Tag Archives: Bjorn Karlman

Hot New Thing: Korean Fusion Invasion

Ramen & Vegetables

Korean fusion is taking over.  Get used to it.

Voted “Hottest Cuisine of the Year” by the January 2010 edition of GQ, Korean eateries have been making inroads all over the United States in the last few years.  Gone are the days when unadventurous bores got away with dismissive comments and wrinkled noses at the suggestion of Korean for dinner.  Kimchi fusion just got sexy.  Ask the long lines of Angelenos that waited for a taste of kimchi-topped tacos from L.A.’s four KoGi taco trucks.  With over 51,000 Twitter followers, Kogi truck locations are tweeted to fans that then descend on them in hordes.

NPR quotes a devotee review on yelp.com:  “I tracked down Kogi Friday night… Life as I know it has ceased to exist. I want Korean BBQ tacos, I want them now and I want them every day for the rest of my life.”

Hop coasts and you’ll run into the Kimchi Bulgogi hot dog (a spicy dog with Korean-style barbecued beef and spicy kimchi), available from New York Hotdog and Coffee for $6.50.  Want a burger with a K-twist?  Burger House in Houston, a Korean burger joint, will fry you up a bulgogi burger for $4.95.  Korean Food Revolution., a post on iamkoream.com, talks about leading Korean American chefs “Korean-ifying” other mainstream dishes to positive effect.  The trend shows no sign of slowing down.

Of course, it doesn’t always work.  The Los Angeles branch of Korea’s Mr. Pizza Factory served up a flop with their “bulgeogi pizza, a slather of marinated beef, along with potatoes, bacon, sour cream and chives on top of a greasy pie.” (iamkoream.com)  Reviews were harsh.  You can’t win them all.

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Bjorn Karlman

Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo

street post with heaven ave and hell st signs

A fun-filled decade of evangelically-driven American foreign and domestic policy is behind us and despite best efforts to inject last minute sex-appeal à la Palin, Christian fundamentalism is fallen. Helpful clarifications and labels like the Axis of Evil are out of vogue.  Whereas previously, issues of national and international importance were seen through the handy prism of Dubya’s good vs. evil rhetoric, it looks as though we are actually going to have to think for ourselves again.

But the fact that Christian fundamentalism is losing its mojo does not mean that Christians are on the retreat.  If anything, moderate proponents of the faith are emerging from the shadows.  “I am a Closet Christian” confesses Ada Calhoun in a Dec 21, 2009 Salon.com article.  A New Yorker, Calhoun talks about her fear of being outed as a Christian: “Why am I so paranoid? I’m not cheating on my husband, committing crimes or doing drugs. But those are battles my cosmopolitan, progressive friends would understand. Many of them had to come out — as gay, as alcoholics, as artists in places where art was not valued. To them, my situation is far more sinister: I am the bane of their youth, the boogeyman of their politics, the very thing they left their small towns to escape. I am a Christian.”

Agonizing about how to verbalize her views on faith, Calhoun says, “it’s hard to talk about any of this without sounding dumb, or like a zealot, or ridiculous. And who wants to be lumped in with all the other Christians, especially the ones you see on TV protesting gay marriage, giving money to charlatans, and letting priests molest children?”

Moderate Muslims face a similar challenge.  After a decade of bad PR, the struggle remains to reshape Islam in the coming decade.  “The good news is that those Muslims who espouse militant ideologies no longer find a physical home in mainstream Muslim America… the New York-based al-Qaeda supporting extremist duo that calls itself “Revolution Muslim” has been reduced to heckling mosque-goers from the sidewalk,” says Shahed Amanullah in altmuslim.com / Global perspectives on Muslim life, politics & culture.

“Muslims Denounce Terrorism / Terror Has No Religion” reads a bumper sticker sold by the The American Muslim.  It’s hard to battle terror with talk of peace but as more and more voices demand an end to extremism, the tide may be turning.  It doesn’t hurt that Obama gave his first interview as President to an Arab broadcaster; that his Cairo speech was well-received or the fact that his envoy to address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is seen as more balanced than his predecessor.

What the coming decade holds is anyone’s guess.  Hopefully, a new tone is being set. “We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things….” said Obama in his Inaugural Address. Dodging any delusional salvation-through-Obama drool, perhaps there still is hope that childishly extreme religious rhetoric has seen its heyday in the US.

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Bjorn Karlman

The Pencil in a Smart Man’s Pocket, Part I

business woman

When New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter dubbed Tina Fey “the sex symbol for every man who reads without moving his lips”, he not only described the Sarah Palin-killing 39-year-old comic genius behind 30 Rock, but an entire feminine ideal for some men.  You know what I mean:  hotness defined by both brains and beauty, the late-blooming nerd wearing a “The Show’s Upstairs” T-shirt.  The antithesis of the FHM pinup.  The witty girl with the quirky smile and cute butt.

“…conventional pin-ups have it easy,” says Rohan Joshi on mid-day.com, “the more your neckline plunges, the higher your stock and search results rise, fueled by the fevered keystrokes of a million hormonal teenagers…. Every single beautiful woman I’ve ever seen interviewed in a magazine says they like guys who can make them laugh. The thinking man’s pin-up goes one step further. She makes him laugh. Which explains why my closest friends would take a bullet for me on a normal day, but would gladly put six in me if doing so earned them a date with Tina Fey. She’s gorgeous, she writes for (and presents) Saturday Night Live, she’s got her own uber-funny sitcom (30 Rock), and she found time in the middle of all that to go off and have a baby, and take on Sarah Palin.”

So, is the intellectual’s pinup an even more impossible ideal than a Playboy centerfold?  As Tina Fey is very much taken, what lies on the horizon for men that like their women both cute and brainy?  There is a really fine balance here, because the answer certainly isn’t for women to take on a Clintonesque gravity about them or to adopt what the thedailybeast calls “a castrating nature.”

Touré of the Daily Beast elaborates: “Can a woman be independent, creative, sharp, witty, strong, and self-empowering without making me feel like she wants to be a man? Ann Coulter and Judith Regan could never make the list—they’re sexy, brainy, powerful, but I feel like they secretly want to steal my manhood.”

It would seem that a lot of the qualities that women find sexy in men, are equally on target for what men find sexy in women.  Take Salon’s Sexiest Man Living 2008 for example.  “There’s more to life than pretty boys… Salon picks the men who really drive us mad,” reads the tag.  Included in those that make the listing are Obama – “Calm is sexy… Command is sexy…” and Indian-American Kal Penn of Harold & Kumar go to White Castle – “it’s not just Penn’s soulful good looks that make our knees go weak, it’s his erudition and political awareness.”

These traits, complementing an already attractive man or woman, are a definite turn on and are likely to be around far longer than perfect legs and a healthy bust.  Take it from Joshi:  “The fact that she’s gorgeous is just a lucky roll of the genetic dice. And that right there is the biggest epiphany of them all when it comes to the thinking man’s pin-up. When time cruelly, and inevitably, takes those pin-up-looks away, you’ll realise that it was really never about them at all.”

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Bjorn Karlman

Is professional success in a female emasculating?  This and more in Part II….

Mail Order Husbands

Smiling senior woman using credit card and laptop

It’s a gaping hole of an opportunity for the entrepreneurially-minded.  While there is a highly developed mail order bride industry that has spread for years through catalogs and on the Internet, there is nothing for women who might like to swipe their Visa card for an exotic hubby.  If you do your homework online you will probably come across mailorderhusbands.net.  The bummer here is that this is a spoof site.  Here are some of the husbands featured:

Faud from San Benardino, Calif.: “HALF PRICE” is printed over his face and his ad says: “Ladies, I’m still available. I’ve been here for about 2 years. what gives? Don’t ya wanna party with me? woohoo… They lowered my price twice already. I’m a red-hot special, come and get me.”

Bertram from Manitoba, Canada: Clyde seeks Bonnie to be partners in crime… I am a trouble maker! Techno-hedonist prone to psychobabble and taking stupid risks. Fun craving, riot inciting, thrill seeking geek girls preferred. Choir girls need not apply, because I plan on committing a few sins and misdemeanors in my time. I got booted off Match.com for cyber stalking but I’m better now.

Akim from Lebanon: It’s actually quite ridiculous that I’m here. I do extremely well for myself – meeting ladies everywhere I go. Since I don’t really need this, you might not hear back from me, but I do appreciate all your notes.

If you want the real deal though, it’s not looking good.  There’s virtually nothing to compete with the plethora of options available to men looking for foreign-bought brides.  The closest you could get was featured in an April 24, 2006 article in Associatedcontent.com.  Featured was the Golden Boys marriage agency based in Ukraine that featured gay Ukrainians looking for marriage.  The link to the English version of the Golden Boys website no longer works, so no luck there.  More to the point, if you are a woman looking for straight men, you have not even moved from square one.

No wonder then that askville posts a particularly exasperated WHERE DO I FIND “MAIL-ORDER HUSBANDS???” inquiry.  The ads and replies say it all.  The ads are for online dating sites, How2DetectAffair.com and other unsatisfactory solutions.  Then all the actual answers turn to mail order bride catalogs and sites on the one hand and warnings to shun mail-order approaches on the other.

Looks like mundane reality may still offer the best options.  Shmitten Kitten, in an article titled Oh F*** It: We’re Gonna Get a Mailorder Husband, responds to the options on mailorderhusbands.net: Is this site sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation or something because this is making Philly guys look like an entire city of Brad Pitts.  After skimming this site for two minutes, I’d take a flaky artist with a working knowledge of the Belle & Sebastian back catalog over these wackjobs any day of the week.

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Bjorn Karlman

Public Bum Scratching

scratch the bottom“Dear Bossy: I work with a man who repeatedly scratches his rear end.  How can i tell him this is unacceptable office behaviour without offending him?”

The question was posed on Australia’s Ask Bossy Blog.  Here’s the verdict:

Bossy says: … it’s time to abandon politics and get straight to the point.

Next time he goes in for a scratch enquire politely whether he has “found anything good?” When he looks quizzical, just make the motion of scratching your own behind. Embarrassing for him yes, but in many ways a public service. He needs to be alerted to the face that scratching your bum in public is not the key to success; bum excavation being almost always best done in private.

PS.  Other questions you could pose are: “Picking a winner? or “mining for opals?”

On asianfanatics.net for everything asian a forum was simply asked “do you scratch your butt in public”.  Responses were varied:

da freek: we live in a free world . . . and i’d say if it feels good .. do it !!  so i will scratch my ass in public but i refrain from scratching my groin…

orangekoko:  hMm.. i totally do that. hahaha most of the time.. unless im in front of my boss or something like that. he would yell the crap outta me. =D

cal:  If You Need To Scratch Your Butt. You Have A Personal Hygiene Problem :lol?: And No I Don’t Scratch My Butt.

A huge proportion of respondents admitted to discrete butt scratching, preferably in a restroom or through sitting down in such a way that the appropriate patch of rump receives attention.

Bum Scratching is not only a concern in the physical world, you may need to pull it off in video games.  For example, if you have an itch that needs tending in Halo 3, look no further than this WikiHow article.

1. Put your weapon down. (RB + LB + A + LS + Down D-Pad). Press all these at the same time, with your upper lip, chin or toe pressing “Down” on the “D-Pad”. “LS” is pressing the left stick down.

2. Find another weapon, preferably a small or medium sized one.

3. Crouch while switching between them rapidly. Other players will see you scratching your butt.

But back to the physical world.  If you want to get to the root of the problem, you probably should go for ANA.NO.ITCH The itch STOPS here! Naturally.”  Natacha from Schaumburg, Ills. can vouch for the efficacy of this product:

You are my prayer come true.  I have been dealing with this annoying itch for 4 years.  Nothing helped.  I would cry myself to sleep (if I fell asleep.)  No OTC, Rx medicine helped.  There were days & nights I would lay on the bed just helplessly crying.  I used AnaNOitch-D and IO am itch free! finally.  Thank you.  You saved my life from “THE ITCH.”

So there you have it, as the ANA.NO.ITCH website so aptly puts it:  THE HOLIDAYS ARE GOING TO BE WITH US SOON!  DO YOU REALLY WANT TO BE ITCHING…….. OR HAVING FUN?  YOUR CALL!

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Bjorn Karlman

Hollywood’s White Savior Complex

mary joseph christIn his “The Progressive Corner’s Blog” African American History Professor Ibram H. Rogers blasts the new Hollywood release The Blind Side – a true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American who is taken in by a well-to-do white family that helps him fulfill his potential: “the plot is old, just like many of the other White Savior Flicks. A Black person is doing nothing with his life, virtually homeless, with no past and no future, and then all of a sudden, a perfect, prosperous and humane White family appears… and they change his life.  Whiteness saving Blackness—vividly depicted in this film.”

Rogers’ problem isn’t with the portrayal of an isolated case of generosity but more with Hollywood’s history of being “a major purveyor of White paternalism in this country. The vast majority of the stories about racial situations always have to be some central White character saving Black people…”

And it’s not just Rogers who is upset.  Complex.com finds enough inspiration from The Blind Side to chronicle The Great White Hope: A History of Subtly Racist Sports Movies.  It turns out this infraction is the latest in a whole slew of testosterone-flavored prejudice ranging from Keanu Reeve’s coaching troubled black children in Hardball, to Ed Harris helping a mentally handicapped black boy find his inner greatness in Radio, to Cool Runnings where a rotund John Candy saves the day by coaching the Jamaican bobsled team to Olympic fame.

And the white man does not only save the day in sports.  Regrettablesincerity.com’s The White Man’s Here.  Who Needs Some Assimilation? attacks Clint Eastwood’s record of being a “condescending dolt”. Gran Torino is very much about saving immigrants from their own behavior, under the aegis of a pure (white), stern (strong-willed) heterosexual (masculine).”  To Kill a Mockingbird, The Constant Gardner, Mississippi Burning, Ghosts of Mississippi are all listed as other examples of Hollywood’s white man or woman coming to the rescue.

This may sound like over-sensitive whimpering by touchy minorities and whiny liberals.  Occasionally you see the other side of the coin.  The same Complex.com article points out that The Legend of Bagger Vance features Will Smith saving the day for a white man.  Finally some balance?  Not really. Will Smith plays a ghost.

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Bjorn Karlman

European America Bashing Going Out of Vogue?

USA world dominationIn most of the countries I’ve lived in (including the United States), there is always a group of people that is hellbent on some quality America-bashing.  America’s global policing, its economic bullying, it’s worldwide export of popculture, George W. Bush – the list seems endless when it comes to beef with the United States.  Before living in the US, I would gladly participate in these bashing sessions.  It just felt right somehow –  a way to get back at the country equivalent of the chubby playground bully with too many toys.

After moving to the the United States for college, my views started to change.  Part of it was having American friends.  Instead of seeing America as summed up in the ideology of a certain political leader, I saw real people.  While l thought of Bush’s post 9/11 foreign policy in the Middle East as sheer lunacy, I was able to separate my thoughts on this very polarizing leader from the many conversations that I had enjoyed with American friends of mine that seemed very balanced in their views regarding America and its place in the world.

As I began to identify myself more and more closely with the United States, a sense of loyalty to my adopted country emerged and I caught myself defending the United States abroad.  When fellow Europeans would point out the death penalty and the huge economic disparities in America as evidence that the United States was a backward playground for cowboys, I would counter with the fact that huge parts of the American population are very vocal in their opposition to these very same things.

In a May 13, 2007 article from The Washington Post titled “4 Myths About America-Bashing in Europe”, William Drozdiak talks about what he calls the “love-hate melange” between Europe and the United States.  He asks: “Why has U.S. stature in the world eroded?  Opinion polls cite widespread dismay with the Iraq war, our dog-eat-dog social model and the arrogance of an imperial superpower that places itself above international law.”  Despite all this, Drozdiak claims that there is a “reservoir of goodwill waiting to be tapped among foreigners who would prefer to see the United States succeed rather than fail.”

He makes the point that European political leaders are actually fairly pro-American.  France’s Sarkozy is very supportive of the United States.  Angela Merkel in Germany has made a number of high-profile visits to America. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and the current PM Gordon Brown are both good friends of the US.  Also, especially young Europeans seem to want to study and work in the US.

As for social models, Europe is learning the pitfalls of running welfare states and is looking to the United States for ideas on possible reforms.  Of course, American popculture is all the rage.  Finally, Europe is not limited to liking only American Democrats.  Although most hated George W. Bush, nobody wants flimsiness in foreign policy à la Clinton’s early 90s policy that allowed the Balkan attrocities to take place more or less unchecked.

Since Drozdiak’s 2007 article and despite the ongoing strife in the Middle East, Barack Obama’s outreach to this part of the world does not go unnoticed in Europe.  Obama’s diplomatic overtures won him the Nobel Peace Prize.  The dramatic facelift he has given the United States in terms of international diplomacy and goodwill has made this one of the easiest times to travel as an American in Europe for decades.  So there’s hope for a warming of relations in the next decade.  Especially if baby boomer American tourists leave their ghastly white sneakers stateside when they hop the pond.

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Bjorn Karlman

Surviving “Fresh off the Boat” (FOB) Parenting…

Junge Türkin bei Dreharbeiten

It happened WAY too much.  And it always happened when we were already running late.  Our old, disgracefully dilapidated beast of a Buick would shut off at the bottom of the long, steep driveway to the cookie-cutter Marietta, Ga. apartment complex where we lived.  My high-strung über-Scandinavian mother would then proceed to frantically wind down the car window, stick her head out as far it would go and yell “It STOPPED!!” with shrill, Nordic determination to the annoyed assortment of early-morning drivers behind us.  Humiliated, my sister and I would shrink down in our seats, willing the moment to pass.

This, of course, was only one of the whole smorgasbord of awkward experiences my sister and I had growing up with FOB (Fresh-off-the-boat) parents who had about as much interest in blending into local culture as we did in sticking out like sore thumbs.

I’ve met enough children of FOBs to detect some patterns.  The first of these is that immigrants often have an idealist, nonconformist streak.  It took guts and ignoring naysayers to move from their homelands.  Now that they are here, some of these qualities manifest themselves in a stronger-than-usual sense of motivation. They are also less likely to concern themselves with what others think.  While this singular focus has worked well for them, their children (who are more concerned with blending in) will often find this focus too narrow and abrasive.  I’ve rarely witnessed kids that have been able to change their FOB parents.  It seems that the best thing to do is to appreciate your parents’ work ethic and recognize that they are who they are.

Another thing about FOB parents is that although they (in most cases) chose to leave their home countries, they often are extremely patriotic and nostalgic about the homeland they left behind.  They will wax lyrical about the food, the culture and the beauty of home.  Ask them if they would like to go back though and they quickly shake their heads or talk loosely about what they might do in retirement. If you were born to FOBS and have to listen to your parents and their nostalgic rambling, take it all with a grain of salt.  It is good to be aware of your roots but realize that time and distance have probably embellished the memories of your parents’ home.

One of the more obvious things about FOB parents is their accent and how they carry themselves. Accents rarely change if someone learns a language as an adult so chances are that your FOB parents really sound foreign.  My mom’s accent used to embarrass me, but nowadays it is much more of a source of amusement.  As with most things about foreign parents and their cultural idiosyncrasies, if you can see the humor in the situation, you can actually enjoy it.  On that note, let’s conclude with a video from HappySlip, a YouTube-based comedy series by Christine Gambito, a Filipina American who plays all her characters and who has the funniest take I have ever seen on the FOB experience…

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Bjorn Karlman

Culturally Sensitive Skinny-Dipping

arhitecture details of neptun's statue.

Here’s a paraphrase of a wikiHow entry on how to skinny-dip without causing a ripple:

1)  Scan the area – Do not be an idiot.  Auntie Elma will not be amused at your spontaneous stripping.  Pick secluded beaches or obliging groups before you bare it all.

2)  Watch your timing – Slip away at a slow point of the party if you opt for a clandestine approach.  If you are an exhibitionist, wait for everyone to settle down then head for the high dive.

3)  Do not wimp out and disrobe in the water.  Stand tall and give it your all… be dramatic.

4)  If you feel uncomfortable, ignore step three and dive in the second you’ve stripped.

Even more amusing than steps 1-4 are the warnings, one of which is “You’ll look like a pervert if you are the one to suggest skinny-dipping, be careful!”  Helpful.

How-to instructions such as these seem to suggest that you can make any practice culturally-acceptable with the appropriate finessing.  Who knows?  Maybe these steps really do result in culturally appropriate skinny dipping. But it is not as though we can just apply legitimizing steps to any practice and expect everyone’s applauds.  Some practices simply will not fly in certain cultures.

Knowing this in theory doesn’t stop us from acting completely oblivious to it in practice.  Examples abound of flagrant abuses.  An enthusiastic romp between randy tourists in the back of a Malay bus can result in some time in a cell. Latin-style parties in Zurich suburbs will likely result in phone calls to the police.  We rationalize what we want to do but often forget the context of culture and how unforgiving it can be.

It is as if, subconsciously, we expect what is normal and acceptable to us to be the same for others. This kind of thinking lies at the very heart of culture clash – an unwillingness to really look at life through the lenses of another culture.  A useful definition of culture clash is: “When one or more cultures are integrated into one environment, causing disruption and challenging contemporary traditions. Often occurs in multicultural societies.” (urbandictionary.com)  This “integrated” state is never seamless and clashes are to be expected.

The key lies in basic savviness and the ability to look past one’s own rationalizations to think deeply about the other’s culture. Make an effort. Concretely this can mean watching movies set in the target culture to get a feel for how things work.  Asking good questions of friends from that culture helps too.  What can help most is to show some interest in getting on the particular culture’s social calendar of birthdays, holidays, holy days and other celebrations. If you show this kind of interest, people will take notice of you.  You may even get on the pool party guest list.

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Bjorn Karlman

How to Go from Tourist to Insider In Four Easy Steps

femme afroI hate tourists.  They walk around obliviously, slowing everyone down as they consult flimsy, hotel-issued maps and fuss over pictures in front of every street corner with an assortment of cameras hanging around their necks.  They ask the dumbest questions, wear the most outdated fanny packs and Hard Rock Cafe Roma (This is STOCKHOLM, Stupid) T-shirts and have an odd affinity for cheap, mass-produced crap like glow-in-the dark Eiffel Towers and organic, phallus-shaped chocolate Towers of Pisa.

Some of my hate has to be inwardly directed though, because I have so often been the tourist stopping traffic as I chase down the illegible street map that has blown out of my hands and into the busy street.  Not fun.  And not what your next trip has to be like.  Here’s your fast track to insider status:

Get Religion: Or at least visit something like a church, synagogue, mosque or even a local chapter of a club that you are associated with at home.  These are great places because locals tend to be friendly in them and WANT visitors.  Suddenly, you are no longer an annoying tourist.  Instead, you have been transformed into an exotic guest that they will want to invite home, show all the best places and generally entertain.

Volunteer: Enjoy doing something service-related once in a while?  No better place to do this than while on a trip overseas.  Not only will you feel the satisfaction of having helped people out, you will connect with trustworthy locals who are like-minded and will want to get to know you.  If you are stumped for short-term service projects abroad try woofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) where you get free food and lodging around the world in exchange for volunteer help on organic farms.

Skip the hotel and Stay at the Home of a Local: This is not as impossible as it sounds.  Don’t despair if you don’t know a soul in your destination country.  Check out www.couchsurfing.org.  The organization has a network of people around the world who let guests crash at their places for free. Membership is great because the idea is you can host or be a guest whenever it suits you.

Forget the Blitz-Krieg Tour: If you want to feel like an insider, there are two advantages to planning prolonged stays in one place as opposed to city hopping.  First, a stay of a couple weeks to a couple months will ensure that you have a rudimentary lay of the land and know the basics like good local eats, the price of a taxi and the time wasters to avoid.  Second, the locals will invest more in you the longer they think you will stick around.  If you are back on the train in a couple of days they won’t even bother learning your name.  If you are there for a few weeks you stand a good chance of forming some relationships and learning to dodge the tourist traps in favor of some authentic local experiences.

A final word:  Generally speaking, people in most places are about as comfortable with you as you are with them.  If you show some real warmth and interest in them, chances are they will reciprocate.  So don’t sit around feeling awkward and out of place.  Insider status is yours for the taking.

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Bjorn Karlman