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Saint Valentine – patron saint of love or something else?

Lut 13

Every year, from the very beginning of February, we can see a red colour everywhere. People get crazy about fluffy teddy bears, sweetest chocolates, beautiful flowers and all kinds of heart-shaped cards just to express their feelings for people their love the most. And all of that culminates on a Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is an annual feast celebrating love and romance all around the world. Traditionally, it takes place on the 14th of February due to a person of St. Valentine of Rome or of Terni, whose feast is exactly on that day.

There are numerous stories surrounding the origins of this particular feast, including a story of St. Valentine’s life itself. He is commonly considered to be a patron saint of courtly love but not everyone knows that it’s actually his second patronage. Actually, he is mainly a patron saint of mental diseases and people who suffer from them.

Saint Valentine is a widely recognised 3rd century Roman saint. According to the most popular legend considering his life, he was a doctor by profession and a clergyman by vocation. He was a bishop and a martyr in the times of the Roman Empire during the reigns of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Gothicus who, at his advisors’ suggestion, forbid young men aged between 18 and 37 to get married. He did so as he considered single men without families and duties that come with it the best soldiers dedicated only to war. But a young clergyman Valentine did not obey that ban and secretly married legionnaires to women they wanted to spend their lives with and was imprisoned as a punishment.

During his time in prison he fell in love with his guard’s blind daughter. According to the legend, his beloved one miraculously regained her sight as a result of the love Valentine gifted her with. When the Emperor found out, he ordered Valentine be killed as he considered it suspicious and dangerous. At the day preceding the execution, the future Saint wrote a love letter to his beloved one. He ended it with the words: “From Your Valentine”. The execution took place on the 14th of February 269. That is why, nowadays, people all over the world send each other cards and love letters signed in the same way.

Most of the churches dedicated to Saint Valentine are situated in Italy. Definitely, the most important one is the Church and Catacombs of San Valentine in Rome, which every year attracts lovers and engaged couples from around the world , who want to visit that place to celebrate their love and happiness. Even a Polish pope, John Paul II, send a letter to engaged couples who want to get married in that church and its quotation is now engraved on a marble plaque next to St. Valentine’s tomb.

Talking about Valentine’s Day nowadays, many of us think of St. Valentine as a symbol of courtly love and romance. His fame reached Poland in the 15th century and now there are many churches dedicated to him, eagerly visited by tourists since St. Valentine became a symbol of love here. But there are also people who perceive him in a completely different way. These are people who remember that, except for his patronage over love, St. Valentine’s major interest and occupation was taking care of people suffering from epilepsy and other mental diseases. And it is a fact that churches dedicated to the saint nowadays were previously the places where mothers were bringing their sick children to pray for health for them. It happens sometimes that people who don’t remember what love is anymore and want to prove its pointlessness and stupidity often refer to St. Valentine’s Day as a feast of mentally sick and psychiatric people. That is why they often compare love to a state of mental disorder. They want to prove that love makes us sick and that it is something that we should be cured of.

But isn’t it actually a fact commonly known that love is a feeling often compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder? Isn’t it a feeling that influences our minds and the way we think the most? It is proven that when we are in love, our brain produces a mixture of chemical compounds, including dopamine and serotonin, which eventually are responsible for our feelings. When in love we feel happier, our feelings are intensified, everything seems to be better, people are kinder, art is more beautiful, we are more motivated, we want to dance, sing and change our lives for better.

So, if that is so, then let’s hope that all of us get mentally disordered one day so that we can all every year celebrate this beautiful day – the 14th of February.

(J/W)

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Moldova – a hidden treasure

Lut 03

Have you ever heard of this small country located between Ukraine and Romania? Moldova is the least touristy country in the world. It’s a country with many fascinating spots not discovered by the crowds yet. Here are a few interesting facts about the Republic of Moldova.

Moldovan language

The Moldovans used to call their language “Moldovan”, but in fact it’s a regional version of Romanian, and in 2013 Romanian was officially appointed the official language of Moldova. Due to its Soviet history and geographical proximity, most of the population speaks Russian better than Romanian. Most public writing, for example on menus, leaflets, signs, etc., are provided in both languages. Older and educated people tend to speak Russian more, but it’s not recognized as an official language. Not all Moldavans can speak “Moldovan” (Romanian).:-)

Romanian in Romania and in Moldova are almost the same, there are just a few regional vocabulary differences. Both of them use the Latin script. Don’t confuse “Moldova” with “Moldavia”, which is the name of the historical region between the Dniester River and the Eastern Carpathians. Nowadays, this region is a part of 3 countries: Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.

Wine

Moldova’s top export product is wine. Many Moldovan people work in the industry and Moldova is among the world’s top 10 wine exporters. Wine cellars are a must-see. For example, you can go to Cricova, located only 15 km from the capital of Chisinau. The cellars in total are around 120 kilometers long. During your visit you will be shown around only a selected part of it. The guide will take you on drive to the most beautiful places, as the total distances are enormously far. The cellar is located in limestone rock formations meaning that the temperature remains around 12°C and the humidity level is stable, making it the perfect spot for wine production, especially for sparkling wines. You can see how the wine is made and visit the underground city and charming conference rooms. A must-do is a tasting of award-winning Moldovan wines. Interestingly, many famous politicians have their own wine shelf here, you can see wine belonging to Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel. Book your tour a few days in advance, but don’t be afraid of crowds – Moldova is the spot least overrun by tourists in all of Europe. People still don’t know about its amazing charm.

Chisinau

Chisinau looks like a typical Soviet city at first glance, but you can see many beautiful old Orthodox monasteries there. One of the most beautiful of these is the Ciuflea Monastery. This Orthodox temple looks gorgeous, the building is blue and white and the roofs are blue or gold. The most popular spot in the city is the Triumphal Arch situated in the center close to the Cathedral of the Nativity and opposite Government House.

Chisinau Bus Station

If you need to take a bus to other towns or countries from there, for example to Transnistria, you need to go to the most exotic place in the capital, the Main Bus Station. Don’t look for any bus schedules or destination names at the bus stops. The ticket office does not provide any information except ticket prices. If you want to find where the starting point of your marszrutka mini bus is, you need to ask local drivers taking rest there or simply walk along shouting your destination name, for example “Tiraspol, Tiraspol” and wait till bus driver waves to you. 🙂

Agriculture in the city center

Chisinau is a capital city, but it’s not overcrowded (actually it’s empty:-)). There are many beautiful parks and a mere 15 minutes’ walk from the center, the area looks like a village and you can have your own garden and buy fresh eggs or home-made wine from your neighbor.

Transnistria

Transnistria is a part of Moldova which calls itself a separate country. If you go there from Chisinau for example, you need to pass border control. Transnistria, with its capital in Tiraspol, is not an officially recognized country and is treated as an autonomous region of Moldova in the international arena. Transnistria was created in 1990, when local authorities decided to stay in the Soviet Union and Moldova decided to leave it. The military conflict took many victims. Tiraspol is heavily supported by the Russian Federation nowadays, and you can see the Russian flag near all state buildings together with Transnistrian symbols. Most of the region’s inhabitants are under a greater cultural and linguistic influence from Russia than the rest of Moldova. When you visit this city, you will feel like you are in the Soviet Union and having a short trip to the past. Tiraspol is a true museum of communism. What is interesting is that people from Chisinau often go to Transnistria to buy the best quality Russian … bed sheets. 🙂

Moldova and the EU

Moldova is not a part of the European Union, but has signed an association pact with the EU. The EU is providing Moldova with some necessary financial help and EU citizens can travel there without a visa. A possible future accession to the European Union is very uncertain. The main issues include Transnistria, which is not in fact controlled by Moldavian government. Joining the EU would require Moldova to solve the conflict or accept Transnistria’s independence, which is of course not acceptable for Chisinau. Another issue is the attitude towards independence of the public, some of whom would like to make one country with Romania while others would prefer to remain independent, while still others would like to join forces with Russia. The country has numerous problems like corruption, poverty and a growing depopulation caused by the substantial emigration of young people to the West. We will see what happens, but definitely visit this country before the tourist industry discovers it. 🙂

(M.K)

Bibliography:

‘Romania and Moldova. Mosaic in vibrant colors’, Bezdroża Helion, 2015.

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Savoir-vivre around the world

Sty 22

Have you ever made a faux-pas in a different country? Did you do anything stupid while travelling making local people laugh? Did you get embarrassed? Here are a few tips on what not to do in different countries.


France

Travelling to Paris or Marseille? Learning a few French words before you go is a must. French people are proud of their language and reluctant to learn English. Starting a conversation in English even in touristic places such as a restaurant might be considered rude. French people will appreciate travellers saying even a few words in their language. Making pronunciation and grammatical mistakes is not an issue for them. Secondly, be prepared that almost everyone, even people you just got to know, will be kissing you on your cheek. If you are male, French male friends will be kissing you as well. The number of kisses to be made depends on the region. Last, but not least, be aware of etiquette at the table. Question: “Excuse me, where is the toilet?” is forbidden. Instead of that, you should ask: “Excuse me, where can I wash my hands?”. The word “toilet” is forbidden while diningJ

China

Going to Shanghai or Beijing to try Chinese cuisine? A business trip to Guangzhou? Be careful where you put your chopsticks. Never stick them horizontally into your bowl with rice. It means a death in the family. Chinese people are very superstitious. The same rule applies to Japan. In case you need to put them aside, use special the chopstick holder placed next to your bowl.

Another important thing in China are business cards; Chinese people love them. While taking to Chinese people you might get lots of them, even from very small entrepreneurs. If you are travelling there for business, prepare your own ones. The best choice is to have them both in English and Chinese on each side. For Chinese, one’s position in society is crucial, so you need to mark your position clearly on your business card. Always give your card using both hands – it’s really important and shows your respect. While you receive one you need to take it using both hands as well, look what’s on it to show your respect and express thanks. What is really typical for all Far Eastern countries such as China, Japan or South Korea is that you need to be aware of their honour, sometimes called ‘face’. Criticising any of your co-workers in public is not a good idea. Asians consider being criticised in public as a humiliation, a loss of honour and loss of face. Criticism may cause them to leave a job or even to commit suicide. Be careful, feedback should be passed face to face without any publicity. For Chinese and Japanese, the opinion and position they have in society is crucial as they consider themselves not as an individual, but more in a collective context.

Japan

If you are planning a trip to Japan don’t forget to pack two pairs of clean slippers. In Japan it’s mandatory to take off your shoes right when you enter the house. They wear slippers at home or bare, but always clean feet. The bathrooms are usually spotlessly clean, but Japanese culture considers them to be a ‘dirty place’, so you need to have a different pair of slippers or flip flops for the rest room only. Entering a Japanese house in shoes means showing disrespect to your host. To make things even more complicated, you need to leave your shoes with the toes pointing to the door. There are also separate slippers to wear while going to the balcony, patio, garden, etc. 🙂

The Netherlands

Dutch people are very direct, which might appear rude. Not at all! Citizens of The Netherlands are very direct and self-confident and consider it as an advantage. They are open to talk about anything and there is no conversation taboo.

Additionally, the Dutch are very pragmatic and like things to be useful. Hard work is highly appreciated, but the effect of your work is the most important. Everything needs to be planned and team work is highly valued. One of the worst faux pas you can make is to ask a new Dutch friend if you can visit them at home. They enjoy meeting friends in bars, but home is their castle. It’s a private place and inviting guests is very rare. What is interesting – they have nothing to hide, as there are no curtains in the windows. Any unaccepted visit – even in the case of best friends – must be arranged in advance on the phone. Unexpected visits will make your Dutch host feel embarrassed. If you want to hang out with them, they all love cafes, restaurants and pubs and never look at the costs. In case a Dutch person invites you to their house, no need to take off your shoes. 🙂

(MK)

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Gru 06

As we all know, Christmas time is right around the corner. We can see it everywhere: in the shopping centres or in the streets decorated with Christmas ornaments and lights. It is hard not to feel excited when we see the first snow outside the window. We guess that everyone feels the magic of this time and counts how many days are left until we can gather with our families around the Christmas table. A lot of us can admit that one of the most common guilty pleasures is listening to festive songs over and over again for the next month.

Here are some fun facts which you might have not known connected to this holiday:

1.The Christmas tree started being tradition thanks to Prince Albert of Germany.

Thanks to Queen’s Victoria German consort, Prince Albert, Christmas trees were popularised. The way it started to spread out was thanks to an engraving which appeared in Illustrated London News in 1848. It represented the royal family decorating a tree. People loved the image and the idea of a decorated tree so the tradition was quickly adopted.

2. We owe Coca-Cola for the modern image of Santa.

As we all know, the figure of Santa Claus has its roots in the religious character known as St. Nicholas. The modern image of an old cheerful gentleman in a red outfit was created by the American illustrator Huddon Sundblom in 1931. He was initially created for the Christmas Coca-Cola advertising campaigns but is used today and every year he reminds us of the upcoming holidays.

3. Abbreviation “Xmas” is not a new invented word.

The word Xmas may sound like an abbreviation thanks to which our sms or message could be shorter. Its first use dates back to the 1500s. It’s hard to believe that it started being popular again in marketing or in daily life these days. Not many people are aware how old it is, and unfortunately they associate it with pejorative overtones.

4. The Canadian Post Office has its own zip code for Santa.

The Canadian post each year receives millions of letters from children. The zip code where all the letters are sent is very unique: “Santa Claus, North Pole HOH OHO Canada.” Of course Santa Claus answers all the letters. 11,000 “elves”- this is how he calls retired Canada Post employees who voluntarily work for Santa.

Wouldn’t it be great to get a reply from Santa?

(WC)

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Language learning: facts and myths

Paź 30

The world is becoming more and more global: we are getting connected more than ever and for the first time in history we can communicate with almost everybody. With emoticons and short video apps such as snapchat it is easier than ever before. However, communication is not only based on graphics but also on the most basic tool humans develop to talk to one another: the language. And if you want to be a part of a “global village”, at one point you may need to learn a new language. Here are some facts and myths about the entire process.


1. Learning a new language is expensive. Myth!

Let’s face it: If you want to surround yourself with expensive dictionaries, encyclopedias, foreign books and if you plan to visit countries where that language is spoken at least once a week, then maybe you will have to spend that money. But if you really want to learn a new language, you have a tool right in front of you: a computer with an Internet connection. There are plenty of free online learning platforms. Plus, you can listen to native speakers’ pronunciations on YouTube. There are youtubers who even teach language online, such as English with Lucy (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz4tgANd4yy8Oe0iXCdSWfA). All for the price of your Internet access.

2. I am too old to learn something new, especially a language. Myth!

Whoever told you only a child can learn something new is terribly wrong. As long as you are willing to learn there is nothing to stop you! You can always adjust the pace of learning to your own tempo. Who said that you have to learn everything in a week? Baby steps are still going to move you forward. It is all up to you.

3. I can take only a written course and still be fluent. Myth!

Well, not quite. Language is a complex system that not only requires a theory, but pretty much also a bit of practice. You can learn grammar and vocabulary, but you will always need to speak up. That is why it is a good idea to learn the language with native speakers. The proper pronunciation of the language is vital for proper learning. Don’t have a fellow native speaker to talk to? You can always find one on Youtube and listen to that person in addition to your language learning.

4. Why would I learn a language if everybody speaks English? Myth!

It may seem so, but according to language specialists, only 20% of the world population speak this language. Well, that doesn’t sound like a majority! That is why it is still a good idea to learn a different language. Why don’t you try Spanish, French or even Chinese? Wouldn’t it be great to visit a foreign country and be able to speak their language?

(MW)

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