Archive for the 'Life in the United States' Category
In the late ’90s, there was a popular comedy show host who would ask his celebrity (famous) guests (people invited to appear on the show) five questions at the end of his show. The questions were usually funny or related somehow to the guests’ lives.
In that same spirit (with that similar idea), I am going to ask you five questions about American life. Of course, I’m not a comedy host and none of us are celebrities, but we can still see how we do and perhaps learn a little in the process (as we are doing it).
1. Which U.S. city has the highest (biggest) population?
A. Chicago, Illinois
B. Denver, Colorado
C. New York, New York
D. Los Angeles, California
2. What percentage of Americans engage in (participate in; do) community service (helping others in your area without being paid)?
3. What percentage of American baseball players were born in another country?
4. In what year was the first Thanksgiving?
5. At the end of the twentieth century, how old were most Americans when they married?
1. C - New York City, with more than 8 million people. Los Angeles is second with 3.8 million, followed by Chicago at 2.7 million, Houston at 2.1 million, and Philadelphia at 1.5 million. Denver, Colorado has only 619,000 people, but it is the “highest” of the choices in terms of altitude (distance above sea level), at more than 5,130 feet (1,731 m).
Some people might say that Berkeley, California, has the highest population, but that is a different definition of “high” (the result of taking drugs such as marijuana).
2. C – 50%. In some families and communities, helping others who live in the local (nearby) area is considered one of your duties (obligations; requirements) as a good citizen. Community service can include anything from teaching children how to play sports to helping feed people who are without food. There is a strong tradition of private and religious community service in the U.S., in addition to opportunities to work in government-organized groups.
3. C – 28%. Over the past 30 years, more and more professional (paid) baseball players have come to play in the United States, mostly from Latin America (especially the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela) and from Asia (Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea). In 2013, there were 241 players from 15 different countries and territories playing in Major League Baseball (the professional organization for baseball in the U.S.).
4. B – 1621. The first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The other possible answers for this question are also years important to American history: 1492 was the year Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas; 1776 was the beginning of the American Revolution; and 1865 was the end of the U.S. Civil War.
5. B – 24-29. Americans, like people in other countries, now get married at a later and later age. Men marry at a slightly older age (average: 28.7) than women (average: 26.5). Since I am slow in everything I do in life, I didn’t marry until I was 33.
So how did you do on today’s Five Questions?
Image Credit: Flag of the United States, Wikipedia
A few weeks ago Jeff asked “What does it mean to be happy?” Today I’d like to ask a related question – what makes us happy? – and find an answer in an unusual source.
Seventy-five years ago, in 1938, a group of scientists at Harvard University began a study of more than 250 young men. The goal of the study, called the Grant Study, was to try to discover what factors (something that causes or influences a situation) contribute to (help make something happen), or keep people from, becoming and enjoying life as healthy adults.
The study continues today even though many of the men have died and those who are still alive are in their late 80s or early 90s. For all those years, these men have had regular medical examinations, taken psychological tests, filled out questionnaires, and sat for interviews. The Grant Study is one of the longest-running and most complete studies of mental and physical health in history.
Last year, Dr. George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than 40 years, wrote a book called Triumphs of Experience. In it he documents (reports) what it is like to flourish (do well) later in life.
According to Vaillant, relationships matter the most (are the most important). There is a strong correlation (connection) between the quality of all your relationships and your health and happiness as you get older. This is especially true of your relationships with your parents. The warmth (affection, kindness, love) of your relationship with your mother matters well into adulthood and affects many areas of life. And the warmth of your relationship with your father becomes more important as you grow older. For example, a warm relationship with your father helps reduce anxiety (the feeling of being worried) and contributes to increased satisfaction with life even when you’re 75 years old.
Vaillant reports that the habits we develop before we’re 50 and how we respond, or react, to the experiences we have as we mature (become adults) help determine our success and satisfaction as we grow older. Some of the greatest triumphs (victories or achievements) in the study were enjoyed by people who experienced the greatest difficulties. What we do when we face (experience) pain, conflict, or uncertainty, says Valliant, is more important than avoiding them. In the study, those who responded positively and creatively to life’s difficulties were able to turn those difficulties into triumphs.
The most destructive (damaging) factor uncovered in the study was excessive (too much) drinking. It was the main cause of divorce, contributed to depression and mental problems, and, along with cigarette smoking, often led to early death.
Now, what about happiness? The study doesn’t define happiness, but it’s easy to infer (form an opinion from available information) a meaning of pleasure, satisfaction, or contentment. The study reveals a strong connection between the warmth of your relationships and health and happiness as you grow older. When asked what he had learned from the Grant Study, Vaillant replied that “the only thing that matters in life are your relationships to other people … Happiness is love.”
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo by SalFalko used under Creative Commons license.
Every city has people selling things on the street. After all, where can you find more foot traffic (people walking by) than on a city’s sidewalks?
New York City would be a very different place if it didn’t have its many street vendors selling food and other products. Street vendors can sell just about anything, including food — both cooked and uncooked, such as vegetables and fruit — and non-edible items, such as jewelry, luggage, paintings, clothes, cell phone accessories (items used to make something even better, or easier to use), and more.
To be a legitimate (real; following the rules or the law) street vendor in the U.S., you’ll need to follow the laws and regulations, which differ (are different) for each city or state. However, you normally need at least three things.
1. A sales tax permit and tax certificate — These give you permission from the government to collect tax each time you sell something, so that you can then give that tax money to the government.
2. A general business license — All businesses need a business license that allows the business owner to do business.
3. A vendor license — This is a special license in addition to a business license that allows you to operate on the street.
These are the things you should have if you’re a street vendor in the U.S., but many street vendors in big cities set up shop (operate a business) illegally (without following the law). In most cases (normally), the police turns a blind eye (ignores them) unless there are complaints and problems. That’s exactly what’s happening on one popular street in a neighborhood in Los Angeles called Watts.
In Watts, there is a street known for street vendors called Beach Street. The licensed businesses on the street, people with stores along the street, are complaining (saying that they don’t like it) that vendors are taking away their customers. The city is complaining that they’re losing sale tax money. Now, officials are considering stricter (greater demand that a law or rule be followed) rules for street vendors.
Are there many street vendors where you live? Are there laws and regulations for street vendors? Do you think they’re a blessing (good thing) or a curse (bad thing) for your community?
Photo Credit: Frankfurter stand from Wikipedia
A note about the “Podcasts This Week” poll
Thank you to those of you who voted and/or commented on our April 25th “Podcast This Week” poll. The results show a preference to keep the Monday posts, with about 46% voting to keep them and 28% voting to get rid of them. We will, therefore, continue to post the “Podcast This Week” messages each week.
We really appreciate you voicing your opinions and helping us make the ESL Podcast blog the most useful it can be!
When you are invited to someone’s house, let’s say for dinner, is it the custom (common practice) in your country to take a gift?
In the U.S. it’s considered the polite thing to do. They’re called host or hostess gifts – the people who receive or entertain guests are called the host or hostess. Giving a hostess gift is a nice way to say thank you for someone’s hospitality (friendly behavior toward guests) or to show how much you appreciate them. Wine is a popular choice, as is a box of chocolates or bag of gourmet (very good) coffee.
But what would you take if your host was the President of the United States? What would you take if you were the head of your country or a state or business leader?
That question is asked and answered about 15,000 times each year. According to the National Archives, the government organization that takes care of historical records, that’s how many gifts the president receives each year on behalf of (as a representative of) the United States. The gifts come from almost every state in the U.S. and every country in the world.
When world leaders visit each other, it’s common for them to exchange (give each other) gifts. It’s a tradition that’s been practiced for many centuries (hundreds of years) and is considered a part of good diplomacy (the management of relationships between countries).
When U.S. government employees receive gifts from a foreign government or organization, they must declare (report) them. And they can’t keep them unless they are worth less than $100. Gifts given to the president or his family are turned over to (put in the care of) the National Archives. Later, many of the gifts will be displayed at the presidential library, which is built after the president leaves the White House.
The declaration includes the name of the country that gave the gift, a description of the gift, an estimate of its value, and the reason for accepting the gift. Often the reason is that not accepting it “would cause embarrassment to the donor and the U.S. government”; in other words, it would make them uncomfortable.
Last week the government released the list of all the gifts the president accepted in 2011. It’s very interesting reading! Here are a few highlights (important or interesting parts):
Former French president Sarkozy gave President Obama a golf bag and a Baccarat crystal (glass) statuette (small statue) of a group of golfers. The Sarkozys gave the Obamas a total of 16 gifts, the most received from one country.
German chancellor Merkel’s gifts included a golf putter (club used to hit the golf ball into the cup) and some golf training (practice) equipment.
British prime minister Cameron and his wife gave the Obamas a rug, a silver bracelet for their girls, and a table tennis table.
Leaders from three countries gave the president works of art. Former Chinese president Hu Jintao gave President Obama a 48-inch-tall (1.2 m) bronze (a reddish brown metal) statue of Abraham Lincoln created by a well-known Chinese artist. Sergio Cabral, governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, gave the president a photograph by artist Vik Muniz, which is now being shown in a museum. And President Ondimba of Gabon, a tiny west African country, gave President Obama a glass statue by Daum, a well-known French crystal (glass) studio (art shop).
The president did keep one gift. It was a copy of the book Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, which was given to Mr. Obama by Mongolian president Elbegdorj.
~ Warren Ediger – English language coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo used under Creative Common license.
A man or a woman asks you out on a date. You have coffee, lunch, or dinner together. You find out more about each other. You fall in love and you live happily ever after (forever), right?
Well, things aren’t quite that simple. According to a recent Glamour magazine article about a survey (piece of research; questionnaire) conducted by Match.com, a popular Internet dating website, people are using “pre-dating” to help them decide whether to give someone a chance or not. “Pre-dating” is the use of the Internet and social media websites to find out information about a potential (possible) date.
According to the Match.com survey, about 50% of women research a man on Facebook before a date. Others look at LinkedIn, a social media site for people making professional contacts, Twitter, or blogs. The survey included about 5,500 singles (unmarried or uncommitted men and women).
Among the things they search for are ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, what they do for a living (job or career), playlists (selection of favorite songs that can be played one after another), and any other information that would give singles an idea of who they may be dating.
According to the same survey, a surprising 49% of women had cancelled a first date because of something they found out (discovered; learned) about that person online. That’s actually not too surprising, since another study mentioned in the article found that when we find out one thing we object to (don’t like) about a person, we tend to judge them very harshly (strictly; believing something is worse than it really is), even if we’re compatible (have similar ideas or interests) in other areas and like and respect that person for other things. The author of the study points out that disillusionment (finding out that something is not as good as we once believed) may take hours if we talk to the person, but can happen instantly (immediately; without delay) when we see that information online.
If you’re single, do you do “pre-dating”? Have you decided to date or not to date someone strictly (only) based on what you’ve found out?
Looking at it more generally, have you ever not associated with or not been friends with someone because of something you found out about them online? Has online information ever affected your decision to hire or work with someone?
Photo Credit: Couple 01 from Wikipedia
There was a game show (a competition on television for money) a few years ago called “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (a fifth grader is a student in grade five, about eleven years old). In the game, adults would try to answer questions taken from the lessons of elementary school (grades one through six) students. If you got an answer wrong, you had to say, “I am not smarter than a 5th grader!”
The game became so popular that other countries (more than 50!) created similar shows, some of which are still on the air (being shown on television).
Today’s post is not about questions for fifth graders, but for those who are about to go to college.
In the U.S., students who want to attend (go to; be a student at) a university usually have to write a short essay about some topic in order to demonstrate that they know how to write well in English. I thought it would be fun to share some of the topics high school seniors (twelfth graders) have to answer when applying to many U.S. colleges.
The following writing prompts (topics for writing an essay, usually for an exam or application) are among the most popular used by American colleges. Read each question and think about what your answer might be:
-Some students have a background or story that is so central (important) to their identity (who they see themselves as) that they believe their application would be incomplete (not finished) without it. If this sounds like (appears to be) you, then please share (tell us) your story.
-Recount (tell us the story of) an incident (event; situation) or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
-Reflect (think about) a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted (caused) you to act (do it)? Would you make that same decision again?
-Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly (completely) content (happy; satisfied). What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful (important; significant) to you?
-Discuss an accomplishment (something you’ve done) or event, formal or informal, that marked (indicated) your transition (change) from childhood (being a child) to adulthood (being an adult) within your culture, community, or family.
See if you can answer one of these questions (in English!), then tell us about how you answered in the comments below.
Photo credit: Student in Kentucky, 1946, Wikipedia PD
There is an old saying, “You are what you eat,” which means that if you eat good food, you’ll be healthy, and if you don’t, you won’t.
But do we really know what we’re eating?
In the past year or two, the news media (newspapers, magazines, TV news, Internet news, etc.) has reported on foods that are purportedly (said to be; claim to be) one thing, but are instead something else, usually something cheaper, of poorer quality, or not meant for (intended for) human consumption (for people to eat or drink).
You buy beef, but it’s really horse meat. You buy salmon, but it’s really dyed (made to changed colors) white fish. You buy saffron, the most expensive spice (substance used to improve the taste of food) in the world, but it’s been doctored (changed to make it appear to be something else) with red dye, a substance know to cause cancer.
I recently read about a non-profit (not intended to make money) website called the USP Fraud Database intended to help regulators (people whose job is to enforce rules and laws) and large-scale purchasers (buyers of large quantities) spot (find) food scams (frauds; tricks) and substitutes (things used instead of the real thing). The database has over 2,000 foods that have been known to be a product of fraud based on food-related research studies. The database even lists those research studies in case you want to know the source (where something comes from) and/or to read more about them.
If you type in “saffron,” that spice I mentioned before, you’ll find that there are over 100 “adulterants,” or substances put into it or in place of it that shouldn’t be there, including flowers, other spices, and even chalk (the white limestone substance sometimes made into sticks to write on chalkboards in classrooms)! Yuck (disgusting)!
You can take a look at the USP Fraud Database yourself and search for foods you commonly eat. But, then again (on the other hand; from another view), sometimes ignorance is bliss (not knowing makes you happier).
Photo Credit: Packages from Wikipedia
Aristotle said that the goal of every human being is (or should be) happiness. The ancient Greeks had their own definitions of what happiness was, and nearly every important philosopher since that time has tried to give a definition of it.
But why should philosophers have all of the fun (be the only ones to enjoy an activity)? Here are some other ideas about happiness from some famous Americans. See if you agree with their ideas of what it means to be happy. If you don’t, you can put your own definition in the comments.
“Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind.“
Jefferson was our third president, and author of the Declaration of Independence. To be pained means to have some injury, to physically feel pain. To be troubled means to be worried or have some problems. In mind here means mentally or psychologically or emotionally.
So Jefferson’s definition is basically negative: Being happy means not being physically in pain or psychologically troubled.
“Nothing can bring you to happiness but yourself.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was one of America’s great 19th century poets and writers (and absolutely no relation to (not connected to as a family member) the English rock group from the 1970s, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer). Emerson’s quote focuses on who can bring you to (give you or help you to reach) happiness. The answer, Emerson says, is you and you alone.
“Happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product.”
Roosevelt was the wife of the great Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s. She seems to disagree with Aristotle, saying that our goal in life is not happiness itself. Instead, she says happiness is a by-product.
A by-product is something that is produced or made in addition to something that is your main goal or objective. For example, when you boil water in your kitchen to cook some eggs, a by-product is steam (water vapor). Your main goal was to boil water, not to make steam, but steam is in this case a by-product. It gets made in the process of boiling the water.
Roosevelt says that by trying to get something else (she does not tell us what), we may also get happiness, but we should not try to seek (look for) happiness itself.
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Burns was one of the most famous comedians and actors in the 20th century, who lived to the age of 100 (he died in 1996). To be caring means to take care of or help someone. A close-knit family is a family where everyone supports each other, where family members are loyal to each other and feel a close connection with each other.
Burns’ funny definition of happiness says that having a wonderful family will make you happy if they live in another city, far away from you.
Do you agree with these statements on happiness? What is your definition of being happy?
Photo credit: Smiley, Wikipedia PD
Small animals have lived in cities for many years. They are so common that some people refer to (call) them unnoticed neighbors because they aren’t aware of them (don’t know they’re there). New York’s Central Park is home to 300 species (kinds) of birds and many small mammals (animals that drink milk from their mother when they’re young). Boston’s Back Bay (protected part of the sea) was designed to create habitat (a home for animals) and attract animals that live in marshlands (ground that is always wet) to the city. As natural habitats shrink (get smaller) or disappear, manmade areas like these become more important. In many ways they are the best and safest kind of urban (city) habitat for animals that have no other place to go.
In other urban areas, chimneys (pipe for smoke), drainage ditches (system for moving unwanted water out of the city), and other structures (something that has been built) provide habitat for other animals. A drainage ditch just one block from where I live provides habitat for migrating (traveling) ducks and geese and a permanent home for a snowy egret.
But what happens when animals begin to leave the open areas in and around the cities and move into the inner city (downtown) or into neighborhoods where people live?
Often it’s okay. My wife works for a company that occupies a large, hilly park-like area. When she walks to her car after working in the evening, she is often serenaded (to serenade is to sing to someone) by the coyotes (photo above) who live in the area. During the day she may see a herd (group) of deer – as many as 20 – grazing on (eating) the grass as she drives from one place to another. This area is mostly surrounded (to be on every side) by houses, apartments, commercial buildings, and freeways, and the animals cause no problems.
Stan Gehrt, an animal researcher in Chicago, is impressed with the way some animals adapt to (become successful in) the urban environment. He tells of coyotes who wait until traffic clears (goes away) before running across the road. Sometimes they even stop on the median (area in between two sides of a road) and wait until the traffic moving the other direction clears before continuing across. One coyote in downtown Chicago seems to know when traffic lights are red or green. She waits until the cars stop before she runs across the road. She’s been doing that for more than three years and has never been hit by a car.
As cities grow and natural habitats shrink, Gehrt is worried that larger animals will come to town. And that’s happened here in southern California.
In the city of Glendale, a bear called Meatball made many visits to foothill (small hills below high mountains) neighborhoods. He ate from people’s trash containers and even got into an outdoor freezer (a place to keep frozen food) filled with frozen meatballs – that’s how he got his name! Officials tried twice (two times) to relocate (move) him deep into the Angeles National Forest, but he came back both times. He was finally taken to a wildlife sanctuary (safe place for animals) near San Diego.
The story doesn’t end there. A second bear has appeared in Glendale and made many visits during the last six months. On one visit he destroyed a group of bee hives (box where bees are kept) and ate much of the honey. Officials hope they can catch him soon and take him to the same wildlife sanctuary that Meatball lives in.
Have animals moved into the city where you live? What kind? Have they caused any problems?
~ Warren Ediger – English coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is no longer (not anymore) the ugly duckling of San Francisco bridges.
Do you know the story of The Ugly Duckling? It’s a children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson that tells about an ugly little bird who is picked on (treated badly) by the other animals in the barnyard (area for animals on a farm). When he grows up, he is delighted, and the other animals are surprised, to discover that he is a beautiful swan.
When the Bay Bridge was finished in 1936, the city celebrated with fireworks and an air show. A few months later, when the red-painted Golden Gate Bridge was finished at the scenic (surrounded by beautiful countryside) end of San Francisco Bay, it quickly became a popular tourist attraction, and people seemed to forget about the longer and busier Bay Bridge. When people do think about it, according to one writer, they think about it “as a headache for commuters and a place not to be in an earthquake.” In short, the Bay Bridge became the ugly duckling of San Francisco bridges.
On March 7, at dusk (after the sun goes down and the sky is becoming less bright), the ugly duckling was transformed (changed in a way to make it more beautiful) into a beautiful swan. That’s when artist Leo Villareal switched on The Bay Lights, and turned the bridge into one of the world’s largest public art works.
The Bay Lights consists of (is made up of) more than 25,000 white lights attached to the vertical (up and down) cables (wires) that support the two-mile span (length) of the bridge. Each of the lights is controlled by a computer program written by Villareal. They change constantly (all the time) to reflect (look like; be similar to) the different kinds of movement – boats, water, traffic, and clouds – around the bridge.
You’ll be able to see The Bay Lights for the next two years. After that, the lights will have to be taken down so the bridge can be painted again. The project cost about eight million dollars and was paid for by private donations (money given by people and businesses). City officials expect it to attract (make people come to see it) more than 50 million viewers and bring about 100 million dollars to the local economy. Restaurants facing (having a view of) the bridge have suddenly become very popular. And tour boat operators have created tours so that people can see The Bay Lights from the water.
The Bay Lights is an example of what we call public or environmental art. One of the purposes of this kind of art is to help people see everyday objects, like buildings, bridges, or parks, in a different or unusual way. Examples of public art in other American cities include the New York City Waterfalls and Cloud Gate in Chicago.
You might not be able to go to San Francisco to see The Bay Lights, but you can experience it through this short video from The New York Times or this one from the University of San Francisco.
~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.
Photo courtesy of Telstar Logistics via Creative Commons.