Author Archives: rolade

Eurovision? Why not “Europe and friends’ musical extravaganza”?

During the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel on 14 May 2019, one of my students asked me what I thought of Australia being in it. When I was still living in Brisbane, I always looked forward to watching it as I found all participants talented; many were creative, and some were outlandish. Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), whose mission is “to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society”, covers this event every year. After I had said to my student that it should not be in it based on geography, I did some research.

Participation in the Eurovision contest is, firstly, open to those who belong to the 56 member- countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and its 21 associate member-nations. Therefore, participation is not by geography, which makes the title of the event “Eurovision” misleading and susceptible to innuendo. In 2019, 42 countries travelled to Israel and 36 of them performed in the semi-finals to qualify for the finals. Every year, the so-called “Big Five” – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom – are prequalified to take part in the finals.

Australia has been in the Eurovision Song Contest five times since its debut in 2015 in Vienna, which was to be a one-off event; however, its participation has been confirmed until 2023 by the EBU.  Its best result in the contest is a second-place for Dami Im in 2016. It finished in the top ten in three of its other appearances: Guy Sebastian finishing fifth in 2015, and both Isaiah Firebrace and Kate Miller-Heidke finishing ninth in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Most points it received in the finals were from Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) and Hungary. Australia always got better scores from the jury than TV spectators. Do you think that a country down under can win the votes of political and sentimental Europe? As well, it has been announced publicly that if it won, it wouldn’t host the contest but Germany or the UK. Hence, the question whether Australia should be in the Eurovision is not for me to answer (though Australian by citizenship) but by the Australian Government and taxpayers. (It should be noted that Australian-born individuals have been involved in Eurovision since its inception as song writers and musicians for other countries, particularly the UK).

Israel (since 1973), Cyprus (since 1981) and Armenia (since 2006) have competed in the Eurovision even though they are outside the geographical boundaries of Europe. My French student of Muslim faith told us two weeks ago that she had watched some Eurovision events where middle-eastern countries blocked out or put a flower vase on their TV screens during an Israeli performance. She added, “Israel has to be in the Eurovision as it can’t have a friendly competition with its neighbours”.

According to Latto, A. et al (https://www.theguardian.com /notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1900,00.html), the EBU membership is primarily to organisations in the area defined by the International Telecommunications Union, which extends from the Atlantic to the meridian 40-degree east and bounded on the south by the 30th parallel. Jerusalem, the official headquarters of Israeli Television, is 35-degree east and on the 32nd parallel. “This definition also allows for participation by Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, the Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia”. Except for a one-time participation by Morocco in 1980, the other countries have not participated on principle.

Is it possible to change the name of this annual musical extravaganza? How about calling it —Vision for Cooperation and Peace through Music; Europe and Friends’ Musical Contest; Incluvision Musical Contest; Selective Diversity Musical Contest; or EBUvision Contest?

Please add your ideas on the above list. Have fun doing it …

Earthquake – never thought it’d happen to me

I took a 21-hour flight to be at the reunion of my maternal family (Carañgan) in La Castellaña, Philippines. Whilst on stopover in Manila on 22 April 2019 at 5PM, there was an intensity 5 earthquake.  I was in a parlor when suddenly the ground trembled and furniture started to shake, then the power went out.  The six people in that beauty saloon, which is on the ground floor of a 22-level building, stayed where they were whilst I rushed to the door barefoot and run to the nearby one-level-structure. I was the first person to get out and one of the last to get back as I was worried about aftershocks.

After the earthquake, there was fire two blocks away from where we were. I took this photo from our window.

Aftershocks are tremors that follow the main earthquake. They happen more frequently in the hours and days after an earthquake, but their magnitude and frequency decrease over time.  Even though their shaking intensity is relatively small compared with that of the main earthquake, they can destabilise buildings and injure people.

My sister, who flew from Australia to join our family reunion, was out shopping at that time when she realised there was an earthquake and walked back immediately. Several people advised her to stay where she was but refused telling them that she had to go back as her sister (that’s me) was still inside the building. Before she reached the parlor, she found me barefoot on the sidewalk beside a single-level elementary school. There was only a dozen of us in front of the elementary school, however, more than a hundred people were in front of the condominium as if waiting for the structure to collapse on them.  I couldn’t believe that after a stressful exit they would just stay right in front of the building. In times of panic, the brain switches on what it is used to. In that condominium the stairways are in front of the elevators and where the garbage bins are kept, which residents see or use regularly; whereas, the emergency exit is located at the other end of the building and is unknown to some residents and visitors, like me.   I could have been in a worse situation, e.g. having a shower or being in the elevator without a mobile phone or a torch.

According to Australia’s Victoria State Emergency Service (https://www.ses.vic.gov.au/), if you are indoors during an earthquake, you should do the following:

“Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and hold on until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

Do not use a doorway except if you know it is a strongly supported, load-bearing doorway and it is close to you. Many inside doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection.

Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

Do not use the elevator. Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.”

If you are outdoors during an earthquake, do the following:

“Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls.

If you are in a moving vehicle during an earthquake, stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If you are trapped under debris during or after an earthquake: Do not light a match. Do not move around or kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.”

As you have noticed, I didn’t act safely as I failed to stay inside until the shaking stopped.  Likewise, due to her love and care for me, my sister disregarded the basic safety and survival step by deciding to go back inside the building during the earthquake. I hope you won’t experience this incredibly life threatening situation; but if you do, follow the advice of the Victoria State Emergency Service and not what I did.

“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”.

The ABC of a lasting relationship


You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
— Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341–270 BC)

While in a jovial mood at last month’s carnival party, I agreed to my Polish friend’s invitation to dinner in a French restaurant five minutes on foot from my residence.

After some minutes of tiptoeing on the snow, my husband and I were ushered to a table in the middle of a room directly in front of a flat stage with standing microphone and sound system. All tables had only two chairs, and we were discouraged from mingling with other couples, including my Polish friends.

On the table was a beautifully cut-out paper in a shape of a turbine with a dozen questions, such as “What’s the best moment you had with your partner recently” and “What do you like most in your partner these days?”

During the appetiser, our conversation focused on the unusualness of the evening. There was a short show about relationships, which was really an introduction to the instructions and information on what’s going to happen next. We were given a piece of paper sealed by a small heart with topics for discussions, which ranged from needs to values. My husband and I started with honesty; then, we branched out into children and movies, which we weren’t supposed to do. It was meant to be a “tête-à-tête ». Thirty minutes later, they distributed to every couple a folded A4 paper that had 2 different pictures to be described to each other.

The main event of the evening was the discussion of what the organisers entitled the “L’ABECEDAIRE de la Communication du couple qui dure» (The ABC of a couple/relationship that lasts): attentes, besoin, comprehension, differences, ecouter, ferme, gentillesse, honnetete, intentions, jugements, klaxon, lien, moment, negocier, opportunity, pensees, questions, rire, silence, temoigner, utile, valuer, winchester, X, yeux, and zenith.

When translated into English, the above doesn’t follow the ABC flow; however, the message stays remain and true:

« Attentes » – expectations. Tell your partner your expectations rather than waiting for him/her to guess these.

Besoin – need. Ask questions about your partner’s needs.

Comprehension – understanding. Understand your partner and ensure that she/he knows that you understand him/her or what s/he goes through.

Differences – differences. Face the issues of differences in your relationship with empathy rather than find faults.

Ecouter – listen. Listen and not just hear his/her views and do this with patience and empathy.

Ferme – firm. Be firm yet respectful about the issues that are important to you.

Gentillesse – kindness. Whatever your disagreement, don’t be angry and defensive but appreciate your differences.

Honnetete – honesty. Be honest when you talk about your desires and feelings rather than accusing the other of ill communication.

Intentions – intentions. Don’t entertain negative intentions. Always ask if you’ve understood it well rather than assume the intentions of your partner.

Jugements – judgements. Accept that the other person sees things differently from you to avoid judging his/her opinions, needs and sentiments.

Klaxon ‘Tu, Tu, Tu’- horn (You, You, You). Avoid this sentence structure: You’ve to…, You need to…YOU…

Lien – bond. Maintain a strong bond by always telling your partner that s/he is important to you and your relationship even in the midst of quarrels.

Moment – moment.Prefer to talk about your feelings and thoughts of the present than the past and the future.

Negocier – negotiate. Negotiate that leads to a win-win situation, i.e. it incorporates both needs, which might mean compromising.

Opportunite – opportunity. Relationships are full of ups and downs. Choose an appropriate moment to talk about problems, i.e. when none of you is upset or annoyed, which may mean making an appointment.

Pensees – thoughts. When you want to express your negative thoughts, think seven times before saying these.

Questions – questions. Answer directly to questions pose by your partner.

Rire – laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine”. Laugh at the weaknesses of your partner rather than dramatise or exaggerate these. Laughing together is staying together.

Silence – silence. Don’t let silence be a usual or permanent part of your relationship.

Temoigner – witness.  Express verbal appreciation when your partner does something for you. Go for compromise or/and understanding of your differences, and be a constant testimony of this.

Utile – useful. Be certain about what you want to/have or want to say and be useful in finding solutions to the conflict or disagreement.

Valeur – value. Avoid devaluing the personality of your partner and comment on the result of the action rather than his/her value.

Winchester – Winchester (a large cylindrical bottle for holding liquid). Avoid a Winchester of accusations and blames as these block communication.

X – x (Native English speakers use ‘X’ at the end of a message to represent a kiss). Be generous with hugs and kisses even in times of disagreement.

Yeux – eyes. Look at the person in the eyes to show your genuine interest and attention.

Zenith – zenith (the highest point). The sun isn’t always at the zenith, as with your relationship. Accept that there are different seasons and moments in any relationship, but what’s constant is never abandon the willingness to communicate to each other.

Communication and compromise are needed in all relationships, not just in romantic or intimate ones.

All types of relationship cannot grow without communication, which is a skill (and not just knowledge) that can be learned (also correct ‘learnt’). Like all skills, we’ve to work at it, and let’s start with the ABC of a lasting relationship.

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.

Urban vs rural … even in chess

After 12 draws in classical games, Norwegian Magnus beat American Fabiano Caruana 3-0 in the rapid match in London two days ago (29/11/18) retaining his world chess champion title.

This year’s Moselle (France) Regional Chess Championship was held in Bliesbruck from November 1 to 4. Unexpectedly and unfortunately, only a quarter of the usual 80 chess enthusiasts turned up. I felt sorry for the organisers who evidently spent enormous time and resources to make it happen successfully. The main reason I heard was: Bliesbruck is out-of-the-way place. At least one person phoned and asked for the number of registered participants and when he found out that there were only 20, he said “There aren’t many, so I’m not going there”. If everyone had that mentality, there would not have been any tournament.

The newly renovated venue was spacious and well lit, has all the necessary amenities, and is situated in a green surrounding with ample playing fields for the children (e.g. football, basketball and tennis). The playing equipment and materials were comfortable, and everyone was made welcome. It’s an ideal place and condition for a chess competition. But, where were the other players?

Bliesbruck is a small French village located in the north-east of France, in the district of Sarreguemines which has a population of slightly over a thousand. For me, it was an opportunity to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

There are more than 20 chess clubs in Moselle; if each club had sent at least 2 players, the organisers would not have been disappointed.

Nevertheless, it’s a memorable tournament because everyone was very friendly, and no one looked stressed and unhappy. The referee was always in a good mood mingling with the players before and after the games. The strong players, including last and this year’s champion Mr Stephane Vignale, were accessible to everyone and generous with their smiles and advice.

The mayor of Bliesbruck came thrice during the tournament. Thus, it was not surprising that his speech sounded sincere. He spoke about his admiration for chess and the people who can play chess, including his childhood friend and family members.

The Sarreguemine Chess Club President, Mrs Marie-Christine Schumucker, and her devoted friends prepared awesome home-made cakes and meals. The cocktail (fruit juice, wine, champagne, sandwiches, cold meat, etc.) after the ceremony was well presented and more than adequate.

There was a community atmosphere, generosity of spirit and friendship during the 4-day tournament.

Chess is the best sport to exercise our brain. Playing chess might not tone our muscles but has a lifelong mental health benefits. Relevant officials, clubs and their members, schools and community organisations should ensure that the playing of chess thrives not only in urban centres but in towns and villages.

Globetrotting, sensible tourism

The 29th of September was a fantastic Saturday. It was sunny, which was ideal for outdoor activities, and peaceful. My friends and I opted for a 10-km walk that brought us to scenic, quiet places in three borders (France, Germany and Luxembourg).

We left our dwellings at 1:30 PM for the French village of Contz-les-Bains where we joined the 60 men, women and children eager to do the bush hike. The weather was conducive, the company was great, and the organisation was flawless. Above all, I felt close to nature, especially with the absence of “western” toilet.

Considering that there were some steep and sloping areas, we did fairly well. We got to our destination and came back in one piece feeling proud and wanting to do a similar undertaking soon.

What impressed me most was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste chapel, which was built in the first half of the 15th century and whose choir is classified as a historical monument. We passed by Stromberg, which used to be a place of exploitation of gypsum and dolomitic stones. We also stepped on grounds that lead to a village known for the Schengen Agreements which got rid of borders in most of Europe.

After the walk, I had the opportunity to talk with the organiser, who gracefully explained the principle and modus operandi of “Just Boarded”. I liked what I heard. They organise small adventures that respect the environment and give fair remuneration to everyone involved, particularly the local hosts and guides. In short, for me, it’s a sensible tourism in which you are a responsible traveller and not an insensitive tourist.

With concerns about overtourism and drive for health and fitness activities, this sort of holiday, weekend getaway or day trips is a positive action not only to our wellbeing but also to the sustainability of our planet.

According to the CNN, travellers should think twice about visiting these following places as their number of tourists have increased significantly and there are risks to their ecosystem: Isle of Skye, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Venice, Italy; Santorini, Greece; Bhutan; Taj Mahal, India; Mount Everest, Nepal-side; Machu Picchu, Peru; Galápagos Islands, Ecuador; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Antarctica (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/places-to-avoid-2018/index.html).

“Tourists who come to Nepal look at terraced fields and see their beauty but remain blind to the hard labour they extract from tillers.”
― Manjushree Thapa, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy

(I’m writing this article while in Sarreguemines for the annual Moselle regional chess championship. I did 2 games today and still 7 to go till Sunday.)

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?