29 Apr Manage Your Manners

During the 5 years I lived in Japan I committed my fair share of cultural faux pas. Dressing incorrectly, saying the wrong thing, exposing my misunderstanding of basic social rules… I unwittingly checked all of these missteps off my list. However none were more memorable, or more embarrassing, than those rules I broke at the dinner table. (Never stick your chopsticks point down in your rice. Trust me on this.) Table manners are a sign of civility and good character everywhere in the world. Unfortunately, “good” and “bad” etiquette is subjective dependent on culture, which can lead to unintentionally rude behavior. There are a few tried and true rules that transcend location (chew with your mouth closed, wash your hands, don’t throw things) but the rest are tricky. We’ve compiled five of the harder ones below. Read on to become a politer you! Italy – No cappuccino after 12pm Cappuccino is a morning drink. Indeed, for many Italians it can function as their entire breakfast. Therefore, anyone ordering it after noon is instantly identifiable as a tourist. Older Italians will admonish you for ruining your appetite and upsetting your tummy. Stay on the safe side and order espresso instead. Britain – Hold your fork in your left hand For most of mainland Europe, and particularly Britain, the approved way to hold your fork and knife is in the “Continental Style.” (Does that mean Americans use the “Colonial Style?” Need to look into this…) To be correctly...

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12 Feb Love Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here it comes…the day when couples are expected to shower each with love and expensive gifts, while their singleton friends gather together to get drunk, defiant and depressed. Well that’s what happens in the States, but there are many different Valentine’s Day traditions happening in different countries around the world. Here’s an insight into how different cultures celebrate February 14. Italy Long before Juliet was meant to be blowing kisses at Romeo from her balcony, Italians celebrated Valentine’s Day as the Spring Festival. The young and romantic would stroll arm-in-arm through gardens, resting beneath tree arbors to enjoy poetry readings and music. Today on Valentine’s Day, Italians are more likely to be exchanging gifts and chocolate over a romantic dinner. And when we say chocolate, we don’t mean a Hershey Bar. Italians believe the bigger and better the chocolate, the stronger the love you will have. France France has given the world its most romantic city, most seductive accents, and it’s sometimes claimed, its best lovers. It’s even said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, you’re more likely to find French people wining and dining each other than exchanging heartfelt cards on February 14.   United Kingdom In the UK, Valentine’s Day is when you can discover your secret admirer, or confess your secret passions for another. Sending anonymous Valentine’s cards is a tradition...

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12 Jan Wish, Kiss, and Touch

The new year is here! 2015 is the year for travel and discovery, and all the personal wealth that comes with it. We’ve put together a list of places for you to go this year that are not only beautiful and entrenched in history, they will bring you good fortune. 1. Edinburgh, Scotland- Grayfriar Bobby Statue Meet the most famous and beloved terrier of Scotland, Grayfriars Bobby. His life-size statue stands near the main entrance of Greyfriar Kirkyard, a cemetery in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The statue was erected to memorialize the Skye Terrier who kept faithful watch over his master’s grave for 14 years until his own death in 1872. A tombstone marks his actual burial site in Kirkyard, where he rests eternally near the grave of his owner John Gray. The story has unfortunately been discredited by recent research, but tourists still enjoy rubbing the nose of the loyal pup for good fortune. City officials encourage you to pet gently, not because he bites, but because his nose has undergone some damage over the years from repeated touching. [caption id="attachment_1340" align="alignnone" width="189"] http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greyfriars_Bobby_statue,_Edinburgh.JPG[/caption] So sweet. 2. Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland- Blarney Castle Kiss it, it’s Irish! When you’re in Ireland, be sure to visit the Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone for the “gift of the gab.” According to legend, proprietor of the castle Cormac MacCarthy was being denied his land owning rights by Queen Elizabeth I. Feeling helpless to argue his case, he...

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14 Nov Shanghai Shenanigans

No one is ever bored in Shanghai, a city with an intoxicating mix of old-world glamour and skyscraping, breakneck modernity. Here is a list to get you started on the city’s most popular attractions. Visit The Bund Start your Shanghai explorations in the Bund, a collection of opulent, colonial-era buildings curving along the western bank of the Huángp? River. Wander the upmarket restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, enjoying views across the neon-striped river. From here, pulsating East Nanjing Rd heads away from the waterfront to the skyscraper-lined People’s Square. Cruise the Huangpu River From the Bund, you can take in the Huangpu River from one of 30 tourist boats. Channel old Shanghai in a Shikumen craft, join a pirate boat or deluxe cruiser, or step onto a dragon boat evoking the Ming and Qing dynasty. On the east side of the river you’ll see the steel and glass towers, such as the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, that characterize the city’s financial and commercial center. On the west bank is The Bund, Monument to the People's Heroes, Waibaidu Bridge and Huangpu Park, Shanghai oldest park. Hit the shops Shanghai is a teeming, late-night shopper’s delight, and subway Line 1 conveniently links the city’s three main shopping areas of Nanjing Road, Huanhai Road and Xujiahui. Wander west along Nanjing East Road to the brightly-lit shops and bustling tea houses and bars of Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street. Hang out in tea houses Experience the unique culture of Shanghai’s 24-hour tea houses,...

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10 Jul Tips on Tipping

In the USA gratuity has gotten a bit gratuitous. You have to wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just go ahead and raise minimum wage again so these poor people don’t have to depend on our pennies and dimes to get by. However, for as ever-present tipping is in America, many other countries don’t operate on the same rules. To avoid inadvertently offending the wait-staff, here are some tips on tipping. http://www.beausides.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Chinese-bellhop.jpg China Outside of the more European sensibilities of Hong Kong, tipping is neither expected, nor encouraged in China. The service industry isn’t trained to expect it and may be confused if you attempt to hand them a few singles. Though some tour services may allow you to thank their guides in this way, don’t feel obligated. Czech Republic Though a common courtesy involves rounding up the bill to the nearest denomination of 10 korun, no one will fault you if you refrain from doing so. (Note that in more international cities like Prague, more and more services expect a 10% tip for services rendered. Blame the tourists.) An important point to remember: tipping on a credit card charge isn’t done. England Tipping is expected and encouraged, but, as would happen in the USA, if the service is horrible you can legally refuse to do so. Keep in mind that, similar to their American counterparts, many service workers are faced with a ‘tip jar’ system, where they must evenly divide their takings at the end...

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07 Dec Christmas in China

[caption id="attachment_2333" align="alignnone" width="576"] Maybe it's time to rethink the Christmas tree.[/caption] China has been red, politically, since 1949. And over the past decade in December urban centers in China literally become red. Walk down a busy Beijing street in December and it’s like you’re in the US: wreaths adorn storefronts, tinsel hangs from doorways, and red ribbons perch atop oversized present displays, promising holiday cheer. In shops, buyers purchase Holy Apples for their children and paper lanterns to decorate the home. With the Communist party in power, China has no official state religion and the majority of Chinese people are atheist. Christmas isn’t recognized as a “government” or “religious” holiday, and only in a few places is it technically a “public holiday.” As a result, Christmas celebrations in China have been stripped of their religious underpinnings. This directly opposes the sentiment behind Christmas, which Christians celebrate as “the day [that the] Christ was born.” In Hong Kong, a former colony of Western powers, Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday despite the general public not being Christian. It seems historical development plays a role. But on the whole, China’s political history defies this idea. After the Communist party took control, China’s government attempted to shelter the country from foreign influence. For decades, Christians in China (~2%) weren’t permitted to openly celebrate Christmas for fear of government intervention. Especially during the 20th century, Christmas began representing a very capitalist, Christian holiday – wholly non-Chinese,...

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06 Oct Rubbing Buddha’s belly for a long life in the trees

[caption id="attachment_2277" align="alignnone" width="660"] So happy! So enlightened![/caption] Every few months, while growing up, my family and I would make a pilgrimage after 11 a.m. church service to Shanghai Gardens. It was a local Chinese restaurant in front of the parking lot of a grocery store—or rather in the parking lot, the building an oasis surrounded by cement. Sunday lunches at Shanghai Gardens became something to look forward to. I daydreamed of my impending plate of cashews, chicken and broccoli during church. What I daydreamed about most, however, was rubbing Buddha’s belly. An eight-foot bronze statue of a cross-legged naked, large Chinese man sat in front of the goldfish pond in the lobby of the restaurant. My younger sister and I would run up to Buddha, rubbing his belly for good luck. “Don’t take all his good blessing, kids,” my dad would say. “You have a fortune cookie to enjoy after your meal.” What I failed to grasp but realize now was just how important Buddha is in Chinese culture. Coming in a close second are temples and trees associated with the portly fellow. Enter TanZhe Temple outside Beijing and you hardly know it is a 1700 year-old building. You can’t order a plate of sesame chicken nor receive a fortune cookie, but you immediately sense calm and peace. And that’s what Chinese temples were built for. Buddha, a real man born in 580 B.C., was a soul-searching youth full of pain, suffering and self-loathing....

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