Happy Birthday!

Posted by Marion de Groot on November 15, 2008
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I've often heard Dutch people say that we, the Dutch, don't have a true culture, don't have rituals. But when you pay close attention to what people do on the basic milestones in life (birth, birthday, marriage, death), you can see the rituals. It's interesting to compare these rituals with the equivalents abroad. I've been to quite some international birthday parties. Here's a comparison.

In Russia, I went to the birthday party of a friend of a friend. He turned 18, a special age in Russia. We skipped dinner before we went, and when we arrived, I knew why. The guy's parents had spent two days preparing all kinds of food, grilled chicken, salads, everything. But the parents weren't at the party; no, they left the house so their son could celebrate. The standard present was a bottle of vodka, and all bottles were consumed immediately. This eat-and-drink-all-you-can feast went on until early morning.

In Norway my Norwegian friend and I first went to the supermarket to buy our (alcoholic) drinks, before we went to the party. It was a dinner party. On the table were mainly salads. Everyone had brought a bag with their own drinks. Some people had a stack of cans next to their plate. You could see exactly what people were planning to drink that night. No sharing or exchanging of drinks. On another party, which was a barbecue party, everybody even brought their own meat! And not that you then share it with everyone, no, you eat what you bring. Because my friend didn't have much money, we brought a pack of 10 hotdog sausages, so we were eating just that all night. One girl had a plate full of slices of tomato and mozarella, right in front of her, with a twinkle of 'Mine. Mine!' in her eyes. I must add that meat and alcoholic drinks are very expensive in Norway, but still, sharing what you bring would be natural to me.

In Thailand, people originally don't celebrate their birthdays, although some people do now, because of western influence. On their birthday, they traditionally go 'tam bun' or 'do good'. From Buddhism they believe that you get credits for a better next life, every time you do something for others. So when my host sister had her birthday, we took a pickup truck full with clothing and food to a poor village, and gave it to the children there. I actually enjoyed this way of celebrating. When they do celebrate their birthday 'the western way', presents are given, but not unwrapped until after the party.

In Argentina, parties don't start until after midnight, and go on until 6 in the morning. The party I went to in Cordoba was held in the back yard of a students apartment. There was music, drinks and some snacks. People brought bottles of wine or Fernet (some alcoholic drink, to mix with coke) and these bottles were put on a central table. Everyone was dancing, especially the guys.

In China, we met in a restaurant for a friends birthday. We had a good dinner and drinks, and he paid the bill. Some presents were given and unwrapped. After dinner, we took a cab to a karaoke club, where we rented a room to sing some songs. A bottle of whiskey was ordered along with a bottle of green ice-tea, to mix. Later I found out that my friend's real birthday wasn't until the week after. He said it was common to celebrate your birthday before the actual date, but definitely not after.

Compared to these different party styles, I can very clearly distinguish the Dutch birthday ritual. On the average Dutch birthday party, we invite some friends over at home, on the first weekend day after the actual date, at around 9 pm. Guests are first offered coffee or tea and one slice of pie, and after that they are offered alcoholic drinks and small snacks like peanuts. People tend to just sit on the couch or around the table, and talk. Some soft music is playing on the background. Presents are given, unwrapped immediately and shown to everyone. When money is given, this is done in an envelope, and the receiver doesn't open it (or sneakpeeks into it).

My ideal birthday party would be a combination of these. There should be dinner and drinks, and people shouldn't sit on the couch all night. And of course it's always good to do something good for the society.

How are birthdays celebrated in your country? And what is your ideal birthday party like?

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Reflect before you choose not to choose

Posted by martyn on November 11, 2008
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This is a general observation about culture and its effect on our behavour and most importantly how we make decisions.

Culture can and does bring a huge richness into this world, such diversity and traditions loves and hates…

Yet it also can bring an unseen burden, simply put… when you make a decision have you checked where the result of your decision comes from, is it really from you, the individual? or are you making a decision automatically based on cultural conditioning? pause before making choices.. does the decision you made enrich you and the planet or does it simply maintain the status quo? Cultures often fight to maintain there comfort zone, do you?

enjoy life


winks to get attention

Posted by Pieter on November 09, 2008
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Did you ever notice the different winks people use in countries to express themselves or get attention. Here some that were remarkable for me:

– In the Philipinnes they point their lips forward and raise their chin. This is an expression that is used for many things: pointing direction, stating that you are listening, that you understand it, that you want attention.

– In Syria people make this short sound you make when you suck a little bit of air along your tongue. (In Holland you make this sound to express you think something is not right). In Syria they express that they get your message. This confused me every time.

– To indicate that you have to come over in many countries people move their hand downwards. I am used to wave with your arm towards your body.

presents in China

Posted by Pieter on November 09, 2008
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My parents always teached me to be gratefull for presents. You do this by saying thank you (preferably once again when the family is leaving) and put interest in the present.

In China it goes different. When you give a present they unpack it and immidiately put it somewhere aside. After they have seen the present they immediately go on with other things and later you can even find the present littering around in the house.

They told me once this is because gratefullness is so obvious that you don't have to express it.

Cosmopolitans. How international students change global society

Posted by Marion de Groot on November 07, 2008
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Cosmopolitanism is hot. There is growing awareness that a cosmopolitan mindset is an essential component of globalization, and that a growing number of people can now claim to be ‘world citizens’.

As we emerge from the dark years which followed the terrorist attacks of September 2001, thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is once again being questioned. Should we really attach so much importance to a person’s culture or religion? Is it not preferable to regard everyone as an individual with a unique identity? Are we right to fear Islam? Isn’t it time to enjoy an open world once more, with its rich diversity of religions, literature, music, habits, ideas and cuisine? And what can we do to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves?

Forty years ago, in 1968, it was students who led the demonstrations against various injustices in the world. Today, it is once again students who do so, albeit without banners and protest marches. Today, they travel extensively, learn languages, study in an international setting and are down to earth. They avoid judging others too rashly, they are optimistic about the future, and prepared to provide practical help wherever necessary.

In Cosmopolitans international students from Rwanda, Germany, Lithuania, the Philippines and Indonesia describe their ideals and their life as a ‘world citizen’. They talk about their longings, their occasional loneliness and their empathy for those in less privileged circumstances.

They are interviewed by Ralf Bodelier. He sets their accounts against the latest insights of cosmopolitan thinkers such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ian Buruma, Ulrich Beck, Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen.

Cosmopolitans is far more than a book about students and cosmopolitanism. It heralds the dawn of a new era.

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