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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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Why do we love Autumn so much?

paź 07

Let’s face it: everybody loves to stay at home under the blanket and watch Netflix. Everybody loves to walk around with those crunchy, colourful leaves floating almost everywhere. Oh, and did I mention pumpkin spice latte? But why are we so excited with October popping out of our calendars? Well, it looks like there is more science to it than we may think.

It all starts way back in our lives. As children we associate Autumn with many exiting things and as adults we are likely to follow the pattern. A recent studies show that seasons are very important to humans. Seasons give you structure and pattern which the human brain is designed to love. Furthermore, we tend to give meaning to many special occasions that start with autumn and end with a New Year’s Eve, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. Our memories just make it all unique and fall is just the beginning of this very exciting part of a year (source: https://www.huffpost.com).

What is also worth mentioning, humans are designed to love coziness as it brings us comfort and a sense of safety. That is why a warm blanket, a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate are a great excuse to just stay on a couch – what a perfectly spent evening! Let’s not forget about the dream -like a background composed of colourful leaves and that very specific smell of autumn we all love and cherish.

Apparently we are all raised to love autumn and everything this particular season brings. So don’t feel sorry for buying that extra cozy sweater and another cup of pumpkin spiced everything – it’s in your nature! And let’s just not forget that Christmas is just around the corner : )

(MW)

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Tourism in Balkan Countries

wrz 10

Have you ever wondered what it is like to go for a short holiday to the former Yugoslavia countries? For the past few years I have had the impression that it has become really popular among tourists from Poland so I decided to give it a try too. After visiting Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I collected many memories and observations, and I believe some of them can be really surprising.


As far as I can tell, many people think about these countries only through the prism of the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001). The wars are still a fresh memory for most living people there and if you would like to experience local attitudes to this horrible past you can always visit museums of war and genocide (I can recommend one in Sarajevo). Memories of war also have a more controversial side because the history can be an attraction for visitors from all over the world who had never suffered from war. Because demand creates supply, one can buy a souvenir ball pen made of bullets and take part in a tour to the bombed out buildings.

Despite all of this, the Balkans can offer you much more. The first thing that I noticed were the breathtaking landscapes. Going South you can marvel at more and more beautiful views. A large part of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro consists of the Dinaric Mountains made of limestone. Their dramatic slopes surround the cities and are situated along most of the roads which makes driving through Balkans a perfect experience. When approaching the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro one can marvel at how the mountains there go directly to the sea. If you want to take the perfect picture you should go to the Uvac River in Serbia or to the bridge over Tara River in Montenegro.

If you travel to improve your knowledge of different cultures in the former Yugoslavia countries, you can also experience the ethnic and religious diversity. Orthodox and Muslims, Serbs, Bosniacs, and Montenegrians live close together. Because of that, you can experience a specific mix of European and Arabic culture. Overlooking a Balkan cityscape you can see churches and mosques built close to each other. If you want to buy some souvenirs, go to the market and have a look at its colors. What is surprising is that at every single market one can still find real handcrafted metal, ceramic, wood objects and tapestries, which makes all of them less kitschy than most of the European souvenir shops.

The best way to experience Balkan culture is to try local food. A part of the menu common in all the countries is grilled meat, for example Cevapi (simillar to Arabic Kofta) and Pljeskavica (a flat piece of meat) which they serve with French fries and a very small amount of vegetables. If you would like to get some vitamins you can always order the Szopska salad – consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, onion and salty white cheese. When making a stop in Montenegro I would recommend trying more usual Mediterranean food like squids or prawns. The best place for dessert, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is an Arabic pastry shop. There, you can eat extremely sweet baklava cake or other sweets and drink traditionally served tea or Turkish coffee.

In all these countries people speak different dialects of the Serbian language, which are very similar, but after the breakdown of Yugoslavia they were made official languages – Serbian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin. They each use different writing systems , either Latin or Cyrillic. If you want to see how specific this situation is you can look on the labels of products – you can read exactly the same description three times – twice in Latin and once in Cyrillic.

For people who love sightseeing there is much to do. In Serbia you can visit monasteries (Sopocany in Novi Pazar) and strongholds (Petrovaradin in Novi Sad, Kalamegdan in Beograd). If you enjoy the Roman Empire period then I recommend that you to go to Eastern Serbia and see the ruins of Roman cities and military camps. For those who like to combine sightseeing with a little bit of hiking and pretty views, Stari Ras in Serbia and Stari Bar in Montenegro are must sees. Kotor in Montenegro and Mostar in Herzegovina are still lively and touristic cities where you can find both picturesque old towns and nice pubs and cafes for visitors and locals alike. To experience big city life one should go to Beograd and Sarajevo which, despite remaining evidence of the Yugoslav Wars, seems to have normal capital-city lives.

I have not counted, but as far as I can estimate more than 50% of tourists in the countries I have visited were Polish, especially in Montenegro. Do you have any idea why Poles like to travel to the former Yugoslavia so much? Locals have noticed the development of tourism in this region for sure. Many of them speak communicative English, but what surprised me the most was the restaurant in Stari Bar (a very beautiful Middle Age settlement and stronghold located in Bar, Montenegro) where I met a Polish-speaking waiter! Additionally, in many touristic places (maybe except for some in Bosnia and Herzegovina) you can pay for your meal or souvenirs in Euros. Accommodation infrastructure is good too and I can say that in most spots one can easily find a comfortable place to stay at a very nice price.

What kind of travel will let you discover the Balkans in the best way? I recommend a road trip! The more time you have, the better! Many travel bloggers describe trips for which you would need about three weeks. Of course it is possible to go there for a shorter time, but you have to be aware that you would have to spend more time in the car than at all those beautiful places. And I should know, it is really hard to leave some spots, even if you know you have much more to explore.

(AM)

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