A lively group came together for our International Conversation Café gathering yesterday. Ten participants, from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Turkey ~ plus me, from the United States via Italy and Japan. We started off by playing with idiomatic, metaphorical language related to food and eating, including: He’s a peach (he’s nice, sweet), that’s a piece of cake (that’s easy), and that’s not my cup of tea (I don’t like that). Then we got to a good/bad apple or egg. In Japan and South Korea, we learned, an orange might be mentioned instead.

In South Korea, a watermelon would represent someone who was untrustworthy, as the colors inside and out are so distinctly different. The big cheese, someone important, would be a big bowl in Turkey.  And someone who eats little could be a bird (U.S.), a rabbit (Australia), or a turtle (China) while someone who eats a lot might be a bear (Turkey) or a wolf/tiger/dog (China).

I love these peeks inside other cultures. Ready for more food idioms? Check out:

We then talked about how food has shifted in the Triangle of North Carolina. Years ago, it was impossible to find sushi here!  And fresh bagels were unheard of; there were only Lender’s Bagels, found in the freezer section of the grocery store. This history offers details on bagels from ancient times through to the Lender family and today: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2008/11/a_short_history_of_the_bagel.html   Short: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/bagelhistory.htm

Finally, in touching on the Super Bowl, one participant mentioned being told he’d have an 1.5 hour wait to get “buffalo wings” that day.  He ate something else, not surprisingly!  In wrapping up, we learned that Australian football is different not only from U.S. football, but also from soccer. Check it out on YouTube, our Australian participant advised.  I might just do that!

Perhaps we’ll see you next Thursday, when our group meets again in Duke’s Bryan Center, Griffith Board Room, 12:30.

Until then, Rene

Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Thompson Writing Program


The International Conversation Café had its third gathering of the semester today. Our participants, from China, Japan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam, learned about Groundhog Day traditions. And about how the unusual event is celebrated in Raleigh: http://naturalsciences.org/programs-events/groundhog-day-2015

We then discussed traditions of welcoming spring in everyone’s cultures. Did you know that throwing roasted soybeans is part of that tradition in Japan? And that you should throw the same number of soybeans as your age? You can read more about that here: http://goasia.about.com/od/Events-and-Holidays/a/Setsubun.htm

Another tradition related to food comes from Ukraine, where pancakes/crepes are eaten with plenty of butter, celebrating the end of the Lenten fast period. More on those pancakes: http://www.wumag.kiev.ua/index2.php?param=pgs20093/148

From Turkey, we heard about having a morning picnic and later dancing around a fire to celebrate. And our participants from China and Vietnam told us about Tomb-Sweeping Day, which is of course observed at our Duke Kunshan University campus.

Other topics on the table today were interesting places to visit in North Carolina: http://www.visitnc.com/ and in Durham, http://www.durham-nc.com/ and http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g49092-Activities-Durham_North_Carolina.html

And yes, of course we touched upon the upcoming Super Bowl. We watched a new ad featuring a cute young dog and some horses. You can perhaps guess whose ad that might be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAsjRRMMg_Q

Our topics for the past two weeks have included current events (Martin Luther King Day, the expected blizzard, Paris) and cultural differences and similarities. Join us next Thursday for perspectives from around the world. Bryan Center, Griffith Board Room, 12:30 to 1:30.

Until then, enjoy the game (and/or the ads) as well as predictions from groundhogs around the country.  And keep your eyes open for the sight of green daffodil leaves sprouting up. http://thetrustygardener.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/daffodil-sprouts.jpg

All the best,
Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Duke Writing Studio & Thompson Writing Program

Want to know more about Halloween, October 31st? Check out these sites:

a. Three-minute video: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween/videos/haunted-history-of-halloween

b. More from history.com (scroll down after opening the link): http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

c. Some Halloween history with a bit of vocabulary defined: http://www.5minuteenglish.com/oct29.htm

And if you will be at Duke or in Durham at night on October 31st, Duke Chapel has a candlelight service open to all.  For more information: https://chapel.duke.edu/events/all-hallows-eve-1414809000

Happy Halloween, whatever you do!

Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio

Our International Conversation Café gathers on Thursday afternoons. And today, we covered an incredibly wide range of topics. Read on and you can imagine you were with us there.

Chapel Hill Halloween: Friday, Oct. 31, 9 pm to midnight. Want to join the large crowd of people walking around and looking at everyone’s costumes? Be prepared to walk for a while from wherever you park. And do not bring alcohol or anything that looks like a weapon. Read the details here…and stay alert if you go: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/town-hall/departments-services/parks-recreation/festivals-events/homegrown-halloween (Downtown Franklin Street). See a video from 2013 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWsCH6qSMRg

University Mall Trick or Treating: Friday, Oct., 31, 5 to 7 pm. Children up to 12 years old are invited to enjoy this indoor event: http://www.universitymallnc.com/event/university-mall-spooktacular/2145445717 (201 South Estes Drive, Chapel Hill)

Carrboro Halloween Carnival: Friday, Oct. 31. This is a family-friendly outdoor event held beside town hall. The Carrboro Recreation and Parks Facebook site says it “will be held from 6:00pm – 8:30pm on October 31st at Carrboro Town Commons. Children will have the opportunity to make a craft and win prizes playing a variety of carnival games. Popcorn, Cider, Hot Chocolate will be available for purchase at the concession booth.” (301 West Main Street, Carrboro)

The Day of the Dead is a time to remember those who have departed. Learn about this traditional early November observance as celebrated in Peru: http://enperublog.com/2011/11/29/day-of-the-dead-in-peru/  And in Mexico: http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/support/dodhistory.html

Perhaps you will see some devil costumes on Halloween. Do you know where the name Blue Devils came from? Find out in The Story of the Duke Mascot on the Duke Libraries website. Learn the origin of the name Blue Devils and see if people were worried about having a devil as a mascot. http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/bluedevil

And now, food! One person asked today how we could make light (not dense and heavy) Irish Soda Bread. I said that the key was to not mix the ingredients together for very long and to not handle the dough (flour mixture) much. I have not tested these recipes, but reading them makes me want to bake some soda bread.

Basic soda bread recipe with video: (Remember: Do not mix it much. And just knead it for a few seconds. You can cut the top with a knife. And you could add a bit of currants or raisins if desired.) http://www.joyofbaking.com/IrishSodaBread.html

Recipes that explain the details well: http://www.dochara.com/the-irish/food-recipes/irish-soda-bread/ Brown bread: http://www.dochara.com/the-irish/food-recipes/irish-brown-bread/  From a famous chef, this one includes butter, egg, and yes, currants:

While we’re on food, one participant asked where she might find cookies made with ginger (as I’d brought some with me) in Durham. I suggested looking for ginger snaps in the cookie aisle.   Not surprisingly, there are plenty of recipes for ginger snaps online.

On a more serious note, there are many recent stories online about Ukraine’s election and its gas deal with Russia. Here’s one story about the gas deal: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/30/us-ukraine-crisis-gas-idUSKBN0II0XQ20141030

And finally, don’t forget to turn your clocks back when you go to bed this Saturday night or Sunday morning. It’s that time again. (Note: Computers and cell phones usually adjust themselves.)

Join us next Thursday at 12:30 for the next conversation gathering in the Bryan Center’s Griffith Board Room.

Enjoy the fall….and the Halloween festivities!
Rene Caputo

Duke ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program

I hope that you are enjoying the beginning of the fall semester.  The summer flew by, but with milder weather here than usual.  This time around, we  had more cool summer mornings than I remember ever experiencing in the Triangle before.

Labor Day weekend is upon us.  And for whatever inexplicable reason, in Duke’s undergraduate college and Graduate School, this means classes as usual on Labor Day Monday.  It’s an excellent time to reflect on being lucky to be employed, perhaps?!  Yes, I feel fortunate indeed, not only to be employed but also to be surrounded by talented, supportive colleagues, brilliant students, and killer staff.

If you’re a member of the Duke community, you can join me and others this coming ThursdaySeptember 4, to talk about Labor Day, current events, culture, and other topics of interest.  Our International Conversation Café returns to the Bryan Center’s Griffith Board Room (formerly Meeting Room B) at 12:30 for our weekly hour gathering.  Hope to see you there.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!


Rene Caputo
ESL Specialist, Thomson Writing Program and Duke Writing Studio

In our final International Conversation Cafe gathering of the semester, one of the main subjects for discussion was massive open online courses, known as MOOCs.  This topic was prompted by a cover story in The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper.  Below is information about major sources for such courses, which cover a wide range of disciplines.

Coursera website: https://www.coursera.org/
Free Duke online writing course begins April 21: https://www.coursera.org/course/composition

EdX website: https://www.edx.org/
Berkeley Courses:  Principles of Written English, parts 1 and 2 (archived):

You might also want to do a Google search for iTunes U, as one of our participants noted, to learn about the courses offered there.

We later talked about Easter and Passover, which some of our participants were curious about. We found more than one explanation for the origins of the word Easter, including that it came from the name of a pagan goddess. If you’re interested in Easter-related events at Duke Chapel, head here:  https://chapel.duke.edu/events

We also discovered some information about Passover ~ and Duke activities related to that ~ here: http://studentaffairs.duke.edu/jewishlife/shabbat-and-holidays/passover-duke

Wishing you a good weekend and springtime, whatever you may or may not celebrate,

Rene Caputo
Duke ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio

Our International Conversation Cafe group had some interesting discussions this week. Prompted by the cover story of the newest Working@Duke magazine (http://issuu.com/workingatduke/docs/w_d_april-may2014), we started out by talking about the culture of retirement in China, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States. It seems that for several of the cultures represented by our group members, the retirement age for men and women was different. After talking about retirement issues a bit, we looked at a story from International Business Times that examines the expected upcoming adjustments in retirement age for U.K. workers: http://www.ibtimes.com/which-country-has-highest-retirement-age-developed-world-69-1498496  

These websites provide data about retirement worldwide:  Data on retirement ages, differences between men and women, and the question of if you have to retire at a certain age: http://chartsbin.com/view/2468  More data: http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/ageingandemploymentpolicies-statisticsonaverageeffectiveageofretirement.htm

We next took on the subject of rain, flooding, and droughts, prompted by a Duke Chronicle story about the rainy Oregon location of a sports event and by my recent rainy visit to Portland, OR for the TESOL International Conference. From there, we turned to drinking water and the norm of boiling tap water in most of our participants’ homelands. In Turkey and Japan, participants noted, the water in the countryside would typically be of better quality than of city water. A participant from China, who was planning to send water filters home to family, noted that the Kunshan area was known for having had better water than the major cities.  Looking up Kunshan and water online, we came across this story about Kunshan’s becoming an incubator for water sensitive design and technology: http://watersensitivecities.org.au/city-of-kunshan-signs-mou-to-be-chinas-first-crc-incubator-city-for-water-sensitive-design-and-technology/    Note ~ Duke Kunshan University opens this August: http://dku.edu.cn/

An attendee mentioned a Taiwanese dance group performance, one which involves dancing with tons of rice onstage.  The first story about that dance that we found, published on April 1, 2014, sounded like a perfect April Fool’s Day tale, but it turned out to be true. Here is an excerpt from the “Song of the Wanderers” dance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hb3sV6J6Rr0  Longer version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH-fRHobMk4

We have two more conversation gatherings this semester, on April 10 and 17, each from 12:30 to 1:30 in the Griffith Board Room (Bryan Center). All members of the Duke Community, including spouses, are welcome.

Enjoy the springtime weather,
Rene Caputo

Duke ESL Specialist
Thompson Writing Program and Writing Studio