’s responsibility to control anger; and if we can’t do it on our own, we should seek help. Verbal and physical harshness or brutality is never a solution to anger; as the adage says, “Violence is a weapon of the weak”. Whereas, non-violence is the ammunition of the wise, e.g. Mohandas Gandhi’s (October 1869 – January 1948) peaceful resistance against the British rule in India that led to latter’s independence in 1947.

For me, that young man at the supermarket is wise and strong; otherwise, he would have responded with a fist, especially as it wasn’t a slight provocation. He avoided destructive anger and exerted the effort to override his emotional mind.

A week after that incident, I heard on the French radio that in the Netherlands people smash cars as an anger management strategy. Thus, I checked it out for this article and found there are companies in Amsterdam that provide this activity for individuals and groups. Participants smash cars to bits at scrapyards with an array of demolition weapons, such as sledgehammers, baseball bats and golf clubs. According to the radio announcer, this has been a success and is a growing market in Europe. I do get angry sometimes but feel don’t need to break things. This is what I do:

• Breathe in slowly and relax as I breathe out. It calms me down and enables me to think more rationally.
• If the anger takes place in an enclosed place, I get out and go for a walk. The light physical exercise and fresh air relax me. (I’m not a stressful person. However, if you are, these activities can surely help you: yoga, running, swimming and meditation. I have a friend who indulges on chocolates when stressed. Although she maintains that this works and eats only dark ones, I don’t think it should be a long-term or regular solution).
• Go to the gym once or twice a week which helps me deal with impatience, irritation and anger.
• I don’t drink alcohol and smoke. What I need to improve is my sleeping habit. I go to bed no earlier than at 11 PM and don’t switch off mentally till midnight getting only 5-6 hours of sleep, which is inadequate.
• Watch movies (mainly those based on true stories or facts), write and read.
• Discuss my feelings and views with my trusted friends to get a different perspective on the issue or situation.
• Quarrels and anger are always started by words and the meaning attached to these. For instance, I get upset when the phrase “it’s not fair” is used to describe my decision or action because I believe that this is not the case.

Always and never are often used exaggeratedly or falsely, e.g. “You’re always late” and “I never get compliments from you”, and these annoy me. Therefore, they are included in my speech only when it is really the case, i.e. always – all the time or on all occasions/never – not at all/not ever/at no time.

We can’t have everything we want, and this is not the reason to be angry and/or violent. As Simone de Beauvoir had said, “I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish… You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.” (January 1908 – April 1986; French writer, intellectual, political activist, social theorist and had a significant influence on feminism and feminist theories).

However, “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned” – Buddha.

Therefore, “it is wise to direct your anger towards problems — not people; to focus your energies on answers — not excuses” – William Arthur Ward (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201208/25-quotes-anger).

Yes to healthy anger but no violence (destructive anger)!

Cheers to the year 2019

Cheers to the year 2019 as it gives us the opportunity to do better at home, work and play.

As in previous years, there were irreproachable and rough moments for me in 2018. The latter has been due to being in France at this time of constant grassroots demonstrations due to economic difficulties caused by political decisions and indecisions, such as regular increases in taxes. Meanwhile, France’s the 2018 World Cup (soccer/football) champion.

During the first two weeks in December I was coming home later than usual and walking a kilometre or so farther because bus drivers were instructed not to enter the city centre to avoid being hit by the demonstrators’ stones. These protesters adopted the name “yellow-vest movement” after a social-media campaign that urged people to go to the streets wearing the high-visibility “emergency” yellow jackets (In France, a yellow vest “gilet jaune” must be carried in every vehicle). Initially, they were against the rise in duties on diesel, which had long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel. Their causes have since widened to include issues concerning education and employment. Do protests work? Well, the French government was forced to scrap the unpopular fuel tax rise. As well, it promised an extra €100 (£90; $114) a month for minimum wage earners. On the other hand, there were ten deaths and many people were injured and properties destroyed.

The reported sightings of drones caused havoc for about 200,000 passengers a fortnight ago at Gatwick airport (LGW) outside of London. A member of my family was impacted and had to travel the following day at a different destination that incurred additional expenses and longer travelling time.

The terrorist attack in Strasbourg, a French city known as the Christmas capital, in the midst of the festivity caused deaths and injuries. My sadness was summarised in this message: “I express all my sorrow for the victims of the Strasbourg attacks. This Parliament will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence” (Antonio Tajani @EP President). The EP building is near where it took place.

What a difficult time we are living in! How can we help each other during difficulties? Research studies have shown that we, human beings, are predisposed to feel empathy and show kindness. In 2018, these were evident during the earthquakes in Italy, fire in the USA, tsunami in Indonesia, flooding in the Philippines, bushfire in Australia, and many other natural and human-made disasters. The risky, unprecedented international rescue of 13 Thai boys and their coach reminded us of the selflessness and kindness of strangers when needed.

An act of kindness can be a simple hello, smile, hug or forgiveness. It can be carrying an elderly’s heavy shopping bag, letting another car to merge ahead of you while other drivers have refused, or paying for the parking of the person on line before you who’s having difficulty doing it annoying others behind.

A few months ago, I saw a woman giving a man some coins at the checkout as he didn’t have enough to pay for his groceries. Last November, a young lady wanted to pay her bus fare by cheque which the driver refused. She looked really disturbed and was perspiring (in winter!). There were eight of us behind her waiting patiently in the cold. I asked her how much she needed; she opened her wallet and said “rien de tout” (nothing). I handed the bus driver five euros and gave her the ticket. She offered to issue me a cheque. I declined politely and told her that it’d be alright to pay me next time we meet. Although, to date, I haven’t seen this person again, I don’t regret doing it. Expressing and receiving kindness makes me feel good with modesty.

Hopefully, the year 2019 will be safer and more peaceful for all of us. I wish you good health and happiness every day.

Receipts, invoices and supporting papers

Do you always check your receipts? I don’t and this is because of my trusting nature. However, last summer I did; I checked the same receipt twice and hung on to it for a month.

According to Hassan, B. (August 18, 2017 https://www.mamamia.com.au/check-your-receipt-at-the-checkout/), “those with adult kids (82%) are the most likely to check their receipt, followed by those with teen kids (78%) and those with young kids (76%). Women are marginally more diligent when it comes to reviewing their docket, with 78% checking over their receipt compared to 75% of men.”

Australian research revealed that 40% of supermarket customers were overcharged at the checkout last year; of these, the average Aussie received an incorrect bill thrice in 12 months and 5% over six times (Hassan, 2017).

The receipt that caught my attention wasn’t from something I bought but what I exchanged. Whilst on a trip to the UK last August, I exchanged currency in Oxford Street. I felt I was deceived as I didn’t get enough money back, and the information on the exchange rate and fees was either invisibly posted on the premises or I didn’t look at it attentively due to distraction from other customers.

I got £70.95 for 120 euros when the average exchange rate at that period was £78 for 100 euros (the amount I got at the P & O Ferries). I was charged 14.97% for the service and 3.00 compliance fees. If I had seen the exchange rate and fees, I would not have exchanged there. It’s not the small amount that bothered me for almost a month but the thought that I’d been ripped off.

There were two elderly Indian-looking individuals before me but, for reason/s unknown to me, they were told to step aside. I felt sorry for them so as soon as I got my money, I left the premises quickly. In the car, when I saw the receipt, I wanted to go back and return the money on principle but didn’t have time as it was our last day and there were still a few things we had to do before heading back to France.

I wanted an explanation on this trading practice, so I sent an email to ChangeGroup. The response I got was “This is due to our prime location in central London and extended opening hours when other bureaus and banks are closed. All customer’s’ information and prices are displayed at our window as required by UK Law understanding that rates and charges differ from one bureau to another”. They apologised for the inconvenience this may have caused me and promised that next time I visit London I will be given preferential rate and no commission.

I answered back and said, “I still think it is unsatisfactory for anyone to get only £70 from 120 Euros. I’m putting this issue to rest. The purpose of my letter to you was never based on money but on principle.”

So, check and hold onto your receipt or docket. If you’ve been overcharged, there are actions you can take. In my case, I contacted the UK Citizens Advice Consumer Service, and they responded promptly with the following information:

“Your Rights and Obligations
When selling to the general public, all pricing information must be clearly legible, unambiguous, easily identifiable, in sterling, and inclusive of VAT and any additional taxes. Pricing information must be given close to the product, close to a picture or written description of the product. In relation to sales by telephone, price indications must be clearly audible and linked to the subject of the transaction. A trader should not be unambiguous and should not mislead the consumer by being factually incorrect or omitting information.
Your next steps
If you feel that the pricing is misleading or unfair, you could now formalise your complaint by putting it in writing. In your letter, state the issue and the outcome you would like as a result. Send it recorded delivery for proof of receipt and keep a copy for your records. We’d also recommend adding a deadline, giving the trader a time limit to respond to either, acknowledge the letter or resolve the issue. We usually advise 14 days is reasonable.
What we’ll do
We’d like to let the City of Westminster Trading Standards know about the issue. Trading Standards are part of local authorities. Whilst this doesn’t help you resolve your problem, it gives Trading Standards vital intelligence about how the trader operates their business. If you do not reach a satisfactory resolution or would like to discuss this further please call us on 0345 404 05 06 or reply to this email”.

Most countries have similar bodies that protect the rights of customers and consumers. Consumers International, an independent and non-profit and apolitical association, has more than 200 member organisations in over 100 nations. It believes in a world where everyone has access to safe and sustainable goods and services. It provides a voice in international policy-making forums and helps ensure that consumers are treated safely, fairly and honestly. (https://www.consumersinternational.org/who-we-are/).

Meanwhile, it is a convenient and pleasurable experience to holiday in 19 (of the 28) Eurozone countries, e.g.Germany, Greece and Lithuania, as there’s no money/currency exchange. Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City don’t belong to the EU but have adopted the euro as their national currency by virtue of specific monetary agreements; thus, may issue their own euro coins within certain limits.

Summer 2018

Many of us cannot wait for the summer holiday to arrive as it means no school, no work, getting together with relatives and friends, and leisuring. Some individuals and families are fortunate to afford a relaxing, fantastic getaway somewhere sunny and vibrant. The 2018 summer, however, was not only a question of money. It was so hot that many English and French vacationers opted to stay home. French radio stations had 24-hour updates of traffic situations with their warning of orange “dense – bad” and red “very bad”.

Holidaymakers expected heat in the mid-30s in their favourite countries of Greece, Portugal and Spain, but it went up to 50°C; while the rest of Europe had above-average temperatures in July and August.

Some experts had said that the heatwave was due to warming in the tropical equatorial Pacific Ocean while others disclosed that it was because of the very dry, hot air from the African continent. Whatever the official reason was, our consumption habits and environmentally-unfriendly behaviours have contributed, and will continue to do so, to the erratic climatic conditions and heating up of planet Earth.

Given the hot weather and the time I spent outdoor and in the water, I had my share of bites from fleas and mosquitoes and a mild pollen allergy. Fortunately, with preventative measures, I was able to avoid athlete’s foot, food poisoning, heatstroke, and sunburn. I had a fabulous 5-day stay in Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) visiting the Rila Monastery and awesome Orthodox churches. Bulgarians were friendly and considerate, and it was amazing how they (even those with little or no English) went an extra mile to help me. My forthight’s stay in England and Wales was terrific, too.

Last year, the most visited countries were: France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Thailand (https://earthnworld.com/top-10-most-visited-countries-in-the-world). The World Economic Forum has reported Euromonitor International’s latest top 10 city destinations as: Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Singapore, Macau, Dubai, Paris, New York, Shenzhen, and Kuala Lumpur (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/these-are-the-world-s-most-visited-cities/). Even with the spiralling prices of most things, from public transport and entertainment tickets to car parking, tourists continue to pour in these metropoles (metropolises).

I always go through the “feeling sorry for others” period at the end of every summer. An out-of-country holiday is too expensive for my acquiantance and her family, so they always go for budget airlines and Airbnb during off-season periods. One of my students never travels because she doesn’t have anyone to go with. When I was in Bulgaria I met an English primary school teacher in her mid-30s who was holidaying alone. In the bus to Rila Monastery, I sat next to a Dutch man in his early 30s who was a solo traveller to several central and eastern European countries. Solo travelling shouldn’t be an excuse not to have a memorable vacation.

Travelling is an expression of independence and an effective way to learn new things (i.e. culture, places, people) but, unfortunately, some people cannot do it for financial, work and other reasons. When I was living in Down Under, I did not holiday abroad every year. The weather was so beautiful (warm and sunny) that we had picnics (in addition to regular barbies), went to the beach, and camped on weekends. There was no pressure to have an annual holiday outside Australia. Yes, a staycation can be as enjoyable and fun as going somewhere far. What is important is to recharge and be ready for another year of stress-free work.

How was your summer holiday? Was it a peaceful and relaxing staycation?

Who are you? What are you? Where are you from?

I am writing this while on a short holiday in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before heading to Spain and England. It is summer here in Europe and because we travel a lot during this period, we often get asked “Where are you from?” Depending on my mood, my answer ranges from my birthplace to current city or country of residence. Often, I give information on my nationality/citizenship, and I will tell you why later. In some cases, the enquirer really just wants to know the main language I speak and my religion.

During the world cup, when I wore my gold and green outfit, some strangers smiled and commented, “You’re from Brazil” thinking that I had something blue invisible to the naked eye. Whereas, friends and acquaintances teased me “Socceroos, go, go..” My gold and yellow dress, green sandal and green bag said it all. They did not question my citizenship (Are you Australian?), appearance (but you look Asian), etc. On other occasions, however, I have to answer a follow-up question “Yes, but where do you really come from, your family?”

A fortnight ago, a close friend invited me to her barbecue dinner party. Her house is 15 minutes on foot from where we live, and since it was a sunny day, I decided to walk. France had just won the 2018 World Cup and knowing that there would be jubilant crowd, I put on my blue, white and red apparel. The time it took me to her place doubled as I had to stop and shake hands, take photos for others and kiss strangers. Everybody was so happy, friendly, and courteous. How I wished it was like that every day. No one asked me “where are you from”? Instead, many nodded and shouted amicably “On a gagné” (We won). They ignored my physical attributes and my non-French accent. They made me feel like I was one of them, which wasn’t my intention. I am a lover and partaker of peaceful and jovial celebrations, festivals, and traditional gatherings.

I, too, sometimes ask people “where are you from”, but it’s only to start a conversation. When I recognise the accent, I even say, “You’re from _______, aren’t you”? So far, no one has been offended by this question; instead, people have been friendly and helpful.

The answer to the question “where are you from” is generally based on one’s personal identity related to national and cultural belongingness. Though I was born in the Philippines and typically look south-east Asian, I often say with pride “Down Under” then add a few Aussie slang words and expressions as it’s my country of citizenship and where I have my educational, professional and social roots (my dear relatives and friends live there). Furthermore, I have this sense of pride and familiarity with Australia being considered by many people in other countries (such as those in France and Luxembourg) as a great place with fair and peaceful inhabitants, which is always a bonus to new and old relationships.
When the situation warrants the question “where are you from”, I present myself as a global citizen with a Filipino heritage and dual nationality (Australian and French).

Regarding France, one thing that amazes me in this astonishing country is that 2nd and 3rd generations of North African immigrants still call themselves Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, etc. Recently, I said to one of my students, “Why did you say you’re from Algeria when you were not born and have never lived here? For me, you’re French”. He said, “That’s nice, I feel French when I’m with those who think I’m French”. Many French people don’t make me feel that way, so it’s ridiculous to claim I’m one of them”. This situation demonstrates that the question “where are you from” has a temporal element.

As well, the answer to the question “where are you from” has moral and political grounds, as my case with Australia. I can identify with its values of simplicity over exuberance, resilience and reward for effort, and layback mentality. Compared to the majority of nations, it is a more middle class country with more efficient social and welfare services.

Have you asked someone “Where are you from”? Did their answers meet your expectations?