Every country has its own set of strange rules and traditions, so it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with their eccentricities before you set out to explore the world. Understanding cultural differences, will help you develop a respect for different customs and will make your globe-trotting experiences a lot more fun and trouble-free. Here are ten unusual traditions and rules that you will find in different parts of the world:
Finns may seem like serious and cold people, but that is only until you get to know them better. Their wacky sports events like boot-throwing, wife-carrying, and mobile phone-throwing will seem to make no sense at all. But that’s the beauty of it – the Finnish sense of humor has given rise to sporting events where you leave good sense behind and look forward to some real fun. Do not attempt to question the logic of boot-throwing as this may not go down too well. Instead, join in the camaraderie and throw your boots too! Boot-throwing emerged as a sport almost a century ago, with Finland organizing and hosting the first championship in 1992.
Australia’s indigenous aboriginal culture is fascinating to tourists from across the world, but you must resist your urge to click. Photography is a relatively modern invention, so it’s not surprising that people in certain cultures, like the Aborigines, have reservations about being photographed. According to some sources, they believe that being photographed would capture a piece of their soul. Whether this is true or not, it is clear that photography of certain objects, sites, and ceremonies is strictly prohibited in aboriginal culture. So, the next time you are in Australia, always ask for permission before you decide to take a photograph of an aborigine. Besides, it is just rude to photograph someone without their acquiescence and aboriginal culture is all about respect.
It may be customary to tip waiters, bellboys, and many other service providers in most parts of the world, but in Japan this can be construed as offensive. To the Japanese, the price of a service covers everything and if you offer anything above this, it can be insulting. The Japanese are very proud of their strong work culture and they do not take kindly to patronizing behavior. So, the next time you visit the country, avoid tipping the help, whether you are getting out of a cab, dining at a restaurant, or getting a pedicure.
Cheese-lovers visiting Italy should be warned not to ask for those customary servings of ‘extra cheese’; this also holds true for parmesan for pizzas. Italy is a nation of foodies, and they take as much pride in their cuisine as they do in their art and culture. Asking for your pizza or any dish to be topped with cheese will be considered sacrilege. Why drown out the exquisite taste of a meticulously prepared meal with cheese? That is how most Italians see it; if you persist with your demands for extra cheese, you will be greeted with affronted looks and gestures.
Norwegians frown upon boisterous behavior and unnecessary noise in public, and this includes honking. Never sound the horn whilst driving, unless there is an emergency. This is considered a part of etiquette and if you fail to observe these norms you will be seen as boorish. Silence is greatly valued in Norway, making it an extremely peaceful country. In addition to not honking, also make it a point to keep your voice down when talking and avoid making unnecessary conversation. Norwegians do not appreciate frivolous talk and will be offended by raised voices.
Birthday celebrations in the Netherlands can be quite a shock to outsiders, as you are expected to congratulate everyone in the family, not just the person who turned a year older! Things can get pretty confusing when it’s a huge family or when you have extended family, with everyone wishing each other. Although this may seem rather odd at first, you will soon get used to the practice.
The first time you step onto a beach in China, you may wonder if you’ve stumbled into some strange Chinese Halloween party, with many of the women wearing face masks. But, these are no ordinary face masks; they are called ‘facekinis’ and are the Chinese add-on to the western bikini. Mostly worn by women, you might even find some men wearing this masks that are available in a range of colors and designs. They are not meant to be a fashion statement or a part of any bizarre ritual, but are used to prevent tanning! Yes, in China, pale skin is coveted, while tanned skin is not.
Contrary to popular belief, the Russians are not an unfriendly bunch, but it is true that they do not smile much. Unlike most places in the West, strangers will not smile at each other in friendly acknowledgement or greet each other. If you are a jovial character and do smile at strangers you can expected to be greeted with blank faces or looks of disdain. Smiling is not regarded as rude, but it isn’t considered polite. In fact, people who smile ‘too much’ might be viewed as insincere and hiding their real emotions. Only smile and greet Russians you know and share a relationship with.
Public display of affection are not just frowned upon in Saudi Arabia, but can even get you deported or worse - imprisonment! Saudi’s culture is known to be conservative and there are many social norms and rules that you need to follow when you visit the country. You might assume that couples are encouraged to venture out together, as women cannot travel unaccompanied; but this does not mean that you can express your togetherness. Valentine’s Day celebrations are strictly prohibited and you certainly cannot kiss or get physical in public. The country also has moral police to enforce these laws and breaking the rules will invite a whole lot of trouble.
Illegal gambling grew to be quite a huge problem in Greece by the start of the 2000s, leading to a government decision to outlaw all video games! The government found it hard to formulate laws governing electronic gaming and as a result came up with a vaguely worded law that in effect banned all video gaming. Much to the annoyance of gaming geeks, this means that you could even be fined for playing a game of solitaire on a computer! Although enforcement is lax, make it a point to check with locals before you decide to play any kind of video games in Greece.
As shocking as some of these practices might be to you, always keep an open mind and respect the local culture. Doing so, will not only save you a lot of trouble, but it will also open a whole new world to you.