Sunday, December 26, 2010

Food for Luck

At this time of year our thoughts are often occupied by images of food, plans of what to eat now and diets to follow later.  We remember food that is special for our families that are part of the holiday celebrations.   We may bring out the old recipes for pink or green Jell-O, potatoes with marshmallows, prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, tamales or tacos.  The possibilities are unlimited.  But people don’t select their dishes simply because it reminds them of childhood, grandma’s house or great aunt Sarah.  Some foods become part of the menu, especially to welcome a New Year,  because they are thought to bring good luck. 

An article on the food site Epicurious, tell us that around the world there are a variety of “lucky” foods, ones that can give us an idea of the year ahead or bring good fortune when consumed.  (  According to their research, if you’re in Spain you may want to eat 12 grapes just before midnight to welcome the year.  In Mexico and Peru people believe the twelve grapes indicate the months of the year to come. Sweet ones suggest a sweet month ahead, tart, maybe some problems that month.

It’s not only grapes that are important. The Danes eat stewed kale while lentils appear on New Year menus and special dishes in Italy, Germany and Brazil.  Why? Tradition says that greens represent folded money (kale, cabbage, collard greens) and legume (peas, lentils) coins.  Consuming them hopefully helps bring good fortune in the year to come.

Around the world people serve sweets for the holidays.   Cookies and cakes, covered in honey and powdered sugar appear in varied shapes and sizes.  In some countries like Mexico a trinket or coin goes inside a cake.  If you find it you’ll be lucky in the new year. 

No matter what food adds to your celebration you may want to follow one of the German traditions.  They lave a little food on the plate past midnight to insure a well-stocked pantry in the new year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Bazaar of Jade and Pearls

The Jade Market in Kowloon is well known destination for visitors to Hong Kong.   This isn’t an open air market rather it is one housed in two small buildings that look like old metal warehouses.  Step inside and see row upon row of stands filled with jewels – jade made into necklaces, bracelets, earrings and small statuses.  Strands of pearls in seemingly dozens of colors hang together or are heaped on tables.   It’s a visual delight to see the colors, shapes, and abundance of choices.

It wasn’t until I walked away that I was reminded these are serious business people not just friendly people sharing lovely pieces.  A glimpse of the sign the welcome sign shown above was enough to make it clear – while this is a local market – the customers are from around the world.   The businesses in this local market welcoming their global customers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dress to Shop

At this time of year most stores focus their energy (at least in the US) on getting customers into the store.  Special pricing, new merchandise, entertainment and extended hours are announced everywhere you look.  Ads appear on-line, in print, on billboards, TV and radio.  Come in.  Hang out.  “Buy Things Please!” they all seem to say.

Imagine my surprise when a friend in London pointed out that Harrods has "guidelines" (rules) for how customers should dress and behave in their store.  (  Wear clean clothes and carry your backpack in your hand they instruct the reader.   Groups are limited to 4 people (but what if your family totals 5?) Follow the rules or don’t come to visit seems to be the message.

Anyone who has had to navigate through the crowds at Harrods can appreciate their limitations on group size, but telling the customer how to dress in order to shop in your store?  Clearly they are confident in the draw of their brand, that their profits will be secure even if they have to turn some shoppers away.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Do They (or We) Do That?

It’s obvious we say.  Business is global.  We work with teams whose members come from many countries, even when we all live in one place.  As we strive to work together we still find ourselves asking – why do they do that?

Now answers to that question are coming not just from observation of people in business situations but also studies conducted in a relatively new field called Cultural Neuroscience.  In a recent article  Beth Azar describted it as a “field that uses brain-imaging technology to deepen the understanding of how environment and beliefs can shape mental function.” 

Based on their work we learn that culture appears to influence brain development and possibly brain development influences culture too.   New ways to answer our question.

It’s fascinating to read about the studies and this developing field.  Neuroscience can measure cultural differences, possibly confirm work from the field of cultural psychology.  That in turn will help all us be better able to answer our the question:  Why do they (or do we) do that?  Take a few minutes and read her article” Your Brain on Culture” and look forward to learning what else these scientists discover.