cultural differences * a worldwide comparison's Journal|
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|Wednesday, October 27th, 2010|
smallest, largest, richest, poorest countries
LARGEST COUNTRIES (by land mass)
1. Russia 17,075,400 sq km/6,592,846 sq miles
2. Canada 9,330,970 sq km/3,602,707 sq miles
3. China 9,326,410 sq km/3,600,947 sq miles
4. USA 9.166,600 sq km/3,539,242 sq miles
5. Brazil 8,456,510 sq km/3,265,075 sq miles
6. Australia 7,617,930 sq km/2,941,283 sq miles
7. India 2,973,190 sq km/1,147,949 sq miles
8. Argentina 2,736,690 sq km/1,056,636 sq miles
9. Kazakhstan 2,717,300 sq km/1,049,150 sq miles
10. Sudan 2,376,000 sq km/917,374 sq miles
SMALLEST COUNTRIES (by land mass)
1. Vatican City 0.44 sq km/0.17 sq miles
2. Monaco 1.95 sq km/0.75 sq miles
3. Nauru 21.2 sq km/8.2 sq miles
4. Tuvalu 26 sq km/10 sq miles
5. San Marino 61 sq km/24 sq miles
6. Liechtenstein 160 sq km/62 sq miles
7. Marshall Islands 181 sq km/70 sq miles
8. Seychelles 270 sq km/104 sq miles
9. Maldives 300 sq km/116 sq miles
10. St. Kitts and Nevis 360 sq km/139 sq miles
RICHEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD (GNP in US Dollars)
1. Luxembourg ($45,360)
2. Switzerland ($44,355)
3. Japan ($41,010)
4. Liechtenstein ($40,000)
5. Norway ($34,515)
POOREST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD (GNP in US Dollars)
1. Mozambique ($80)
2. Somalia ($100)
3. Eritrea ($100)
4. Ethiopia ($100)
5. Congo, DNC ($100)
|Monday, September 13th, 2010|
customs from around the world
In Greece, a child’s tooth is thrown onto the roof for good luck.
Krampus Night: Celebrated in Austria on December 5th, Krampus is described as Santa Claus’ evil twin brother.
Sati Culture in India: Widows throw themselves onto the funeral fire of their dead husbands.
In Indonesia, a person points with their thumb. It’s considered rude to point with a forefinger. This is also common in other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Brunei.
Tooth Fairy: In Anglo cultures, children leave teeth under their pillow for the tooth fairy to collect - usually in return for some money.
Foot Binding: A painful Chinese tradition that only stopped in the 1930's.
Wedding celebrations can involve five parties in parts of the Middle East, beginning with the engagement party and ending with the wedding shower, seven days after the wedding.
Japanese children cover their belly button when they hear thunder.
Shoes must always be removed before entering a Japanese home.
The Bahai People of Iran have their own calendar consisting of nineteen months, each with nineteen days.
Gold and silver coins are placed inside a bride's wedding shoes in Sweden.
In Thailand it’s considered very rude to cross your legs in public.
|Monday, August 30th, 2010|
|Thursday, March 4th, 2010|
"School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets"
School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets
By Vivienne Walt (South African gone USA perspective)
When the public school office of the 6th district of Paris summoned me to a meeting late last year, the tone of urgency in the letter sent me running down the block, into the 19th century courtyard of the town hall and up the narrow stairs to the top floor.
"What does your son eat for lunch?" the woman asked after I ran in breathless. I had no idea what to say. When my son started nursery school last September at the age of 3, I had registered him for the school lunch program. But when he failed to appear in the lunchroom after that, city officials quickly took notice. My explanation — that I thought he should take a break and eat lunch at home in the middle of the day — was apparently not sufficient. This was personal.
"The food is very good, Madame. The meat is 100% French," the official said, picking up a brochure from her desk. I knew this brochure well, having e-mailed it to friends in the U.S. last year as a this-could-only-happen-in-France conversation piece. It lists in great detail the lunch menu for each school day over a two-month period. On Mondays, the menus are also posted on the wall outside every school in the country. The variety on the menus is astonishing: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes an hors d'oeuvre, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert.
There is more: the final column in the brochure carries the title "Suggestions for the evening." That, too, changes daily. If your child has eaten turkey, ratatouille and a raspberry-filled crepe for lunch, the city of Paris suggests pasta, green beans and a fruit salad for dinner.
I finally saw the system in action earlier this month. Caught short by a sick nanny, my son, who was accustomed to eating leftovers from the refrigerator, sat in silence with his 25 classmates at tables in the nursery-school cafeteria, while city workers served a leisurely, five-course meal. One day, when I arrived to collect him, a server whispered for me to wait until the dessert course was over. Out in the hall, one of the staff shouted for "total quiet" to a crowd of 4-year-olds awaiting the next lunch seating. "I will now read you today's menu," he told them. "First, you will begin with a salad."
Americans struggling with obesity epidemics have for years wondered how the so-called French paradox works: How does a nation that ingests huge quantities of butter, beef and cakes keep trim and have such long lives? It could be the red wine, as some believe. But another reason has to be this: in a country where con artists and adulterers are tolerated, the laws governing meals are sacrosanct and are drummed into children before they can even hold a knife. The French don't need their First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the Élysée Palace to encourage good eating habits. They already know the rules: sit down and take your time, because food is serious business.
In his new book Food Rules, Michael Pollan states in rule No. 58: "Do all your eating at a table." French children quickly learn that they won't be fed anywhere else. Snack and soda machines are banned from school buildings in France — a battle that is now raging across the U.S. And France's lunch programs are well funded. While the country is cutting public programs and civil-servant jobs to try to slash a debt of about $2.1 trillion, no one has dared to mention touching the money spent on school lunches.
Public schools in France are overcrowded, rigid and hierarchical. And parents, who are never addressed by their first names, are strongly discouraged from entering school buildings, let alone the classrooms. I cannot tell you what my child learns, paints or builds on any given school day. But I do know that on Feb. 4, he ate hake in Basque sauce, mashed pumpkin, cracked rice, Edam cheese and organic fruits for lunch. That meant stuffed marrows and apples for dinner. The city of Paris said so. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1967060,00.html
|Monday, January 25th, 2010|
"Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection"
I found this amusing: Ancient Egypt’s Toxic Makeup Fought Infection, Researchers Say
The elaborate eye makeup worn by Queen Nefertiti and other ancient Egyptians was believed to have healing powers, conjuring up the protection of the Gods Horus and Ra and warding off illnesses.
Science does not allow for magic, but it does allow for healing cosmetics. The lead-based makeup
used by the Egyptians had antibacterial properties that helped prevent infections common at the time
, according to a report published Friday in Analytical Chemistry, a semimonthly journal of the American Chemical Society.
“It was puzzling; they were able to build a strong, rich society, so they were not completely crazy,” said Christian Amatore, a chemist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and one of the paper’s authors. “But they believed this makeup was healing — they said incantations as they mixed it, things that today we call garbage.”
Dr. Amatore and his fellow researchers used electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction to analyze 52 samples from containers of Egyptian makeup preserved at the Louvre. They found that the makeup was primarily made by mixing four lead-based chemicals: galena, which produced dark tones and gloss, and the white materials cerussite, laurionite and phosgenite. Because the samples had disintegrated over the centuries, the researchers were not able to determine what percentage of the makeup was lead.
Although many written texts, paintings and statues from the period indicate that the makeup was extensively used, Egyptians saw it as magical, not medicine
, Dr. Amatore said.
In ancient Egypt, during periods when the Nile flooded, Egyptians had infections caused by particles that entered the eye and caused diseases and inflammations. The scientists argue that the lead-based makeup acted as a toxin, killing bacteria before it spread. But while their research provides a fascinating insight into an ancient culture, the scientists say the makeup is not something that should be used today.
Dr. Amatore said that the toxicity of lead compounds overshadowed the benefits and that there had been many documented cases of poisoning as a result of lead in paints and plumbing in the 20th century. Neal Langerman, a physical chemist and the president of Advanced Chemical Safety, a health safety and environmental protection consulting firm, said, “You probably won’t want to do this at home, especially if you have a small child or a dog that likes to lick you.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Langerman said, it makes sense that the Egyptians were attracted to the compounds.
“Lead and arsenic, among other metals, make beautiful color pigments,” he said. “Because they make an attractive color and because you can create a powder with them, it makes sense to use it as a skin colorant.”
The issue of lead in makeup continues to be debated in the cosmetics industry, particularly with regard to the small amounts of lead found in some lipsticks. While some advocacy groups and doctors argue that, over time, lipstick wearers might absorb levels of lead that could result in behavioral issues, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the trace amounts of lead in makeup are too small to cause harm.
“It’s the dose that makes the poison,” Dr. Langerman said, in paraphrasing the Renaissance physician Paracelsus. “A low dose kills the bacteria. In a high dose, you’re taking in too much.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/science/19egypt.html?em
|Saturday, December 19th, 2009|
Canada, Australia ranked best places for expats
Canada, Australia ranked best places for expats
Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:33pm EST
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Looking to work overseas? Head to Canada, Australia or Thailand
, according to an annual global survey which found recession-hit Britain was one of the worst locations to live for expatriates.
The second annual Expat Experience survey, commissioned by HSBC Bank International, revealed that expats in Canada have the best quality of life and found it among the easiest places in the world to integrate with the local population. Australia and Thailand also came in the top three in the survey of 3,146 people working in 30 different industries and 50 countries, even though Thailand was one of the countries worst-hit by the recession for expats. "We have seen that there is a distinct trade-off between income and overall quality of life, as many of the top performers ... scored toward the bottom of this report's league table (of the best places to make and save money)," said Betony Taylor, spokeswoman for HSBC Bank International.
"What is clear is that the locations where salaries may not be as high, such as Canada and Australia, are where expats are really enjoying not only an increased quality of life but are also finding it easy to fit in to their new communities." Last year Germany, Canada and Spain were the top three countries
deemed to have the best lifestyle for expats. This year Britain was one of the lowest ranked locations
when it came to lifestyle after being named as one of the most expensive places for expats with the recession taking its toll. About 44 percent of expats in Britain are considering returning home, compared with only 15 percent of expats overall. About 41 percent of expats in Britain find it difficult to find somewhere to live, most find the quality of their accommodation drops after moving to Britain, and a third claim their health has deteriorated since moving there.
"Despite this, the UK does hold the crown for being expat entertainment capital of the world, with over half (58 percent) of expats in the UK saying that the quality of entertainment had increased," said Taylor. She added that 62 percent of expats also said that employment prospects were the main reason keeping them in the region.
Results from a different section of the survey, which was conducted by research company FreshMinds, released earlier found Russia was home to the highest proportion of expats earning more than $250,000 with 30 percent of international workers there banking that amount, followed by Hong Kong and Japan. The lowest-paid expats live in Australia and Belgium with the majority -- 63 percent and 61 percent respectively -- earning less than $100,000.
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved
|Saturday, December 12th, 2009|
Average Height in Europeans vs Americans
Europeans Taller on Average
Bad Health Care, Deficient Welfare Keep Americans Short
(Article from 2007)
For decades, it has been clear that average European heights have been increasing while those on the other side of the Atlantic have not. But why? A new study says it might have to do with health care and the social net.
For years, researchers have been wondering why Americans stopped growing. US citizens were among the tallest in the world up until World War II. But since then, heights have stagnated while Europeans have been getting taller and taller, with the average American now between two and six centimeters shorter.
The correlation between wealth and height has long been understood, the most recent example coming as Eastern Europeans shot up following the collapse of communism. But why, in the richest country in the world, should growth rates be stagnating?
A new study published in the current issue of the Social Science Quarterly
by researchers from Princeton University in the US and the University of Munich in Germany indicates that the difference may have to do more with politics than biology. Specifically, the study, which involved the statistical analysis of demographic and health data collected between 1959 and 2002, concludes that the spotty US health-care system and weak welfare net could explain why Americans have stopped growing
"We surmise that the health systems and high degree of social security in Europe provide better conditions for growth than the American health system, despite the fact that the system costs twice as much," said study co-author John Komlos from the University of Munich in a statement. "There are also indications that American diets are deficient in several areas."
From the Colonial times until roughly the 1970s, Americans were the tallest people in the world. But then, growth stagnated while Europeans spent the second half of the 20th century growing like weeds. Now, the average Dutchman is six centimeters taller than the average American
-- "almost an exact reversal of the relationship in the middle of the 19th century," Komlos says.
Researchers have established in recent years that wealthier families tend to provide better nutrition for their children and, as a result, they tend to grow taller. The drastic differences in the United States between rich and poor, the researchers pointed out, mean that the US average is pulled down by those who struggle to get by. Whereas in the US, some 15 percent of the population has no health insurance and those on welfare can barely get by, almost all citizens of northern and western European countries enjoy universal health care and a generous social net. The result is that even those children dependent on welfare in Europe have a sufficient living standard, the researchers concluded. The study was based on data gathered by the National Health Examination Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
Still, quite a bit more needs to be done to determine the relationship between social standards and height, says Komlos. "In short," he said, "the richest are neither the tallest nor the healthiest. Why that is so must be explained."
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
|Sunday, October 4th, 2009|
the USA 100 years ago
In the United States of America
100 Years Ago (1900 AD)...
- the average life expectancy was 47 years
- water usage per person was 1/6 of current usage
- 14% of the homes had a bathtub
- most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo
- 8% of homes had a telephone
- there were 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved road
- the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
- 95% of births took place at home
- 30 people lived in Las Vegas
- 6% of Americans had graduated from high school
|Saturday, September 12th, 2009|
|Monday, August 17th, 2009|
cats in folklore
CATS AND GODS
The fecund cat is often been associated with fertility. The Scandinavian goddess Freyja rode in a chariot drawn by cats so farmers left out offerings for her cats to ensure a good harvest. In parts of Europe, a cat decorated with ribbons was released in the field after harvest-time to appease the gods.
The Peruvian fertility god Ai Apaec could assume the form of a tomcat.
A Chinese cat deity Li Shou warded off evil spirits at night and the Roman goddess Diana sometimes wore the form of a cat. Chinese legends say that cats were put in charge of the world and had the power of speech. The cats soon delegated this job to humans so that felines could laze about. That is why cats can no longer speak and why they wear supercilious expressions when they see us scurrying about!
The shadowy patches on the necks of Siamese cats are said to be the thumbprints of gods who picked the cats up to admire them. Birman cats started out as a plain brown cats until one jumped on the body of a Burmese priest slain by Thai invaders and the priest's spirit passed into it. The cat's body turned golden while its head, tail and legs remained brown. The cat's feet went pure white as they had touched the holy man's skin.
In Ancient Egypt, cats captured the glow of the setting sun in their eyes and kept it safe until morning, making it unlawful for cats to be killed (except in ritual sacrifice by priests). When the Persians attacked part of Egypt they tied cats to their shields - the Egyptians dared not put up a fight in case they injured or killed the cats.
To Muslims pigs and dogs are unclean, but the fastidious cat is tolerated. The Prophet Mohammed had a tabby cat which fell asleep on the sleeve of his robe. Rather than disturb the cat, he cut off his sleeve when he answered the muezzin (call to prayer). This cat once warned Mohammed of danger and to this day tabby cats have the 'M' mark on the foreheads in remembrance of his blessing and three dark lines on their backs where he stroked his cat.
The Egyptians believed the 'M' to depict the sacred Scarab beetle while in Christian folklore it is the mark of the Virgin Mary who blessed a cat which killed a venomous snake sent by the Devil to bite the Christ child in his crib. In a related version from Christian folklore, the infant Jesus was laying in the mangershivering from cold. Alerted by his cries, a mother tabby cat lay next to the child to warm him up. In gratitude, Mary stroked the cats forehead, marking it with an 'M' and to this day, the caring mother cat's descendents all carry the mark of Mary. The non-religious version suggests that the 'M' is a set of frown-lines where the cat has been staring at a mouse-hole in concentration, waiting for the mouse emerge!
CATS FOR LUCK
In Russia, blue cats were often thought lucky while in Japan tortoiseshell-and-white ('mi-ke') is luckiest and tortoiseshell cats, especially tortie tomcats, are lucky for sailors wanting fair weather. Tri-coloured cats are also lucky in Canada, but naughty-torties are reputed to be troublesome in England.
In Japan, a black spot on a cat means the the cat contains the soul of a departed ancestor.
In Britain the black cat is considered to be a symbol of good luck and some people consider white cats to be unlucky, though "unlucky white cats" is not a widespread belief in Britain. In the USA, white cats are lucky while black cats are unlucky and some shelters claim it is harder to rehome black cats because of the association with bad luck.
In many countries cats are said to foretell the weather. In Indonesia cats are thought to control the rain. Pour water on a cat and it will summon rain. Even today, the cloud-grey Korat is ceremonially sprinkled with water to bring rain for the crops.
In China the older and uglier a cat is, the luckier it is. This is self-explanatory as pets are forbidden and, according to a Chinese houseguest, his people traditionally eat "anything with legs except the table".
In parts of northern Europe a cat which enters a house of its own volition brings good luck with it. In Russia, couples make sure a cat moves into their new home with them to bring good fortune. In Japan, a cat waved a forepaw to beckon a lord into a building, saving him from a lightning bolt and the beckoning cat is still used as a good luck charm. According to Buddhists dark coloured cats attracted gold and light coloured cats brought silver.
In Abyssinia an unmarried girl who kept a cat was a wealthy catch. In rural areas of England it was believed unwise for a pregnant woman to let a cat sleep on her lap as the baby would be born with the face of a cat.
|Saturday, August 8th, 2009|
Cosmologists think that...
the universe began 13.7 billion years ago
the contents of the universe include
4% atoms (ordinary matter)
23% of an unknown type of dark matter, and
73% of a mysterious dark energy
our solar system was formed about 5 billion years ago
the earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago
Paleontologists think that...
invertebrate life began on earth about 600 million years ago
fish evolved about 300 million years ago
amphibians evolved about 150 million years ago
reptiles evolved about 120 million years ago
dinosaurs evolved about 80 million years ago
bipedal hominids began appearing about 6 million years ago
neanderthals appeared about 300k years ago
homo habilis appeared about 200k years ago
tools began to be used about 180k years ago
fire began to be used about 150k years ago
homo erectus appeared about 130k years ago
homo sapiens (humans) emerged as the only hominid survivors through a series of glacial epochs (ice ages) during the last 70k years
humans began to use clothing about 70k years ago
the first words were spoken by humans about 40k years ago
cave paintings have been identified from about 30k years ago
civilizations began to be formed about 11k years ago, after the last glacial epoch (ice age)
agriculture began about 11k years ago when most of the large game had been killed
between approximately 3.5k and 5k years ago humans clearly deviated from ways of life based on a sustainable partnership with nature
writing was invented about 5k years ago
pyramids were build about 4.5k years ago
the Greek civilization lasted about 2k years, from about 4k years ago to 2k years ago
the Roman empire lasted about 500 years ago, from 0 to 500 AD
From modern history we know that...
the Renaissance and rise of Western European civilization began about 500 years ago
the printing press was invented by Gutenberg (German) in 1455
Columbus sailed to the North American continent in 1492
Australia was discovered by the Dutch in 1606
due to human activity, there has been an increase in the numbers of animal species becoming extinct:
1601-1700 AD: 7 species became extinct
1701-1800 AD: 11 species became extinct
1801-1900 AD: 27 species became extinct
1901-1966 AD: 67 species became extinct
the industrial revolution occurred during the 19th century, leading to industrialized and non-industrialized human civilizations in different countries
in 1896, the telephone was invented
in 1964, International Business Machines (IBM) coined the term "word processor"
in 1969, computers were first used to communicate synchronously
since the mid-1970's, 7 million humans have died of AIDS
since 1970 humans have created and stored more information than in the previous 5,000 years
|Sunday, July 26th, 2009|
Obesity Rates by Country
Obesity Rates by Country
Percentage of total population who have a BMI (body mass index) greater than 30 Kg/sq.meters (Data for Australia, Austria and Portugal is from 2002. All other data is from 2003). Obesity rates are defined as the percentage of the population with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. The BMI is a single number that evaluates an individual's weight status in relation to height (weight/height2, with weight in kilograms and height in metres). For Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, figures are based on health examinations, rather than self-reported information. Obesity estimates derived from health examinations are generally higher and more reliable than those coming from self-reports, because they preclude any misreporting of people's height and weight. However, health examinations are only conducted regularly in a few countries (OECD). SOURCE: OECD Health Data 2005
|Tuesday, July 14th, 2009|
Astrology & Ancient Cultures
Astrology - A type of divination that consists in interpreting the influence of planets and stars on earthly affairs in order to predict or affect the destinies of individuals, groups, or nations. At times regarded as a science, astrology has exerted an extensive or a peripheral influence in many civilizations, both ancient and modern. Astrology has also been defined as a pseudoscience and considered to be diametrically opposed to the theories and findings of modern science.
Astrology originated in Mesopotamia, perhaps in the 3rd millennium BC, but attained its full development in the Western world much later, within the orbit of Greek civilization of the Hellenistic period. It spread to India in its older Mesopotamian form. Islamic culture absorbed it as part of the Greek heritage; and in the Middle Ages, when western Europe was strongly affected by Islamic science, European astrology also felt the influence of the Orient.
The Egyptians also contributed, though less directly, to the rise of astrology. They constructed a calendar, containing 12 months of 30 days each with five days added at the end of the year, that was subsequently taken over by the Greeks as a standard of reference for astronomical observations. In order that the starry sky might serve them as a clock, the Egyptians selected a succession of 36 bright stars whose risings were separated from each other by intervals of 10 days. Each of these stars, called decans by Latin writers, was conceived of as a spirit with power over the period of time for which it served; they later entered the zodiac as subdivisions of its 12 signs.
In pre-Imperial China, the belief in an intelligible cosmic order, comprehended aspects of which would permit inferences on correlated uncomprehended aspects, found expression in correlation charts that juxtaposed natural phenomena with the activities and the fate of man. The transition from this belief to a truly astrological belief in the direct influence of the stars on human affairs was slow, and numerous systems of observation and strains of lore developed.
When Western astronomy and astrology became known in China through Arabic influences in Mongol times, their data were also integrated into the Chinese astrological corpus. In the later centuries of Imperial China it was universal practice to have a horoscope cast for each newborn child and at all decisive junctures in life. Once established in the Classical world, the astrological conception of causation invaded all the sciences, particularly medicine and its allied disciplines. The Stoics, espousing the doctrine of a universal "sympathy" linking the microcosm of man with the macrocosm of nature, found in astrology a virtual map of such a universe.
Greek astrology was slow to be absorbed by the Romans, who had their own native methods of divination, but by the time of Augustus, the art had resumed its original role as a royal prerogative. Attempts to stem its influence on the populace met repeatedly with failure. Throughout pagan antiquity the words astronomy and astrology had been synonymous; in the first Christian centuries the modern distinction between astronomy, the science of stars, and astrology, the art of divination by the stars, began to appear. As against the omnipotence of the stars, Christianity taught the omnipotence of their Creator. To the determinism of astrology Christianity opposed the freedom of the will. But within these limits the astrological worldview was accepted. To reject it would have been to reject the whole heritage of classical culture, which had assumed an astrological complexion. Even at the centre of Christian history, Persian magi were reported to have followed a celestial omen to the scene of the Nativity. Although various Christian councils condemned astrology, the belief in the worldview it implies was not seriously shaken. In the late European Middle Ages, a number of universities, among them Paris, Padua, Bologna, and Florence, had chairs of astrology. The revival of ancient studies by the humanists only encouraged this interest, which persisted into the Renaissance and even into the Reformation.
It was the Copernican revolution of the 16th century that dealt the geocentric worldview of astrology its shattering blow. As a popular pastime or superstition, however, astrology continued into modern times to engage the attention of millions of people, this interest being catered to in the 20th century by articles in the daily press, by special almanacs, and by astrology manuals.
|Saturday, July 11th, 2009|
American Restaurant Chains in Trouble
US-Restaurants on the Ropes
June 12, 2009
When Americans get stressed out, one thing they do is eat. But apparently not enough.
The dismal economy has punished retailers, with companies like Circuit City and Linens ’n Things going extinct and dozens of others losing money. Now it’s hitting their cousins in the restaurant industry, too. The Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale chains were early casualties, going belly up last summer. This year, with Americans cutting back on spending, sales at restaurants could fall by 10 percent or more. Analysts don’t expect widespread closures, but some chains are likely to close unprofitable outlets, cut back on service, and look for other ways to reduce costs.
As in retail, companies that help people save money will weather the storm better than others. Chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Olive Garden, which offer ample portions at value prices, should do OK and maybe even pick up market share. It helps if they’ve been run conservatively, with low borrowing costs and cash held for a rainy day.
Other eateries are in a pickle. Fancy restaurants that had long waits a few years ago are now begging for customers and offering sales. Midpriced casual dining outlets are losing customers to cheaper fast-food joints. Even some dollar-menu franchises are suffering if they’re overdependent on mall traffic or clustered in regions where the economy is weakest. A key factor is debt: With sales down everywhere, many companies that borrowed heavily to remodel, expand, or buy other franchises now find that interest payments gobble up a nerve-wracking amount of cash flow.
Since debt is such an important menu item, we scoured data from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to gauge which well-known restaurants are facing tough challenges. The following list represents companies that meet two criteria: They have a credit rating of B or lower, and S&P assigns them a negative outlook. Landing on this list doesn’t mean the company is likely to declare bankruptcy or close its doors. But these firms are vulnerable to deteriorating economic and financial conditions. And the negative outlook means there’s a chance S&P could downgrade the company’s rating over the next six to 24 months. Here’s our watch list:
Perkins Restaurant and Bakery. Company accountants could probably use some of the comfort food on the menu at this diner-style franchise, which has about 500 locations, mostly in the Midwest. Like other restaurants, Perkins has been able to cut food costs since they soared in 2007. But revenue has fallen, and the parent firm lost $9.7 million in the first quarter. S&P says the firm’s liquidity position is “tenuous.” With market share of just 8 percent, Perkins is more vulnerable to a lousy economy that competitors like Denny’s (22 percent market share) and IHOP (19 percent). Perkins also owns the Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bakery chain, which suffers from similar financial burdens. Plus, Marie Callender is based in hard-hit California, which has been hammered by the housing bust. A company spokesperson says Perkins has cut expenses by $7.3 million to help shore up its finances, delayed some remodeling, and called a halt to expansion.
El Torito. Slumping sales and steep debt are an unappetizing combo, especially in California, where this chain is based. The parent firm, Real Mex Restaurants, has bought time by extending a key credit line until next January. But S&P has questioned whether the company, owned by a group of private-equity firms, will have the cash flow to comply with loan terms over the next two years. Real Mex also owns Chevy’s, the Acapulco chain, the more upscale El Torito Grill, and several other eateries. All are facing the same woes. Real Mex says that cost-cutting has helped sustain earnings, and it recently hired a new CEO to help turn things around. The company also announced plans recently to issue new debt that would help cover a major payment due to lenders next year. If that offering is successful, it would indicate investors' confidence in the chain.
Sbarro. Many of this pizza chain’s 1,070 outlets are in malls, where traffic is down and spenders are stingy. That contributed to a $5.7 million loss in the first quarter, more than double the red ink from a year ago. Interest payments on debt gobble up much of the company’s cash flow, leaving little margin for error. The company is especially vulnerable to any rises in food or commodity costs and to competition that could force prices down. With about 40 percent of sales coming during the Christmas season, the company will need strong December results at a time of high unemployment and weak spending. A Sbarro executive declined to comment on the company's financial prospects.
Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen. This chain’s thrifty appeal—“sit-down food at fast-food prices”—hits the right note during lean times. And aggressive cost-cutting has helped offset falling sales. But debt is still too high, compared with the company’s earnings. Parent company Sagittarius Brands got some relief last year from lenders who agreed to relax certain financial requirements. But the old terms go back into effect in 2010, and S&P doesn’t think the firm, which operates nearly 600 restaurants across the south, will be able to meet them. A breach could trigger higher borrowing costs or give lenders the right to call in their loans. The California-based Del Tacos chain, which Sagittarius bought in 2006, is under similar pressure. The company didn't respond to calls seeking comment.
Krispy Kreme. The famed doughnut chain got too chubby over the last 15 years, and it’s been closing unprofitable stores to help reverse several years of steep losses. Revenue has plunged since 2005, but cutbacks helped the company turn a $1.9 million profit in the latest quarter. Lenders have provided a breather by easing some of their requirements over the last two years. The temporary reprieve expires in 2011. By then, the company hopes that streamlining, profitable new overseas stores, and other measures will have strengthened its finances. Spokesman Brian Little points out that Krispy Kreme has cut its debt by nearly 40 percent and has a $21 million cash cushion. The recession, he adds, isn't as daunting to Krispy Kreme as to other food chains: "We sell an affordable indulgence consumers will purchase when they can’t afford to treat themselves or their families to other luxuries."
Mastro’s. These elegant steakhouses may be among the nation’s best, but they’re also clustered in Arizona and southern California, where housing woes have char-broiled the economy. With just 7 outlets (including two Ocean Club restaurants), Mastro’s lacks the scale and geographic diversity of bigger chains like Morton’s and McCormick & Schmick’s. Sales have fallen along with customers’ net worth and corporate expense budgets, and Mastro’s cash flow is likely to get worse before the double-cut porterhouse ($68.50) comes back into style. To cope, Mastro’s is scaling back expansion plans, and may only open four new restaurants by 2012, fewer than half its original target. “Returns to investors will be impaired,” says CEO Tom Heymann, “but doing this will improve our cash flow and still allow us to grow and meet our commitments to the banks.” And refrain from adding burgers and hot dogs to the menu. http://www.usnews.com/blogs/flowchart/2009/06/12/restaurants-on-the-ropes.html
|Sunday, July 5th, 2009|
my country switzerland<3 - did you know?
The people of Switzerland
Switzerland has a population of 7.6 million. Foreigners account for around 21% of the resident population. The average age is increasing, as people live longer and have fewer children. Lifestyles are changing as the Swiss adapt to new demands. Religious belief has declined in recent years, but the religious landscape has diversified. Switzerland has four unevenly distributed languages and a wealth of dialects:
By far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland: 17 of the 26 cantons are monolingual in German.
Spoken in the western part of the country, the "Suisse Romande." Four cantons are French-speaking: Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud. Three cantons are bilingual: in Bern, Fribourg and Valais both French and German are spoken.
Spoken in Ticino and four southern valleys of Canton Graubünden.
Rhaeto-Rumantsch (Rumantsch): Spoken in the only trilingual canton, Graubünden. The other two languages spoken there are German and Italian. Rumantsch, like Italian and French, is a language with Latin roots. It is spoken by just 0.5% of the total Swiss population.
The many foreigners resident in Switzerland have brought with them their own languages, which taken as a whole now outnumber both Rumantsch and Italian. The 2000 census showed that speakers of Serbian/Croatian were the largest foreign language group, with 1.4% of the population. English was the main language for 1%.
At the end of 2006, 21.4% of foreign residents came from the successor states of Yugoslavia. Italians accounted for 18.9%, followed by citizens of Portugal (11.2%), Germany (11.1%), Turkey (4.8%), France (4.7%) and Spain (4.4%). 86.5% of non-Swiss residents in 2006 were Europeans, but the proportion whose home countries are further afield continues to increase.
Language Distribution in Switzerland
Other 9 %
Source: Federal Statistical Office 2002
The Swiss family
Age at first marriage: 31 (men) / 28.7 (women)
Divorce rate: 52.6%
Children per woman: 1.42
Mother's age at birth of first child: 29.5
Source: Federal Statistical Office 2005
|Saturday, July 4th, 2009|
life in the united states around the year 2000
from http://www.zompist.com/amercult.html - so not my words. ( Read more...Collapse )
i'm not american myself but living in the states i find these things veeeeery interesting. today is the 4th of july so happy birthday to this country.
If you're American...
- You believe deep down in the First Amendment, guaranteed by the government and perhaps by God.
- You're familiar with David Letterman, Mary Tyler Moore, Saturday Night Live, Bewitched, the Flintstones, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, the Fonz, Archie Bunker, Star Trek, the Honeymooners, the Addams Family, the Three Stooges, and Beetle Bailey.
- You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer. - You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a year.
- You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.
- You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.
- You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You don't kill your own food. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs. You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
- A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it, but it certainly has a toilet.
- It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, auto manufacturers, airlines, and power companies are privately run; indeed, you can hardly picture things working differently.
- You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
- The train system, by contrast, isn't very good. Trains don't go any faster than cars; you're better off taking a plane.
- You find a two-party system natural. You expect the politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comic.
- You don't expect to hear socialism seriously defended. Communism, fuhgeddaboudit.
- Between "black" and "white" there are no other races. Someone with one black and one white parent looks black to you.
- You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices and work together.
|Saturday, June 27th, 2009|
Siebenschläfer - predicting the weather
Today is an important day in Germany
if you want to know what the summer is going to be like. At least according to folklore and agricultural tradition [Bauernregeln
], which holds that the weather on June 27th - Siebenschläfertag - will determine the general meteorological trend for July and August, the next 7 weeks. There are several rhymes of weather lore to go along with Siebenschläfertag, such as:
* Das Wetter am Siebenschläfertag sieben Wochen bleiben mag
* Wie's Wetter am Siebenschläfertag, so der Juli werden mag
* Wenn die Siebenschläfer Regen kochen, dann regnet’s ganze sieben Wochen
The rhyme doesn't owe its name - as commonly thought - to the Siebenschläfer, a kind of dormouse, which is a small rodent, but to an ancient legend: the "Seven Sleepers of Ephesus", a Christian legend dating from around the 6th century. Statistically the weather on Siebenschläfertag has a 60-70% likelihood of being predictive in southern Germany, but very rarely holds true for northern Germany.
i know that in the uk they have st. swithin's day with the same idea but it's on july 15 and 'predicts' the weather for the next 40 days. the americans have groundhog day, which, according to this isn't the same as siebenschläfer either: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/german_interest/116670
how about in your country, wherever you are? do you have anything like this?
|Thursday, June 25th, 2009|
germany's favorite icecream flavors
the germans' favorite icecream flavors are:
5. latte macchiato
6. cherries & cream
source: german associates of ice cream makers
Death from Cancer by Country
Death from cancer (most recent) by country Showing latest available data.
|Rank ||Countries ||Amount |
|# 1 ||Netherlands:||433 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 2 ||Italy:||418 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 3 ||Hungary:||411 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 4 ||Luxembourg:||409.7 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 5 ||Slovakia:||405.3 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 6 ||Ireland:||357.6 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 7 ||Czech Republic:||335.4 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 8 ||New Zealand:||327.3 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 9 ||United States:||321.9 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 10 ||Australia:||298.9 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 11 ||Norway:||289.4 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 12 ||France:||286.1 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 13 ||Austria:||280 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 14 ||Sweden:||268.2 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 15 ||Finland:||255.4 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|# 16 ||United Kingdom:||253.5 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
| ||Total:||5,350.7 deaths per 100,000 peopl || |
| ||Weighted average:||334.4 deaths per 100,000 peopl |
|Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009|
foreign stereotypes about the french
The image of the French in other countries
[Source: Francoscopie 1999]
The Japanese say: sophisticated, conservative, elegant, art de vivre, noisy, brutal and dirty, cheerful and patient
The Americans say: creative, close-minded, cold and wary, conceited, arrogant, communists, anti-American
The Dutch say: cultured, respectful of human rights, welcoming and open, restless, talkative, not serious
The Spaniards say: cold, distant, impolite, conceited
The Swedes say: disobedient, immoral, disorganized, neocolonialists, dirty
The Danes and the British say: disorganized and aggressive
The English say: chauvinistic, intransigent, cared for by the state, no sense of humour
The Poles and Swedes say: inveterate talkers, exuberant, impatient, distant and inhospitable
The Greek say: not very smart
The Swiss say: France is unsafe [crime], cultured, innovative
The Germans say: "Happy as God in France", conceited, offhand, frivolous
The Belgians say: messy, inefficient, self-satisfied
The Italians say: snobs, arrogant
The Portuguese say: lesson givers, haughty
The Brazilians say: the French do not like children
Nadeau, a Canadian, wrote
"France is a mouse with the skin of an elephant; America is an elephant with the skin of a mouse."