Assalomu Alaykum! Salamatsyzby! здравствуйте!

Assalomu Alaykum! Salamatsyzby! здравствуйте! Hello!

My name is Kristina and I am a 26-year-old Austrian with a slight obsession with Central Asia and travelling to the more remote parts of the world. Learning a lot (of and about) languages, foreign cultures and trying to gain a better understanding of traditions while teaching German has been my mission in the past years.
Initially, this blog started out as a mere means to inform my friends and family about my life and adventures when I first moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It became a lot more than that to me after realizing that writing helped me to make sense of the strange world surrounding me, to deal with culture shock as well as to help me organize the chaos in my head. My Central Asian adventures haven't ended yet and I am looking forward to entertaining you with some more (crazy) stories from Kyrgyzstan in the very soon future!

I am also a couchsurf host - if you're planning a trip to Naryn, let me know on here and we can take it from there :)

I am always happy to hear from my readers, so please don't hesitate to contact me if you have comments or questions, about travel tips in Central Asia or about life in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan :)

Much love,

Montag, 10. Juni 2013

"Am I a racist?": The joys of expat life II

I was in the office with my boss and we were both concentrating on our work, as one of our colleagues (who I hadn't met before) entered the room, briefly looked at me and nodded in my direction. He started chatting to my boss in German.

"How was your business dinner last night?"
"It was alright.. many Uzbeks, and we had to pay for all of them."
"With sexy belly dancers?"
(I briefly raised my eyebrows there and looked at him perviously.)
"No..just food."
"Sometimes you do surprise me.. I don't think I would ever go to an Uzbek restaurant voluntarily."
" was terrible and I really didn't want to."

I stopped typing at this point and couldn't believe my ears that they would actually talk like that while somebody was listening. I looked at both of them, again, until they moved to a different conversation topic. And I sighed heavily. It was only later that I realised the funny element of the situation when our colleague came back to our room because he was looking for his keys. My boss had left at this point, so this guy asked me in English if I had seen his keys. I responded in German that I hadn't seen them. He froze, stared at me and just said "I didn't know you spoke German". Awkward much? 

The sad thing is that this is a standard senior expat conversation of which I have overheard way too many in the past weeks. This blog post is inspired by observations I have previously made at my workplace as well as by a conversation I had a few weeks ago with Heinar and Charlotte. Since then I've been thinking a lot about this, trying to form an opinion about something that I've been asking myself in a number of ways, but never as specifically as I have in the past weeks. I am obviously aware that I will only touch on a very complex topic and that it will be far from being all-inclusive, but this is a personal blog after all, so my personal expressions are the basis.

In my first blog post on the joys of expat life, I briefly mentioned the conversation I listened to by two senior expats: 

"I was drinking Glühwein with a group of 45-60 year-olds and overheard their conversations about a 19 year old Russian blondie, “tall, hot and with big tits”, who one of them would meet in a pub later on, obviously with the intention to take her home afterwards. They went on about how beautiful eastern girls were and that it was so difficult to resist. So Ulli and I joined the conversation and asked if they didn’t think that they were using these girls (who, in some cases, don’t really have any other choice, as it’s their only way to have access to money) and if they weren’t making use of their status as Westerners. One of them then started explaining to us that these women at least still knew what it meant to be a woman, namely to make men happy and do for him whatever he wants. After arguing with him for a little while, I had to leave the conversation because I was so disgusted." 

Now, I understand that these men were maybe just arseholes and sexist racists, just because it is part of their character. I have found it striking, however, how common these ideas are among some of the people I am working with right now. Don't get me wrong here - I have met the most wonderful, intelligent, respectful and interesting people here in Tashkent, simply because seeing the world and opening up to foreign cultures until it becomes a part of you changes your perspective so much. But.. I work in development at the moment. Wouldn't you think that people who are trying to improve the non-existing state of democracy in Uz, to save the remnants of the Aral Sea, to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights, are genuinely interested in making this world a better place? That they are interested in the culture that surrounds them? Obviously this is an idealistic notion of international cooperation and development, but honestly and really, WHY on earth would you go to Uzbekistan to help Uzbeks if you hate the country, Uzbek people and everything related to their culture? Don't you make life incredibly hard for yourself if you live in an environment that you despise and that you CONSTANTLY moan about, if you could have it SO SO GOOD (really?) at home? I suppose a good answer would be, because you get a shitload of money. Because you are someone. But is this really it? Can it be really only a decision you take for your career, rather than for what you are actually doing?

I started to ask myself the question, am I being racist too? Do I make generalising statements that could be perceived as racist? I met Charlotte and Heinar a while ago, and suddenly we started discussing this issue. His example of a racist behaviour on our side was the expectations we have when we go for dinner. I always call Uzbekistan the Dienstleistungsparadies (service paradise) because a lot of the time when you order at restaurants, people get your order wrong, forget about you, have you wait for 30min for a pot of chai, bring the wrong amounts of food, bring a sandwich with mayonnaise even though you told them explicitely that you want it without mayonnaise, bring 4 glasses although there are 6 people sitting at the table, etc. The list is long. So, as you go to the restaurant, you have all these expectations what they could get wrong this time and take precautions and order in a specific way to make sure that there is no way the waitress/waiter was not mentally absent, momentarily retarded or wasn't listening. I know this sounds extremely harsh, but if this happens to you on such a regular basis, of course you tend to think that all Uzbek waiters are  horrible. Even if it is only 30% and you don't register the 70% when it does actually go right. So when you go home, you tell everyone how Uzbeks have no feeling for good service. Racist much? Yes I think so, although I still think that that is a normal and human reaction. We categorise because it makes our lives easier. But don't we often unfairly pidgeonhole people without being open to their proving us wrong?

Charlotte then told us about this document on racism in travel blogs (, and she has a very interesting blog on this as well). Admittedly, I haven't read the whole thing and I found a few things a bit too extreme, but it raises a few questions on who "we" (as "Westerners") are, who "the others" are, how bloggers often reach conclusions that can only be based on a very superficial way of looking at their destination and its people, and how "we" often feel treated unfairly when people at the bazar charge us triple the price of what it would actually cost even though we are in the more privileged situation (because we can afford to travel). I think what it all comes down to is expectations - obviously everyone has certain concepts and ideas of what the world should look like, what people should behave like, depending on where they are from. As hard as we might try to avoid interpreting foreign places from the perspective of our own culture, I think that deep down we still do to a certain extent. Maybe not consciously, but a certain part of me will always feel annoyance, frustration or anger when the waiter gets something wrong - again, even if I do remind myself that I shouldn't generalise now. What matters is what we do with these emotions - that we reflect them - question them - accept that they are natural and completely normal but that they are hardly ever related to the actual situation but to the degree of expectations we had beforehand. I understand that this is not a great revelation and that this is pretty obvious, but for me, this is the only possible explanation as to why people like my co-workers behave the way they do: The big difference between living in a foreign culture for a longer period of time compared to being a tourist (even if its for a month) - when living there, you have to accept the things that are strikingly different, that annoy you, that you maybe hate, as something of your daily life, as something normal. And, believe you me, this was a bit of a difficult task in my first few months. When being a tourist, you can leave this place and complain about it, and that's it.

So my 'wonderful' co-workers have not only not understood that their behaviour makes them intolerant assholes, but also that their life would be a lot easier if they just started to accept their surroundings, even if they don't like everything about it.

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