Just how much do you know about the world outside the United States? Trek across the globe with us from the comfort of your armchair, and check out the fascinating traditions other cultures embrace. Sure, they may seem strange to us, but it would be a boring planet if we were all the same!
40. Germany’s Polterabend
You’ve got to have teamwork if you’re going to be married, so in Germany they give you some early practice. The tradition of Polterabend involves family and friends to the bride and groom breaking all the newlywed’s dishes. Then the married couple have the honor of cleaning up after them! Let’s hope they had more crockery among the wedding gifts.
39. Ireland’s food farce
Forget fast food, Ireland has farce food. TikTok’s @saviourofhaha recounted how Irish families have a “linguistic tradition” of refusing food twice before finally relenting to an insistent host. Even if you’re secretly hungry, it’s only polite to play along. “It’s not the most time efficient,” the TikToker said, “but it is what it is.”
38. Greece’s teeth tossing
The best way to dispose of your child’s shed baby teeth depends on your culture. In Greece, it’s customary to throw them on top of the roof and wish for stronger teeth to grow in their place. What would you prefer: putting them under your pillow so a fairy can buy them from you? I bet the roof thing doesn’t sound so strange in hindsight.
37. Russia’s day of conception
September 12 is an important day on the Russian calendar: it’s the day of conception. That’s exactly what it sounds like: a national holiday reserved for giving couples some alone time. Men have a low life-expectancy in Russia, and the gender ratio is uneven, so repopulation is a celebrated event. What’s more, successful pregnancies are rewarded with prizes. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!
36. Denmark’s cinnamon tradition
If you’re Danish and haven’t found love at 25, prepare for a spicy surprise! Friends prank their buds by covering them completely with water and cinnamon, turning them into a Pebersvend (pepper dude) or Pebermø (pepper maid). The tradition escalates five years later with eggs or pepper instead of cinnamon. Apparently, it dates back to spice salesmen whose traveling lifestyle kept them largely single. Some things just stick. Like cinnamon and water, for example.
35. Thailand’s monkey buffet festival
Are your buffets too boring? Just add monkeys! Bangkok has an annual event honoring its macaques, which number in the thousands. Tourists and locals alike can watch the monkeys tucking into a tower of fruit laid out just for them. It’s more than just monkey business though. The event pays tribute to the Hindu deity Hanuman.
34. India’s baby dropping
Have you ever heard of the Baba Umer Dargah shrine in India? Well, in recent years it’s been subject to controversy thanks to the unusual ritual of baby dropping. For hundreds of years, new parents have been releasing their babies off the shrine roof onto a blanket held by the watching crowds below. This apparently grants the infant good fortune, but some officials have tried to ban the practice.
33. England’s gurning
If you’ve never experienced the English tradition of gurning, you’re in for a treat! The idea is to make the funniest – and ugliest – expression you can by screwing up your face. But before you dismiss gurning as light entertainment, think again. England hosts the annual World Gurning Championship, and it’s serious business for competitors. One champion, dedicated gurner Peter Jackman, even had his teeth taken out for the competition.
32. China’s hot coal walk
Ever hear the expression “walking over broken glass” to prove dedication? Well, China has a similar custom, and it takes the term literally. There’s a ritual that if a father-to-be carries his pregnant partner barefoot over hot coals her labor will go smoothly. Sorry guys, if your partner has to suffer, so do you.
31. Tidong tribe’s bathroom ban
Northern Borneo’s Tidong tribe has a tradition that’s enough to make you cross your legs just thinking about it. Newlyweds are banned from using the toilet for three entire days after the ceremony. Apparently it results in a prosperous marriage. After all, if you can get through a stressful situation such as that, anything must seem easy by comparison.
30. Scotland’s blackening
They say that you have to work at marriage, so why not begin with a cynical look at things to come? Scotland prepares its couples for a potentially difficult life by covering them in assorted gross materials, including spoiled milk and eggs. After they’ve been “blackened,” newlyweds are escorted around the local area for all to see. Congratulations to the happy couple!
29. Eating ashes
People have many strange ways of treating the ashes of their dead loved ones. Some people keep them in urns, or scatter them, or even turn them into bullets. But Brazil and Venezuela’s Yonamamo tribe step it up a level. Traditionally, bodies of the deceased must be destroyed, so they are burnt and the ashes shared between family members to be ingested.
28. Venezuela’s timekeeping
In many places, meeting with someone on time is considered good manners. In some places, however, it’s better to slow your roll. You see, if you turn up for a Venezuelan rendezvous on time it could be considered a slight. Your host might interpret your eagerness as a sign of greed, so make sure you’re a least 15 minutes late.
27. Egypt’s salt rule
Everyone loves salt, right? Well, if you’re a guest in someone’s Egyptian home, it’s best to reconsider reaching for the shaker. Your host will probably see your crazy salt lust as an attempt to cover their cooking with sodium chloride. So skip the condiment at the dinner table if you want to avoid offense.
26. Japan’s slurping
If you come from a Western culture, the slurping sounds coming from a Japanese noodle shop might surprise you. In many places around the world, noisy eating is offensive. In the East though, if you slurp noodles – particularly soba, it’s a sign that you’re enjoying your meal. So feel free to slurp away, and let everyone know that you’re enjoying your meal.
25. Denmark’s cemetery gatherings
In some places of the world, cemeteries and graveyards are eerily silent. Not so in Denmark, which has a very practical view of space management. The Danes have used the space that burial grounds provide so that they double as social areas. Their cemeteries are the life of the party, so to speak, and usually quite busy in clement weather.
24. Greek’s spitting on the bride
Nothing says “congratulations on your wedding day” more than being spat on. At least, that’s according to the Greek tradition of spitting on the bride. We kid, of course; there is reasoning behind this tradition. In Greek culture, spitting is an act of good luck to repel evil and thus grant brides good fortune. These days, of course, it’s mostly a symbolic spitting noise rather than a “say it, don’t spray it” moment.
23. Nicaragua’s lip pointing
People don’t tend to like you pointing fingers in their faces in most parts of the world. That’s why you’ll find alternatives to pointing in many cultures. In Nicaragua, for example, people pucker up and use their lips to point out directions. That might be confusing to visitors, so don’t expect a kiss after asking where the bathroom is.
22. China’s inappropriate gifts
If you happen to find yourself dating someone in China, don’t bring your beloved flowers. Or clocks, straw sandals or handkerchiefs, if these were your planned backups. All those gifts are rooted in Chinese death ceremonies and funerals. And you wouldn’t present someone in Western culture with a random urn. You wouldn’t, right?
21. Japan’s chopstick etiquette
Did you ever pick up chopsticks and rub them together? Yeah, don’t do that in Japan. The country has a complex culture when it comes to the culinary arts, and chopsticks in particular. For example, rubbing chopsticks implies that they’re cheaply made and are giving you splinters. Also, avoid stabbing food with them. It’s a funerary tradition, so people frown upon it in other circumstances.
20. Finland’s sauna culture
When in Finland, sweat it out. Saunas are popular there, and they’re actually treated as a social activity. Groups of friends and family gather in saunas to relax and enjoy each other’s company. So if you get invited to a Finish sauna session, accept – it means your host thinks highly of you.
19. United Arab Emirates’s Nose Kiss
Several cultures practice the “nose kiss” greeting, including UAE nationals, as YouTuber Khalid Al Ameri explained. In 2019 he said, “The nose kiss is something that’s a part of who we are. And I feel when people embrace that, and we help them embrace it, we come closer together as communities.” But remember: keep your head straight and not bent forward for the perfect nose kiss technique.
18. Spain’s El Colacho
Spain has a reputation for its strange customs, most notably of the bull-based persuasion. But let’s not forget about El Colacho, or baby jumping. Obviously, it’s not the tots doing the jumping (that’d be crazy). Instead, crowds gather to watch adults dressed as the devil leaping over babies on mattresses in the street. The 400-year-old tradition apparently wards off bad luck.
17. Christmas eve carp
You might think turkey is the go-to meal for Christmas, but the people of central Europe beg to differ. For Poland, Czechia and Slovakia, there’s nothing better than a nice carp the day before Xmas. From a U.S. perspective, perhaps the strangest thing is keeping it alive in the bathtub before the feast. Some claim it helps flush mud from the carp’s digestive system to make it extra yummy.
16. Spain’s El Entierro de la Sardina
Spain’s zany carnival time is a crazy party. But it ends with a similarly surreal event: El Entierro de la Sardina, or burying the sardine. The rainbow parades give way to what’s basically a funerary parody for a single solitary fish. But why? To represent leaving the past behind, of course. After experiencing carnival, it probably seems quite mundane.
15. China’s crying brides
Whether it’s from happiness or ruined plans, there’s usually plenty to cry about at weddings. In some parts of China, though, it’s traditional for brides-to-be to sob for an hour daily before the big day. This is especially true for Tujia brides from the Wuling Mountains. In fact, it’s not just the bride – her whole bridal procession breaks out in floods of tears.
14. Canada’s milk in a bag
If you don’t regularly visit Canada, brace yourself. Your Canuck neighbors keep their milk in bags. This seems strange at first, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. They’re just plastic replacements for udders, after all. Several other countries put their cow juice in bags too, including China, Argentina and South Africa. Maybe we’re the weird ones for jamming it in bottles.
13. Graduation trashing
YouTube’s Spantonline has some advice for you, “Never graduate from university in Argentina.” Argentinians, Italians and Oxford alumni have a tradition called “trashing,” which involves showering new graduates in various substances. How else are people going to know that you’re a success? Don’t worry, they keep it environmentally friendly: it’s mostly foodstuffs or biodegradable materials.
12. South Korea’s red ink
Never write a South Korean’s name in scarlet ink, or you’ll have them seeing red. You see, they have a tradition of writing the names of the departed in red ink. Consequently, it’s considered bad fortune to use the same color for the living. In the eyes of some South Koreans, doing so invites death, and that’s just bad manners.
11. Turkey’s camel wrestling
You’ve heard of alligator wrestling, but have you ever heard of camel wrestling? In Turkey, big crowds gather to watch camels wrestling each other for mates. Mehmet Falakali, who helps arrange the annual camel wrestling festival, told U.K. news website The Independent in 2014 that it’s totally safe, though. He said, “If there is a risk of injury, the referee stops the wrestling. There is even a team of 22 people on standby to protect the camels.”
10. Fiji’s welcome cocktail
Fiji is the picture of a tropical paradise, with its beautiful beaches and stunning seas. It only makes sense that locals greet you to the country with a cocktail called kava. Refusing would be rude, so brace yourself: it hits like a truck. In addition to being an acquired taste, kava’s been known to numb your mouth. And head. Yet apparently, it’s quite good when you get used to it.
9. Spain’s La Tomatina
Spain really knows how to paint the town red! Every August Buñol hosts what can only be described as the most epic food fight imaginable. We’re talking about La Tomatina, a thousands-strong festival where participants pelt each other senseless with tomatoes. If you didn’t know better, the end result would look like a battle scene from Game of Thrones, but it’s just tomato juice. Honest.
8. Nag Panchami
If you’re scared of snakes, you might want to skip this tradition. Nag Panchami is a Hindu festival venerating snake gods and serpents of all kinds, including venomous ones. Every year, worshipers make their way to temples to offer up milk and live snakes as a symbolic gesture to the gods.
7. England’s Morris dancing
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of, let alone seen, an English Morris dance. Rural performers originally danced to ring in the summer – literally, they wear bells – using sticks, handkerchiefs and brightly colored costumes. It’s a unique spectacle worth watching so that you can describe it to your friends. If they believe you that is; it’s wonderfully weird.
6. Italy’s feeding the dead
It’s fascinating how cultures around the world approach death, and it’s not always a solemn occasion. Take the people Rome, for instance, who believe in feeding the departed. It’s such a common practice that graves tend to have built-in pipes for distributing wine, milk and honey. After all, why face death on an empty stomach?
5. Eating baby’s placenta
Giving birth must really bring on the hunger. Several countries around the world observe a curious culinary tradition: mothers ingesting placentas. Some believe that it provides the new parent with some much-needed energy after the miracle of life. What’s more, putting placenta on the menu isn’t unheard of in parts of England and the US too. We’ll have a burger to go instead, please.
4. The Krampus
Forget jolly old Saint Nick, make way for the Krampus! According to European folklore, he travels with Santa on Christmas Eve and punishes naughty children. But sinister folklore aside, these days Krampus is a bit more family-friendly. He even has his own festive celebration: Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run. It’s basically a Halloween parade at Christmas time, and it’s a great opportunity to show off some fiendishly good costumes.
3. Nordic baby naps
You’d think the cold weather in Nordic countries would be a reason to keep babies inside. However, apparently, it’s common practice to leave bundled-up babies outside for naps. It recently divided experts, because sleep specialist Katie Palmer told Insider magazine in 2020 that it might help babies sleep better. Others argue you should never leave babies alone. Someone should really ask the babies.
2. Brazil’s Satere Mawe tribe initiation
The Satere Mawe tribe of the Brazilian Amazon separates the boys from the men with an initiation ceremony when males come of age. The boys go off in search of bullet ants, so called for their bite, which is comparable to a gunshot. The jaws of these insects are used to create a glove that the initiate must wear 20 times, and only then are they considered men. Did we mention that the tribe’s boys come of age at 13?
1. Wales’s Mari Lwyd
Wales has one of the most terrifying ways of challenging someone to a singing contest. You know how gangsters leave horse heads in people’s beds? Well, the Welsh mount their horse skulls on sticks and decorate them with bells and blankets. Then they take this Mari Lwyd, as they call it, to other people’s doors to call them out for a song. Let’s hope their throats don’t get hoarse.