Author Archive

Identifying Patterns: Why Do Some Flags Look Similar?

Flag map of the world

Flag map of the world [via Wikimedia Commons]

If you look at any image gallery of the flags of the world (such as the one provided by CultureGrams), you’ll notice that while there are a wide variety of colors and symbols on the flags, there are also some obvious similarities, especially among flags from the same region. These similarities in flag design often reflect a common cultural, political, or religious heritage among the countries with those flags.

Help Students Understand 6 Common Patterns and Themes in World Flags
Use the CultureGrams Flag Gallery to get students started exploring similarities among the flags of the world. Can your students spot any patterns or themes in world flags? What do they think the reasons are for those similarities? (Tip: If students need help understanding the meaning behind the colors and symbols of world flags, check out the helpful explanation on each CultureGrams World and Kids country landing page.)

While there are many patterns to be found in world flags, here’s a quick overview of six common themes:

  1. The Union Jack. The Union Jack is the name of the flag of the United Kingdom, and variations of the Union Jack appear on the flags of some countries and territories that were formerly (or are currently) associated with the United Kingdom. These include Australia, Fiji, Montserrat, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and Niue.
  2. A star and the color red. Many current communist countries include a star/s and the color red on their flags. The star/s typically represent ideas associated with communism or socialism, and the color red stands for revolution. Countries whose flags incorporate this symbolism include China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
  3. The star and crescent. The star and crescent became common during the Ottoman Empire and are now considered traditional symbols of Islam. Flags that use these symbols include those of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives (crescent only), Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  4. The Pan-Arab colors. The Pan-Arab colors are green, red, black, and white. These colors first came from the 1916 flag of the Arab Revolt. A subset of the Pan-Arab colors are the Arab Liberation colors (red, white, and black, with green less prominent), which came into use in the 1950s. Flags with Pan-Arab colors are those of Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan.
  5. The Pan-African colors. There are two sets of Pan-African colors: (1) red, green, and gold, based on the Ethiopian flag, and (2) red, black, and green, based on the 1920 Pan-African flag. Countries may incorporate one or both sets of Pan-African colors into their flags. Not all countries that use the Pan-African colors in their flags are in Africa; some are countries elsewhere with strong African heritage. Flags with Pan-African colors include those of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and Guyana.
  6. The Pan-Slavic colors. The Pan-Slavic colors are red, white, and blue. The colors were decided on at the 1848 Prague Slavic Congress and were based on the colors of the Russian flag. Countries whose flags use the Pan-Slavic colors are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

What themes and patterns did your students find in the flags? Did they notice the six mentioned above? Did they find others? Let us know on Twitter how your students did by tweeting us at @CultureGrams!

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CultureGrams: International Women’s Day (March 8)

Women in Kenya (photo via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery)

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 (this Wednesday) around the world. Learn how it’s observed in various countries from CultureGrams:

  • Burkina Faso: On International Women’s Day, official celebrations are held in cities. Many Burkinabè, especially women, dress up in a fabric designed each year for the event. People also celebrate by going to bars to drink, eat, and dance.
  • Kyrgyzstan: On International Women’s Day, men give gifts to the women in their lives, including grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, classmates, co-workers, and wives or girlfriends.
  • Mauritania: International Women’s Day is celebrated in each regional capital with a fair at which women’s cooperatives from the surrounding area display and sell their goods. A ceremony is held and includes speeches by government leaders. Many development organizations present awareness campaigns.
  • Ukraine: On International Women’s Day, everyone gets the day off work. Women receive flowers and gifts, as well as household help from their husbands. Special attention is paid to mothers, and girls are congratulated as future women.
  • Madagascar: International Women’s Day is celebrated across Madagascar, even in small villages. The day’s events typically include a gathering at the mayor’s office, where women’s groups perform traditional dances for the town’s officials in return for a small monetary gift. Women in the northeastern part of the island commonly wear matching blouses and lamba (long cotton wraps). They often make noise using whistles and condensed-milk cans fashioned into rattles.

Women in Voloina, Madagascar, celebrate International Women’s Day (photo via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery)

Learn more about holidays around the world from the Holidays section of World and Kids edition CultureGrams reports!

CultureGrams: Learn about St. Dévote’s Day, January 27

A religious parade passes through the Royal Palace Square in Monte Carlo during the annual celebration for Saint Dévote. Via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery.

CultureGrams is a great way to learn about holidays around the world. Each World and Kids edition report has a Holidays section that discusses the traditions and celebrations associated with a country’s most popular holidays. Not only can learning about a country’s holidays be fun, but it’s also an engaging way to learn about a country’s culture and gain insight into what is important to the people who celebrate the holidays.

Some holidays celebrated in other countries may sound familiar, but others may be new to you. For example, are you familiar with St. Dévote’s Day, celebrated in Monaco on 27 January? That’s this Friday! From the World Edition Monaco report Holidays section, we learn:

On 27 January, Monégasques honor St. Dévote, the patron saint of the principality. Dévote was persecuted and martyred for her faith in the fourth century. Her body was eventually buried in Monaco, and several miracles were associated with Dévote. Years later, a group of thieves tried to steal and sell Dévote’s bones, but Monégasque sailors retrieved the bones and set fire to the thieves’ boats. On this holiday, the prince or a member of the royal family sets fire to an old boat in the port to commemorate the rescue of the bones.

Not only can you read about St. Dévote’s Day on CultureGrams, but you can also find photos of the celebration in our Photo Gallery so you can see what the celebration is like:

On the Feast of Saint Dévote, relics are carried in a procession around Monaco. Via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery.


On the eve of the Feast of Saint Dévote, Monégasques prepare to burn a boat to commemorate the prevented theft of Dévote relics. Via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery.

Find more holidays celebrated around the world in CultureGrams World and Kids editions!

CultureGrams: New Kosovo Interviews Added!


In November, we added interviews from Kosovo to our CultureGrams Interviews collection! There are four interviews, and each captures different viewpoints about life in Kosovo from people of various ages living in diverse parts of the country:

These interviews by country natives are not only interesting and fun to read, but they also give students insider knowledge into what life and culture in the country are really like.

Here’s an example from the interview with Blerona, in which she talks about what being a citizen of Kozovo means to her:

kosovobleronaBeing a citizen of my country means that I belong somewhere. I’m from Kosovo, a country that has suffered a lot from wars and poverty. There is a lot to fix here. I still believe that one day I will be truly proud of my country. For the moment, there is a lot of corruption here, and the youth have problems finding jobs. As a future student, I want my studies to not be worthless, and I want to be able to have good work prospects.

Find more interviews from countries all over the world in the CultureGrams Interviews gallery!

CultureGrams: New Interviews Added!

Interviews Gallery

Over the past month, CultureGrams has added 8 new Interviews! And there are even more coming soon! The 8 we added are

These interviews by country natives are not only interesting and fun to read, but they also give students insider knowledge into what life and culture in the country are really like.

Here’s an example from the Thailand interview, in which Saichai, age 51, talks about general Thai attitudes and how she feels about being Thai:

Saichai, ThailandI’m proud of being Thai. I like the way of life here, the way people usually deal with each other, and that everyone tries to be easy going. Of course, that’s not always possible, and there are many problems as well, but it’s the way people deal with that. Sometimes people complain that many things go wrong in this country, but isn’t that the case in every country of the world? Our culture is also a lot about accepting the circumstances and not letting them get you down. Because the only thing that will happen is that you feel bad about things you cannot change anyway. I have never been abroad, but when I see foreigners who come to Thailand, I feel that sometimes they worry too much about little things.

Find more interviews from countries all over the world in the CultureGrams Interviews gallery!

CultureGrams: Ethiopian New Year’s Recipe

Woman makes injera

An Ethiopian woman makes injera, a common flat bread eaten during New Year’s [photo by Salym Fayad; via the CultureGrams Photo Gallery]

This coming Sunday, September 11, is New Year’s in Ethiopia. Called Enkutatash, New Year’s is celebrated on September 11 (or sometimes the 12th, due to leap years) rather than January 1 because the main Ethiopian calendar is not based on the Gregorian calendar. Instead, Ethiopians use a unique solar calendar based on the Coptic calendar, and there is a seven- or eight-year difference between the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian one.

New Year’s is one of the most popular holidays in Ethiopia. It corresponds with the end of the rainy season, and Ethiopians clean their homes and decorate. On New Year’s Eve, families and friends commonly hold a special meal, and people also may gather on New Year’s Day after attending church to eat together and drink coffee. Popular foods during the New Year include lamb, wat (stew), and injera (flat bread). People also sing, dance, and light torches to celebrate the holiday, and youth may attend nightclubs. Also traditional on this holiday is for children to wear new clothes and pick flowers to give to friends and family.

A popular dish for many Ethiopian holidays (including New Year’s) is doro wat, a chicken stew. Try the recipe below from CultureGrams’ recipe collection this September 11 to celebrate Ethiopian New Year’s!

Doro Wat

Doro wat [photo by stu_spivack; via Wikimedia Commons]

Doro Wat


Ethiopians serve this dish by placing the stew on a large platter in the center of the table and using injera (flat bread) to scoop up individual bites.


2 to 3 pounds chicken
3 sticks butter
3 pounds onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced, or 2 teaspoons powder
3 heaping tablespoons berbere (a hot spice mixture)*
9 ounces tomato paste
10 hard-boiled eggs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Remove skins from chicken and score each piece with a knife.
  2. In a large pot, melt the butter. Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter for 5 minutes. Add berbere, followed by tomato paste, stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in a piece of chicken at a time, coating well with the sauce. Continue to simmer, adding enough water to maintain the consistency of a thick soup.
  3. After about 20 minutes, or when the chicken is half done, add the hard-boiled eggs. Cover and continue simmering until chicken is tender.
  4. The dish is ready when the oil has risen to the top. Add black pepper and let stand until slightly cooled.
  5. Serve with injera.** Lay out a piece of injera on each individual plate. Dish the stew into the middle of the injera. Diners should tear off pieces of injera from the edges as scoops to eat the stew.


8 to 10 servings

*A recipe for berbere can be found in the CultureGrams Ethiopia recipes collection

**A recipe for injera can also be found in the CultureGrams Ethiopia recipes collection

CultureGrams Activity: Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro. (Photo courtesy of the CultureGrams photo collection)

The Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin next week on August 5. Get your students excited about the Olympics by having them participate in some of our Olympic-themed activities, which can be found on our Teaching Activities PDF.  One of these activities is included below, but our Teaching Activities PDF has more ideas to help students learn about different aspects of the Olympics.

Grade level

Students explore and familiarize themselves with the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Time requirement
In-class: 50 minutes

CultureGrams Kids Edition—Brazil

1. Introduce the activity by discussing the concept of the Olympic Games. Explain that the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Spend some time discussing with the class what qualities and conditions a city or country must meet in order to be chosen to host the Olympic Games.
2. Break students up into groups and have each group read through the Kids Edition Brazil report, paying particular attention to the sections that describe the factors that make it a good home for the Summer Games (e.g., the Land and Climate section) as well as the country’s unique cultural and historical aspects that might play a role during the Olympic Games.
3. Have each group summarize and present their findings. As a class, discuss what they have learned about Brazil and why Rio de Janeiro was chosen to host the 2016 Games.

Extension Activity
Have students discuss whether or not they think their state has a suitable city to host the Olympics. What would make it a good place? What would be some of its drawbacks? Have students write a letter to the International Olympic Committee, explaining why their state should or should not host the Olympic Games.

CultureGrams: Ramadan Recipes


Iftar in Oman

Last week, June 5, was the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month during which observant Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset. Meals are eaten in the mornings before the sun rises and in the evenings when it sets. The traditional fast breaking in the evening during Ramadan is called iftar, and Muslims usually gather as friends and family to eat an evening meal. Food is also given to the poor. Although it is a tradition to break the fast with dates, customary foods eaten in the evenings during Ramadan vary by country.

CultureGrams has recipes for some of these typical Ramadan foods, including bourek (stuffed pastry rolls) from Algeria, kunafeh (a dessert) from Egypt, raqaq (a very thin bread) from the United Arab Emirates, and gulha (fried fish balls) from the Maldives.

Another of the CultureGrams Ramadan recipes is for harira (a lentil and chickpea soup). It is the traditional meal eaten in Morocco to break the fast during Ramadan and is usually served with dates, figs, and special sweets called chabakiya.

Check out the CultureGrams recipe for harira below! It’s making us hungry!


1 pound lamb, cut in small pieces
1 small onion, minced
1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight (or from a can)
2 pounds canned crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
6 to 7 strands saffron (soaked in a few tablespoons of hot water)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper
2/3 teaspoon ginger
1 cube bouillon (optional)

Other ingredients:
1/3 cup lentils
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup rice
1/4 cup broken up angel hair pasta
1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons flour
1 egg


  1. Cook the lentils in salted water. When done, drain them and squeeze the lemon over them. Set aside.
  2. Cook all of the broth ingredients in a soup pot over low heat for 50 to 60 minutes, or enough time to cook the meat and the chickpeas.
  3. Add the rice, pasta, cilantro, and salt. Allow to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Mix the flour with a little water to form a paste and then add this to the soup a little bit at a time; stir constantly to avoid lumps.
  5. Add the lentils and let cook for another 5 minutes. Harira should be creamy but not thick. If it is thick, add water and cook for a few more minutes; if it is too thin, thicken with more flour-and-water paste.
  6. If desired, break an egg into the soup during the last 5 minutes of cooking and mix it well to keep it liquid.
  7. Serve in bowls with lemon wedges on the side for those who want to add it to their soup.
Harira. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Harira. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

CultureGrams: New South Sudan Interviews!

One of the great resources CultureGrams provides is Interviews with people from all around the world—from Morocco to Papua New Guinea to Tajikistan and beyond. From these interviews, you can learn all kinds of things about what it’s like to live in a different country through the personal experiences of real people who live there, including their daily routines, their favorite foods, their roles in their families, their biggest worries, and more. So far in 2016, we’ve added more than 30 new interviews!

Our newest interviews are four from South Sudan. Check out the excerpts below to get a glimpse of what life is like in this young country that gained its independence from Sudan just 5 years ago. Click the links to go to the full interviews.

Mawa; age 28; Juba, South Sudan
“I speak Madi as my primary language, a language with clicking sounds that is widely spoken in the Eastern Equatoria state. I can also speak Acholi. This all comes as a result of my experiences as a refugee in Uganda, which helped me to understand people from different backgrounds. […] Additionally, I learned Arabic, which is the national language, and English in school. I use these languages for communication with locals and foreigners.”

Mary; age 28; Juba, South Sudan
“I strongly identify with my ethnic group, the Nuer. Our culture is different from other ethnic groups in South Sudan. Both my mother and father kept their culture and traditions. They don’t have knowledge about school or church. Both parents believe in only the traditional god. […] As the second-born child, I follow my mother’s activities, such as cooking food and fetching water.”

Gatwech; age 17; Juba, South Sudan
“All young men want to go to school so they can have a better future. Most of my friends don’t go to school, and this is what I hate the most because I want them to share in the same activities as me. Sometimes, I try to talk to them about the importance of school and they tell me that they understand, but later they disappear. Some of them explain that they can’t join me at school because their parents don’t have enough money to pay for their education and that hurts me.”

Nyakuma; age 10; Juba, South Sudan
“My favorite food is our local food called walwal, sorghum porridge, mixed with either milk from a cow or powdered milk; it may also be eaten with meat sauces. Walwal is a major part of our diet at home. We sometimes change what we eat once in a while when we want lentils and bread. I also love kebabs (skewered meat) and fruits. I like apples better than all the other fruits. My daddy knows this, so he brings me an apple when I want it.”

To learn even more about life in South Sudan, check out the CultureGrams South Sudan World report, Kids report, slideshows, and videos!

CultureGrams: Behind-the-Scenes Content


At CultureGrams, we’re always adding new content to our product. A lot of it is easy to spot, whether it’s new Kids Edition reports, new slideshows, new gallery photos, new interviews, or new videos, but some it is somewhat less obvious, and you might not notice it unless you’re looking closely.

For instance, when we review a country, state, or province report text, we often revise sections to add additional culturally relevant and current information. These changes might not be as immediately noticeable as some of the other content we add, but they play a major part in giving our customers the most accurate view of life in a particular place.

One of the texts we recently reviewed was our World Edition Tanzania report. Here are just a few examples of new information we added to the report that you might have missed:

  • Dar es Salaam is known locally as Bongoland; the nickname is based on the Kiswahili word bongo (brain) because the city is seen as a place where one must use cunning and intelligence to survive.
  • A growing number of Chinese nationals have moved to the country in recent years in search of jobs. Their success in finding work has caused some resentment among native Tanzanians, spurring the government to require employers to fill positions with locals before hiring a foreigner.
  • When greeting older people or authority figures, Shikamo (literally, “I hold your feet”) is used, to which the answer is Maharaba (roughly, “I am delighted”).
  • Scheduled visits are considered flexible, with guests often arriving two or three hours late, if at all.
  • Women customarily serve the male members of the family, including male children old enough to eat independently, before they and the rest of the children eat.
  • In some tribes, girls may be promised to an older male at birth and sometimes are sent to live with their future husband’s family when they are as young as eight or nine.
  • Three-wheeled vehicles called bajajis and motorcycle taxis called boda-boda are popular forms of transport.

We also added a new Tanzania recipe for dagaa (a fish-based sauce) and a new Famous People entry (for Bi Kidude, an influential taarab singer).

Quiet though these additions may be, they really help shape CultureGrams into the valuable, accurate cultural resource it is. Other reports we’ve reviewed so far this year include Kids Edition Algeria, China, and Tanzania; World Edition Brazil; Provinces Edition Prince Edward Island and Québec; and States Edition Arizona, Ohio, Colorado, and Texas. Check them out if you haven’t already!