Category Archives: Country Spotlight

February 19: Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, is based off the Chinese lunisolar calendar and celebrates the beginning of the new calendar year. This means that according to the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on a different day every year. It is celebrated as a public holiday in many countries including China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Phillipines, and is a very important cultural holiday in Chinatowns the world over.

Chinese New Years celebrations are centuries old. The traditional myth behind the holiday is that every new years day a horrible beast called a Nian would come to the town villages and eat the livestock, crops, and people (especially children). However, the people learned to placate the beast by placing food outside their door and by wearing red and lighting firecrackers to scare it off.

The public holiday lasts for 3 days starting on New Year’s Day.  To celebrate, families will often have a reunion dinner with extended family.  It is also common clean the entire house to get rid of bad luck and open the premise to good luck.  Another tradition is the giving of red envelopes, typically from adults to children. The red envelopes contain money. The amount of money can vary, but it is important that the money is an even amount, as this is lucky, and 8 is a particularly luck amount.  On this day it is also common to see fireworks and firecracker displays, a dragon dance, and New Year markets/village fairs set up.

International Business Etiquette Tips – Qatar

Culture Coach International is doing a new blog series, where each weekly segment will have a list of the of 5 essential “International Business Etiquette Tips” to working with a specific country.

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International Business Etiquette – Qatar

  1. When Muslims greet each other, instead of saying, “good morning” or “hello” they often say “Assalamu Alaikum,” which means, “May peace be upon you and may God’s blessings be with you.” It is good to learn these greetings in Arabic as a sign of respect and effort on your part to learn a phrase of their language.
  2. Most Qataris do not eat any meat that has not been prepared to “halaal” (lawful) standards. Pork products are illegal in Qatar and many Qataris think of pigs as unclean animals, so it is very important to avoid pork products.
  3. Qataris often value close contact and less personal space, so do not back up or shy away; physical contact among males is common; if a Qatari man tries to take your hand while walking, do not quickly pull it away because this is a great sign of friendship.
  4. Be aware that in Qatar the Hijrah (Arabic) date is used as well as the Gregorian date; the workweek typically runs from Saturday to Thursday, 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm; Friday is a Muslim holy day; during Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (the two most important Islamic holidays) no business will be conducted.
  5. Qataris may leave for 15-20 minutes throughout the day to conduct prayers; when hosting, appointments and meetings should be set between particular prayer times if possible; make sure there is a space reserved where they may go to pray undisturbed.

If you enjoy the series, Sign-up for our Monthly Newsletter to receive monthly cultural quick tips, international holidays, and proverbs from around the world.

May is National Preservation Month

In the United States, any given month, week, or day can have its own theme dedicated to bringing awareness to a particular cause. Some of the larger ones that are well-known by name are International Women’s Day on March 8 and Black History Month in February. However, many of the smaller themes get considerably less attention in the media and society, but are equally important to our nation.

-National Trust for Historic Preservation

As May marks National Preservation Month, I thought that it would be a great way to showcase and promote not only the diversity of landscapes and landmarks in this country, but also the historical and cultural diversity that fall under the same theme and have contributed to the melting pot that America is today. Since the original National Preservation Week began in 1973, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been leading the way in saving many well-known landmarks, as well as lesser-known, but equally important landmarks throughout the country for future generations to appreciate.

Click here to read more about their work:

This blog will be posting a 4-5 day series highlighting a list of what I consider to be critical historical sites where the events and movements took place that directed the course of American history and shaped its regional culture. It will be a great way to learn about American history and about some sites that may be inspiration to plan a visit to regions of the United States you have not yet explored.

Country Spotlight: The Culture and Diversity of Paraguay

Country Spotlight: Culture & Diversity in Paraguay

Basic Facts:

Population: 6.5 Million (2010)
Capital: Asuncion (2.0 Million Est.)
Size: 157,000 Sq. Miles (Roughly the same as California)
Neighboring Countries: Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia
Date of Independence: May 14, 1811 from Spain
Official Languages: Guarani & Spanish
Ethnicity: Mestizo (Mixed European & Native Ancestry) 95%, Other 5%
Religion: Roman Catholic 90%, Protestant 6%, other Christian 1%, Other 3%
Currency: Guarani
President: Fernando Lugo
Main Industries: Manufacturing (food), agriculture (sugar, soybeans, cattle), wood & paper products

Paraguay today is an emerging South American economy with nearly 15% annual growth in 2010. However, this has not always been the case. The country has struggled through many years of economic stagnation brought on by a corrupt political system, war, and authoritarian rule for much of its independent history. Paraguay has only held fair and democratic elections in the last two decades, highlighted in 2008 with the election of a president from an opposition party for the first time in 61 years.

History:  Little is known about the history of the country prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the early part of the 16th century. It can be assumed that the dominant indigenous culture, the Guarani, had been inhabiting the eastern part of the country for many centuries before their arrival by surviving on subsistence farming in small interconnected villages similar to other native cultures throughout the continent. After colonization, the Guaraní and the Spanish mixed heavily to become the large homogenous mestizo (Amerindian and European decent) population that it is today. Paraguay is unique in that the local language was preserved while the children also adopted Spanish customs.

Since independence in 1811, Paraguay has seen its fair share of dictators that have nearly driven the country into the ground through corruption and wars. The War of the Triple Alliance from 1864 to 1870 pitted Paraguay against its neighbors Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. During this time, Paraguay saw a large percentage of its male population killed with estimates putting the total death toll of the war at 60%-90% of the country’s population.

After the war, Paraguay would continue on a course of political instability characterized by infighting between the two dominant parties; the Colorados and the Liberals. Paraguay would go back and forth between the two, with several coup d’estats along the way including one in 1954 that saw General Alfredo Stroessner came to power. For 35 years, his repressive rule of the Paraguayan people stifled their civil liberties and economic opportunities.

In 1992, Paraguay elected Juan Carlos Wasmosy of the Colorado Party in what was deemed the first free and fair elections in the country in over 35 years. 16 years later in 2008, Paraguay chose Fernando Lugo, a Catholic Bishop, to stand as President. His entrance into the seat ended 61 years of a single party rule under the Colorados, and was the first time in the country’s history that the presidency was handed over peacefully to an opposing party.

Food & Culture: As a racially mixed country that is also landlocked, Paraguay has formed it’s own musical and culinary traditions. Like many agrarian areas of neighboring Brazil or Argentina, folk-country music is popular and unique. Paraguayan Polka, not to be confused with European style, is melancholic in style and often features a harp. Click here for a sample.  An example of more modern music can be heard with one of the country’s most popular bands, Flou, which caters to the younger generations with rock music.

Popular cuisine in the country includes the traditional staples of corn, cassava (or yucca), yams, potatoes, beans and meat (beef, chicken). Popular dishes are sopa paragauaya (which is actually more like corn bread than soup), mbeyu (an omelet with cassava starch with cheese and beef stew), lambreado (fried cassava and beef cakes), payagua mascasa (Paraguayan style tortillas), and mazamorra (a corn drink). For more foods and drinks from Paraguay, please visit this page.

People & Language: While 95% of the 6.5 millions residents of the country largely self-declare themselves as mestizo, there are significant populations of immigrant groups in the country. In the past few decades, Brazilians have made their way to Paraguay and bringing with them their agrarian ways in the form of soybean production. They live predominantly in the eastern part of the country and number around 300,000. Other visible minorities in the country include Koreans, Chinese, Mennonites, and indigenous peoples who live in the sparsely populated western half of the country. German Mennonites began arriving in the late 1800’s in search of freedom of religion and the large tracts of land that were available to them in Paraguay’s harsh Chaco state. They agreed to populate this area in exchange for high autonomy from the government. Their success lead to larger waves of immigrants pouring in from Canada and Russia that helped repopulate the area since it was devastated during the War of the Triple Alliance several decades before.

For the majority of the country who are of Mestizo ancestry, the use of Spanish and Guarani is a daily occurrence. Paraguay is unique in that much of the population is able to speak the indigenous language even though they are not fully indigenous themselves, whereas in other Latin American countries, language has shifted to Spanish as a means of primary communication. Although the people are a mix of two cultures, speaking Guarani provides a strong connection to one aspect of the culture for many people. While Guarani predominates the indigenous language category, there are at least 10 others that have a significant number of speakers.