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10 Social Customs from Around the World That Confuse Tourists

by John Munoz
fact checked by Rachel Jones

We’re about to explore ten unusual traditions from around the world that’ll make you question your sanity. From slurping noodles to wedding spitting that’ll have you rethinking your RSVP, these wacky customs surprise bewildered travelers.

So let’s embark on a hilarious adventure through the land of cultural head-scratchers. Oh, and you won’t need a map for this journey because not even Google Maps can help you navigate these strange social customs.

Related: 10 Interesting Kissing Customs From Around The World

10 Spain – Baby Jumping

Welcome to the Baby Jumping Festival in Spain! It’s the time of year when grown adults leap over innocent infants like it’s a twisted game of “Leapfrog Gone Wild.” Also known as El Colacho, this traditional Spanish festival takes place annually to celebrate the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi in Castrillo de Murcia, a village in the province of Burgos. The festival dates back to 1620 and has roots in paganism.

It’s a festival that confuses outsiders and makes child safety advocates question humanity’s sanity. Before the jump begins, the devils taunt onlookers until the arrival of “atabalero” drummers, who signal the beginning of the jump. It represents the devils being driven out.

Babies under a year old lie on mattresses and get jumped over by devil-dressed adults to cleanse them of sins and evil spirits. Oh, and the “devils” hold whips and oversized castanets as they jump. Talk about an unconventional baptism!

Despite the potential danger, there haven’t been any reported incidents… yet.

9 Greece – Spitting on the Bride

Why Do Greeks Spit to Ward Off Evil Spirits? | Greek Orthodoxy Fact vs Fiction

Get ready for a quirky ritual that will make you question whether you’re witnessing a wedding or an avant-garde performance art piece. So imagine this: The Greek bride and groom, fresh off the “I do” train, are ready to walk down the aisle as a married couple. As they make their grand entrance, their guests, with all their love and goodwill, pretend-spit on them. Yep, you heard that right!

Now, don’t worry. It’s not actual saliva flying through the air. It’s more like a symbolic saliva situation. This peculiar act is meant to shield the newlyweds from any lurking evil spirits that may have decided to crash their big day. Because, you know, nothing says “happily ever after” like a bit of spitting to keep those malevolent entities at bay.

But here’s the catch. This tradition is more popular in original Greek culture than in its Greek-American counterpart. It’s like a secret code that only the purists understand. So, if you’re attending a Greek wedding and notice a few “spitters” in the crowd, just embrace the custom.

8 Egypt – Don’t Touch the Salt

Egyptian Food Safari | Egyptian Cuisine

When you’re taking that first bite of a delicious Egyptian dish, beware of the salt shaker! You see, in Egyptian culture, salting your food suggests that the cook didn’t quite hit the mark with their seasoning. It’s like saying, “Hey, chef, your dish lacks flavor, so let me generously sprinkle salt to salvage it.” It’s a culinary slap in the face that would make even Gordon Ramsay shed a tear of disappointment.

Now, it’s not the salt itself that’s the problem. Egyptians love their seasoning as much as the next foodie. It’s the delicate dance of etiquette that matters. Think of it this way: Would you go to a Michelin-starred restaurant and then ask for ketchup to slather all over your exquisitely crafted dish? It’s a social faux pas that will leave both the chef and your dining companions raising an eyebrow in silent judgment.

So resist the temptation to reach for that salt shaker. Instead, appreciate the flavors as they were intended by the skilled hands that prepared your meal. Trust in the culinary expertise and respect the cultural norms. After all, Egypt has a rich culinary heritage that deserves to be savored.

7 Finland – Wife Carrying

World Wife-Carrying Championships: Lithuanian Couple Wins Title For Second Year In A Row

The Wife Carrying Competition is an annual event where men showcase their incredible strength and athleticism by sprinting through a sand-filled obstacle track while lugging their female partners along. It’s like a somewhat romantic relay race. Only in Finland, folks!

Since 1992, the Wife Carrying World Championships have been held in the charming town of Sonkajärvi, Finland. And what’s the prize? The wife’s weight in beer. Forget diamonds because nothing says “I love you” quite like a truckload of fermented barley.

Now, let’s talk qualifications. This competition isn’t just a free-for-all. Oh no, there are rules, my friend. To participate, men must carry their wives or neighbors. And the wife, bless her heart, should be at least 17 years old and tip the scales at a minimum of 108 pounds (49 kilograms). Because what’s a race without a weight class, right?

While the specific rules and prizes may differ from one competition to another, the international rules serve as a global guidebook on turning an otherwise mundane jog into an extreme sport.

And the Wife Carrying Competition is not just limited to Finland anymore. It’s spreading across the globe. From Australia to Hong Kong, people are hopping on the bandwagon and hosting their own versions of this truly unique social custom.

6 Japan – Noodle Slurping

Why Japanese people slurp (Noodle-slurping culture in Japan) – 日本人バイリンガルが英語で教える蕎麦をススル理由 +文化発信

In Japan, slurping noodles is not frowned upon but rather celebrated as a sign of appreciation. This delightful custom has its roots in the Edo period and has become an integral part of Japan’s vibrant food culture. It all started with the beloved soba noodles, which people would gracefully slurp as they savored each bite. But as time passed, this custom expanded to include other noodle varieties and soups.

Why do they do it? It’s believed that slurping actually enhances the flavor of the noodles. It also comes to the rescue when faced with piping hot noodle dishes since the temperature of the noodles is brought down. No more impatiently blowing on your noodles or risking a scorched tongue. Now, when it comes to proper table manners, such as in the elegant Kaiseki cuisine, one mustn’t make a sound while consuming food.

Nowadays, you’ll find most people not only slurping their noodles but also enjoying their soups and hot beverages that way. It’s like a communal language of appreciation.

5 Greece – Throwing Teeth

Greeks Tossing Loose Teeth to the Roof

In Greece, the tooth fairy takes a detour and heads straight for the roof. When a child loses a baby tooth, instead of tucking it under their pillow, they turn into a tiny Olympian and launch that tooth high into the air, aiming for the roof.

You see, when those pearly whites bid farewell, Greek children make a wish for strong, grown-up teeth. It’s like a dental Hail Mary pass to the heavens, hoping for a touchdown of good luck.

But Greece isn’t the only country with roof-bound molars. Oh no, this tradition has traveled far and wide, making stops in Vietnam, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, and China. It’s like a worldwide club of dental acrobatics, where children unite in their quest for straight and healthy chompers.

4 Germany – Dish Smashing

Polterabend Hochzeit, a German Wedding Tradition of SMASHING PORCELAIN!

Get ready to crash, smash, and make a whole lot of noise when you hit up a polterabend—a German wedding tradition that will have you reaching for your earplugs and a dustpan. This shindig is all about breaking stuff and banishing evil spirits.

When the bride and groom-to-be are gearing up for their big day, the polterabend is the ultimate pre-wedding bash. This isn’t your ordinary stag night or rehearsal dinner, folks. It involves family, friends, neighbors, and possibly the entire village. Guests arrive with items like stoneware and porcelain that are just begging to be shattered into a million pieces to scare away those pesky spirits.

The betrothed couple has to sweep up the shattered remains, symbolically tidying up the mess and embracing the unity of their impending union. And in North Germany, the polterabend takes a fiery twist. As the clock strikes midnight, the groom’s trousers and the bride’s bra are burned, symbolizing the end of single life.

Where on earth did this tradition come from? Well, it seems to have some pre-Christian roots, harkening back to when noise and chaos were believed to drive away malevolent spirits. The word polterabend is a combination of “polten,” meaning to make a raucous racket, and “abend,” which translates to evening. And let me tell you, this evening is one you won’t forget.

3 Fiji – Numbing Juice

Welcome to the Kava Ceremony | National Geographic

On the sunny shores of Fiji, kava flows like a river of relaxation and camaraderie. In this tropical paradise, the tradition of sharing kava is more than just a drink—it’s a whole ceremony that brings people together and creates a sense of community like no other.

Before you can fully immerse yourself in village life as a newcomer, there’s a rite of passage you must undergo. How? Well, it’s all about the kava.

Kava is a traditional drink made from the root of the kava plant and is consumed throughout the South Pacific. But in Fiji, it’s not just about the drink itself; it’s about the ceremony. When you arrive at the village, you present the village chief with kava. This age-old protocol is known as sevusevu. As the ceremony unfolds, the air is filled with connection and togetherness. Sip by sip, the kava works its magic, relaxing muscles and inducing feelings of well-being.

Common effects of kava include relaxation and a loss of feeling in the throat and mouth. And larger doses might lead to dilated pupils, reddened eyes, and drowsiness. Excessive and long-term use at high doses can have some not-so-pleasant side effects, such as liver damage, skin problems, malnutrition, and severe weight loss. So moderation is key.

2 South Korea – No Red Ink

8 Things You CAN’T DO in South Korea

In South Korea, the color red is a hue that dances between bad luck and good fortune, thanks to cultural beliefs and traditions. Writing someone’s name in red ink is a big no. It’s believed to unleash bad luck on whoever’s name it is. It brings to mind the solemn practice of inscribing the names of the deceased in red ink on the family register—a connection that’s best left untouched.

However, red ink can be used for a dojang (or a personal stamp used instead of a signature). In this case, red ink is acceptable and is not associated with bad luck or death.

In certain contexts, red brings good fortune and blessings. On the Lunar New Year, red envelopes called sae-bae don are given to children as a token of good luck and prosperity.

1 Indonesia – Finger Cutting

Get to know the Papuan Dani Tribe Finger Cut Tradition

The Indonesian finger-cutting custom is a ritual called ikipalin, which is practiced by the Dani tribe in the central highlands of Western New Guinea, in the Province of Papua. The ritual involves women cutting off the upper part of their fingers when a beloved member of their family passes away.

The Dani tribe members believe that the pain women feel during this process helps ease the pain of the deceased and help their souls find peace. The responsibility to reduce the dead ones’ pain lies on women’s shoulders and not men’s, and women had to go through the painful ritual alone. The fingers are tied firmly using a rope to stop blood circulation and avoid pain as much as possible. Then with an axe or other sharp objects, the fingers are chopped off. The practice was done to both gratify and drive away the spirits while also providing a way to use physical pain as an expression of sorrow and suffering.

The ikipalin ritual is now banned in New Guinea. However, the practice can still be seen in some of the older women of the community who have mutilated fingertips.

fact checked by Rachel Jones