As cohabitants of this small planet, humans share many routines, milestones, and values that help build bridges across dissimilar cultures and languages. Around the
And yet, there are some everyday occurrences in other countries that are wildly different from what one would expect. Here are a few of those from around the globe.
1. Celebrating Your Birthday in the Netherlands
Most American birthdays follow a pretty loose but steady set of rules: people buy meals or drinks for the birthday honoree, the assembled friends all mingle, and at some
In the Netherlands, the birthday holder is the one who shoulders the responsibility of cake and entertaining. They must buy the cake and the refreshments for their co-workers or birthday guests. Then, instead of everyone just casually hanging out, chairs are placed in a circle and all the partygoers have a seat. If a new guest joins the circle, that guest is expected to shake hands with everyone who is already sitting.
Guests will offer “Congratulations” instead of “Happy Birthday,” and those sentiments are shared with the birthday holder and members of his or her’s close family—e.g., “Congratulations on your brother’s birthday.”
Dutch children celebrating a birthday are expected to bring treats to their classmates and a slice of cake for the teacher.
If you hate the hassle and attention of birthdays, just be grateful you’re not in the Netherlands where all the birthday fuss comes with a day of serving your friends and the bill.
2. Missing a Phone Call in Italy
When most folks call someone and fail to connect, they try to leave a voicemail or send a text to let that person know the purpose of the call. This standard operating procedure has been left out to dry in Italy, where a new trend of dialing someone and hanging up after one ring has become a communication form all its own. This one-ring wonder is known as a
What is a
Who else but the Italians could make something as dull as a missed call a sort of grand romantic gesture?
3. Leaving for a Trip
Leaving for a trip can sometimes be a hurried affair—there’s a rush to make sure everything is packed and all electronics are off, punctuated by a chorus of appeals to the taxi/Uber that you’ll be “Out in a minute!”
In Russia, however, nobody departs for a trip without first taking a moment to sit down at home. Is this an attempt to achieve a more zen state of mind while traveling? Not exactly.
The pre-transit sit down is an old superstition that has to do with Russian house spirits. It’s a belief in Russia that all homes possess a mix of good and bad spirits. By sitting down before leaving on a trip, one will convince the bad spirits that you aren’t going anywhere and they will stay at the house. This allows you to travel with only good spirits.
And if that extra moment of pause reminds you to double check the back door lock one more time, is that a such a bad thing?
4. Putting on a Few Pounds in Japan
Nothing is quite as common as stepping on the scale or looking in the mirror and noticing that you have just a little more of “you” than usual. Maybe it’s just after the sweets-filled holidays or a picking up a particularly calorie-heavy habit for a few weeks. Such a realization is either met with a week of salads for lunch or a simple decision to wear bigger shirts for a while. Not so in Japan.
In 2008, the government of Japan mandated that all its citizens maintain a specific “healthy” waistline. Any person who falls short of the government standard is asked to attend counseling. Sizable fines can be levied on any businesses or towns whose employees or populations fail to keep the pounds off.
While Carly Simon might well call the Japanese so vain, the literal belt-tightening was enacted for health reasons. Japan’s health costs are expected to soar in the future as it grapples with a rapidly aging population.
5. Graduating High School in Norway
Senior year pranks and parties are par-for-the-course affairs in most places. As students wrap up four years of high school, they are usually expected to blow off a little steam and soak up the final days of being a teenager. But in Norway, the blowing off a little steam is more like a volcanic eruption thanks to a wild tradition known as Russefeiring.
Russefeiring—also just called Russ—is a month-long partying extravaganza for Norwegian high school seniors. The Russ participants are clearly identified by bright red overalls, red caps, and a youthful zest for all things hedonistic.
During Russ, the Norwegian students participate in outlandish challenges (usually relating to or while drinking) that can include pranks, sexually suggestive acts, or cleaning up after the other two.
Amazingly, all of this debauchery takes place during the last few weeks of school while classes and exams are still going on. The celebrations are usually encouraged by parents and locals as part of a tradition, though some recent reports of assault have caused some to wonder if today’s teens are corrupting what is supposed to be a fun and joyous custom.
6. Having Lunch in Spain
In the U.S, lunch can vary from taking a leisurely hour to a sandwich at your desk to sometimes skipping the meal altogether. However, in Spain, fast-forwarding past the midday meal is unthinkable.
It is a time when Spaniards usually go home to be with family or friends. With so much food, it’s not uncommon to be a little sleepy and some of the older generation will still enjoy a siesta after the
The quick and casual lunch is rare to nonexistent in Spain. Even busy office workers will take at least an hour to have lunch with friends before getting back to work.
7. Giving Someone Your Business Card in Taiwan
Business cards are treated with little more respect than bubblegum baseball cards to most busy networkers. They are pieces of cardstock with contact information that are to be hastily collected and handed out. Little thought is given to the exchange beyond the means to an end of finalizing a professional connection.
But in Taiwan, the exchanging of business cards is a significant, borderline ceremonial, affair.
When handing someone a business card in Taiwan, one is expected to present it with both hands. Similarly, both hands must be used in the receiving of a business card. The card recipient is expected to study the card and acknowledge the card presenter, sometimes asking a question about the details of the card if one arises. Cards are expected to be carefully placed in a front pocket or case—never in the recipient’s back pocket.
It may seem odd to pay so much attention to something as casual as exchanging contact information, but handling the exchange without showing the expected level of respect could spoil an otherwise amicable business relationship.