Culture

Hayao Miyazaki wins an award

The Boy and the Heron won the Best Animated Film award. It beat Disney’s Elemental and Spider-Man Across the Spider-verse. The same film also won a Golden Globe. The film is about a boy who meets a talking heron during World War II, after his mother dies. The film is based on the life of Mr. Miyazaki, who also had to move because of the war.

In 2014, Mr. Miyazaki received a special Oscar for his storytelling. He said he was lucky to be able to make films with paper, pencil, and film. The Boy and the Heron took ten years to make because it was drawn by hand. Today most films are made electronically.

Manners around the world

It's important to treat people well. But how you do that can change from culture to culture. What's polite in one place might be rude in another. For instance, giving hugs is okay in America but not in China.

This infographic will help you learn about manners around the world so you can be polite in other cultures. Remember, even in the same country, manners can vary between places and people. So, it's a good idea to do some research before you travel or work with people from other countries. Otherwise, you might unintentionally be rude.

The English Farm - Global manners article

When you can't stop buying books

Reading books is a popular hobby as you can easily while away time or just fall asleep reading one. However, it's very easy to get into the habit of buying books you don't end up reading. Interesting enough, there's a term for such a habit: tsundoku. Tsundoku is a Japanese term for people who buy a lot of books they never get around to reading. 

The Japanese word doku means "reading", and it comes from tsumu which means "to pile up". So, tsundoku refers to the practice of piling up reading material.

Quite similarly, the term Bibliomania came into the picture when Thomas Frognall Dibdin's wrote a book with the very same title. Bibliomania comes from the Greek biblio, which refers to books, and mania, "madness".

Male artists: Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) was part of the French Impressionist art movement, the first school of art to break away from classical painting. Impressionism focuses on the light and colors of a particular moment in time. Because artists wanted to capture a brief moment and didn't have cameras yet, they needed to paint quickly. So they used quick, flat strokes without precise detail.

They also used colors in new ways. The best example is that shadows aren't just the object's color with gray or brown mixed in. Instead, the painters added strokes of the complementary color of the object (e.g., strokes of red in the shadow of something green). This makes the shadows come alive.

Men artists: Naoki Onogawa

Tokyo-based artist Naoki Onogawa folds hundreds of tiny cranes (no bigger than a centimeter each) by hand, then attaches them to branching wire forms. The results look like bonsai trees—bonsai trees with birds for leaves.

Onogawa started making the sculptures after visiting the site of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. He felt terrified by our powerlessness over nature when he saw 1,000 paper cranes at the site of a ruined school building. Amazingly, he also felt "empowered by the power of life ... that shined so brightly in the aftermath" of the disaster. This inspired him to create his own art with origami cranes.

How people approach deadlines

According to The New Yorker, as the last day to complete a task approaches, people respond to the pressure differently. Some, perhaps well-adjusted and diligent people, jump in, figuring that the anxiety of an unpaid bill or an unfinished project is far more painful than the difficulty of sticking to a sensible schedule. However, others live in denial until the last minute, when they bolt to the end, vowing that they’ll do it all differently next time. And still others dismiss deadlines altogether, believing them to be at best imaginary and at worst contrary to creativity.

Visuals: Alcohol by country

Different cultures have different relationships with alcohol. For instance, Italians tend to drink a lot of wine but have a very low level of alcoholism, as they usually drink a couple of glasses with lunch and dinner. However, Russians are known for drinking copious amounts of vodka, and nearly 15% of deaths in Russia are related to alcohol consumption.

In the East, South Koreans are known for signing business deals in bars and then drinking with each other under the table, while Vietnamese love their Bia Hoi (beer halls), where they spend most of their evenings drinking beer after beer with their friends.

Women called cows home

For centuries, women in Sweden called their cows home with a sound called kulning. Now, kulning has been embraced by many, including universities as a form of art. But from medieval times until the mid-20th century, the sound could be heard every summer, ringing across the mountains. Reaching up to 125 decibels, kulning can be heard over 5 km (1 mi) away. Since cattle tend to wander off, they needed to be able to hear the herdswomen calling them.

It was traditionally women who went up the mountains with the herd in the summer. They each lived in a small settlement, tending the animals. They milked the cows, made cheese and spent hours doing all the rest, like cooking, knitting, mending, making brooms, etc. It was hard work, but the women also had a lot of freedom without men around. They could do whatever they wanted up there.

The surprising origins of sushi

According to Executive Sushi Chef Kazunari Araki, sushi is not originally Japanese.

He says the combination of rice and fish began in the 3rd century along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. It was cleaned, gutted and finally covered in a salt and rice mixture for several months in order to preserve it. When the fish was ready for consumption, the rice would be thrown away as it would have become too salty to eat. 

By the 12th century, this process had spread to China, and subsequently Japan, where it was called narezushi. According to Araki, things changed in the 16th century, vinegar replaced salt, which was key to the development of sushi. This also led to the name sushi—which translates to “vinegared rice”.

Men artists: Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was part of the Neo-Expressionist movement of the 1980s, led by Andy Warhol. Basquiat's primitive style grew out of his time as a graffiti artist in New York City. People first knew him as part of the anonymous duo SAMO© (pronounced "same-o"), with Al Diaz. They were among the first to use words to communicate thoughts, rather than just tags with names and numbers.

For 3 years, from the age of 17–20, Basquiat sold his art on t-shirts and postcards on the street for a couple of bucks each. Finally, he made it into a group show at an art gallery. People and critics loved his work, and in no time people were paying $50,000 or more for one of his pieces.

The child of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Jean-Michel Basquiat brought the Black and Latino experience into the fine art world. His art was angry and harsh, yet also poetic. He was able to express a reality that had long been excluded from elite society.

Women artists: Georgia O'Keeffe

Historically, women have struggled to be accepted in the world of the arts. In the art of painting, they were subjects for men's art, or wives and sisters of male artists. Women weren't accepted as artists themselves. But that began to change in the 20th century. Georgia O'Keeffe played an important role in that change.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1996) was part of the American Modernist movement. American Modernism grew out of the Industrial Revolution and focused on everyday subjects like cities and factories. It used abstract forms and bright colors. Georgia O'Keeffe pushed the boundaries to develop her own style. Her paintings were still abstract and brightly colored, but she added a little realism.

The Songkran Water Festival

If you go to Bangkok during the Thai New Year in mid-April, you might get splashed with water. This is because the Thai celebrate New Year with a water festival called Songkran. It is a holy festival where people bless each other with water. So, in Bangkok, people with water guns take part in huge water fights.

People of all ages take part in Songkran. You should be careful when refilling your water gun since older folks might pour ice-cold water down your back while you’re not looking. The good thing is that it’s very hot in Thailand, so the cold water feels refreshing. Some tourists join in the fun. Others don't. For those who don't, the best place to be is indoors. Anyone on the street will get splashed with water, even if they're driving. Throwing wet powder on each other's faces is also an important part of the festival!

What a fun way to spend New Year!

Ramen: once a black market staple

Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular foods today, with over 10,000 ramen shops in Tokyo alone. However, ramen wasn’t always so ubiquitous in Japanese society. Chinese immigrants introduced it to Japan in the late 19th century. It was originally made with noodles in broth, topped with Chinese-style roast pork. It became an important part of Japanese cuisine in the years immediately after the Second World War.

In December 1945, Japan had its worst rice harvest in 42 years. As a result, the American occupying forces imported large quantities of wheat into Japan, which was used not only for bread, but also to make noodles for ramen, which most Japanese ate at illegal food vendors. Many people relied heavily on the illegal food vendors to survive as the government food distribution system ran up to 20 days behind schedule.

The perfect-sized coffee cup

Most Americans love to buy a lot of coffee—I learned this when I traveled through the country with an 8 oz reusable cup. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to drink this amount of coffee, by the time you reach the last drop, it's almost cold but not quite. I think that's a perfect size. But, the cafe staff I met did not.

In the San Diego airport, I asked for "this cup, full of coffee." The staff examined my cup like a foreign artifact. He wondered aloud how big it was. When I told him 8 oz, he looked confused, and then charged me for the smallest size they have—12 oz. I paid and didn't say anything.

Then in the Los Angeles airport, I asked for the same thing. The young woman working there was equally surprised by it. She looked at the till, frowned, and then looked over her shoulder, and said, "They're just gonna overcharge you." So she took the cup and filled it with coffee for free. I guess, to her, that's fair. I said thanks.

Cook to learn English

English is a tool you can use to do many things. Since English is a global language, you can use it to learn things from different cultures.

A fun way to learn English is cooking. You have to know how to talk about the ingredients, measurements, textures, times and flavor descriptions, and explain the process. And, if you teach cooking in English, your pronunciation needs to be clear enough for others to understand.

Accordingly, in 2015, two English language teachers in Manchester, UK, set up a program called Heart and Parcel. Karolina Koscien and Clare Courtney gather immigrant women together to cook dumplings. Why dumplings? Because "parceled foods" are universal to all cultures. Women from different countries can all come together with their recipes and share their unique histories with each other. Besides language learning, social connections are formed that help the women thrive in their new home.

Perpetual stew

Do you like to eat leftovers? At Wattana Panich bistro in Bangkok, you can have a bowl of soup that's been in the pot for almost 50 years. Known as neua tune, it follows the "perpetual stew" method of preparation: the leftovers at the end of each day are kept overnight to become the base for the next day's soup. 

Cultures all across the world have versions of perpetual stew. In France, it's called pot-au-feu, or "pot in the fire", for the way it was traditionally cooked—in a pot that hung over the hearth fire all day. Other cultures' versions of perpetual stew include Chinese master stock, Mongolian Firepot, and Olla Podrida (literally, "rotten pot") in Spain. In the U.S., we have "hunter's stew", and the wonderfully named "Skilligalee" of pioneer times.

New Year's traditions

The 1st of January is an important day in many countries, and people have different ways of welcoming the day. For some, it may be as simple as having a family dinner, while others perform specific rituals to start the new year off well.

In Denmark, they save all of their unused dishes and plates until the 31st of December, when they affectionately shatter them against the doors of all their friends and family to banish bad spirits.

In the Philippines, it’s all about the cash. They believe that everything should be round to represent coins and bring wealth. Round food, round clothes—as long as it’s round.

In Bolivia, coins are baked into sweets, and whoever finds the coins has good luck for the next year.

Video: Cultural gaps crash planes

Watch this short video where Malcolm Gladwell answers the question, "What is the one thing people need to know about how cultural differences cause planes to crash?"  Then discuss it with your teacher, or write about it using the discussion questions below.

 

Moral sacrifice is subjective

Perhaps you've heard of the so-called trolley problem, also known as the train problem. The old philosophical question goes like this:

There is a trolley barreling down the tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks, therefore saving the five people. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

What is the right thing to do?