Cultures & traditions

Unusual children's TV puppets from around the world

Unusual children's TV puppets from around the world

From Muffin the mule to Iggle Piggle, children’s television in Britain has never been short of puppets. Whether cute (Bagpuss), scary (Zelda from Terrahawks) or confusing (George from Rainbow), each one has added to our country’s cultural history, even though the real talent remains hidden above, below or inside them.

8 foreign words that don't translate into English

8 foreign words that don't translate into English

There are many things that we, as a nation, are good at, for instance: making tea, apologising needlessly and… drinking tea. Learning other languages isn’isn’t one of them. We are the slow learners of Europe. And can you blame us? Not only do we have to get our heads around words very often being male or female (why does anyone need a lady-word?) or sentences being the wrong way around (I don’t have “eyes blue”, “hair blonde”!), there are words and phrases we don’t even translate into English!

Morris dancing | Strange dances from around the world

Morris dancing | Strange dances from around the world

A series on dances from around the world would seem incomplete without Morris dancing, even if familiarity may have blinded us to just how odd it is. For those who don’t know, morris is a traditional English folk dance in which groups of heavily-bearded men tie bells to their legs and wave their handkerchiefs around. The first recorded mention of morris dancing dates from 1448, when a payment of seven shillings was made to a group of dancers (possibly in an attempt to make them go away).

Hopak | Strange dances from around the world

Hopak | Strange dances from around the world

Popularly known as cossack dancing, or “that sitting down, kicking legs dance”, hopak is the national dance of Ukraine. The name comes from the Ukrainian word for jump, as well as the exclamation “hop”, which is an expression of surprise or amazement – somehow it makes the dance seem even more fun to imagine that the dancers are all surprised by their movements.

Schuhplattler | Strange dances from around the world

Schuhplattler | Strange dances from around the world

Schuhplattler is a traditional German folk dance from Bavaria. Usually, schuhplattler displays feature groups of men slapping themselves (and sometimes each other) on the knees, the thighs and the soles of their shoes. Amazingly, the dance is probably over a thousand years old – it was first described in 1050AD. It’s nice to know that schuhplattler has such a long history (because it would seem even stranger if it had been invented in, say, 1995).