Wholesome and deeply religious, Ash, as she's known, is fashionably hip and quite sexy. "Actually," she says, "I don't think I'm really into setting trends or following trends. I just do my own thing." She loves traditional saris like this one she brought for Oprah. "It's very sensual!" Oprah says.
Ash also follows tradition and lives at home with her parents like most single Indian women. "Back home, you're a loser if you say, 'Mom, I'm out of here,'" Ash says. "In India it's more about the family, about living together, about remaining connected, and that's probably the most beautiful special thing about it."
Oprah: We did a show recently where we were looking at women around the world, and we were talking to French women at a cafe. ... They said [Americans] are all fat.
Aishwarya: I'm from India, I wouldn't say that because Indian people, Indian people eat well, we're well endowed.
Oprah: Do they say we're rude?
Aishwarya: No, Indian people are very hospitable.
Oprah: Do they say we talk too much?
Aishwarya: Opinionated maybe.
Oprah: Do they say we get a lot of divorces?
Aishwarya: Ah, that could be a discussion.
Oprah: You know what, you could be a diplomat!
Welcome to the Emerald Isle in Ireland! "As you know, Ireland is famous for its linens, tweeds, and indeed its crystal, in particular Waterford crystal," 27-year old Caroline says. "Modern day Ireland is experiencing an economic boom and indeed Ireland's per capita is greater than the United States of America. We have also had two female presidents. So you see, Oprah, women are slowly but surely taking over.
"Ireland is a country steeped in tradition, myth, legend and storytelling. We also have our native language, Gaelic. Goodbye, slán!"
According to Maleka, the Belgian woman is very fashionable. "Any occasion is reason to dress up nice, even when she goes for a walk on a Sunday afternoon, she loves to do that on her high heels," Maleka says.
"You Americans, you've got the French fries, but originally it comes from Belgium. You know you eat them with tomato ketchup. But we Belgians, we eat them with mayonnaise. Lots of mayonnaise. We are very proud of our beers. We are really a beer country. We have more than 200 different kinds of beers. We also have beers with fruity taste...especially made for women. Cheers!"
Thorunn lives in Iceland, known as the land of ice and fire for its glaciers, geysers and hot springs, which Icelanders use to heat their houses. "We soak outside in our natural hot water—even in the winter," Thorunn says. "It's filled with minerals. It's like having a spa right outside your backyard!"
Iceland is known for its tall, blonde, blue-eyed women, and when it comes to fashion, it's at the top of the world. Designers like to use natural materials from the island like wool for unique sweaters and fish skin for handbags. Iceland is also one of the safest places in the world. "We have a very low crime rate. In fact, our police officers don't even carry guns," Thorunn says. "And we're quite comfortable leaving our children on the sidewalk by themselves while we go in to shop. We also make sure our children sleep outside for at least an hour a day. Even in the winter. The fresh air is very good for them. Oprah, you should try sleeping outside. It's positively invigorating!"
During the winter months, the sun only shines for a few hours a day in Iceland but during the summer, they have 24 hours of sunlight! Reykjavik has the reputation of being the party capital of the world and the nightlife year round makes it the city that never sleeps. "We don't even start to go out until after midnight and we stay out sometimes until 6 a.m. at least," Thorunn says.
Svanhildur is an anchorwoman on IBC Channel 2 in Reykjavik, and she also says there's not a stigma attached to single moms in Iceland. "You don't need a husband to have some kind of a status," Svanhildur says. "I don't think sex is that big a deal in Iceland. It's probably just because everyone is having it. So it's not something you have to talk about and be ashamed of. If a girl is starting to have sex [at] about 15 years of age, she isn't looked at as promiscuous and the boys aren't looked at that way either. Icelandic women are very independent—they don't wait for someone to ask them out, they just phone them."
Asking someone out on a date is easy to do in Iceland because there is one phone book for the entire country—home, work and cell phone numbers for just under 300,000 people! "I guess we're a bit liberal about things because we have a much lower threshold for beginning new relationships," Savhildur says. "We don't have this kind of a dating thing. You don't have to go on a date number one and two and perhaps on the third date you ask him in. We don't have rules like that."
And what does Svanhildur think of American television? "We have a lot of news coming from America in Iceland," Svanhildur says laughing. "And we often have photos of obese people walking down the street—people that are so fat that you couldn't find a single person in Iceland that would be that fat. Anyway, even though you have really obese people, you've also got the rest [who are] really good-looking. I've been watching a lot of American television for the last days and I think you have too many commercials trying to make you lose weight."
Marta says that many Portuguese women are heavy smokers. "We smoke more than men," she says.
According to Marta, how do people in Portugal perceive Americans? "Most Portuguese," Marta admits, "think Americans are ignorant about countries outside the United States—like the United States is the whole world and you don't know much about the culture of other countries."
"Not many people realize this," explains Tara, "but Singapore is a city, state and country all in one." A diamond-shaped island the size of Chicago, Singapore has an average temperature of 90 degrees year-round.
Singapore is known for its strict laws and penalties. Spitting on the ground, littering, jaywalking and failing to flush a public toilet are illegal actions and offenders are subject to stiff fines. "Oprah, I hear you're not a big fan of chewing gum," Tara says. "Then you should come to Singapore! You won't find chewing gum here because it's illegal to sell it."
Singaporean women share Americans' passion for get-thin-quick schemes. "Slimming salons" promise weight loss without dieting or exercise. Electronic wave therapy and anti-cellulite massage are two of the most popular treatments.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car or travel without a male chaperone. Islamic law requires them to wear a garment called an abaya that shrouds them from head to toe. But one female face was in full view—at the age of 29, Rania Al-Baz was a popular television host and mother of two sons. But her happy public image masked a true Arabian nightmare. Rania was an abused wife. In April 2004, one of her husband's occasional beatings turned brutal, bloody and nearly fatal.
Gruesome photographs of Rania's injuries were printed in newspapers worldwide. She became the first Saudi woman ever to publicly show her battered face. Her husband was convicted of severe battery and sentenced to six months in jail and 300 lashes. In publicizing her private struggle, Rania became the first face of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia. The story of her beating and courage swept the globe.
"I don't feel like I'm a hero," Rania says. "... I feel that no woman should be a victim to her husband, or a victim in anyway. A woman should have the ability to choose her own destiny."
Did you know that there's a sea in which you can't swim? In the Dead Sea, you can only float. The salt concentration is 10 times the amount of normal seawater, making it heavier and denser. Watch out if you have a cut or scratch, because it burns!
Ronit, 27, is an Israeli citizen living in Jerusalem. Most Israeli women her age, she points out, have already served two years in the military as required by law. Joline is a 24-year-old Palestinian also living in Jerusalem. Her family cannot visit her because the Israeli government restricts where Palestinians can travel. Against all odds, the two women are friends, and they've started working together to the end conflict in their homeland. Their goal, says Joline, is for people to "stop choosing sides and start working for resolutions."
Their organization JustVision.org raises awareness about Palestinians and Israelis who are building a base for peace in the Middle East through educational resources and documentary film. Visit www.justvision.org to learn more.
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