Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Announcing the 2010 World to the Wise Cultural Tour

We are happy to announce plans to host our first ever World to the Wise Cultural Tour. We have designed it in a modular format so that travelers will be able to choose one, two, or three one-week periods. Here are the details!



LONDON  June 12-19, 2010


Many Americans have the feeling of coming home when they discover this land that is the mother country to  many of our ancestors. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abby, Big  Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, some of the most amazing museums in the world, the Tube, the River  Thames, cream tea, shortbread, meat pies, homes of some of English literature’s greats, and on and on!




PARIS   June 19-26


Often called the Pearl of Europe and the City of Lights, this gem has probably inspired more songs and literature than any other city. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, the Palace of Versailles, the Latin Quarter with its sidewalk artists, the Arche de Triomphe and Champs Elysées…not to mention the obligatory sidewalk cafés, croissants, pastries, baguettes, cheese. (Oops, got a little side-tracked there.…) One evening will be spent with local Parisian friends over dinner, comparing our impressions of each other’s culture, laughing at ourselves, and learning to appreciate the inherent beauty of every culture.



AMSTERDAM  June 26 - July 3



One of the most charming cities in all of Europe, Amsterdam has a character all its own. Journey back to the  Golden Age of the Netherlands, when Amsterdam was one of the largest and most powerful commercial cities in  the world. Visit the world-famous Rijksmuseum, home of the Dutch Masters, as well as the amazing Van Gogh  Museum. Take a boat ride on the city's intricate canal system while admiring the charm of the 17th and 18th  century row houses that line the canals. Visit the historic home of Anne Frank, as well as the Ten Boom house in  Haarlem, made famous in Corrie ten Boom's moving book, The Hiding Place. Experience the world's largest tulip fields and greenhouses, as well as the home of the famous Delft Blue China. And spend an evening over dinner with local Amsterdammers and learn the meaning of gezelligheid (hint: coziness to the max).


As mentioned above, travelers will have the choice of joining us for one, two, or all three consecutive weeks in three of Europe's greatest cultural capitals.


It's time to start planning (and saving) now! To get on our mailing list to receive updates, just click here and enter your name and e-mail address in the form on the right side of the page.


Join the culturally curious for an unforgettable adventure!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?"

One great way to develop cultural intelligence is learning a foreign language. This can seem like a daunting task for many, though, and I've just begun a manuscript on how to approach learning a language in such a way that you'll feel the richer for it, not ready to hurl yourself off the Eiffel Tower.

I thought I'd give you a taste by sharing the (working) introduction with you:

I was living in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, where an American associate of mine told me of a time when she had gotten lost on a weekend outing in Germany. This was back in the late 60’s, when far fewer Germans spoke English than do today. She would stop in each village and look for someone who spoke English and could point her back to her intended route. At each stop, she would ask (in a much louder voice than necessary – something many of us tend to do, as if the other person were hard of hearing):

“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

– only to be answered with “Nein, es tut mir Leid.” (No, I’m sorry.) This went on for some time, until finally, in one last desperate attempt, she approached a middle-aged gentleman who she thought surely knew at least enough English to bail her out of her predicament. In an emphatic and over-articulate voice, she pleaded,

“SIR, DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” -- to which the gentleman replied with matching emphasis and intensity:

“LADY,

THAT’S

THE

ONLY

THING

I

SPEAK!”

He was with the American military and stationed in southwestern Germany, one of the largest American communities outside the United States at the time.

Let’s face it – English speakers do not enjoy a reputation of being particularly multilingual. After all, they don’t need to be – take the Americans, for example: their neighbors to the north speak English, to the east and west is ocean, and to the south – well, there are enough Mexicans in the tourist industry who speak English that it’s not a necessity to speak Spanish. And what of the thousands of Hispanics who now call the US home? Well, they have to learn English if they want to survive, right?

Compare this to the Dutch, for example, in whose country I lived for five and a half years; if they want to be understood anywhere outside their small country (with the exception of Belgium and a handful of Caribbean islands), they have to learn at least one other language. This is most often English, followed by German and French. In fact, many European high school students study more than one foreign language at a time.

There’s no question that one can get by with English in much of the world – which is a fact that doesn’t exactly have a motivating effect upon anglophones to learn a foreign language.

Now let’s be honest – most of us have hidden behind this fact as an excuse not to study a foreign language. Not only that, we have also somehow convinced ourselves that Americans (and while we’re at it, we may as well add Brits, Australians and New Zealanders, all island nations, interestingly enough) are simply not good at learning another language.

This is not necessarily true, nor does it have to be.

In the 21st century, where globalization has reduced the size of the planet we live on, our excuses not to learn another language hold less and less water. The only reason we’re not good at it is the mysterious and formidable power of suggestion; and if we are capable of convincing ourselves that we’re a lost cause, then surely we are capable of the inverse. As a matter of fact, there are lots of us who are living proof. We’re also proof that learning a foreign language not only opens up new microcosms of the brain, but also opens up a whole new macrocosm waiting to be discovered and explored. Learning another language isn’t simply about forming sentences like assembling a machine with a new set of tools; it’s about discovering entire cultures behind the language. The more we resist the idea, the more we deprive ourselves of untold riches.

It’s like suddenly being able to see in vivid color what you once only saw in black and white.

What follows are some tips on how to approach learning a foreign language that will not only make the process make more sense, but also make it a little less painful, and – who knows – you may even find yourself hooked for life, as is the case with yours truly. Some of the tips might seem like no-brainers; but you might be surprised how a simple mental shift can make a world of difference.

(The above content is copyrighted material and may not be used or reprinted without written consent from its author.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

A President Wins the Prize

Many Americans were surprised as they awoke this morning to the news of President Barack Obama's being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Some have asked if the prize is now given for good intentions and not just accomplishments. One thing seems clear: the European image of Obama is still one of hope, while at home he faces criticism from all sides on multiple issues.

What is your opinion? Do you think President Obama earned the prize? If not, whom would you have proposed in his place?








Monday, September 28, 2009

A House Divided

It is impossible to talk about culture without talking about politics and government, although this is a subject I don't often address in this blog. But last week I heard a comment that pushed me over the edge, and I uncharacteristically vented about it on Facebook with a simple and admittedly unbalanced comment.

79 comments later, it was clear that at the heart of the current debate on healthcare in the US is not healthcare itself, but a fundamental difference in perspective on the role of government. Many non-Americans talk of the Christian population in the US as a monolithic, extreme right-wing movement, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

A recent religious activists survey showed that, while many conservative as well as progressive activists call themselves Christians, they differ greatly on issues such as social responsibility, biblical authority and the role of government. The spokesman for the survey explained this phenomenon with a quote from C.S. Lewis:

'Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says; we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party.' (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Many conservative Christians believe that most of our social ills would be taken care of if more people would come to Christ, thereby eliminating the need for expensive government programs. Progressive Christians, on the other hand, point to present realities that they feel cannot be ignored, such as prohibitively expensive insurance policies for middle-class Americans, not to mention the disturbing number of Americans still living below the poverty line.

Please go to the blog to leave your comments, which are welcome.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Playing for Change'


When music producer Mark Johnson came across street singer Roger Ridley's soulful voice in Los Angeles a few years ago, he had a brainstorm: record and film Ridley's raw and powerful rendition of an international hit such as "Stand By Me", then add voices and instruments from around the world to the arrangement. 40 people, to be exact -- from nations ranging from Nepal to South Africa, from France to India -- who have still never met each other. The "Stand By Me" video has gone viral on YouTube and is one of ten songs on the collection called Playing for Change, all produced by Johnson with his extremely mobile recording equipment.
Johnson even captured the voice of the late Bob Marley singing "War/No More Trouble" by creating a track in the same key and tempo as Marley's version and overdubbing Marley's vocal onto the track.

Facebook and e-mail readers can click here to see the "Stand By Me" video.




Monday, August 24, 2009

Multilingual Mosaic

I was recently made aware of this audio montage of 25 different languages on the song from The Prince of Egypt, "There Can Be Miracles." I was originally told it was all the same singer, presumably Sally Dworsky, who recorded the original English soundtrack along with Michelle Pfeiffer. (Check out Sally's MySpace page to hear some of her own original songs -- very nice.) My research indicates that probably was not the case -- but it is nevertheless a stunning patchwork.
If you have some inside information on this soundtrack that would be useful, post your comment!

Facebook or e-mail format readers, click here to see the video.




Friday, August 21, 2009

Happy Day for Hungary

In 1989 my family and I were living in Lausanne, Switzerland, when the earth beneath Europe began to shake. The fall of the Berlin Wall is what attracted the world's attention; but the necessary shaking had begun three months earlier when Hungary decided to open its border with Austria, allowing hundreds of people to flee communist Eastern Europe.

Twenty years later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is from formerly communist Eastern Germany, travelled to Hungary to thank the Hungarians for their courage at an event celebrating the so-called "Pan-European Picnic" on the Austro-Hungarian border. In Merkel's words, 'they gave wings to East Germans' desire for freedom.' What ensued was an irreversible domino effect such as the world has rarely seen, symbolized by the culminating fall of the Berlin Wall.

We have a piece of that wall. Just an ordinary piece of concrete -- but it's a simple reminder of a momentus event that changed history forever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"God Grew Tired of Us"

My wife and I recently watched the moving documentary, God Grew Tired of Us, about the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 1987, the Muslim Sudanese government decreed death for all male children in the predominantly Christian and animist south. As a result, 27,000 boys made their way on foot to neighboring Ethiopia, where they stayed about four years in squalid conditions. In 1991, they were forced to flee south to Kenya, where they settled in a refugee camp in Kakuma, not far from the Sudanese border. Of the original 27,000 only 12,000 made it to Kakuma. The taller boys -- no matter what their age -- were expected to look after the young, and small, improvised family units were formed.

The documentary follows the odyssey of a handful of these young men, all the way into the third year of their immigration to the United States. It's a heartbreaking story of disjuncture, as the jobs the boys take prevent them from seeing each other, not to mention those they have left in Kakuma. The sense of community they had relied on all their lives is now removed, along with everything else familiar. Many Americans have the impression that, if the refugees can just make it to American soil, their quality of life will automatically improve; God Grew Tired of Us illustrates the fallacy of this kind of thinking. The challenges are just beginning, as the immigrants are faced with learning an entirely new way of life -- from electric lights and appliances to Western-style toilets, from strange food to taking on multiple jobs in order to send money home out of a sense of obligation and duty to those left behind.

Some of the Lost Boys ended up in my own city of Nashville (not shown in the film), where they have started a foundation. Some friends of mine recently told me they had sent their children to an art camp at a downtown gallery run by the Lost Boys Foundation, where they delightedly learned how to make African masks and other creations. If you are aware of colonies of Lost Boys in your city, find out how you can be of support to them. Some of them are pursuing degrees in order to return to Africa and help lead their people to higher ground.

Coming soon to this blog: an interview with one of the Lost Boys.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

I'm working on a project I'll tell more about later -- but it involves interviewing expat residents of the US -- whether they're recent immigrants or have lived here most of their lives. This past week I interviewed a Bulgarian woman who arrived in the US two days before her wedding. Imagine getting married in the middle of jet lag, not to mention culture shock.

I asked this tall, elegant lady what adjustments she's had to make since living in the States (it's been two years now). Among (many) other things, she mentioned the 'crisis' she hears people talking about. Not wanting to belittle the fact that we are indeed in the midst of a recession, she said, "It's just that the word 'crisis' means something different for me. For me, 'crisis' means we'll only have bread to eat that day -- and maybe butter, if we're lucky."

Speaking of adjustments, I've just made one myself.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Traveling in Comfort

If you've traveled abroad, you know what I'm talking about -- chances are, the airplane passengers or the tourists wearing white tennis shoes at the Eiffel Tower are Americans.

While travelers from many cultures don one of their nicer outfits for the trip, Americans opt for comfort. As Sarah Lanier puts it in her book, Foreign to Familiar, there is something in the American mindset that says being comfortable is of higher importance than looking appropriate.

There is a reason for this, Lanier goes on to explain. It turns out that cultures that are generally more informal -- including not only the US, but also Australia, the modern state of Israel and Canada, for example -- are the younger countries who have had less time to develop age-old traditions piled high on top of each other. The older, more traditional cultures are called "high-context" cultures, while the newer cultures are "low-context'. Even in poor countries, the people dress their very best when going to a meeting, out in public or to someone else's home for dinner.

Americans, Australians and other low-context cultures are quick to address each other by their first names. Even though I've now been back in the US for fifteen years after living in Europe, I'm still taken aback at times how even in somewhat formal situations, such as in TV or radio interviews, the first name is used immediately.

Remember, we're not talking necessarily about right or wrong here -- but what is important is that the traveler be oriented to the host culture he or she is visiting. Otherwise, innocent mistakes will often be interpreted as insults. This works in both directions: the Korean culture, for example, is one of the oldest on the planet, therefore extremely high-context. Koreans immigrating to the US should be prepared for the shock of informal American culture. Many Koreans prefer to be addressed by Mr., Miss or Mrs. and their surname, and are often offended when immediately addressed by their first name.

The quintessential low-context culture is southern California, which explains why many people in California, whether natives or recent arrivals, feel a sense of freedom to be creative, start new trends, or be different.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pearls Before Swine?

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

T
he violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk...

6 minutes:


A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Your thoughts?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cultural Carnivores


One of my favorite travel hosts is Rick Steves, mainly because of his infectious passion for discovery and his admiration of cultural diversity. In his latest blog, he talks about being inspired all over again by his daughter's current travels through Spain -- and 'their unbridled fun -- not gumming the culture, but tearing into it with carnivorous teeth and selfish abandon.'

Here's to cultural carnivores.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Belong, Therefore I Am

I mentioned in an earlier post Sarah Lanier's book, Foreign to Familiar, and the distinctions she draws between hot-climate and cold-climate cultures. One of many significant differences between these two groups is the concept of individualism as opposed to group identity. In most cold-climate cultures, children are brought up with an acute awareness of their individual identity. We are taught to think for ourselves, find our own path, and in America, we are made aware of our "inalienable rights" as individuals. And many Americans will go as far as to say that's the biblical pattern, the way God intended it.

In warm-climate cultures (which, incidentally, include the lands where biblical culture evolved), much more attention is paid to collective identity. Perhaps the most important thing a child can learn is that he/she is part of a whole -- a village, a clan, a tribe -- and because of that, the child has significance. The Maoris of New Zealand are said to have a saying, "I belong; therefore I am."

Needless to say, the implications are huge. When important decisions are to be made, the concern in the hot-climate culture will be the good of the group as a whole. A spokesperson will be careful not to speak for himself but make sure he is representing his people. A cold-climate person will not necessarily stop and think of the common good or the opinion of his group as a whole; what's important to him is that his voice be heard.

We must be clear that we are not distinguishing between right and wrong here -- those intent on a right or a wrong are missing the point-- but the distinctions are so significant that anyone seeking cultural intelligence -- whether the business person, the leisure traveler, or simply the culturally curious -- will do well to understand them.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Artist Luke Jerram wants to awaken Londoners from their humdrum daily routine and add a little music to the urban atmosphere. Jerram has had 30 pianos placed at well-known locations such as St. Paul's Cathedral, Millenium Bridge and the Liverpool Street Station. Called "Play Me, I'm Yours," the project is produced by a nonprofit called Sing London and City of London Festival. The pianos are intended for passers-by to perform impromptu recitals -- whether beginners or accomplished pianists -- anyone inclined to tickle the ivories. The instruments come complete with songbooks and are locked to the nearest bench or railing. They are also customized to fit their surroundings; at the Royal Exchange, for example, the piano has money printed on it.

Jerram has already pulled this off in cities from Sydney to Sao Paolo...perhaps coming to a city near you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hot Climate - Cold Climate

In her book, Foreign to Familiar, my former colleague Sarah Lanier explains the concept of hot-climate and cold-climate cultures. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions), those who are from hot-climate countries are more relationally oriented, whereas cold-climate cultures are more task-oriented. If you're not familiar with this concept, it may initially come across as such a generalization that it's untenable; but the more you think about it, the more it seems to make sense -- even within the United States. People from the South are generally more relationship oriented, whereas Northerners are most often characterized as business-like.

In Europe, the dinstinctions are virtually undeniable: northern Europeans have a vastly different approach to life from southern Europeans. We could continue to cite examples from around the world. Distinctions can also be drawn between urban and rural or agrarian societies. This has a myriad of ramifications -- what is considered polite and customary in one culture may be considered entirely inappropriate in another.

Awareness of fundamental truths like this can often make all the difference in intercultural relationships, whether in business or friendships. Lanier recounts a conversation on an airplane, where a Lebanese woman lamented that if she had only understood this concept earlier in the eight years she had lived in the US, she would surely have more friends by now:

'I've been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say no to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn't and left without me, I thought they didn't really want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say yes the first time.'

Monday, June 8, 2009

The New Sun King

The French press has crowned 2009 French Open winner Roger Federer le Roi Soleil -- the Sun King -- following his easy defeat of Swede Robin Soderling and his garnering of his 14th career Grand Slam title, tying American Pete Sampras' record.

To those who remember a little French history, this is a clear reference to King Louis XIV, dubbed le Roi Soleil because of his grandiose lifestyle and long reign -- 72 years, to be exact -- the longest of any monarch in history. It was he who built the opulent palace at Versailles, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris. His power in Europe was undisputed for many years.

Once Federer wins his 15th Grand Slam tournament (later this month at Wimbledon?), the French will have to think of another analogy, as there's nothing particularly noteworthy about Louis XV. But for now, the classy Swiss, being called an "absolute monarch", is wearing the title well -- and deservedly.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Personal Space?

If you value your personal space, you best not be a commuter in Japan. This video was shot a few years ago, and I understand things are not quite so extreme now, but even so....


Friday, May 22, 2009

Book all your travel here!


One of the services we offer through World to the Wise is a travel portal where you can get great deals on flights, hotels, cruises, rental cars, condos and more. It works just the same as the other travel sites out there -- only if you use this site, you'll be contributing in your own way to World to the Wise and our upcoming projects.

We had to cancel the World to the Wise Cultural Tour to Paris scheduled for this month, due to a lack of registrations -- but we've received enough feedback to believe that we'll have a full group this time next year -- so stay tuned, and start saving those pennies.

In the meantime, whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, please bookmark this site:


There is unfortunately not much about the address that will stick in your head -- thus the need to bookmark it or save it in your favorites! And please give us your feedback via this blog, on Facebook, or e-mail me at admin@worldtothewise.net to let us know how it's working for you. Let me clarify that I am NOT a travel agent -- we merely act as a portal to connect you with the travel vendors -- so if you have special travel needs that you can't take care of simply by using the automated site, just call the toll-free number on the site and our friends at Hemisphere Travel will take care of you.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Justice" in Somalia

It was the most excitement the southern Somalian city of Kismayo had seen in quite some time: a vehicle with loud speakers roamed the streets, inviting the public to the enforcement of the Islamic law the dictates punishment for theft -- the cutting off the the right hand.

Hundreds gathered in Freedom Park as a young man named Mohamed Omar Ismail, found guilty of stealing goods from another man's house, was brought before the crowd as a statement was read. The passage from the Koran was read which decrees the relevant punishment. His hand was then immediately severed and held up before the crowd by the index finger, as if to prove that 'we mean business.'

Ismail, recovering from his wound in a local hospital, says he did not commit the burglary and is still in shock from what has happened to him.

The current struggle for control in Somalia is not secular forces versus Islamic forces, but hardline Islamists versus more moderate Islamists. Both say that sharia law, or Islamic law, will sooner or later be firmly in place in that war-torn country.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The International Language of Beatboxing

Witness and marvel: this 18-year-old Japanese kid has taken the art of vocal percussion to an uncanny level. 
If you're reading this in an e-mail or on Facebook, here is the link for the video:




Tuesday, May 5, 2009

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

On May 5, 1862, the underdog Mexican army withstood the onslaught of the powerful French army, undefeated in fifty years, in the southeastern state of Puebla. Even though it was not even a turning point in the war against the French, who completed their invasion a year later, it is remembered and celebrated for the Mexicans' determination to stand up against great odds. 

Believe it or not, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more outside Mexico than within -- the people of Puebla certainly celebrate, but it is primarily a regional, not national, celebration. Many non-Mexicans believe it is Mexican Independence Day (that is September 16). The date has evolved throughout the world simply as a day to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage, and a good excuse for many to indulge in Mexican food and tequila. 

Today's celebration in Puebla, however, will no doubt be mitigated by the current virtual lockdown in Mexico because of the H1N1 virus. In any case, here's to a lively, colorful culture which has impacted us all in one way or another.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Fat Facts

This week's WorldQuiz question was: What country has the highest number of deaths PER CAPITA due to obesity?
The one person who posted an answer on this blog guessed what you might expect: the US. You may be surprised to know that per capita, the US is number five on that list -- with Austria in first place. Numbers two, three and four, respectively, are: Cayman Islands, Denmark and New Zealand.
In total numbers, however, more people do die of obesity in the US than any other nation, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Spain and Austria.

Shock for the Dutch

April 30 is Queen's Day in the Netherlands. My wife and I have wonderful memories, from our five years in Amsterdam, of the festive atmosphere which not only honors the past and current queen (Queen Beatrix is pictured here), but also coincides with a general relief that spring has arrived. People also take advantage of the occasion to set out on the curb any household items or furniture they've been wanting to get rid of -- a nationwide flea market.

Today the only relief was that none of the royal family were injured when an unknown Dutchman drove his car through the parade barricades as the royal family passed by in an open bus. Four people were killed, however, and several more injured.


Monday, April 27, 2009

WorldQuiz: Obesity


In what country do the most people PER CAPITA die of obesity?

Post your answer!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Memory to Stop Traffic


Imagine the hustle and bustle of morning rush hour and the accompanying noise -- like any other day -- being suddenly interrupted by the wail of a siren. The overpowering sound of the siren then gives way to complete silence, as drivers get out of their cars, pedestrians stop in their tracks, and all that is heard is the wind as everyone stands stone still for two long minutes of silent remembrance.

That's exactly what happened today as Israelis, joined by other Jews around the world, stopped to remember when the unthinkable happened. Thousands -- Holocaust survivors, teenagers, Jews and a few Gentiles, joined in the March of the Living at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland, where 1.1 million people, 90% of whom were Jews, were exterminated by the Nazi regime.

Any Jewish parent wants his or her children to know about and remember the Holocaust.

How about you, my Gentile friend?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The "Singing Nation"

This week's WorldQuiz:

What European country is nicknamed the "singing nation"?

In this country, it is unusual to find a single person who has not sung in a choir or some other kind of vocal ensemble. Every few years, all of this country's choirs gather together for the Song Festival with thousands of singers present.

The daina, or folk song, has defined this nation's identity for hundreds of years. Dating back well over a millenium, over 1.2 million texts and over 30,000 melodies have been identified.

What country is it?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Spongebob


Who knew ten years ago that a yellow sponge who lives in a place called Bikini Bottom would become a staple of American pop culture? One week last month, nine of the top twenty top TV cable spots were occupied by the bipolar Bob and his friends Patrick, Squidward, Sandy Cheeks and others.

I was drawn in a couple of years ago when my son, now 17, was becoming a fan. Part of the genius of this creation by former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg is its multi-layered humor that appeals to every age group. According to Nickelodeon, 45 million people over the age of 18 are regular watchers. SpongeBob is the second longest running Nicktoon ever, after The Rugrats.

Click here to see a great video on the actors behind the voices of Spongebob Squarepants, or if you're reading this on facebook, go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103170924.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bring on the Bocce!



It's a game that has been played in one form or another for thousands of years, yet its popularity in North America has only recently begun to grow. The French are surely not particularly pleased that America has adopted the Italian name ('bocce' is the plural of 'boccia', meaning 'bowl'), rather than the French pétanque, mais c'est la vie.
There are several theories about bocce's origins, but most sports historians agree that Roman soldiers began playing a primitive form of the game over two thousand years ago. A small stone called a "leader" would be thrown first, then larger stones were thrown at the leader, and the closest to the leader would score.
Until recently, most North American proponents of the game were descendants of Italian immigrants, who still cling to it as a nostalgic vestige of the old country. Slowly but surely, however, it is beginning to gain popularity among those who simply appreciate the sport's relaxing and community-building qualities, and bocce alleys are cropping up in not-so-Italian areas (including Chattanooga, TN, where this photo was taken).
Here is one American who says, "Bring on the bocce!"

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Allure of Alsace


If you're considering joining us for the inaugural World to the Wise Cultural Tour, here's something else to tempt you: step for a day into the magical microworld of Alsace, the region in the northeast corner of France which has gone back and forth between Germany and France for generations.

Alsace is a region like no other: although it is part of France and everyone speaks French, the German influence is everywhere -- including the storybook architecture seen in this photo. And even though all Alsatians are French, they have managed to preserve their own language over the years, which actually resembles Swiss German as much as anything.

The largest city in Alsace is Strasbourg, dubbed the Crossroads of Europe. This gem of a city is indeed of crossroads of diplomatic, high-tech, educational and religious communities: it is the seat of the European Parliament, the University of Strasbourg, and, as far as France is concerned, a rare coexistence of the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

And we won't set foot in Alsace without sampling the famous tarte flambée (flammekueche in Alsatian) -- a delicious, thin-crusted pizza with crème fraîche, bacon and onions, baked in a wood-burning oven.

Care to join us? Visit www.worldtothewise.net to find out more!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We Have Lift-Off!

Announcing our inaugural World to the Wise Cultural Tour! As part of our mission to promote cultural intelligence and gather the “culturally curious,” we’re starting with the gem of Europe: Paris.
Would you like to be part of our very first group experience? Years later you’ll be able to look back and say, “I was there!”

DATES: May 15-25, 2009

We’ll spend the majority of the time in Paris, taking in the sights Paris is obviously known for — the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, etc. — but we’ll also benefit from specially planned events where opportunity is given to interact with some of our Parisian friends — music, dialogue and laughter are essential ingredients at World to the Wise! As we discover more about French culture — its past and present, we’ll find ourselves understanding our own culture better as a result.

In addition to taking in the City of Lights, we’ll also take 2-3 day trips out from Paris to show you some of the diversity of the nation. It would be a mistake to assume that all of France is like Paris — just as Americans would be quick to say that New York is not representative of the rest of the US!

This is a great time to travel — the US dollar is in a relative position of strength and will go farther than it would have even a few months ago. The total cost, including airfare, is $3250. In addition to airfare, this includes 9 nights in a boutique hotel, ground transportation both in and outside Paris, two meals per day, museums, and special events.

Because of the shortness of time (for which we sincerely apologize — many of the details have taken some time to fall into place), we need you to reserve your spot as quickly as possible. You may do so by e-mailing us at
admin@worldtothewise.net or by leaving your name and e-mail address in the comment section of this blog. We must have at least 10 participants register by Thursday, April 9 in order to make this happen. Half of the total cost will be due at that time. We will communicate all details, including flight and deposit information, immediately upon hearing from you.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you do not have a passport, you should apply for one IMMEDIATELY. Get information
here.

We look forward to hearing from you and creating this adventure together!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bonjour from Switzerland


You haven't heard from me in a while because I'm on a two-week concert tour in French-speaking Switzerland with some old friends going back to the time I lived here with my family. Every time I come back, I'm flooded with nostalgia -- our youngest son was born here, we developed friendships that continue to this day, and it is arguably the most beautiful spot on the planet.


I'll be dividing my photos and videos between my Facebook page and this blog, so feel free to toggle back and forth. For now, here's a short vid shot just before our first concert:


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Art of Storytelling

Perhaps the oldest art form is one that needs to be reclaimed in our generation: storytelling. For years, Melea Brock has been weaving her own stories as well as some borrowed from other times and other places.
For the first time, Melea will be performing a live tele-Storynight tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 26) at 9:00 pm Eastern time. No matter where you are, you'll be able to listen in -- from your car, your home phone, or your computer. Melea has such an engaging manner about her that adults as well as children are drawn in -- and you'll find her stories charged with meaning.

All you have to do is go here to register.

Make a fire and some hot chocolate, gather the kids or friends, unplug the iPod and tune into Melea instead. It will be one of those moments suspended in time.