formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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January 28, 2014 From Paris, With Love

The Liberty Gazette
January 28, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: I wasn’t really surprised when my students handed me the bottle-sized box with "Mamont" emblazoned in gold lettering down the side. I was, however, kind of surprised by the caviar.
Working with foreign clients one becomes accustomed to the exercise of tradition and frequent offers of respect in the form of gifts; especially student-to-teacher gifts. It doesn’t really matter all that much what the gift is, but the gesture is an important part of many cultures, and it seems to me the significance and meaning reach beyond our notion of bringing an apple to class.

My non-U.S. clients come from Russia, Korea, Nigeria, Australia and South Africa. Each culture is unique and I notice a social expectation of respect I rarely see here in the United States anymore.

Mamont is Siberian vodka. Inside the snow-white box with bold lettering is a glass bottle fashioned in a tusk-like shape, inspired by the Yikagir Mammoth. We don’t drink vodka but the uniqueness of the bottle makes it fun to look at and, after all, we can appreciate the intent. Mamont, known as "The Spirit of Siberia," is filtered through Siberian rock and distilled six times from white winter wheat at the Itkul distillery, one of Russia’s oldest. I gratefully received it and two tins of caviar while standing in a frosty Paris parking lot, but pondered how these gifts would fare with U.S Customs.

The Paris-Houston direct flight brought me to Bush Intercontinental, where upon disembarking and entering Customs the agent examined my basket of treats and much to my surprise took no issue with the vodka, but scratched his head, looking for some sort of brand recognition on the cans of caviar. The words printed on the label are in the Russian Cyrillic language, which neither the agent nor I could decipher to compare to his "items approved" checklist. Resigned to the fact that he lacked the tools to make a decision based on knowledge, and using common sense instead, he looked up from his computer screen, then back at the cans again, roughly weighing them in his hands, then handed them back saying, "You’re cleared to go."

Now, since my diet doesn’t allow me to eat fish eggs, what to do with the caviar?

Linda: With a Christmas party to go to and needing something fun for the white elephant gift exchange I suggested the caviar paired with a classical music CD would make a pleasant and unusual gift. No, we did not include the vodka. While the novelty inspired chatter, it appeared that not everyone at the party likes classical music or is willing to indulge in caviar labeled with inscriptions they can’t read. No adventuresome Russians here!

Mike: Vodka seems to be a favorite gift from Russian crews. I recently received yet another bottle of a different label. Over the years Linda has made some delicious pie crusts from a recipe that includes vodka, but the collection is outpacing her baking.

I’ve also received "Mosaic" Babooshka dolls from a pilot from Mongolia, a set of four elephants carved from stone from a Nigerian pilot, and a hand-painted plate of the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed in Moscow’s Red Square from another Russian crew. I respect the traditions of these people and appreciate the unique treasures and the meaning in the giving.

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