6 Things To Know About Hanukkah

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


1. This Jewish holiday always runs for eight days starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev

2. It began during the rule of Antiochus IV who desecrated a Jewish temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar (check out my post What Does Kosher Mean Anyway? to find out why this was a big deal). The Jewish people banded together and revolted, taking the temple back. At the time of rededication there was almost no oil left that had not been desecrated, and oil was needed for the menorah that was supposed to burn through the night. Though there was only enough for one day, it burned for eight and as a result, an eight-day festival was declared to celebrate the miracle. 

3. The only religious observance related to this holiday is the lighting of candles arranged in the candelabrum (menorah). They are lit from right to left (like how the Hebrew language is read) and can be lit anytime after dark before midnight. The candles can be blown out 1/2 an hour after they are lit or can be left to burn out on their own.

4. Giving small gifts on each day of Hanukkah is not a part of the religious ritual, but is an influence from the Christian tradition of gift-giving at this time of year. Because of its close proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah is often called the Jewish Christmas. 

5. Fried food is eaten during this time of year because of the significance of oil to the holiday.

6. The game played with a dreidel at this time of year is actually a gambling game — it is not just a child's toy! 

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Six things to know about Hanukkah

To Kiss Or Not To Kiss? Your Guide To Cheek Kissing Etiquette

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Social greetings can be hard enough to navigate when in a different country (do you shake hands, hug, bow... ) but when social kissing gets thrown into the mix (especially when kissing is not the norm where you come from) things can get VERY confusing.

When do you kiss?

How many kisses?

Left cheek? Right cheek? Both? Ahhhh!!!!

(You can see why social kissing can lead to serious social anxiety.)

Oh, and to make matters worse, not only are there different rules in every country, there are different rules in every city in every country... sigh...

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are a few simple, general rules to help you out:

  • Don't kiss people you don't know unless you are introduced to them in a social environment.
  • It is usually right cheek first, but be prepared to change direction at the last minute. (NOTE: A sense of humor is useful for an accidental meet-in-the-middle moment)
  • Sound effects, air kissing, and leaving behind saliva are to be avoided AT ALL COSTS!
  • Don't linger and keep your hands WELL above the waist.
  • When in doubt, let the other person take the lead. 

Cheek kissing is very common in most of Europe, the Mediterranean, Latin America, the Middle East, Quebec (in Canada), and in parts of the US. Here are a few places you will encounter this custom:

  • UNITED KINGDOM: Cheek kissing is not very common, outside of close family and friends, except for amongst the upper and middle classes (usually in London) and is historically considered to be a French practice. 
  • FRANCE: The French seem to enjoy two kisses — once on each cheek called faire la bise — starting on the left, though a popular French joke states that you may recognize the city you are in by counting the number of cheek kisses as it varies widely across the country.
  • SPAIN: Spaniards like the two-kiss rule, often starting with the right cheek.
  • NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, AND SWITZERLAND: Cheek kissing is a common greeting between relatives and friends. Usually, three kisses are exchanged. 
  • MIDDLE EAST: Cheek kissing in the Arab world is common between friends and relatives. However, cheek kissing between a male and female is usually considered inappropriate, unless they are related or married. Cheek kissing in Turkey is also widely accepted.
  • PHILIPPINES: Cheek kissing or beso is a common greeting. But, it is important to note that the Philippine cheek kiss is a cheek-to-cheek kiss, NOT a lips-to-cheek kiss.
  • LATIN AMERICA: In this part of the world, cheek kissing is a universal form of greeting between a man and a woman or two women. It is not necessary to know a person well or be intimate with them to kiss them on the cheek.
  • QUEBEC (CANADA): In Quebec, cheek kissing is referred to as un bec. People of the opposite sex often kiss once on each cheek. Cheek kissing between women is common, but not between men.
  • NORTH AMERICA: Cheek kissing is common in large cities with a European flare, in the southern United States, and among immigrant groups that have carried their customs over from their native countries. This type of greeting is, almost exclusively, performed only among friends and family. 

So, to kiss or not to kiss? When in doubt, don't. Good luck! 

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Your guide to cheek kissing etiquette around the world

Why You Should Never Tell Men From The UK That You Like Their "Pants"

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

I and two of my closest friends had taken the long flight from Canada to the UK (specifically York) to be the bridesmaids for our childhood pal. A fellow Canadian, she was marrying the love of her life — a ginger-haired lovable guy from Scotland. 

The days leading up to the wedding were a whirlwind of last minute shopping, events, decorating and general wedding preparations, giving very little time to get to know the Scottish/English side of the family that would be attending the wedding.

The ceremony was held in a beautiful stone building at the edge of the lush, green museum grounds, and after the "I do's" we all filtered out into the courtyard to sip champagne, and mingle. 

Embracing the chance to finally get to know some of the groom's friends and family, I approached a group of dapper looking gentlemen to introduce myself. One was wearing a pair of vibrantly colored plaid pants, and thinking that it was the perfect icebreaker, I walked up to the group and said,

"I noticed your pants from across the room, and I have to tell you that I love them! They are fantastic!"

The man to his right spit his beer out and started laughing. The one to his left covered his mouth with his hand trying to hide his amusement, while the man that I had spoken to — the one with the FABULOUS pants — just looked at me a bit wide-eyed. 

Confused at their reaction, I could feel myself turning red and said again, "Really, those are great pants!"

Now all three of them were laughing.

Really confused, and now the color of the nearby roses, I was debating running away when one of the VERY kind groomsmen leaned over from the group next to us and whispered, "In the UK, 'pants' mean underwear or panties."


I had just told the groom's uncle that I liked his underwear.

After I closed my mouth, I turned to the laughing men and sheepishly said, "TROUSERS, I like you TROUSERS."

Then shrugging, I pointed at myself and said, "Canadian, not my fault!" and walked away in search of people who understood my own language...

Walking past a group of kilted men on the way to the bar I had an "Aha" moment, as I realized that all the groom's friends who had been telling me that they weren't wearing "pants" (duh I had thought, I can see that you are in a skirt), were actually telling me that they weren't wearing... 

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Never tell men you like their pants in the uk

6 Things To Know About The Inuit

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

six things to know about the Inuit

1. The Inuit are the indigenous people that inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, the US (aka Alaska), and Eastern Siberia.

2. Inuit is the plural version of Inuk meaning "people" in the Inuktitut language.

3. Archaeologists believe they are descendants of the Thule culture that emerged in the far north after crossing the land bridge from Asia around CE 1000.

4. Almost 75% of their daily caloric intake comes from fat. This is because they eat whales, walrus, caribou, seal, narwhal, polar bears, muskoxen and birds!

5. Traditional modes of transportation include a sealskin qajaq aka kayak, dog sleds and good old-fashioned walking (in mukluks of course!).

6. The Inuit have a strong connection to the natural world, believing that ALL things have souls like humans and that their ancestors can be seen in the aurora borealis aka northern lights. 

Jandals, Thongs, or Flip Flops: The Multiple Meanings of English Words

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

I had NO idea how difficult English was to learn until I was teaching it. 

Our sentence structure and grammar is so much more complicated than most other languages in the world, but what makes learning English really difficult is the slang that we use in everyday conversation. Especially because different countries, towns, and even social groups have their own slang — which makes it difficult for native speakers to have conversations with each other sometimes.

Have you ever tried having a conversation with a quick talking Irish man? Not easy my friend. (Unless, of course, you are Irish.) 

For example, do you know what jandals are?

While if you are from Australia you do, but if you are from North America, you might know them as flip-flops, sandals, or thongs (not the underwear though — see, our language is confusing!)

Bling is another word for often tacky or very large jewelry, and anyone from Canada will know that a Double Double is a coffee with 2 creams and 2 sugars from the bakery-cafe Tim Hortons — but the Irish might pour you a really strong drink if you ask for one there.    

To make things even more complicated for non-native speakers, our language is full of idioms (it is estimated that around 25,000 are widely used), for example telling someone they have "a chip on their shoulder" or that something is "a dime a dozen." To native speakers, these are perfectly normal phrases but tell them to someone who is just learning how to speak English and they will check their shoulder to see if someone dropped a potato chip on them, or ask where they can find a dozen of something for a dime — what a deal! 

Still, think English is easy? Check this out: 

"Let's face it — English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. 

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? 

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible."

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the multiple meanings of English words

China's One Child Policy Backfires

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Introduced by China's Communist Government in 1978 as a way to regulate its population and alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems, the one-child policy restricted urban couples to having only one child.

According to Wikipedia, Chinese authorities claimed that this policy prevented between 100 – 400 million births!

That's A LOT of babies! 

As you can imagine, a policy that regulates something as personal as creating a family has been met with a lot of controversy. It has led to forced abortions of females (despite the fact that it is illegal to tell parents the sex of their baby, it happens all the time), female infanticide, and is the most likely cause behind one of the biggest social issues in the country — an increasingly skewed sex ratio. 

Why are men more desirable?

Though it sounds old-fashioned to our western sensibilities, in China a son is an asset because he will support his family, while daughters are married off and so contribute to their husband's family. Basically, only a son is a return on their investment. Male relatives are also the only ones allowed to perform ancestor rites that will ensure their parents a comfortable rest in the afterlife. 

Because of the forced lack of females, one in five men in China face eternal bachelorhood. To put this into perspective, by 2020 there will be enough lifelong bachelors to match the population of Texas.

The rise of Bachelor Villages

Bachelor Villages — or small rural areas where there are no unmarried women and the uneducated, unmarried men cannot leave their small farms to search for a wife — are sadly becoming the norm. A fact that is worrying, as history shows that countries with an excess of men have higher rates of violence. 

Leftover Women in China

One would think that because single women are so rare that they would have their pick of men, and that ladies who are self-sufficient and highly educated should go like hot cakes. Instead, the Chinese media is full of stories about highly educated "Leftover Women" who — in a country that still maintains a sense of hierarchy — are too intimidating to men, and too old (keep in mind that 'old' in China is over the age of 23) to find a husband.

Sadly, on the other end of the social spectrum, women from poor families are being forced into marriages, kidnapped for prostitution and even sold by their families to human traffickers.  

Why not marry someone from a different country?

A logical question, but one that would be met with disgust in China, a Communist country that is proud of their homogenous population who has no interest in ‘mixing’ with outside ethnicities or cultures.

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Have You Read The 10 Most-Read Books In The World?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Based on the number of books printed and sold in the last 50 years, this is the list of the top ten most read (English) books — along with their opening line — on our planet.

How many have you read? (No, watching the movie doesn't count!)

    "In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth."
    "The force at the core leading our cause forward is the Chinese Communist Party." 
  3. HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling
    "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
  4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
    "When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magni- ficence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."
  5. THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho
    "The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought." 
  6. THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown
    "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."
  7. THE TWILIGHT SAGA by Stephanie Meyer
    "I'd never given much thought to how I would die — though I'd had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."
  8. GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
    "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
  9. THINK AND GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill
    "TRULY, "thoughts are things," and powerful things at that, when they are mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence, and a BURNING DESIRE for their translation into riches, or other material objects" 
  10. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK by Anne Frank
    “I hope to tell you everything that I could never tell anyone until now.”

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Have you read the 10 most-read books in the world