Category Archives: Culture and News for Linguaphiles

6 Unusual New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World

New Year's Eve TraditionsNew Year’s eve traditions come in many flavors.  You may ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop on TV, toasting a glass of champagne, or sharing a kiss with your loved one. But what about New Year’s eve traditions such as devouring a dozen grapes at the stroke of midnight, running through your town with an empty suitcase, or hurling plates at your friends’ doors? Read on to discover how people around the world will usher in 2016, from Madrid to Moscow.

New Year’s eve traditions around the globe

las doce uvas de la suerteSpain has a New Year’s Eve tradition similar to the Times Square ball drop in New York City, but with an edible twist. The main national TV channel broadcasts from the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid, while viewers at home have a dozen grapes at the ready. At midnight, Spaniards eat the grapes one by one, in time with the twelve chimes. If you manage to chew and swallow las doce uvas de la suerte, you’ll enjoy a year of prosperity.

Suitcase-250x250Do you have an insatiable itch to travel or test out your language skills with native speakers? At midnight on December 31st in Colombia, those suffering from wanderlust take a lap around their block carrying an empty suitcase. Some race with their friends and family, hoping that the victor will be rewarded with opportunities to pack their bags and travel in the new year.

Danish New Year’s Eve TraditionMany New Year’s Eve traditions require a little cleanup the next day, but Denmark has one unusual custom that deliberately creates a mess. Danes will hold onto unwanted glassware and chipped dishes all year, so that on New Year’s Eve they can smash them against the front doors of their closest friends and family. A doorstep covered in shards of glass and shattered plates is a testament to one’s popularity—a cheerful reminder for when it’s time to sweep up the debris.

Pesos-250x250Many look to the new year as a fresh start for their finances.  If you’re greeting el año nuevo in Chile, you might slip a luca (a $1000 peso note) into your shoe before the clock strikes twelve. This optimistic tradition is said to multiply your fortune in the months to come.

Estonia New Year's Eve TraditionIn Estonia, people strive to eat a lucky number of meals on New Year’s Eve. Numbers 7, 9, and 12 are considered the most auspicious—eating seven times will yield the strength of seven men the following year. Popular dishes include sauerkraut and marzipan for dessert. However, these meals should not be completely finished; a portion should be left out for ancestors’ spirits who may be visiting on New Year’s Eve.

Russian New Year's Eve TraditionNew Year’s Eve is considered the most important holiday of the year in Russia, even more significant than one’s own birthday. Of the many Russian New Year’s Eve traditions, one unique custom is to write a wish for the coming year on a scrap of paper, burn it, and then mix its ashes into a glass of champagne. Russians toast and drink the concoction at midnight as the Kremlin chimes so that their wishes may come true in the new year.

What other unusual New Year’s eve traditions have you heard about?

How to Speak Spanish: Move Your Hips

There are many challenges for an English-speaker trying to learn how to speak Spanish. Adjectives and nouns are placed in a different order. How to Speak Spanish - Move your hipsVerbs have to be conjugated to agree with their subjects in person, gender, and number. And then, there’s the pronunciation, with all those rolled r’s! Not to mention the r’s that aren’t rolled, but “flipped.” Some people just decide it’s too hard, and give up. Don’t give up. You can do this.

Let’s start with those r’s and double r’s. Both are pronounced by holding the tip of the tongue near the front of the roof of the mouth and blowing air past it, causing it to flutter – a quick flutter for the single r, a longer one for the double r. Go ahead: try it. While this can be challenging if you didn’t grow up making that sound, I’ve found that a more common problem than an inability to make the r sounds is a tendency to overdo it. Once that tongue learns to flutter, it just doesn’t want to stop. Me comí una pera becomes Me comí una perra, and just like that, instead of eating a pear, I ate a dog. In rolling your r’s, as in many other endeavors, there can be too much of a good thing.

How Latin dancing can help you learn how to speak Spanish

While it may seem far-fetched, I think there’s an analogous relationship between speaking Spanish and Latin dancing. Both involve movements that are not part of the Anglophone cultural vocabulary. In speaking, those movements take place in the mouth; in dancing, in the hips. Just as the tip of the tongue has to be trained to move independently of the base, the hips have to be trained to move independently of the upper body. When you watch good salsa dancers, it looks as if their torsos are floating through space while their legs execute all manner of amazing footwork.

Many years ago, a Latin dance instructor I knew showed me a great trick for helping people develop that independence between lower and upper body: Pretend you’re riding a bike. Standing in place, with your feet just a few inches apart, begin to “pedal,” lifting one heel and then lowering it as you lift the other. Hold your torso still (but not stiff), hinge at the waist, and feel your hips moving side to side as you shift your weight. Soon you can feel the magic of your hips moving without bringing the rest of you along. People get very excited when they learn this. Sometimes too excited. Like the runaway rolling rrrrrrr’s, the gyrating hips can get out of control, giving the fledgling salsero a rather peculiar style and creating a minor hazard for fellow dancers.

The Spanish language and Latin dancing both embody an important element of Hispanic culture: Controlled exuberance. Enjoy the thrill of your tongue fluttering, the rhythmic swaying of your hips, but don’t get carried away with it. Master this, and you’re on your way to learning how to speak Spanish, or dancing, without an accent.

Top 10 Unusual Sites to Visit when you Travel to Italy (Part 2)

In choosing my Top 10 places to see on your travel to Italy I purposely avoided Rome, Florence, and Venice, the cities most visited by tourists on their first travel to Italy.  If you’ve missed Part 1 of my Top 10 places to visit when you travel to Italy, you can check it out here.  Otherwise, let’s continue with the 5 remaining off the beaten path destinations in Italy.

Beyond the Gondolas and the Colosseum: Top 10 Offbeat Sites to See When you Travel to Italy

5. Ravenna and Its Early Christian Monuments
Just a bit further south of Bologna is Ravenna, the old capital of the Byzantine Empire in the west. The Nobel poet Eugenio Montale described Ravenna, saying,
                     And here where ancient life
                     is marked by the sweet
                     anxiety of the Levant.

Ravenna Travel to ItalyRavenna was first the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then the seat of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, and finally the capital of the Byzantine empire in the west. Eventually it became part of the Papal States. In Roman times it had its own port but now it’s a cruise port and the city center is located eight miles from the Adriatic coast.

Ravenna is famous for its early Christian monuments that go back 1500 years. The mausoleum to Empress Galla Placida was built in 426 CE and the Baptistery is from 430 CE. The Basilica of the New Saint Apollinare, Saint Apolinnare in Classe, and Saint Vitale are all from the sixth century CE. All have magnificent preserved mosaics. The basilica of San Vitale probably has the best known. If you ever looked at any college history text, you will have seen a picture of the mosaic from San Vitale depicting the Emperor Justinian and his court and another of the Empress Theodora and her ladies in waiting.

If you thought Dante Alighieri’s tomb was in Florence, you have been misled by the “cenotaph” in the Santa Croce church there. The poet of the Divine Comedy is buried here in Ravenna, as he had been exiled and could not return to Florence under penalty of death.

4. The Valley of the Temples in the Area of Agrigento and Pirandello too
Valley of the Temples Travel to Italy
About Sicily Goethe said: To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything. On your travel to Sicily I particularly recommend the temples.

The sixth century BCE Greek Doric Temples are not in a valley, but are lined up on a ridge that climbs to a summit dominated by the Temple of Juno. At the lower end is the Temple of Jupiter and Hercules. (Juno seems to have had more power.) In the middle is the Temple of Concordia, the best-preserved Greek temple. These temples and other archeological remains are in the largest archeological site anywhere in the world. Agrigento’s panorama is visible from the temples. On the way you can stop to visit the house of Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), Nobel for Literature and of Six Characters in Search of an Author fame. Nearby His ashes were laid to rest by his favorite pine tree.

3. Palermo and Monreale
The Cathedral of Palermo encompasses the various influences of the various conquerors and periods: Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Baroque. As with most churches, it is an eclectic museum. Kings were crowned here and here are the tombs of the Holy Roman Emperors Henry IV of Hohenstaufen and his son Fredrick II, who is credited with creating the first literary language of Italy at his court.Palermo Travel to Italy
The Palatine Chapel is a wonder of different mosaics , both Byzantine and Arab. It was as well the chapel of the Norman Kings.

Monreale – The Monreale Cathedral is on a hill outside Palermo, overlooking the Valley known as the “Conca D’Oro.” It is the church with the most extensive mosaics after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and they are wonderfully preserved. The adjoining Romanesque cloister is also a major attraction.

2. Vicenza and Andrea Palladio (1508-1580)
The city of Vicenza is not even on most tourists’ radar when they travel to Italy. Travelers to Italy will go to Venice of course and will stop at Verona, but in between often simply overlook this wonderful city built along the lines of what a humanist thought a city should be. Its chief architect, Andrea Palladio, gave it its distinctive classical look. Vincenza travel to Italy Palladio rediscovered the classical style of the Romans and developed it into a style called Palladian ever since. It spread all over Europe and North America. When you see a neo-classical building, think of Palladio. You cannot turn into a corner in Vicenza and not see another wonder of a building, a villa or palazzo built by Palladio. In all there are over twenty Palladian structures, including The Palazzo Thiene, the Palazzo Barbaran, la Rotonda, and the Teatro Olimpico, and the Villa Malmarana.
This does not mean that Vicenza has nothing to see outside of Palladio. There is an early Christian basilica of Saints Felice and Fortunato which dates back to the 4th century. Although previously destroyed it was rebuilt in the tenth century. Some the earlier structure and artifacts have been preserved.

1. Cinque Terre (Five Lands)
If in your travel to Italy you want to see nature in addition to great structures and monuments, then the Cinque Terre is the place to visit. However it is not just wild nature: in Italy nature is adapted to man by man. Cinque Terre Travel to ItalyThe name Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is from the five small villages on the eastern coast of the region of Liguria that borders with Tuscany. The villages are Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza. They are all built on the rugged coastline without disturbing the natural contours that nature has created. They are all very colorful and take you back to another time since they do not allow cars in the towns. You can park outside two of the villages and take a shuttle. Going by train is recommended. There are many paths and hiking trails that you can go on for long walks–the views are well worth it. Two of the famous paths are La Via dell’Amore (the Road of Love) that goes from Riomaggiore to Manarola, and the Sentiero Azzurro (The Blue Path) that goes from Riomaggiore to Monterosso. Don’t forget to try the local sweet white wine called Sciacchetrà [shaketrA] with your dessert or cheese.