Category Archives: Culture

Interpreting events overseas using one’s native culture

Oprah Winfrey luxury bag in Zurich

The recent incident involving Ms. Winfrey in Switzerland is, in my humble opinion, a striking case of a person who reads a situation from behind the lenses of her home culture, while she is 6,000 miles from home, in a place inhabited by people with a very different culture.

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Criminal justice system in Japans: effective but chilling to Westerners

How different is the criminal justice system in Japan if compared to the ones in the Western World? Japanese culture and history have produced a completely different justice system, with exceptional results and means difficult to accept or understand for Westerners.

I’ve recently stumbled upon an article about “crime and punishment” in Japan. Its title can be translated in “Japan, lights and shadows of Justice. The most frequent crime is bike theft.”

I found the article extremely interesting because it highlights how different Japanese law enforcement system is from the ones in the western world.

The article, authored by a European journalist who has been living in Japan for a couple decades, begins by listing facts and figures about crime in Japan.

Japan law, crime, jail, courts

  • Japan is the country with the lowest crime level among the countries belonging to G20
  • Japan has 54 inmates every 100,000 citizens (US: 700)
  • Japanese citizens who are victim of at least one crime over one year are 16% (US: 39%)
  • Risk of being robbed in Tokyo is 80 times lower than in New York City
  • Risk of being assaulted in Tokyo is 200 times lower than in NYC
  • Risk of being raped in Tokyo is 700 times lower than in NYC
  • Risk of being killed in Tokyo is 2,000 times lower than in NYC

However, such stellar results don’t come without a price.

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Hand-gesture language in Italy and in the world

Hand gestures and their meaning can be so varied that in some countries represent a parallel language, used along with vocal language. Why is hand-gesturing so important to some cultures? Why it is less important to others?

Hand gesture language


He is honking his car’s horn with frenzy. He is really mad at me.

Trying to decide whether I should be angry or amused, I look at him. He is a middle-aged Caucasian.

Then I look at his license plate. His car has a Zurich number, like mine.

I didn’t experience many of these encounters here in Switzerland. However, I experienced plenty of them in my native country, Italy. First clue.

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All you wanted to know about the Papal Conclave

During a conclave, Catholic Church cardinals are confined in the Sistine chapel and in their quarters for all the duration of new pope’s election. They are not allowed any contact with the rest of the world.
Let’s take a look at some little-known details.


1. Conclave is an Italianization of the Latin words cum + clavis, literally meaning “with a key”, that is, “locked inside.”

2. Conclave is the oldest method of election in the world among the ones still in use.

3. Nowadays a Faraday cage is installed to shield mobile phone or Wi-Fi communication in and out. Failing in obeying the no-external-contact rule can result in excommunication.

4. Current electoral body for the election of a new pope–the College of Cardinals–was designated nearly 1000 years ago, in 1059.
Before that, popes could be elected by either the people, noble families, or any kind of then-powerful lobby. German emperors and Italian kings usually made a lot of pressure as to who should be elected.

5. Any baptized catholic could be theoretically elected pope. However, last election of a non-cardinal pope took place in 1378. Therefore, if you hoped of being the new pope and you’re not a cardinal, give up your hopes. It’s their business.

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Learn how to deal with Finnish people by knowing how they think

A small house in Southern FinlandHe seems to be thinking thoroughly before answering my question. After a long pause, he says “I think that our people did something unforgivable somewhere in Eastern Europe and as a consequence they had to run and hide. And what place would have been better than this to hide, where nobody else would like to live!”

Actually the place we are talking about is awesome. By looking out of the window, I can see a nearly flat land covered in woods and snow, with some granite formations coming out of the ground.
However, living here until a few decades ago must not have been that easy. A long winter, with temperature easily reaching minus 20 F, must have made life hard. For most part of the year there weren’t even crops, leaving only animal food available.
That may explain why I see butter and dried bread available everywhere in the cafeteria. Food habits always tell a lot about a people’s history. Just as much as their language.

But I have a lot more questions about the Finns other than a simple “why are you here?”

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