Culture Smart! Belarus
published by Kuperard (part of Random House)
written under my pen name of Anne Coombes
Reviews of my Belarus edition (extracts from Amazon users)
‘As a Belarusian I could recognise myself on many of the pages. I would certainly recommend the book as I enjoyed it a lot. You may want to supplement it with Nigel Roberts’ travel guide but it lacks Anne Coombes’s down-to-earth observations and critical eye about the people who live there. This is the most accurate travel book about Belarus I have seen.’
‘This is an excellent series and Anne Coombes has done a comprehensive job getting to grips with Belarus – which is a country unlike any other. I visited Minsk a couple of years ago and wish I’d had this guide with me at the time…… it opens up a new realm of understanding.’
‘Really helpful little book. The history of this country is complicated and the people have for many years suffered at the hands of others. Gave me good insight into the country and the amazing people.’
‘I love the Culture Smart series – as they really try to show you the local psyche rather than concentrating on what to see and do. The Belarus edition is one of the best I’ve come across, having some great personal anecdotes as well as more objective information. The author has done a good job of showing us something different.’
‘Having lived in Minsk myself for a while, I wish this guide had been available then, not only to enthuse me beforehand but to steer me in my interactions with Belarusans once I had arrived. I shall be looking for others in the series.’
The Culture Smart! series
The series provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behaviour in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies and sensitive issues.
I was commissioned to write the Belarus edition from scratch, having lived there for three years. The book offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of Belarus, aimed at those travelling for business or for pleasure.
This series of concise guides tells you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge enables you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, to feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and to develop trust, friendships and successful business relationships.
The contents include:
* customs, values, and traditions
* historical, religious, and political background
* life at home
* leisure, social, and cultural life
* eating and drinking
* dos, don’ts, and taboos
* business practices
* communication, spoken and unspoken
Reviews of the Culture Smart series
‘Culture Smart! has come to the rescue of hapless travellers’ – Sunday Times Travel
‘The perfect introduction to the weird, wonderful and downright odd quirks and customs of various countries’ – Global Travel
‘Full of fascinating, as well as common sense, tips to help you avoid embarrassing faux pas’ – Observer
‘offers glimpses into the psyche of a faraway world’ – New York Times
Extracts from the edition
The Potato Eaters
Belarusians adore potatoes – particularly served as draniki. In fact, they eat so many spuds (around 170kg per person annually) that their neighbours have nicknamed them Bulbashi: potato-eaters. Potatoes are such a staple that it’s hard to imagine any meal without them. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association, Belarus grows more potatoes than any other country on earth (Russia is ranked 18th)
Toasting has its own set of rituals. When being formal, the first toast is made to the guest of honour. The second is for friends and the third is to women (praising their beauty and talents). You can toast any occasion or object (except the deceased at a funeral). Toasting a new car or fur coat is a charming local custom, showing appreciation of good fortune. Glasses are filled while on the table. Raise your glass during a toast, ‘clink’ glasses with everyone (a show of friendship and trust), keep eye contact, then down your vodka in one gulp. Don’t let your glass touch the table again until it’s empty. In military circles, it’s traditional to toast the award of a medal: you place it in a glass of vodka, drain the spirit, then remove the decoration and put it on.
Singletons should never sit at the corner – unless they want to remain unmarried. If you drop a fork or spoon, a female guest will soon appear. A fallen knife indicates that a man will arrive. To reverse this, tap the utensil on the table three times and say ‘stay at home.’ Playing with your knife is bad form – supposed to encourage arguments. If there are 13 people at the table, two must be in love – even if they are unaware of the fact; this gives plenty of scope for teasing. Once a bottle is empty it should be speedily removed from the table, otherwise there will be no full bottles in future. Sitting between two people of the same name is thought to be very lucky however.
Reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine exploded on 26th April 1986. The explosion released over 100 times more radiation than that seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Belarus lay directly in the path of danger, with winds blowing the fallout straight over the border. The south and southeast of the country remain particularly affected by radiation, having taken around 70% of the total fallout.
The long term social and psychological effects have been significant. Incidences of depression and alcohol dependence in affected areas have risen – exacerbated by a lack of employment opportunities and a sense of fatalism. Many women from these regions have long been scared of having children, fearing abnormalities; those who move away may try to keep their former home secret, anxious that men won’t marry them. The Belarusian government is now implementing a revival plan to set up factories and provide modern housing, schools and hospital facilities, addressing a desperate need. Gradually, hope is returning.