Raging at the world? Move to Stuttgart, the world’s least stressful city

Stuttgart

It’s tempting on occasion to think the world is falling apart, with everyone turning on each other and attacks coming out of nowhere.

But then I put down the PS4 controller and feel immediately at ease.

Thankfully it’s just a game, and I can escape at will. In the real world many aren’t so lucky, with it taking a little more than an adult colouring book to restore sanity.

A survey by Zipjet – a dry cleaning service in London (yes, I’m surprised too) – has helpfully revealed the most stressful and the least stressful cities on Earth. The dry cleaners reveal that the purpose of the study was to find out how the most stressful cities can benefit from the example of cities least affected (those it’s not clear how, and why it’s of interest to a dry cleaning service).

In the unlikely event you’re based in Baghdad, you might want to look away now, as your city came first.  The Iraqi capital scored worst across areas such as pollution, economic factors and health (physical and mental).

Kabul was ranked second, and while tempting to think that Mogadishu was next, another African city – Lagos – emerged third most stressful worldwide.

The full list of 150 cities included a surprise or two, as might be expected with any survey. It’s difficult to object to former conflict-torn cities placed lower down the list…but Kuala Lumpur in 110th?

How is Malaysia’s famously laid-back capital more stressful than Tokyo (72nd), Hong Kong (74th) and New York (84th) – cities equally famed for their long hours and high pressure?

Reaching for a mindfulness app to bring down my blood pressure as I contemplated such madness, I turned to look at the five most tranquil cities in the world.

And they all look rather ho-hum, with the exception of one city known for its annual beer festival.

Stuttgart tops the list, with Luxembourg ranked second ahead of Hanover, Bern and Munich. These places also do rather well in quality of life surveys.

So it’s crystal clear: if you’re looking to relocate to somewhere chilled, learn German first. And if you want to avoid stress in your life, give war-battered cities a miss.

Learning Mandarin and Arabic, languages of the future, is easier than ever

Doha in Qatar

Working in the Middle East last year, I met a Spaniard who spoke impeccable Arabic. It seemed perfect down to his earnest expressions, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealously. Especially since he was also very tall, undeniably handsome, and sang Cat Stevens beautifully as if he was an understudy.

He probably had other secret abilities concealed up his neat sleeve somewhere; free-diving in the Arctic, perhaps, or designing space stations for fun.

There isn’t much I can do about raising my height (Tom Cruise shoes perhaps), and I’m probably a little old for serenading anyway, but a few lines in Arabic are likely to turn a head or two at some stage in life. (My looks are fine, I should add.)

The same applies to the other influential languages in the 21st century – Spanish, Chinese, German, Japanese, Russian,  French, Hindi and Portuguese.

Fortunately I was exposed to Mandarin while living in China. Regrettably I didn’t give it maximum attention, learning only the basics and resorting to mostly calling a friend and asking for help at times of need.

I’m not alone. Two years ago, concerns were raised in the UK that that there wasn’t enough language learning.

This is a pity, as China, Cat Stevens Tribute, and my experiences as a lifelong Spanish speaker have shown me that knowing another language is incredibly useful if you want to make friends and influence people.

This is particularly true in this changing world of ours: Arabic and Mandarin might both come in especially handy if working on Belt and Road, the new Silk Road through Central Asia and beyond.

But there are signs of change.

According to reports, Qatar is donating 400,000 pounds to a British Council programme that promotes Arabic teaching in British schools. While  slightly short of the 198 million the oil-rich state splashed out on Neymar, it’s not to be sniffed at.

The financial contribution, paid for through Qatar Foundation International (a name no doubt familiar to keen La Liga watchers), looks to rebrand Arabic so that it “captures the imagination” of  schools and parents. The British Council meanwhile aims to increase the number of learners and teachers of Arabic and build a better understanding of the Arab world in the UK.

Similarly, the UK government is aiming to have 400,000 people enrolled in Mandarin classes by 2020. Efforts appear to be working. An increasing number of people in the UK are learning Mandarin, according to the FT:

  • there are now 160,000 students registered through Confucius Institutes (think China’s soft power arm, like the Qatar Foundation) and Confucius Classrooms
  • 45 percent of the UK’s private schools have established a Mandarin education option
  • 6,237 British students signed up for HSK – the Chinese Standard Exam – by July 2017, 5 times the number of that signed up in 2011

Furthermore, new Kensington Wade is the UK’s first primary school to offer an immersive education in English and Mandarin for 3 to 11 year olds. (I’d be keen to know what Naughty Wall is in Chinese.)

While these are official facts and figures, there are probably many others learning through other means – digital especially. I myself have an Android app called ChineseSkill  offering an entertaining way of learning survival phrases such as “The two girls are eating watermelon” and what not.  Truly every little helps, and it’s not that difficult really.

And that’s probably the ultimate challenge.

How do we get more people like myself, who are either very busy or very lazy (I’ll let you decide), learn even a few words in Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and other important languages? English can only get us so far.

Iberian nations dominate InterNations Quality of Life 2017 index

Portugal

With kids now going back to school across Europe, many parents will perhaps be reminiscing on their summer holiday in the Mediterranean and how nice everything was. They might even think about living there (that’s the dangerous thing about holidays – they tend to force a what if rethink in people’s minds).

Southern Europe wouldn’t be a bad choice, either: the latest InterNations Quality of Life Index shows that Portugal and Spain have the best standard of living rated by expats in the world, divided only by 2016 winner Taiwan (which is also a wonderful destination, albeit for different reasons).

On that point, it’s interesting to see blocs in the index – Denmark, Sweden and Finland are bunched together, as are Germany and Luxembourg. It does feel a little like a Eurovision Song Contest of living standards.

The top 20 is as follows:

1. Portugal
2. Taiwan
3. Spain
4. Singapore
5. Czech Republic
6. Japan
7. Australia
8. Switzerland
9. Costa Rica
10. Germany
11. Luxembourg
12. Denmark
13. Canada
14. Sweden
15. New Zealand
16. Finland
17. Netherlands
18. UAE
19. Malta
20. South Korea

Portugal’s success, coming a year after the nation won football’s European Championships, shows the country on the ascendancy. Perhaps. It might not be a surprise to the organisers of the amazing coworking retreat Offsite Immersive in Guia, offering a pool and a nearby beach.

Overall Quality of Life aside, the Quality of Life Index grouped countries under five categories: Leisure Options, Personal Happiness, Travel & Transport, Health & Wellbeing, and Safety & Security.

InterNations polled 12,500 expats of 166 nationalities based in 188 territories and asked them to rate 43 aspects of life overseas.