We’ve all experienced culture shock once in our lives. When traveling to Egypt for example, we might be confused to find that a bride gets pinched by her friends before a wedding to bring good luck. Despite this, every tradition can teach us something valuable about the country and its culture.
Bright Side will introduce you to 15 surprising traditions that still exist today and continue to puzzle us.
1. No toilet paper, India
Many travelers will be surprised to find that in India toilet paper is not commonly found in bathrooms. In fact, water from a small bucket found next to the toilet is used instead to wash up afterward. Using toilet paper is generally a bad idea, as it might clog the pipes and creates extra waste.
2. No using the bathroom after marriage, Indonesia
In the community of Tidong in Indonesia, a married couple is not allowed to go to the bathroom for 3 days after being wed. If they do, it’s considered bad luck for their marriage. The newlyweds are watched over by their family members who ensure they don’t break this tradition, while given small amounts of food and water.
3. Greet others by spitting, Maasai
While spitting is considered rude in many cultures, in the Kenyan Maasai tribe it is the customary way of greeting and showing respect. Members of the tribe will spit into their hands before shaking them, and they also do this to newborn babies or even a bride to bless them and bring them good luck.
4. Don’t gift a yellow rose, Mexico
Roses are a great gift to show emotion just about anywhere in the world. However, when choosing a color, some countries relate special meanings to certain roses. In Mexico, it’s better to stick to a traditional red rose rather than a yellow rose, which means death in Mexican culture.
5. Smashing plates before a wedding, Germany Christian Conrad
A few weeks before a German wedding, a tradition known as Polterabend takes place. The couple’s guests bring pottery which is smashed at the couple’s home. Afterward the bride and groom have to clean up the mess, an act which is believed to bring good luck and encourage teamwork for their upcoming marriage.
6. Throwing cinnamon on single people, Denmark
An old tradition from 16th century Denmark still persists today. If a person remains single on their birthday, their friends will shower them with cinnamon. The tradition is a reference to the Danish spice merchants who often had no time for marriage due to their travels around the continent.
7. Arrive late, Venezuela
Whether you’re attending an event, a meeting, or a party in Venezuela, it’s common for people to arrive later than originally planned. Venezuelans enjoy a relaxed pace when it comes to business, and for big social events arriving late simply means making a big entrance.
8. Don’t clink glasses before drinking, Hungary
When visiting Hungary, one might be surprised to find out that people don’t clink glasses at the bar. This historical tradition comes from 1848, when Austria defeated the Hungarian revolution and celebrated by clinking glasses. As a result, Hungarians decided not to clink glasses for 150 years.
9. Getting bitten by bullet ants, Brazil
In the Brazilian tribe of Sateré-Mawé, when a boy comes of age he must perform a traditional dance while wearing gloves filled with bullet ants. This ceremony is a particularly challenging one, as the bite of a bullet ant is one of the most painful insect bites in the world.
10. Bungee jumping for a good harvest, Vanuatu
On the Pentecost Island of Vanuatu, a ritual performed by men is said to ensure a good harvest. By jumping off tall wooden towers with nothing but vines wrapped around their ankles, they believe a good land dive can improve a man’s physical health and bring good luck during the yam harvest season.
11. Wearing funny hats when single, France
In France, the 25th of November celebrates Sainte Catherine, the young patron saint of unmarried women. On this day, women who have reached 25 years of age wear green and yellow hats which signify wisdom and faith. While some “Catherinettes” celebrate the day in hopes of being married soon, others proudly embrace their single life.
12. Throwing your furniture out of the window, South Africa
On New Year’s Eve many countries celebrate with fireworks, while in South Africa a different kind of tradition has persisted since the end of apartheid. To ring in the new year, people throw their furniture out the window and into the streets below. This tradition is monitored by police forces to make sure nobody gets hurt.
13. Business meetings in a sauna, Finland
Sauna is a big part of Finnish culture, serving not only as a historical place to give birth, but also as a place to discuss business matters or even politics. In fact, it’s a common tradition in the business world for colleagues or business partners to go to the sauna together and talk in a more relaxed environment.
14. Crying before your wedding, China
While in many cultures a wedding is a ceremony filled with laughter, in China a traditional wedding is preceded by the bride crying a month before getting married. After a few days, she’s joined by her mother and other family members to show joy for her future marriage.
15. Don’t use your left hand, Middle East
In a number of Middle Eastern countries, greeting someone or eating with one’s left hand can be considered rude and unsanitary. Since the left hand is used to clean oneself after going to the bathroom, it’s seen as the dirty hand is never used at the dinner table or to greet friends.
Which of these traditions surprised you the most? Which unique traditions exist in your country? Share your stories in the comments!
Illustration by Alena Tsarkova and Ekaterina Gandrabura for BrightSide