New Years Celebrations

By Sue Lavene

As I finalize our New Years plans with friends, I contemplate how differently New Years is celebrated around the world:

Latin America (Spain, Mexico & Venezuela)
In some countries, as the clock rings twelve midnight, for each ring of the bell, people each twelve grapes, one at a time to bring good luck to all 12 months of the new year. Theater productions and movies are sometimes interrupted to carry out this tradition.

Chinese New Year
This celebration takes place some time between January 21st and February 20th, the exact date determined by the lunar calendar and the new moon. The celebrations are based on bringing luck, health, happiness, and wealth until the next year and include include fireworks to scare off evil spirits, parades and a Festival of Lanterns, in which thousands of lanterns light the way to the New Year. Day 3 offers the Dragon Dance when people open their doors to allow paper mache dragon heads (a symbol of strength) in to bring them luck.

This 3-day celebration called Maha Thingyan (or big change), on or near April 16th, is celebrated with prayers, fasting and fun. During the festivities, buildings and temples are washed, and people throw water over each other. Everyone must get wet to welcome the new year. The Burmese believe that water acts as a soul purifier. Getting wet means that one can start the New Year with a cleansed soul.

This is also a 3-day festival falling on April 13th, 14th and 15th on the Gregorian calendar. The first day Sangkhan Long finds people cleaning out their homes to say goodbye to the old year. Day two, Mueu Nao, is considered a dangerous day because the spirit of the old year has left and the new year's spirit has yet to arrive to protect people from misfortune. It is for this reason that people might stay home and do nothing but rest. And day three, Sangkhan Kheun, is the start of the new year, the most joyous day when people go to pray, then back home for a special family ceremony.

Dinner parties, drinking and eating is often accompanied by the traditional German custom called Bleigiessen in which a candle is lit and small chunks of lead are melted in a spoon held over the candle. The molten lead is then quickly poured from the spoon into a bucket of cold water, where it hardens almost immediately. Each person tries to determine what he or she "sees" in the hardened lead figure and the shape of the lead determines the future of that person for the new year.

For more new years celebrations, see Father Times.

Working in Sweden

By Dori Pinku

Typical Swedish managers are definitely different from managers in most other countries. They are more like coaches or planners, not so much "overseers". Managers are seen as specialists in an area, just like other staff members are specialists in their areas. They normally don't give specific orders. Rather, they (and your co-workers) expect you to take initiative and find solutions. A great deal of responsibility and decision-making is delegated and staff is used to reporting to several people. For a newcomer from a different country, it can be difficult to figure out who is in charge of what. If you need help, you simply ask. This is not a sign of weakness.

A thread of democracy runs through a company. The habit of trying to reach agreement before proceeding may seem like a slow process and inefficient to some. Don't be fooled though, things do get done. Most organizations are flat without much of a hierarchy and often consist of self-managed teams. While this would cause chaos in companies in many countries, it works well in Sweden. Perhaps due to the strong work ethic combined with being used to a high responsibility level. Staff wants to do a good job and see results. At the same time, the atmosphere can be described as relaxed and informal.

The importance of equality is a factor to keep in mind when working for a Swedish company. You are on first name basis regardless of position, age, gender, education, or title. Many young people are in leading roles. Seniority (or background) is not a critical determining factor, job performance is. You will also notice that both colleagues and mangers dress more casually than what you may be used to. You don't have to look or act the part to be accepted as a leader. Quite the opposite, showing off status is considered negative here.

You cannot miss the low stress level displayed at work. Swedes don't feel threatened by authorities, thus they are not afraid of making mistakes or taking risks if needed.

Notice there is a clear division between work and social life. Don't take it personally if you are not immediately asked about your background, family, education, etc. Also, small talk is not a big Swedish trait, which may make them seem cold or quiet at first.

Other important aspects to keep in mind:

  • Be punctual. It's an insult to arrive late to, for example, meetings.
  • Friendships or family in higher positions will not help your advancement here.
  • There is basic, unspoken principle in this society, which states that everyone should pull their weight. Fairness is important.
  • The Swedish word for moderation is lagom, which is favored in most situations.
  • Five weeks vacation is common. Your colleagues often travel abroad or go to their vacation homes in the country (there is a strong connection to nature).
  • It's not unusual for staff to have flexible work hours and arrive at different times.
  • The standard workweek is 40 hours, but if you are asked to work more, you get extra compensation. Generally, you are not supposed to work more than 48 hours per week.
  • If a colleague disappears for almost a year after childbirth, it's not because of illness. Parental leave is very generous and it applies to fathers as well.

Cultural Immersion & Sports

By Elizabeth Gregory

Some of the most memorable moments abroad for me come from when I really got out there and dug myself into the local culture. Sure it's fun to sightsee, but being a tourist isn't always the best way to get an accurate picture of the true slice of life in a foreign country. Today's blog from me is one of those moments.

During my semester in Spain, a few of us girls decided to attend a professional soccer game. I can't even remember what team Granada was playing. What I can remember is the fact that it was football season back home and the thought of attending a sporting event as popular as American football seemed to make us a little less homesick. I must admit though, for me, nothing beats football back home.

Anyway…about 6 of us headed down to the stadium. We lucked out. It turned out that one day a week was Ladies' Day (we got in for half price). We quickly discovered that this was a marketing ploy to attract more females to watch the game in person. I think we saw 2 other girls in the entire stadium. Most of the spectators were old men. Although I don't regularly watch soccer, I knew enough from when I used to play to follow the game pretty well. Early into the game, our focus turned away from the field and towards the old men in the stands (especially in our section). This was due to the fact that after every play, they would curse, swear, holler at, and insult the mother of every player on the field. It really didn't matter if anyone made a good play, basically if a goal was not scored by Granada, a series of profanities would ensue. I learned more Spanish curse words that day. I felt bad for the players though. At first they looked bound and determined to show these men that they were great athletes. However, as the game went on, they began to play sloppy and looked very discouraged.

We left before the end of the game, afraid of what potential riot could follow a loss (or victory). After all, who hasn't heard horror stories of people being stampeded to death at soccer matches in Europe (England especially)? We went to dinner together that night and reflected on how much we learned that day. When we thought things through, it wasn't all that different than any other sporting event, just much more cursing, and much less cheering.

Christmas Around the World

By Sue Lavene

Thanks to Jose Feliciano, most of us are already familiar with how to say "Merry Christmas" in Spanish. However, how do you say it in other languages? Let's take a look at some common and not so common languages. I have included country and pronunciations where possible.

Arabic: Milad Majid
Blackfoot (US/Canada): I'taamomahkatoyiiksistsikomi [Merry big holy day]
Bohemian (Czech Republic): Vesele Vanoce
Catalan (Spain): Bon Nadal
Croatian (Croatia): Sretan Bozic
Danish (Denmark): Glædelig Jul (glaidherlee yool)
Dutch (Netherlands): Prettige Kerstdagen
Eskimo (Inupik, spoken in Greenland, Canada, Northern Alaska): Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo
French: Joyeux Noel
German: Froehliche Weihnachten (frurlikher vighnahkhtern)
Greek: Kala Christouyenna (kahlah khreestooyehnah)
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Italian: Buon Natale
Jiberish (Everywhere): Mithag Crithagsigathmithags
Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Latin: Natale hilare
Monegasque (Monaco): Festusu Natale
Navajo (US): Merry Keshmish
Occitan (Southern France): Polit Nadal
Pennsylvania Dutch (US): En frehlicher Grischtaag
Polish: Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese (Portugal): Feliz Natal
Portuguese (Brazil): Boas Festas
Quechua (Peru): Sumaj kausay kachun Navidad ch'sisipi
Rapa Nui (Easter Island): Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul
Tagalog (Philipines): Maligayan Pasko
Tahitian (French Polynesia & Oceanía): Ia orana no te Noere (yo-rah-nah noh tay noh-ay-ray)
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai
Tok Pisin (Northern Papua New Guinea): Meri Krismas
Tongan (Tonga): Kilisimasi Fiefia
Ukranian: Srozhdestvom Kristovym
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Yiddish: Gute Vaynakhtn

For more Merry Christmas translations, probably more than you'd ever know what to do with, go to World Of Christmas.

And don't forget a childhood favorite for many, in Pig Latin, it is "erry May ristmas Chay!" Or Happy Holidays everyone!

(If you are tired of saying Merry Christmas a hundred different ways, check out this neat website with tongue twisters in different languages!)

Chanukah Traditions

Chanukah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (November-December on the Gregorian calendar). Chanukah begins at sundown on December 25 this year and ends at sundown on January 1, 2006.

In Hebrew, the word Chanukah means "dedication".

On each night of Chanukah, the menorah is lit to commemorate the miracle that occurred after the Jews proclaimed victory over the Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. When Jews came to
rededicate the Temple that had been ruined, they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, but the lamp burned for eight days.

On the first night of Chanukah, one light is lit. On each successive night a light is added until the eighth night, when all the lights are lit. The addition of each light recalls the miracle. Candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit from left to right. The highest candle that is placed in the center of the menorah, known as the Shamash or "servant", is used to light the other candles and remains lit every night of Chanukah. Blessings are recited each night before the lights are kindled.

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. In America the letters stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There". In Israel the letters mean "A Miracle Happened Here".

Each player receives a given number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed amount into the kupah or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters.

According to the letter, the following will happen:
Nun means you neither win nor lose.
Gimel means you take the whole pot.
Heh means you take half the pot.
Shin means you must put a coin in the pot.

Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. They're served hot and often dipped in applesauce or sour cream.

The Maccabbee soliders ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits that were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn't eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren't available until the 16th century.

Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They're dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are popular in Israel, where they are sold by street vendors over a month before Chanukah begins.

I found lots of great information about Chanukah at
Here is a fun interactive Chanukah site, and has loads of information about Chanukah.

Travel Money

By Beth Klemick

One of my least favorite things about preparing for an upcoming trip is figuring out how much money to bring along and in what forms (for example: cash, debit card, credit card, travelers checks). This isn't always an easy task, especially if you are very unfamiliar with the destination you will be traveling to.

I typically end up bringing along a combination of US dollars (easiest currency to exchange) and US dollar-denominated travelers checks. Travelers checks as a form of currency have a plus and minus side. One downside is that not every establishment will accept travelers checks. Another is the exchange process is typically more involved and usually will entail having to go to bank and provide your original passport, not a copy. The downside is not so much having to go to the bank but dealing with the banking hours in many countries, which is not as "customer service" oriented as here in the United States. If you are staying a high-end hotel they may be able to exchange travelers checks as well. The plus side is if your travelers checks are lost or stolen they are insured and you can recoup the losses, very important to copy down the serial numbers and give them to a friend or family member who will not traveling with you.

In addition to or in lieu of cash and/or travelers checks I may also travel with a credit/debit card. A credit card can be your back up "just in case" emergency form of currency. Debit cards that are on the Cirrus or Plus system (MasterCard/Visa) are widely accepted at many foreign bank machines (ATMs). Please check first prior to departing to see if there are banking machines in your destination compatible with your card.

MasterCard/Cirrus Worldwide ATM Locator

Visa/PLUS Worldwide ATM Locator

If you plan to travel with a credit/debit card, especially for long periods of time and/or while being in multiple travel destinations it is good idea to contact your bank/credit card company to inform them of your travels. Keeping them informed, depending on your bank, may avoid the possibility of a hold or freeze on your account. Some banks will place a hold or freeze on your account based on their suspicion that fraudulent activity is occurring on your card/account since you will not be in destinations that are seen on a frequent basis. Also if using a debit card it is very important to remember the numerical pin number, most ATM machines abroad do not have letters. I am guilty of this. I must admit the first time I traveled to Europe I was naive and let's just say thank goodness I was traveling with a friend. Live and learn.

Rail Travel Europe

By Elizabeth Gregory

I have never rented a car in Europe. Train travel is the easiest way to get around in my opinion. I have traveled through multiple countries on a Eurail pass and have also bought in-country train passes for long distance travel within that country. This is what I did several years ago. Eurail passes come with many options. You can pick several days of travel within 2 or 3 months as well as other combinations of limited countries. The most important thing to remember is that they must be purchased in advance in the US. You will not be able to buy a Eurail pass in Europe. You may be able to get a similar pass but will pay much more than if you purchase in advance. Most travel agents can sell Eurail passes. The best part is that 17 countries participate in the Eurail program. This means your pass is good on most trains (some exclusions of subways, etc) in the following countries:

The Netherlands

If you're not planning on traveling around all of Europe, you can usually get passes good for several days (at a discounted rate) in the country on the major train netoworks. I have done this in Germany and have also traveled the rail systems for several days in France and Spain. You can find good information on one country train travel on RailEurope. Youth pass prices are also available.

Happy travels!

Update: Living Language

Happy Monday! I've finally finished school for the semester today, so I can fully devote myself to studying German for the next four weeks.

I've been practicing a lesson each week from the German Complete Course by Living Language, and if anything else, my ability to pronounce German words and phrases is remarkably better.

I've also been checking out lots of different phrases using CyraKnow's German Rambler program on my iPod, so I'm getting the best of both worlds: German grammar and fun German phrases.

I'll update sometime next month with my progress again. Have a great day.

Mexican Cuisine

By Jim Kane, Guest Blogger

Oaxaca is known for its cuisine. I've been fortunate to have traveled there a half dozen times in the last three years. I typically sample the culinary gamut from a late night, street corner tacos al pastor washed down with a cold Bohemia beer to an evening at the internationally known El Naranjo, a favorite of New York Times reporters for its traditional Oaxacan dishes prepared with care by Iliana de la Vega.

This latest trip, coinciding with the Day of the Dead celebrations in early November, added a new twist. In addition to the small group of travelers along with me participating in the marvelous Day of the Dead festivities, I was there to scout for a 5-star museum group traveling with Culture Xplorers next fall. A critical part of the scouting was trying out a new restaurant billed to be one of Oaxaca's finest.

Alejandro Ruiz, owner and chef of Casa Oaxaca Restaurant, was gracious with his time as he accompanied me for lunch at his restaurant adjacent to Santo Domingo, even though I was visiting during the single busiest week of the year.

He asked if he could choose a tasting menu for me so that I could try several of the dishes for which the restaurant was best known. Saying yes turned out to be one of the best decisions of my trip and pure culinary nirvana.

As I imbibed the food and fine mescal that accompanied it, my body seemed to go into a wonderful, altered state of consciousness.

Amongst the half dozen dishes I tried that day, the following were stand-outs:
Salad – jicama cannelloni stuffed with grasshoppers, corn mushrooms and Oaxacan string cheese, all local delicacies.
This was followed by
Soup – fresh corn mushrooms and zucchini flower with epazote
Fish – fish of the day with zucchini flowers, capers and tomato marmalade
Prawns – with salsa of chile de arbol pacific style

The tasting menu at Casa Oaxaca is currently 320 pesos for five courses (around $30 USD) per person. It will be one of the most memorable meals you'll have in Oaxaca or anywhere in Mexico.

Travel Luggage

By Connie Marianacci

Packing is normally left for the last minute, usually the night before departure. You normally want to take everything possible and not even your current suitcase can hold all you want to take. Reality is, you never use all you have packed so what I do is first choose the luggage and then sort out what will be able to fit in it. In that way you control yourself in what you are taking.

So, when choosing luggage, I first think how I will be moving around at my destination and how many stairs I will probably have to go through until arriving to what I will be calling home for the next few weeks. After that I can really picture the size of the backpack I will take.

From my experience, the best thing is to travel light. This means traveling with a strong suitcase with big wheels, a comfortable handle and that you are able to take it up the stairs without trouble. I have found all these requirements in the last suitcase I bought.

If is about 530 x 1060 high, 24". It has very good quality wheels and a comfortable handle that pulls of the top to carry it. The handle is strong and thick which gives you assurance that it is not going to break. The best part is, that at the bottom of the suitcase you can take out straps so you use the suitcase as a back pack! And to top this off, mine came with an additional backpack to be able to put all my carry-on stuff in.

If traveling to Europe: this is your best choice since you will definitely what to choose public transportation upon your arrival since taxis are so expensive.

If traveling to South America: taxis are quite cheap so you may do OK with a big suitcase. On the other hand, once there you will want to travel to other cities and a right size suitcase would be the best option.