Memories of a Russian winter: Part 2 – shopping

Dom Knigi (House of Books) in St Petersburg
CC photo via Flickr: House of Books in St Petersburg, one of my favourite places to visit

Given the 21st-century backlash against consumerism, it might seem contrary to write a post about my experiences of shopping in Russia, but different country, different era.

What’s more, shopping presented one of the best opportunities we had as students to practise our language skills in a ‘real’ environment outside the classroom.

As I mentioned in my first post about living in Russia in the 90s, after morning lectures had finished, we invariably headed off into the city centre of St Petersburg to see what we could find.

Shops in Russia – even a major city like St Petersburg – were an oddity. Not their existence, rather what they sold.

Buying food

There wasn’t much originality in shop names in 1992. For example, there were numerous places called ‘Moloko’ meaning milk. The irony was that milk was almost never on sale in these shops – in fact, the primary product available appeared to be cognac (the Russian version).

Looking for items of food was always a major element of our excursions into town. Certain items were always available: every second shop’s window display was stacked with jars of pickled goods.

Pickling was of course, a necessary way for citizens to preserve a glut of produce before they went bad (although I didn’t properly understand that at the time). Continue reading “Memories of a Russian winter: Part 2 – shopping”

Why a story beats facts every time

I’ve been reading – and been thoroughly blown away by – Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory* this January.

It interweaves the stories of nine different people who become linked as a result of a natural catastrophe – it’s very much a story of our time, but I was struck by the following quote contained within.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Those two sentences seem to sum up much that’s taking place in today’s world.

The ‘story’ of climate change

As the bushfires rage in Australia, the debate about climate still doesn’t appear to have been won. In fact, the climate change deniers incredibly still seem to be making things work to their own advantage.

Which is why the quote from The Overstory resonated so much. It came hot on the heels of an excellent episode of Michael Rosen’s BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth, that focusses specifically on how to best communicate the concept climate change to a wider audience and why telling the right stories about climate is the way to make people understand what’s happening.

Ultimately – and it’s a well-worn trope and one which I’ve used many times myself – it’s a story’s influence on someone’s emotions and feelings that really changes how they think.

The reason that fake news often works is because it taps into something far deeper than the plain facts. Fake news is designed to ‘push your buttons’, to arouse a strong feeling, one that will stay with you long after a specific piece of information.

Use emotion to motivate

But storyelling and feelings aren’t just used for negative purposes. They can motivate too.

Psychologist Adam Grant carried out an experiment back in 2007 (detailed in his excellent book Give and Take*), where he and his team arranged for a team of call centre workers to meet (for just 5 minutes) a scholarship student at the university who benefited from their fundraising efforts. The workers were able to hear the student’s story of her studies.

A month later, callers who had interacted with the scholarship student spent more than two times as many minutes on the phone, and brought in vastly more money.

So when you next start arguing with someone, reeling off facts in an effort to convince them of something, think about trying a different approach. Tell a story and make them ‘feel’.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
Maya Angelou

– o O o –

* This is one of those affiliate links which means that should you decide my recommendation is worth more than a grain of salt and you buy ‘said item’, I end up earning a pittance of money in return. It costs you nothing in return, by the way.

The most important book you’ll read this year

Many of you will have heard of Hans Rosling. He was an eminent Swedish public health physician and lecturer who came to public attention through a number of TED talks he gave, explaining how little most of us (in the Western world, anyway) really know about the world.

Sadly, Rosling died in February 2017, but his legacy lives on in his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World, co-written with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna.

As a book, its aim is very simple. To explain why the world is in a better place than you think and to emphasise that most of what you know is wrong. Rosling achieves this by asking a series of multiple-choice questions, most of which you fail miserably on. Continue reading “The most important book you’ll read this year”