Category Archives: Cultural differences

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Santa in a helicopter – Part 1

A holiday roundup of funny and bizarre traditions from around the world from busuu, the largest online language learning community.

The British happily wear paper crowns to adorn themselves for the Christmas meal, the Spaniards hope to win millions in the Christmas lottery and, in Brazil, Santa Claus flies around in a helicopter. Busuu, the 35 million-strong online community for language learning has collected some quirky traditions from 12 countries whose languages are taught on our website: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese. This will be presented to you in a two part blog post.  Check out our part 1 list below and see if some of these national customs surprise you.

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English

In the UK people like to wear Christmas Jumpers (which are sweaters) with holiday themes such as funny-faced reindeers or penguins with hats. Even the Christmas dinner in England is a bit like a carnival: Guests wear colourful paper hats and burst balloons at the dinner table. The British like to watch TV over the Christmas period, with the Queen’s annual Christmas speech particularly popular viewing. In Ireland, the children dress up on December 26th, St. Stephen’s Day, as The Wrenboys and go out on the town to collect candy and money.

Spanish

The Spaniards start Christmas with a giant lottery, the largest in the world, which is televised on December 22nd. Most Spaniards are glued to the TV in the morning, anxious to see if they have become millionaires. Lottery draws also take place on 24 December, the “Noche Buena”. After dinner with the family, small gifts, but also rivets, are drawn from an “Urn of Fate “. One of the main nativity figures in Catalonia is “el Caganer” the “pooper”, who handles his business on the nativity scene. In Mexico, the ‘Psadas’ processions where the story of Mary and Joseph is re-enacted, are celebrated with friends and family. For the children, lovingly decorated papier-mâché piñatas filled with fruits and sweets are hung on the ceilings, to be be smashed and broken by big sticks while blindfolded.

French

The height of French Christmas is – perhaps not too surprising – the Christmas Feast: La Reveillon with mussels, lobster, oysters, duck, vegetables, foie gras and all sorts of pies, as well as a spectacular dessert, “la Bûche de Noël”, a chocolate butter cream cake that comes in the shape of a tree trunk. The French Santa Claus is called Père Noël. He slips down the chimney and places gifts in the children’s polished shoes.

German

One of the most important holidays in Germany, Christmas is called Weihnachten. December 6th is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. A shoe or boot is left outside the door on the 5th of December in the hope that the following morning you find presents, if you were good – or, unfortunately a rod if you have been bad. The Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgebäck, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations. The main day is the 24th, Christmas Eve when children will find presents under the tree.

Italian

In some parts of Italy the real Christmas day is celebrated on January 6th, The Three Kings Day. According to legend, the witch Befana has missed the star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and is therefore searching for baby Jesus on the night of the 5th to the 6th of January. She flies on a broom from house to house, bringing gifts to good children and coal pieces to the naughty ones.

Portuguese

In Brazil, even Santa is an extrovert. Papa Noel lands a helicopter in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and distributes gifts. Celebrations are loud, funny and complete with fireworks. As most Brazilians are Catholic, the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a must-do. Presents have to wait until after the midnight mass. In Portugal, nativity cribs are often placed in the living room with the popular Christmas tree. These are also found in Portuguese churches, where surrounding landscapes are recreated in detail with real places, people and figures.

Continue to part 2

How do you celebrate Christmas? Is there a special or funny tradition in your region? Tell us about it on Facebook –  or @busuu on Twitter.

206

Santa in a helicopter – Part 2

The busuu holiday roundup of funny and bizarre traditions from around the world continues.

Busuu, the 35 million-strong online community for language learning has collected some quirky traditions from 12 countries whose languages are taught on our website. In part 1 we covered English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese. Now we’ll look at Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese, and see if some of these national customs surprise you.

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Polish

The Christmas feast is consumed in Poland only when the first star shines in the sky. Fish and vegetables are mostly served instead of richer dishes such as roast meat or sausages. This custom serves to remind the largely Catholic Poland that in the period before the Reformation, the 24th of December was a day of fasting. One extra spot at the table is laid, in case an unexpected guest comes for Christmas dinner. After dinner, traditional Christmas wafers decorated with small pictures are broken and shared.

Russian

One of the most famous Christmas exports originates in Russia: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” is about a girl named Masha who receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve from her godfather Drosselmeyer and dreams about it during the night. It is often performed all over the world at Christmas time. The Russians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. According to the Julian and Gregorian calendars, this day corresponds to the 25th of December. “Jack Frost” delivers the gifts in Russia.

Turkish

Although most Turks don’t celebrate Christmas as Islam is the main Turkish religion, Santa Claus is still an important figure. He is said to have lived in Anatolia in the 4th Century, as the Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas is called “Noel Baba” or “Father Christmas” in Turkey.

Chinese

In China, Christmas is not celebrated due to Laoist tradition. But a more commercialized holiday based on Western traditions, with lush Christmas decorations and lights, is very popular here. The fact that the Christmas color “red” also stands for happiness in China, helps the Chinese feel joyous while decorating for the holiday.

Japanese

In Japan, the commercial version of Christmas is also very popular. Department stores have Christmas decorations, mistletoes and artificial Christmas trees – real ones would be too expensive. The “Hoteiosho” is the Japanese Santa Claus, who brings Christmas gifts to many non-Christian Japanese children.

Arabic

Even in Arab countries Christian people celebrate Christmas. In Iraq, Christians light bonfires made ​​of dried thorns in front of their homes during Christmas Eve. If they burn down completely, it is meant to bring happiness to the family. In Lebanon, self-grown plants are used to decorate the nativity cribs. For this custom, Lebanese Christians plant pea, bean, lentil or wheat seeds in cotton buds around two weeks before Christmas.

How do you celebrate Christmas? Is there a special or funny tradition in your region? Tell us about it on Facebook -  or @busuu on Twitter.

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Language is more than words – Part 2

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In part 1, we looked at the different ways of greeting others across the world. Now let’s look at more language without words!

Darwin claimed that humans have six universal facial expressions to communicate happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger. But is that really true? Recent research by Glasgow University has actually shown that different cultures express their emotions using different facial expressions. For example, a European will often express and recognise an emotion by the movement of the mouth, whereas Asian cultures tend to express and recognise strong emotion with eye activity.

But what about expressing emotions through text? We might want to do this if we are sending a private message on busuu, or using the busuutalk text chat. Interestingly, expression of emotions via emoticons also varies between cultures, but is largely based on the same differences involved in facial expressions:

  • European emoticons show differences in the mouth, for example :-) and :-o
  • Asian emoticons focus more on the eyes, for example (^_^) and (o.o)

Why not try this out next time you send a busuu private message or chat in busuutalk?

Have you noticed that facial expressions and emoticons vary between cultures? Do you think you express your emotions more with your eyes or mouth? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

190

Language is more than words – Part 1

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How embarrassing! The etiquette of meeting and greeting

We all love meeting people on busuu – conversing with people from different backgrounds and cultures whom you would never normally meet, all from the comfort of your living room. Best of all, there’s little chance of making any first-time-meeting faux-pas – just flip open a busuutalk or private message and get chatting!

But we don’t want you to just stay at home – we want you to get out there and practise your new-found language skills in the real world! Studies show that we have just 7 seconds to make a first impression, and that non-verbal communication has more of an effect on people than verbal. That’s why in this series we are looking at the theme ‘Language is more than words’ – when are words not enough?

Find out how the world greets others

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall defined our four levels of social interaction as being: intimate (distance of 6-18 inches), personal (distance of 1.5 to 4 feet), social (4 to 12 feet) and public (distance of 12 to 25 feet). At each distance, there are certain actions which are expected and certain which are inappropriate. But what happens when greeting etiquette from different cultures transcend different social distances?!

In international contexts, or places where there is little definition of greeting etiquette, greeting can be a social nightmare – in the UK, a handshake was always traditional, but cheek kisses have become more common, and these days some will even dive straight in for a hug!

Nod? Bow? Handshake? Kiss? Hug? Even where it’s clear there can be confusion. In France, the number of cheek kisses exchanged can vary from region to region – from 1 to a whopping 5! Context is also a defining factor. In Japan, a typical informal bow might be of around 15 degrees, whereas a formal one can be 30, and an apologetic bow would see a person dipping to 45 degrees! (Add in the duration and repetition of bows and we have even more variation!).

How do you greet people in your country? Does it vary across regions? Have you experienced any greeting faux-pas?! Leave a comment on our blog so that we can all learn to avoid the embarrassing situation pictured above!