Unique aspects of world cultures

  • Japanese kimono lady
Published on 2017-08-04 at 11:33
You may take for granted things you encounter in everyday life that seem to be the norm. However, it is only when you go abroad that you can see just how different mundane, daily tasks and interactions can be. We've compiled some of the unique aspects of different countries that newcomers may find surprising.

Japan: A vending machine for everything

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Japan is well-known for its easily identifiable culture, that remains unique internationally. The country's unique staples include vending machines that dispense more than just snacks; they can contain everything from fresh fruit and hot food to different items of clothing and... pets. Another notable characteristic of Japan is its noticeably clean streets, despite the lack of bins. People can be seen carrying any litter they have, and the Japanese rarely eat in public places. When it comes to eating, there is chopstick etiquette (much like with Western cutlery) that newcomers should familiarise themselves with. They should also note that slurping sounds during a meal are a welcome sign of appreciation and not at all rude.

India: The rush-hour crush

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India's customs and cultures are hugely diverse. However, some things particularly stand out across the country. Newcomers to India may be used to a rush-hour or packed commute by train, but train journeys in India are something else, with people sitting in baggage racks and clutching (perilously) to the side of trains, all to get from a to b. When it comes to food, eating with one's hands is quite the norm – from rice to naans, there is a specific way to pick up the food with your fingers, and push it into your mouth using your thumb. Furthermore, it is considered ill-mannered to eat with your left hand, due to its historic cultural involvement in dealing with food upon its exit from the body.

England: Another round, please

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First-time visitors to England may find the tea-drinking culture exaggerated, but it certainly is the beverage of all occasions there, good or bad. Other countries may have a mock-up of an English pub to entice expats or give locals that pub 'feel', but the UK's drinking culture is like no other, and can be a shock to those who discover that 'going for a pint' after work rarely means just one drink. Finally, England's queuing culture can be striking to those coming from cultures where it's all far more informal. This, combined with oh-so-subtle British expressions of displeasure at queue jumpers (usually tutting), can be confusing if you are new to the country.

Canada: Hockey with heart


It may be surprising to learn that Canadians are another nation of keen queuers, as it's not something that's often mentioned in relation to Canada. It's safe to say that the country's love of ice hockey is no exaggeration; while in many parts of the world you can expect to walk into a bar and have the football playing in the background, in Canada, it's almost always hockey (unless it's Toronto and the Blue Jays are playing, then it's baseball). Another aspect of Canadian everyday life that is surprising to newcomers is the form their milk takes – while some may be used to glass or plastic bottles, or even cartons, in Canada milk is sold by the bag!

USA: Need tips for tipping?


Just south of the border, the USA has its oddities. Though tipping is quite prolific internationally, the tipping culture in the US is often baffling to new visitors. In the US, tips can form part of an employee's minimum wage. In bars, patrons may even be expected to tip per drink purchased, even if they went up to the bar to get it themselves. A perhaps less discussed oddity is the gap that exists in toilet stalls in public restrooms. A recent viral trend saw people expressing their shock at images showing the large gaps between doors and the stall in US public toilets – so newcomers to the US should be ready for potential awkward eye contact while on the loo.

Greece: Don't wait up for the tooth fairy


Greece has its customs regarding using the lavatory, which (similarly to some South American countries) involves throwing used toilet roll into a bin, rather than flushing it down the toilet. This custom has practical origins relating to the age and risk of blockage with the Greek sewage system. Another Greek custom that may be of dismay to young children who have become accustomed to the tooth fairy leaving them a monetary reward in exchange for their baby teeth, is the throwing of baby teeth onto the roof instead. This is accompanied with the Greek equivalent of the phrase 'take it as a bone and bring it back to me as steel', as a good luck gesture for strong, healthy teeth.