Russia’s 3 Best Olympic Souvenirs? … Friendship, Friendship, Friendship!

Picture of Gzhel ceramic souvenir: Sochi 2014 Olympic Games Even the Leopard and the Hare Make Friends

Sochi 2014 Olympic Games Even the Leopard and the Hare Make Friends

When we travel abroad, we all want to bring home something, some souvenir, no matter how small, schlocky or seemingly without value.

If it isn’t for the value of the trinkets, why do we bother?

To me, the little things remind me of the people, the friends I’ve made and will remember.

Watching the Sochi  2014 Olympic Games, I see the athletes, not in tightly controlled village groupings, but in competition clusters- seeing old friends from games and competitions gone by.  Meeting on the half-pipe Iouri Podlatchikov says of Shaun White, “He’s been my inspiration- I came here not only to get a medal but to best Shaun.”

The Snowboarding teams are a new breed of athlete, dedicated to their sport, a tight-knit group. They see each other at the global practice facilities in New Zealand in August (their winter) and have admired each other’s best runs and technical moves on video.

Smiles Abroad: Picture of 4 friends from different countries

Global Friends

We sense the friendship, camaraderie, and respect- friendship among competitors who will forget all that for two minutes, then congratulate each other once the runs are over.

Social media allows everyone to be a global citizen these days. They tweet and post to timelines, drawing lines in the sand (snow) to denote where they were when they heard the news that they qualified, they won, they were dethroned. We compare events on a global stage now.

For Americans who aren’t taking part in the family that is #Sochi2014 or #TeamUSA, this week at home still has a similar feel. This week is like a reunion as children of the 60s remember the start of the “British Invasion” (the most friendly one to date). 50 years ago this week, the Beatles made their now famous appearance on America’s favorite variety show of the era, The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964).

Another souvenir gold rush. At home and abroad we’re being inundated with memorabilia- “where were you when…” Everyone it seems, has a ticket stub, a photo or even a concert flyer. Just like the Olympic athletes, the Beatles were a big deal apparently (just to clarify for all of you born after the 1980s)!

As the Superstars of the Olympic world continue to arrive in Sochi (remember that thing called Hockey?) what will people want to take away? Autographs? Photographs? Pin swaps are always huge.

Have you seen the Sochi2014 souvenir page(s)? The list of branded swag (or schlock, depending on your point of view of these things) is staggering.

[ Just as an aside, I’m curious about SKU. 130106. Who designed this thing? And I’m guessing that there won’t be many SKU. 157720s sold in the US.  (Go on, I know you’re dying to look! It’s like every other train wreck, we can’t help ourselves…

My personal favorite are the “tracksuits for four-footed athletes” that  have been designed with a glance to… basic qualities. Chest lace, pockets for accessories on the legs and a hood decorated with the Games ‘Sochi 2014’ marks, make it quite a distinctive garment.”

Ok, so buy a full set- may we suggest even matching owner/pet ensembles perhaps? ]

Family Photo: Sharing life

Family Ties as We Met Our Exchange Daughter’s Family

As this year’s Games have been among the most connected, I have enjoyed sharing tweets with some of the athletes as they gear up for their runs, slides, rides, dances, and team events. It reminds me of being back in Baku, bringing back the friendships I made during my ten years in the former Soviet Union.

Many of my students, later, my colleagues, often told me the highlights of their exchange years in America were marked by how close they felt to roommates, host families and friends they made from other countries. Those personal connections outlast any souvenir. And yet, some of these little things carry those powerful memories years later, drawing us back as if it were yesterday once more.

Over this past few weeks as Caryn and I were driving down to Houston to get her household goods moved, I passed a restaurant called O’Charley’s. It isn’t one of our biggest or most famous, but I smiled because I had heard about it many times from one of my closest students.

Sabina told me stories about how she and her roommate, “Amy from Tennessee” used to go to O’Charley’s and get some kind of a brownie sundae dessert. She laughed about how her friends and family teased her when she got back to Baku. Apparently her cheeks told the story of a few late night brownie runs. Living in Baku, that “souvenir” didn’t last long, but the memory survived. And she wistfully recalled the days and nights spent at the University of North Alabama with her US “sister,” Amy.

Picture of Souvenirs: Peaceful Coexistence- 11 Countries

Peaceful Coexistence- 11 Countries

I moved around too much as a kid to have many souvenirs- everything always had to be pared down before a move and we knew not to collect things while abroad.

But now as I travel, wherever I go I always meet someone I would like to remember. And I usually have a talisman, full of memories, when I come home.

These are a few of the special keepsakes I actually use often. Eleven countries are peacefully coexisting here. Can you find all 11? (I’ll give you the answers at the bottom!)

At home, I have taken over Joe’s downstairs and it has become the “international shrine to memories,” my 3D scrapbook as one of my expat friends called it.  I like that phrase. I don’t want pictures that sit closed up in a book. I’m not interested in packing away that part of my life yet, maybe not ever. These матрёшка (matryoshka) dolls sit behind me as I work each day in my office. Eight diverse countries greet me here each day in perfect peace and friendship.

My 3D Scrapbook: Friends Are Never Faraway

My 3D Scrapbook: Friends Are Never Faraway

I had dinner with half a dozen friends from Baku who are now in Houston and it was like yesterday that we were all together in Baku. We could have stepped outside Pasha (the restaurant in Houston – and been back there on the Площадь фонтанов (Fountain Plaza), on any given Baku night.

Friends are like that.

In spite of the myriad products the Sochi 2014 Games are hawking on their webpages, I think they are missing out on a few choice ones.

To my mind, Russia’s 3 Best Olympic Souvenirs are friendship, friendship, and more friendship!

I love that Pairs Figure Skating (Bronze Medalist) Marissa Castelli’s parents are sharing accommodations in Sochi with her partner Simon Schnapir’s parents, who are from Russia but emigrated to the US when Simon was less than 2 years old. Talk about an experience… and what a bond for them all.

It might have been to hard this time around, but I would love to have homes stays be a part of each mega-event like this.

I would be first in line to host a visitor from another country, to ensure they had a good view of my country- even here in DC, home of the free and dysfunctional. (Hey, we chastised Putin for not being transparent, so we should be willing to put up or shut up!)

If we could package that and market it all over the world, what a wonderful world it would be.


Ok, as promised. Need a clue with the countries question?  Or just want to see if you guessed them all? Here you go, the Museum tour begins:

Starting on the bottom shelf, it shouldn’t be hard to guess the Netherlands Delftware- the windmills and the “wooden” shoes, the pitcher, the plate and the two little KLM houses; The Russian counterpart blue ware is called Gzhel and the gold trimmed pitcher on the left is an example of that, along with the two ornaments, the kitten, and the man carrying wood with the puppy at his feet; the two geodes are from the USA; the two pieces of Jasperware are from Wedgwood, England; the flat tapestry bookmark  is from Turkey; the box of coasters in the silver and tile box is from Mexico.

The upper shelf of the photo is actually the middle shelf with more of Joe’s collectibles on top. On this middle shelf I have tea cups, personalized for me by my staff in Azerbaijan and a ceramic pitcher by one of my favorites artists in Baku- and a favorite story of trying to get that one piece home; A small perfume bottle in the left corner was a gift from Egypt; The Saki set (pitcher and small cups is from Japan, as is the fan behind and the kitten in the middle; the two green and gilt tea cups are from Germany, a gift from our exchange student Julie Rüster and her family, with whom we spent Christmas in Zeuthen; The grey cup is a “trophy” from St Andrews, Scotland– which I’m counting as a separate country, even though I understand the concept of the UK.

The “3D Scrapbook” photo has a red, white and tan tasselled Turkmenistan door hanging laying flat underneath the Russian Matyroshka dolls; a silver elephant from India; the lacquer box from Iran; a framed icon from Ireland from The Book of Kells (Trinity College in Dublin); an Azerbaijani clay medallion; two reindeer and bone knives from Sweden with leather sheath; and just out of sight of this photo is a blue velvet and gold braid Uzbek tubeteika or duppi cap.

To me all these “things” represent many hearts left behind, many memories brought home. Friendship, friendship friendship… It’s what keeps us travelling and discovering.

Hope you enjoyed this visit. Thanks so much for continuing to visit. I’d love to hear about your favorite souvenirs and/or memories. Any special friends you met on travel and still keep in touch with?

Share your stories with me and everyone else who is reading along, ok?

3 thoughts on “Russia’s 3 Best Olympic Souvenirs? … Friendship, Friendship, Friendship!

  1. I too collect souvenirs from our travels – I have plates, dolls, and other nick-knacks that I house in a glass unit in the lounge. They all bring back memories of wonderful places we have been to.
    Also thanks to skype, facebook and emails it is now so much easier to keep in touch with friends made while living in different countries, and it’s wonderful to keep up with what our kids are now up to, share photos, etc.


  2. I certainly agree, Sami… Isn’t it wonderful to pass that glass unit and see those souvenirs? If it weren’t for the friends and memories attached to them, the souvenir itself might mean less. Like you, I really love taking that walk down memory lane every so often, thinking of my friends and loved ones.

    When I first went to Baku there was no internet to speak of. We had computers to teach language but as stand alone pieces. About 7 months after I arrived, a visitor came over to my office and spoke of this thing called Netscape. I didn’t know what it was but it seemed to have promise… I guess that was an understatement for expat connections, wasn’t it? How much progress we’ve seen in these last couple decades!

    Thanks for sharing this, and keeping us up to date on how you’re doing. It’s hard to keep up with family even when they are in the same city, let alone across the globe!


  3. Pingback: Give Me Back Old Baku: Why Am I Afraid of Change? | Life Lessons

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