Monday, March 29, 2010

SERIES Cultural ambassadors: USA (Cross-culture email connection)

Today we'll get a personal insight into life in the US aside from the popular media. This contribution is from the north east of the USA. I again added some pics as illustration in the end.

Hey!  I'm a 19 year old college student in the United States.  I hope you enjoy reading my answers!

a description of what you eat for breakfast
I’m not very in to breakfast- when I eat it it’s usually a bagel on the run.  When I’m home my mom will sometimes make a big breakfast for my family.  We’ll have biscuits, eggs easy over, and bacon.  My dad usually makes orange juice, but I’ll always have a glass of Cranberry Pomegranate juice (slightly addicted…)  Either that or my father will make pancakes.  Depending on the season he’ll put blueberries inside of them, or we’ll make a peach topping for them.  So fantastic!

a short description of a typical work day
I’m a full time student.  I will, however, describe my most stressful day of the week- Monday.  I wake up at 8am to get ready for my 9am Psychology class.  After class I walk to a nearby elementary school to do observations for my Education class.  Straight after that I walk back to campus to grab lunch with my friends.  At 2pm I have my Gothic Literature class-  it’s great because I have two friends in the class with me, but the teacher has no concept of the work load she’s giving us!  At 3pm I have lab for my Geography class, and then about a half hour break before my Education class.  Because that class is only once a week it is 2 hours 15 minutes long.  During break during class I usually grab something to eat for dinner later.  I tend to hang out in the building in which my class is located for another hour to do some homework.  I’m usually back in my room by 9:30/10pm.  Longest day of the week!

a description of your favorite day off (weekend or holiday)
My favorite holiday is Christmas- it’s one of the only days that all of my family gets together.  My grandparents come over Christmas morning to see us open some of our presents, and then we head out to West Virginia where a lot of my family lives.  I get to hang out with my cousins for hours, and we always have a ton of fun just messing around.  We sleep over that night, and the day after Christmas the entire family goes out for breakfast.  

a short description of your country and its position in the world, including something you like about it and something you don't like
I live in the US, in Maryland.  In case you didn’t know, Maryland is on the East Coast, and I live about half way between Washington D.C. and Baltimore.  It’s hard to think of things I like and don’t like about the US.  For a long time there has been a lot of problems in the United States, and we still have a lot of work ahead of us.  It’s funny that what I love and hate about the US are the same things.  I love the diversity and acceptance there is here.  I grew up in an area with people of all types, and everyone was so accepting of everyone else.  When I left for college I realized how intolerant people in the US can be, something I really hate about the United States. I was used to being friends with so many different people, but at my college there seems to be a huge gap between people who aren’t the same.  At home I had many Jewish friends, and thought nothing of it.  It was just part of who they were, and it wasn’t a big deal.  One of my friends at school is Jewish, and I’ve realized that people treat her a whole lot differently than they would had we been in my hometown.  She’ll tell me how some people are extremely anti-Semitic, supporting unfounded stereotypes.

a list of languages (optional: dialects) that are spoken in your country
As a self-proclaimed “mixing bowl” of many societies, there are many languages spoken here.  English and Spanish are the most commonly spoken languages, although we have no ‘official language’.  In my area there are a lot of Chinese speakers as well. 

a description of the most common ethnic minorities in your country and how they are viewed
The most common ethnic minority is probably Mexicans.  There is a mostly negative view, and a huge push to further restrict immigration.  This is sort of one of those unsolvable issues, although if our economy continues to suck there will be no reason for Mexicans to come here. As an education major, I am most interested in the effect of immigration on children. A lot of students who are here illegally may have lived here for most of their lives. These children are still not considered Americans, and can be shipped out whenever the US decides they aren’t wanted anymore. These children see the US as their home (it is, after all, the only country they’ve really known) but do not have the chances at education that others do.  It’s a hard thing to figure out…

a list of the three most important holidays of your country and how they are celebrated. (NOTE: I could only think of 2 that are celebrated by pretty much every American with any sort of importance).
-4th of July- When the US declared its independence from England!  And a day of BBQs and fireworks!  We usually visit our family in Michigan (state in the Northern part of the US, touching Canada).  It’s a good 10hr drive, and we usually spend the week.  On the fourth of July we’ll watch a parade in the morning, go to all the sidewalk sales in the downtown area, have my family over to our vacation house for burgers and hot dogs, then go to Lake Michigan to check out the fireworks!

-Thanksgiving- we give thanks for everything we have.  The first Thanksgiving was supposedly celebrated between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, although I highly doubt it would have happened.  But it makes for a nice holiday.  Most families get together for the day and eat. For Thanksgiving it is usually just my immediate family.  Because none of us like turkey (and because there are only four of us) we usually have chicken.  We’ll also make stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon (yum!), cranberry sauce, sauerkraut, and rolls.  For dessert I make a pumpkin pie.  The next day a lot of stores have pretty extreme sales (it’s called ‘Black Friday’), and a lot of people go out to do some extreme shopping.  I’ve only braved the stores once- it’s just way too crowded!

a description of the role of men and women in your country
Men and women have a pretty equal role in the US.  Women can and do everything men do, and encouraged to do so.  There is, of course, still a lot of inequality.  Women performing the same job as men are usually paid less, and it is less likely for a woman to be promoted than a man.  Roles in the household are more equal than they used to be, but women on a whole still spend more time doing household chores than men.  But women have gone a long way since way back when- I’m sure that in my lifetime I’ll even see a woman president (we came close in the last election)!

the role of religion in your country
Religion has a weird role in the US.  Technically it doesn’t have any say in our government, although governmental officials are more than happy to pull the Bible card to gain support. Honestly, I think the role of religion depends a lot on where you live.  In my hometown religion isn’t a biggie.  A few of my friends went to Church often, but we never really talked about our own religious ideas.  In the community in which I go to college, religion seems to have a larger role in people’s lives.  The largest club on my campus is a Christian one, and most people I know go to some sort of bible study every week. It’s weird because I’m so used to not caring about religion, but it’s now being sort of thrusted upon me.  Most of my friends see religion as more of a problem than anything else, and tend to be suspicious of any overly-religious person.  We’ve all had that experience of someone trying to ‘save’ us, and it gets really tiring.

For those of you who haven't seen a bagel before:
Wikipedia says bagels have a Jewish background. The round buns have a hole so they could be transported on the Shabbat day without being touched by stacking them on a wooden pole. Also, they were prepared a day in advance. That way they could be finished after sunset on Shabbat day so you'd quickly have something ready as soon as you were allowed to prepare them again.

I liked the description of U.S. festivals. I would love to be in the US for the Fourth of July (Independence Day) just once. It's my birthday and I'd really like to see the fireworks and parades.

When it comes to food I'd like to mention that American pancakes are different from German ones. German pancakes are bigger, softer and less fluffy than their American counterparts. They are often filled with fruit or eaten with nutella or the like. Many people also drop apples slices into the dough in the pan. German pankaces look like this:

If you want to try making your own true American pancakes, here's a picture and a link to a good recipe (from the BBC with conversions, although every American family probably has its own recipe and many moms will do completely without one).

Here's another U.S. contribution to this series by a girl from Florida, in the south of the USA. She put her description up on her blog. Also don't forget to check out the other countries if you haven't already. So far we've got cultural ambassadors for 
Feel free to contact me if you'd like to contribute your own story (especially if your country isn't featured yet).

All umarked text in this post was supplied by a third party. The opinions expressed are not the same as those of the author of this blog. According to §§8 to 10 of the German Tele-Media Act, I am not obligated to monitor third party information provided or stored on my website. However, Ishall promptly remove any content upon becoming aware that it violates the law. My liability in such an instance shall commence at the time I become aware of the respective violation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

SERIES: Cultural ambassadors: BRAZIL (Cross-culture email connection)

Next in our series is fancy Brazil. This should be interesting as we rarely hear anything about Brazil apart from football. That's why I'm very curious about my fellow swapper's portrait of his home country.

A little about Brazil
Well, i'm not used to eat breakfast. When i do, it´s chocolate milk. But when i eat a biiiig breakfast, it's bread, with butter or cream cheese, a juice, a piece of cake (corn or orange cake). Sometimes we have something that i call "cheese bread" (translating exactly as we say in portuguese), but is also known as "cheese roll", and it´s delicious. I included a recipe here, so everyone can try it. Is really common here, eveywhere you can find them frozen or just recently off the furnace.
Day at work
I´ll describe how my day was today, march 24. I went to work by car, my mom drove me because i´m getting my driver´s license just now. As i´m a journalist, i write at a local newspaper, and at the same place runs a tv channel (only cable, but still) and we try at most to do the same news for both. I got there and as i get 1pm, i have to listen to everything the other reporters already did and write it down. So, today we had a non-profit organization group called Amor-Exigente (Toughlove), with two interviews about their work in Teresópolis, where i live. Then, a community manifesto about the bad maintenance of a street, also with an interview.
I went to my lunch break and payed the first tax to get my driver´s license, R$174, about U$90.
Back at work, i started writing the texts. While at the Toughlove story, i had to stop and listen to another and more important interview about city´s health problems - really political and problematic story, but there we go.
In the meantime, some crazy old man showed up in the reception asking about an article that he insisted was not on the air or in the newspaper. Crazy because it was, two days ago, but he insisted that it wasn't and started yelling and stuff....Big mess. The reporter who was responsable for that article went downstairs to talk to him, and came back crying. With this situation, the guys went there and explained, for the 468768418th time, that it was broadcasted, and he "understood" and went away.
Then i was only writing, i also ate some cookies and laughed a little with my co-workers, but that was it.
By 6pm, my editor went to college - he´s into biology - and i finished the articles and waited for my boss - and the person who design the newspaper - to start mounting the first page.
As we had some difficult articles, i had to wait until one of the reporters finished it so we could send the first page to print. And by 7:30 i was getting a cab and going home.
- what a "SHORT" description, huh?

Day off
Here in Brazil we have  a loooooot of holidays, but since i started working at the newspaper (since july, 2009), i don't have much options than the weekends. When it´s a Friday, most likely i´ll have it as day off. But any other day, i´ll have to work...Carnival in Brazil means at least three days off - i had none and worked more than normal days.
In weekends, i like to stay at home watching tv series, sleeping and playing games. But i also go out, at night, to bars or to friend´s houses. Sundays means sleep and crafts day for me, but my boyfriend/fiancee/hub (well, nine years together!) doesn't get really excited when it comes to crafts, so...Sometimes i have to craft another day.

About Brazil
My country is in a really good position now. Except for the fact that it´s still considered "third world". From the outside, people get a totally wrong and different view of Brazil. No, we are not just forest, we do not live with monkeys, we have malls, cars, food...The metropolises are well developed, slightly different from NY or any other - so people say, i haven't been outside Brazil.
The current president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, is getting great publicity and the leaders are starting to trust Brazil and invest, believe and help. Brazil sent more money than most countries, getting close to USA help.
From the inside, we have lots of rotten situations, in politics and society. The police is, in most cases, corrupted and able to take bribes. This happens for cultural reasons, as we call "jeitinho brasileiro" - brazilian way of life. I had to study about brazilian culture in college, and i am pretty aware of this kind of behavior. A friend of mine was in Canada for Winter Olympics for OBS, and we were talking last weekend about the subway. In Vancouver, people only have to pay for a ticket and get in. Here, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to implement a system like that - because of this brazilian way of life: everyone would find a way to cheat. If you are a tourist, you must pay attention when you get a cab, cause even the taxi drivers take longer routes, charges way more, this kind of stuff.
Internally, Brazil is a good place to live, but you have to be at the "middle class". You have to get private health services, private schools. The public colleges are well seen but not really the better option. The public bus is not great either and, specially in Teresópolis, is way too expensive.
In politics, we´re in an election year. We will vote for president, senator, and something that we call "deputado", but i could't really find how to translate that. It´s a representative politic between state and federation, below senators. We have to vote for a federal and one for the state. It´s like this: city council (10 in Teresópolis) -> mayor -> deputado for the state (70) ->  governor -> federal deputado (513) -> senators (81) -> president. This way, you can understand what a mess this is: so many politics, so much MONEY they spent that i wonder if this is the case in any other country.
But in general Brazilians are ignorant. A big part of the whole population doesn't know why or how to vote, and sells it for food, cement, anything. Now this is starting to change - here in Teresópolis, the mayor won the election showing a big change in society´s perception. But it hardly happens in other small towns like mine, and...We keep placing these bad people who steal from the government.
Everyone wants to get a public position to work. The contests for a public position - from almost analphabet people to the most graduated ones - are really competitive, and the salaries are that great. The ones who have more money can study better, and these people are better prepared to get these jobs - and this circle goes on and on. I was thinking about having some tests, trying to get a public job, cause is really stable and pays well, but at the same time i dont think it´s truly fair.
I think it´s enough, i´m talking and talking and i guess it was not supposed to be that big!!!! xD

We only speak PORTUGUESE! Most movies that talks about Brazilians puts us talking spanish, but it's totally wrong - all the other countries from Latin America speak Spanish in other dialects. I don´t even know how to say "the book is on the table" in spanish. We do have some natives that keep their languages, but this population is really small.
What we do have is accents: each state has their own way to speak, and it´s really funny. From north to south, we have different slangs and words with different meanings - the portuguese is so rich that learning english gets easy!!

Well, the minorities here i could say it's the native people. But everyone around here is a victim. We have programs for womens, black people, yellow people, white people, blind people, deaf people...I think most of these groups puts themselves in such a victim situation that they become a minority, and it´s bad for everyone.
As we´re such a mixed up race, racial problems are really rare. My grand grand parents were native, portuguese, spanish, european...I have light skin, light brown hair and brown eyes. My boyfriend has the same history in family when it comes to ancients, and he looks much more like a mexican or bolivian person than me. We all look pretty different and all the same - and i think this is how we are supposed to be. No race, just human beings. I have cousins with curly hair, african hair, blond hair...Most people here are this mixed.
But, in the historical roots, the black people were sacrified and still lives in bad condition, as they were also slaves for a long time around here. A big part of slum's population are dark or black people, sadly, with a few natives. We also have a lot of migration, people of northern states coming to the south states like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and even lower states. These people are often discriminated.


The most known are Carnival, easter and christmas. In Carnival, we say that the year does´t start until this holiday. Big party, lot of glitter, party, music. I´m not really into it, i don't have patience anymore.
Easter is chocolate. At the Friday before Easter just fish - as a good and mostly christian country. At Easter Sunday, lots of chocolate! We have our easter eggs totally different: it´s chocolate egg, of all sizes and tastes. Really good, specially if you wanna get fatter!!!
National stuff

We have a looooooooot of national things that other countries does not. Fruits are the top one, but breads, sweets, even our barbecue is different! The "cheese bread" is an example, but we have A LOT more.
Guaraná, as an example, competes with COCA COLA over here. Is great, really delicious, and rare around the world. Sweets made with pumpkin, milk, coconut, jellies of all sorts...
Rice, beans, meat, french fries and fried egg is one of the most popular plate, but not that typical. In each state we have dishes. In Rio, gust (by google translator of "rabanada"), steak with garlic and lentil soup with sausage are the most common dishes- and delicious!
For products, i can´t really say, as i don´t have much idea of what´s available elsewhere and what´s not. As those huge multinational companies are here too, lots of what i might think is peculiar maybe is sold in any other country. But i surely know that Guaraná is not!! Lol.
Boys and girls

Well, men and women are no big difference here. We do have people of different religions - from jews to muslims going thru african traditions - but the role of each one is sustained as in United States or Europe.
Women have total freedom, and in Rio the feminist movement is really strong. No, no men in command or telling us what to do! Lol.
As i see, we´re almost equal, except by the fact that jobs use to pay better to men than women. It´s still a social discrimination, but we´re fighting against these situations.
Famous one

I think Gisele Bundchen is one of the most famous brazilian. Top model married to Tom Brady, and stuff...Lots of money.

Well, we have LOTS of crafts. Scrapbooking is not a regular thing, but knitting, crochetting, cross stitch and embroideries are easily found.

We are about 75% catholic. I don´t have a religion, but we have SO MANY options! Buddhism, jewish, catholic, spiritualism, and afro-descendent religions as Candomblé, Quimbanda, Umbanda, and others.
Pão de Queijo!
1 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
6 tablespoons plain yogurt, nonfat or regular
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450°F. Put tapioca starch in a metal bowl. Mix oil, water and salt in a pan. Bring to a boil. Pour the sputtering mixture onto the tapioca starch carefully to protect yourself from hot spatters. Mix together with a wooden spoon. Dough will be stiff. When cool enough to touch, add egg and mix well. Blend in yogurt. When well mixed, stir in cheese. Rub hands with oil and form batter into balls. Place on a greased baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake 25_30 minutes, or until done. The rolls puff up during baking, but become flattened when cool

I found a picture for the recipe, looks delicious, right?! 

Another thing that is probably not that commonly known. While Brazil's biggest city is Sao Paulo, the actual capital is Brasília.
I found a nice pic of Sao Paulo by an expat American:

If the post made you cuious about Brazil and you'd like to learn more be sure to check out this expat's blog. He has a lot of personal expertise and the intercultural background to be able to give outsiders a comprehensible image. Check his tags on the side for special themes such as the big cities, cost of living or politics.

When you hear a description about a different country that you don't know very well, you always connect it to your own experience from your home country or other countries you've visited. This way you create new representations in your brain by evaluating similarities and differences. Let me share a few of my thoughts and feel free to comment your own reactions in the comments. I shamefully have to admit I also thought Brazilians speak Spanish. Won't make that mistake again. Getting the driver's license, for example, seems to be cheaper in Brazil. I start getting the feeling it is cheaper and easier in any other country. In Germany it costs about 2000 Dollars and many many hours...
I also found interesting that German and Brazilian Easter customs are so much the same. We have chocolate eggs as well and there is Good Friday before Easter Sunday when people usually eat fish. See the power of the Christian religion. The situation about men and women is also pretty similar here. I think it is the same in many countries that have gone through a strong period of emancipation. Women have the same rights as men, can vote and choose any job they want but are still not paid the same as men and don't reach top positions as easily.

When researching Brazil I found another nice pic:
Does this look like Germany to you? It does, but it is Blumenau in Brazil, where there used to be strong German influence through immigrants. There were even German schools. After a nationalization campaign and WW2 that became less and less and today these villages speak Portugese as well.

Finally, here's another great reason to visit Brazil: The waterfalls at Iguazu, which are shared by Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Thanks to our fellow swapper for the great description. 
I hope you enjoyed this. Also check out the other entries if you haven't yet or leave comments below.

All umarked text in this post was supplied by a third party. The opinions expressed are not the same as those of the author of this blog. According to §§8 to 10 of the German Tele-Media Act, I am not obligated to monitor third party information provided or stored on my website. However, Ishall promptly remove any content upon becoming aware that it violates the law. My liability in such an instance shall commence at the time I become aware of the respective violation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

SERIES Cultural ambassadors: ITALY (Cross-culture email connection)

Third in the series will be Italy, holiday destination #1 for Germans. Thanks to our fellow swapper for a great portrayal of this lovely country.

I'm an Italian student who lives in the North East of Italy, not far from Venice. I added some pics of my town, Este, which is quite small, but also quite nice.
I study at University of Padua, which is one of the oldest of Europe (1222 a.C.); I study Modern Languages for Communication and Translation: English, Russian and Romanian.
I like both Padua and Este, what I don't like is Italy in general, LOL! Well, I just don't like the way it's ruled and the division between North and South; I wish Italians could be more united, but we are too much different to get on well, LOL. For example, we don't speak only Italian, but each region, each province and even each town has got its own dialect. If you move from Este to Monselice, which is 7 km from Este, you will hear a different accent; Padua's dialect is different from Este's one, and so on.
And, as I said, the greatest division is between North and South, and not only for dialects. To me, South is a completely different world! They're more open-minded and extroverted, they talk loud all the time, while in the North we are more suspicious and introverted. I'd rather get on well with an English than with a Southern Italian!
It would take MONTHS to talk about what I like and what I don't like about Italy... sometimes I feel proud of being Italian and sometimes I feel so embarassed and shameful, especially when Berlusconi says something stupid in front of the cameras of the whole world...
Our political situation is... aaarrrrgh, don't let me talk about that! It's a mess!
So here are some informations about my everyday life =)
- For breakfast, I usually eat what I find at home, like milk and Cheerios or tea with cookies, but when I get my salary I start spending it every morning at the coffee bar, with a cappuccino and a croissant! And for cappuccino I mean a REAL cappuccino with REAL coffee, not that colored water they drink in the USA! I see in movies that they always drink liters of that stuff, while you could just take a little cup of well-done-coffee and feel full of energy for the whole day! (I hope I didn't offend any American coffee lover =)
- In a typical work day I would get up at 7.30 (on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays) or at 6 (on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), take the train and go to Padua, drag some friends to a coffee bar before the lessons start; spend the free hours studying at the University library or going shopping to Zara and Benetton or Accessorize, go to the cafeteria or just eat a sandwich. I usually go home at 7 pm (on Mondays and Tuesdays) at 5 on Wednesdays and at 1 am on Thursdays and Fridays.
If I get home early, I usually have lunch at home with pasta (when my French friend visited me was shocked because we eat pasta every day, LOL!), then I spend some time at the pc and then I go to the library or to the gym. I usually have dinner at 8-8.30 with meat/fish and vegetables and then I watch television with my mom, my sister and her parasitic boyfriend (they always talk while I want to listen to the television!).
Sometimes I go out with my friends because I work on Saturdays and Sundays.
- A day off: on Sunday, my mom usually cook something special and she buys little cakes. On this day I usually relax or go out with some friends.
- Some of the most important holidays in Italy:
1) June, 2nd, Republic Day The day commemorates the institutional referendum held by universal suffrage in 1946, in which the Italian people were called to the polls to decide on the form of government, following the Second World War and the fall of Fascism. With 12,717,923 votes for a republic and 10,719,284 for the monarchy, the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile (and now they sing at San Remo Festival, d'oh!).
To commemorate it, a grand military parade is held in central Rome, presided by the President of the Republic in the role of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister and other authorities attend too. Prior to the foundation of the Republic, the Italian national day was the first Sunday in June, anniversary of the granting of the Statuto Albertino.
2) August, 15th, Ferragosto
Originally, it was related to a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labour in the fields. In time, Roman Catholicism adopted this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening. In fact, the present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti ("Festivals [Holidays] of the Emperor Augustus")
Almost the entire month of August was taken as a holiday and leisure time in Italy in honor of this feast day.
In present days, Ferragosto is mainly a short holiday when Italians take brief vacations.
3) Each city has its own Saint patron and they celebrate him/her one day of the year. Este's patron is Santa Tecla and she's celebrated on September, 23.

- I think I don't need to say that Italy is famous for pasta and pizza, so I will list some dishes that are typical of my own region, Veneto:
Baccalà con polenta (Stockfish with cornmeal porridge)

Musso with polenta (Mule with cornmeal porridge)
I know that mule could sound disgusting, but it's really yummy! Sorry to vegetarians =(

Lasagne alla bolognese or Pasticcio (meat pie)

Fritole (Italian: Frittelle) (Fritters)

Torta sbrisolona (I can't find any translation, LOL)

Spritz - the most drank cocktail of North Italy, really cool at this moment

When it's time to eat, I'm really proud of being Italian!
I hope you had fun reading my email!

Oh Italy,
the news we get about Berlusconi are really negative. I only partly understand why so many Italians vote for him again and again, despite having seen some background stories on his public appeal.
I had to laugh out loud when I saw the description of the south and the north. I'm from the north of Germany as well and could have said exactly the same thing about the nature of people. Northerners here are just as reserved, but honest and make true friends. It can't be about the weather as the south of Germany is rather similar to the north of Italy. It can't be economics either. In Germany the north is poorer, in Italy it's more the south. If anybody has a clue what could be the reason just comment below :-)

All umarked text in this post was supplied by a third party. The opinions expressed are not the same as those of the author of this blog. According to §§8 to 10 of the German Tele-Media Act, I am not obligated to monitor third party information provided or stored on my website. However, Ishall promptly remove any content upon becoming aware that it violates the law. My liability in such an instance shall commence at the time I become aware of the respective violation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Visit to the Netherlands - part 2

As my fellow swapper in the cross-cultural email connection swap explained here, there are some current developments in the Netherlands that are quite worrisome. The "party of freedom" (how ironical) and their party leader Geert Wilders are on a roll against minorities in the country, abusing the economic crisis and rising tensions for their own twisted rhetorics. He even dares talking about deportation. Unfortunately Wilders is a very intelligent character with great debating skills. We've seen that strategy before...
Due to our German history much of this happens under cover here, whereas in neighboring countries it is discussed publicly (see Switzerland for the minaret ban proposal). I am not saying this is better or worse. Just in general it seems a common theme that the old mechanism of difficult economic and political times and the search for easy scapegoats along with xenophobia is starting once more. For me it was especially hard to believe that the age of the 60s had left so little effect in Germany. I mean the people in power right now were part of the movement that demanded prosecution of WW3 crimes and attacked their parents for tabooing everything that had happened.
My Dutch friend told me he really loved de Hague, but he couldn't warm up to it as so many people voted for Wilders. I wonder if the situation will get worse once more or people will realize sooner where this might be going.

The Netherlands used to have a very multicultural, tolerant image in the past, which they are slowly losing. The problems of integration are boiling up just as they are in Germany and other countries.
This picture very much reminded me of the USA. On this square kids from Africa and the Middle East were playing together. On the next it was the Asian kids...

We have large city areas with majorities of Turkish people. It is natural that these areas develop (think China Town for another example) but still, the trend to ghettoization is quite sad. Mosques are often actually doing quite a bit of work opening the communities and creating dialogue with German neighbors. Multiculturalism really is nothing to be proud of, interculturalism is.

Hmm. Naming similarities is more difficult than finding differences. How typical :-(
Well, the Netherlands and Germany share a good deal of media, education, economic, political and religious

factors. In consequence it is quite easy for my friend and me to converse without much need for explanations.
Another thing that the Netherlands and Germany share, for example, is that they have three layers of governing: federal, provincial (in Germany it is state level) and communal. You can see the flags of all Dutch provinces here (the one of Holland with the hearts and diagonal blue stripes is best known, I think):

The middle layer of government, so to say, doesn't have as much power in the Netherlands as it does in Germany. That means over here you might get in trouble if you change from one federal state to the next as a high-school-student (and a few of them are only city-size), because the school systems are completely different. It makes a lot of things very complicated, as you can imagine.

Ok, enough of the complicated things. We had great weather and the architecture of the city is very interesting, a blend of historic houses and (mostly) well-designed skyscrapers, where most things are in walking distance.

And finally, just for fun, this picture made me laugh. I am getting the idea this hotel tower is never going to be finished... (if you don't get the joke, check the name of the hotel)

SERIES: Cultural ambassadors: NORWAY (Cross-culture email connection)

The second part of the series is coming to us from Norway. Thanks for the more satirical insight to one of our northern European countries.

Hello everyone =)
This is the Cross-culture Email Connection from Norway!

a description of what you eat for breakfast:
Well, I don't eat breakfast. I'm from a family that has been growling
at each others over bowls of cereal for ages, and, well, it's no use.
I can't find any appetite unless I've been up and about for a while.
But most people in Norway eat slices of bread with some kind of
disgusting stuff on it. Seriously, jam and cheese are OK, but fish in
tomato sauce, some mushed up stuff from liver and other parts of
animals you don't want to know what is... is that a way to start the
day? Not in my world. Some eat cereal, but no one cooks in the morning
here. No egg and bacon, no waffles, hardly any toast, no scrambled
eggs. If you can't make it all with a knife it's not breakfast.

a short description of a typical work day:

Well, for Norwegians it's mostly "management". People here are so damn
spoiled, and eastern European people flock into our country to do the
work that no one here wants to do. If it's not fun and well paid it's
hardly worth doing. And even though Norwegians are winning cooking
competitions all the time we would just starve to death without
Asians. The work hours are 8 hours a day including a 30 minutes paid
lunch, and it's not hard work. I have no idea how we came from Vikings
to this lazy ass shit.

a description of your favorite day off (weekend or holiday):
I have nothing else than days off... But I'm not normal. Most
Norwegian has busy weekends. People that have moved to Norway often
comment about our strange habit of going to "hytta" most weekends. And
yes, it's strange. Norwegians often have at least one "hytte" in the
family, a cabin or second home, either in the mountains or by the sea
(or both). When I grew up we had both a sea and a mountain hytte, one
on either side of the family. It's usually owned by the grandparents
and either sold or inherited when they die. My soon-to-be-in-laws have
a mountain hytte, and me and my boyfriend often go there. Most folks
go there and stay the whole weekend, but we just go after work on
Friday, bring hot dogs to heat in the fireplace and watch all the good
stuff on TV (almost every single good show is running back to back on
Fridays), and just hang out. It's nice to get away from everything,
there is hardly any phone signals up there, the computers stay home,
and there is not any visible neighbors there either. We go back home
again on Saturday morning so that we can do something useful during
the weekend too. Like fix our house, cars, chop wood and things that
take time and has to be done.
But what I want to do over the weekend, when I don't want to get away
or paint something with a big brush is Geocaching. It's not a huge
sport, but there is a lot of caches in Norway, and if the weather is
nice there is nothing better than to get out and see something new. I
prefer caching in cities, mostly because my boyfriend is such a whiner
when it comes to bushes and shrubs. He is scared of bugs, and it's so
funny, because I grew up SO close to the city, and he grew up in the
countryside, and I'm the one that has no problems with nature. I also
like traveling, but a weekend is too short time to see much. We have
been to every single county in Norway, so we need more time to travel.

a short description of your country and its position in the world,
including something you like about it and something you don't like

Oh boy... Norway is a very very small country, with a very very VERY
big ego. Yes, I know, we are rated as the best country to live in in
the world, every single year by the UN, but we are not important. Ok,
so we contribute with a lot of stuff, Norway is a rich country that
can throw a lot of money at things like earthquakes and tsunamis, and
our doctors seem to want to travel a lot and help out, but we really
don't matter. 4,5 million people can't make a huge impression on the
world. We win in winter sports that hardly anyone watches, we haven't
had a world known politician or musicians since the 80ties, and the
only thing people seem to mention about Norway when I get postcrossing
cards is Eurovision (witch we won last year and hosting this year) and
that they have some relatives that came from Norway. It seems like our
biggest export is people, especially to the US.
I like that we can help out with stuff, and actually be a good example
that it's possible to get over a war (WW2) and come out on top like we
have done. We are lucky to have oil, and we know it. I like the fact
that we stand up to our neighbors in the north with no fear. The
Russians don't seem to get used to being treated like everyone else,
and it's fun to see how they react!

a list of languages (optional: dialects) that are spoken in your country

OH BOY! Seriously. I could talk about it all day. I'll try to keep it short.
We have 3 official languages in Norway. It's Bokmål (regular
Norwegian), Nynorsk (new Norwegian) and Samisk. Samisk is spoken by
the Sami people that live in the area around the common borders of
Norway, Sweden and Finland. If you speak Samisk to someone that is not
a Sami it will get you nowhere. It's a VERY strange language, and you
don't learn it in regular school. Nynorsk is something very strange.
It's a written language, but no one really speaks it! It's a written
version of a lot of dialects, and there is a LOT of dialects in
Norway. It's quite hard to understand people from many places, and I
feel really sorry for all the people moving to Norway that are not
from Sweden or Denmark, because we have soooo many dialects and
strange words from strange places. If you are an expert in dialects in
Norway you can pinpoint where people are from just by listening to
them talk for a while, but it seems like every little town has it's
own words. Just the strange words and dialect from around where I live
has it's own book now. And many of the words make -no- sense. Words
that mean one thing in one part of the country means something very
different somewhere else.
Bokmål is not really spoken either, but close. It's the language that
is most common around our capital Oslo, and it's the language most
kids learn in school. But all kids have classes in both Bokmål and
Nynorsk. The languages are not very different, but most of the grammar
needs to be learned. I really don't think learning Swedish or Danish
would be any harder than Nynorsk or Bokmål. Most Norwegian speak
Swedish quite well if they just dare to try, because we have watched a
lot of Swedish television programs on TV, and nothing is dubbed here.
That also means we speak English very well here, and we actually start
learning English before we learn our second Norwegian language.

description of the role of men and women in your country:

Norway is the country of social inequality. We pride ourselves on the
fact that anyone can be anything in Norway, no matter if they are
rich, poor, man or woman. Education is free and available to everyone.
Men in Norway has to take their part in everything that goes on in the
house, like cooking, cleaning and watching kids. There is absolutely
no rules or regulations that differ men and women in Norway. Still,
women usually earn less than men, and there is more men that are
mechanics and more women in the kindergartens, but it's not because of
any thing other than peoples own choices. We even have high government
officials that only work with equality. Discriminating is frowned upon
from all angles.

a type of craft that is typical for your country
We have something called Bunad. It is a traditional costume, made both
for men and women. They vary from place to place, over 200 versions
are known, and it's a very old tradition. It's kinda hard to explain
how it looks, but it's VERY time consuming to make, and it's way too
hot to wear in the summer. Usually it's worn on our national day (17th
May), weddings and such.
I don't have a Bunad. Mostly because the one made where I grew up is
so damned ugly, and the tradition is that you get the one from where
you came from. But also it's so expensive and they are so heavy to
wear, and sooo much work putting them on. On 16th of May you really
should not call any females, because they are probably angry as hell
as they try to get their Bunad ready, ironing the shirt and polishing
the silver stuff.

[I added links to some pictures for better understanding:
girls wearing bunad
fashion photo of women with bonnets ]

a list of the three most important holidays of your country and how
they are cebrated:

We REALLY do Christmas. Not in the "buy as much as you can and eat
until you drop"-Christmas, there is a lot of gifts, but it's also very
much about the traditions, family, cards, friends, advent calendars
and that the sun is turning and we can look forward to seeing it
again! Much of Norway has what we call Mørketid, Dark Times, when the
sun is not seen for months, or just a tiny bit in the middle of the
day. It is a big deal that it's coming back, and our Christmas
celebration has way more to do with the old Norse mythology, the one
the Vikings believed in. They also celebrated what they called Yule,
that is pronounced much like what we call Christmas now; Jul. It is
believed that Christmas was put to the 24th of December (not 25th like
in the US) because of Yule, witch was celebrated on the 22th, because
we would never give it up anyway and the Christians had to make it
their own. Norwegians are not a religious people at all, so Christmas
is more tradition than anything else. I guess we would celebrate it
the same way if Christianity had never arrived. We also insist that
Santa comes from Norway, and if a letter is sent to "Santa, North
Pole" it ends up in Norway. Someone in the town of Drøbak opens every
single letter.

So that was Christmas. We also have Easter, witch is spent at the
hytte, or if you are a geek, in the worlds biggest LAN party in the
Olympic stadium Vikingskipet. I've been there for the whole easter 5
times, but since I live just 30 minutes away I can meet people that
visit anyway, and I don't have too sleep on the floor and get a
headache from the noise in there. When 5500 geeks are in the same room
it's not quiet! It's very much fun if you know a lot of people that
are there though, and I had a blast, but most of the people I know
that are there are arranging it, and have no time to goof off. Some
people go south for the easter, but it's not very hot yet in the
southern parts of Europe.

Those are the two most important ones, we also have a winter and
autumn-week off, also spent at the hytte (*giggle), and we have time
off on some more Christian days of importance in the spring, and 1th
of May (workers day, most people fix their gardens this day, but it's
supposed to be a day for protest) and 17th of May, witch is The
National Day, spent in Bunad with too much ice cream, walking in
parades with marching bands and waving with flags. It's such a day of
nationalism... But it's fun for the kids, and usually it's a great day
to spend outside.

Hope I didn't bore you to death ;P

How much I'd like a hytte where no one can reach you through modern technology... Preferably this one, oh and the inside, soo nice.

All umarked text in this post was supplied by a third party. The opinions expressed are not the same as those of the author of this blog. According to §§8 to 10 of the German Tele-Media Act, I am not obligated to monitor third party information provided or stored on my website. However, Ishall promptly remove any content upon becoming aware that it violates the law. My liability in such an instance shall commence at the time I become aware of the respective violation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SERIES: Cultural ambassadors: NETHERLANDS (Cross-Culture Email Connection)

We will start the series off with the Netherlands, as I was just there to visit. I thank the fellow swapper for the great portrayal of his country. After an hour of formatting, here you go:

Hello swap partners & swap coordinator,

here is the Cross Culture e-mail connection SWAP from the Netherlands (or Holland, Hollanda, Pays Bas, der Niederlande etc.etc.)
As it is the second day of spring today I need to be carefull not to write a too sunny picture of our little country, the little bit of sun we allready got is making me very excited, but I will do my best :-).
A description of what we eat for breakfast:

We tend to eat slices of bread with butter and cheese, ham or chocolate sprinkles or .....anything. The bread is mostly accompanied with a glass of milk, buttermilk or tea.

a short description of a typical work day:

A typical work day .... that is a difficult question, it depends of course of your type of work.
A full time working week is 40 hours, but quite a lot of people work part time, certainly the women.
At my own family, both my husband and myself work 32 hours, so 4 days per week. Our 3 kids go to school & afterwards from 3 onwards to a post-school group where they play & sport.
I work as an industrial engineer at a big food company and next to that I have 2 websites with home-made product & a blog to maintain (see links below), so after a working day at the office & when the kids went to bed at 20:00 my next working day starts sewing & painting :-), but I love it all!!

a description of your favorite day off (weekend or holiday):

We wake up normal time around 7:00, do some games in our pyama, have a good breakfast & take the bicycle to cycle around the village, to the forrest, to a playground. We will have lunch in the village and cycle back to our country-side house. The afternoon we will spend in the garden, doing some light chores, playing with the animals, snoozing in the sun and finish with a BBQ with friends who will have arrived at our place during the afternoon. The evening is spend chatting, relaxing with a sweater next to the fire on the terrace.


a short description of your country and its position in the world, including something you like about it and something you don't like:

The Netherlands is a very wealthy little country in Europe (green circle in red square), next to the North Sea. Most of the country is below sea-level and protected by dikes & mills. There are 16mio inhabitants.
I really like that people are quite direct and straight forward, they would tend to be honest and not make things nicer or pretter then they are.
I do not like the fact that there is a political party which is becoming more popular at the moment who is very harsh on other cultures and totally not tolerant. This is not fitting our cultural history, our openess and certainly not fitting to my ideas!!

a list of languages (optional: dialects) that are spoken in your country:

In the Netherlands we speak Dutch. There are of course a few dialects and there is even one dialect which is now recognised as a language: Frysian, but that last one is only spoken in one of the provinces.

As the country is really small, the most people will speak at least one or two or three other languages, mostly English, German and French which we all learn at high school, but also spanish is becoming very popular and of course at university many other languages.

a list of the three most important holidays of your country and how they are cebrated:

This is a nice subject. Of course there are the Christian holidays like christmas and Easter which are big but quite common in Europe.
The two most special though are:

1- Carnaval. Celebrated in February only in the southern part of the Netherlands and a bit like the Brazilian carnaval. But where in Brazil it is sunny and people dress beatifully and dance beatifully, carnaval in NL is more about dressing fun, making jokes, drinking beer & having a parade with also fun cars, trucks etc. It lasts from saturday until tuesday and the people who are really in for it, they will really party 4 day long and will be busy preparing anything from 11-11 (11th of November) onwards when the new prince carnaval is elected (one prince per village)

2- Sinterklaas. Every year mid novembre Sinterklaas arrives from Spain with his helpers, the "zwarte pieten" (black Pete's) and one the 5th of December all kids will get presents from Sinterklaas and he goes back. Pls find a ppt attached to explain more about this tradition and for those who might have worries: there is no racisme related to this story & as it is such a long tradition nobody has issues with it here. Sinterklaas is pronounced approximately the same as SantaClaus, but remember for the future, the story is very different, the person is not the same & in NL we do not have Santa Claus (allthough the shops will try to introduce)
There are a few other countries who also have a version of Sinterklaas, like in Slovenia, Zwitserland etc. a list of that can be found on slide 9 of the ppt too!!!!

description of some national specialties/products:

Of course we are famous for cheese, mills, wooden shoes, Delfts blauw porcelain !!

* Wooden shoes are the traditional farmer shoes, warm in winter, cold in summer. It is still worn by some people during their work-day but then often in a version with a leather top.
* Mills & dikes, those are of course absolutely necessary to keep the water out. Not much more to tell about that. The traditional versions of windmills (see picture at the next subject) are still operated but often only for hobby, tourism or to make some flower for bread. The real milling to keep our feet dry is done by electrical big pumps.

* stroopwafels, a very nice type of cookie with syrup in between the layers, this a link to the recipe in english:
* A city in the West is very famous for its blue painted porcelain, allthough very old of course and for long only still popular for tourists, this kind of grahics is going through a true revival and it is an absolute trend to have products with these prints, sometimes made more modern and always use in a different way then in the past.

The old stuff:

The new trendy stuff using the old graphics:
Want to see more: look at this page.

a description of the role of men and women in your country:

there used to be a saying that the only right of women is to keep the kitchen clean, but times luckily have changed in the meantime.
In my generation it is now very common that men and women are equal & often both work 4 days per week only to also share more of the caring for the kids. We are not quite there yet, not 100% equal yet, but I think NL is pretty advanced in emancipation.

a famous person from your country and what she/he is famous for:

Of course there are plenty of famous Dutch people :-), but I will introduce to you MC Escher, not so many people know he is from NL

Of Course MC Escher is famous for his mathematical prints, but he also made more wonderful art during his lifetime.

a type of craft that is typical for your country (doesn't have to be typical ONLY for your country):

NL has a lot of tradition in textile making and one very old art is called "kantklossen", as you can see on the picture, you make a kind of lace but with wooden threadholders and using amazing complex patterns.

the role of religion in your country:

The Christian religion used to be most common in NL, split between catholics, protestants and some smaller Christian religions. But of course the islam, hinduism and many other religions are becoming more and more popular.
Religion is absolutely free in NL and is not present in eg. politics and also not so much on schools (with a few exceptions), everybody is free to practice or not to practice.

I hope you enjoyed reading more about the Netherlands and who knows you might be visiting it some day

I couldn't upload the Sinterclaas presentation. If anyone tells me how to do it, I will add it immediately. I think you really get a great picture of the Netherlands (and Holland is by the way just a province of the whole country). Here in Germany we often eat Dutch cheese, although we grossly misspronounce it ;-) We pronounce Gouda "Ghauda" while it is actually something like "Choouda" with a very guttural "ch"... The syrup waffles I loved as a child and still eat them from time to time. With regard to the festivals I was stunned when my Dutch friend told me their "big-exchanging-presents-festival" is Sinterclaas, not Christmas. Hope you all enjoyed the first part of the series.

All umarked text in this post was supplied by a third party. The opinions expressed are not the same as those of the author of this blog. According to §§8 to 10 of the German Tele-Media Act, I am not obligated to monitor third party information provided or stored on my website. However, Ishall promptly remove any content upon becoming aware that it violates the law. My liability in such an instance shall commence at the time I become aware of the respective violation.