Culture Guides

101 World Culture Shocks

Sandals made from donated condoms in India, compensated dating in Japan, English stag nights in Eastern Europe – the world is as crazy as ever.

World culture becomes increasingly homogenized with each passing year but there’s still enough diverse instances to prove that ancient anthropological truth best summarized by Obelix: these humans are crazy.

Note: where sources are not listed the information is based on firsthand experience of the authors or we simply can’t be bothered tracking down the citation.

And if you want more, check out the new another 101 world culture shocks

1. When plastic mineral water bottles first appeared in India, largely popularised by the demand of travelers, locals asked for the empty bottles as they were considered useful items for storing liquids in the home.

2. The word “Russia’ is synonymous with ‘sex’ in countries in the Arabic Gulf where thousands of prostitutes from Russia and the Ukraine are flown in every year to meet the clandestine needs of the oil-rich.

Sources – http://www.esquire.com/the-side/blog/demascus081607 http://www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/article.asp?ID=5476

3. Of the millions of condoms donated to India every year to help prevent the spread of HIV and halt the exploding population, more than half [alright we exaggerated but there is a cottage industry doing this – why wouldn’t they? It’s like the clothes from Christian aid that end up being sold in local markets everywhere] end up recycled to make sandals and spare parts for trucks.

Source: Eating Air in India by Robin Brown.

4. In Latin American countries where most of the population has mixed indigenous blood, the models in the commercials are all white Latin beauties, fueling demand for acidic skin creams which claim to lighten the complexion.

Source – http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-2-5/26302.html

5. The all-American gesture of the high five actually originated from Muhammed and his followers in 6th century Arabia. It was the easiest way to greet someone when sitting on a camel. It was subsequently picked up by black basketball players in the US and achieved instant cool.

6. In countries like Iran where the religious regimes are so repressive as to forbid music, the youth struggle to get hold of old cassettes of Chris de Burgh and imagine they’re listening to the latest in rebel pop.

7. In Japan, Nigerian men get commission on bringing Japanese teenagers to hip-hop clothing stores. The kids are wowed by the presence of a real black man who has only to say ‘Yo, West Coast!’ and they follow. Never mind if he’s referring to the Ivory Coast rather than Compton.

8. There are hand-held video games for Japanese kids where the main character grows in strength according to how much sunlight he receives. Solar panels are built into the device to encourage kids to get outside more.

Source – http://www.globaltechforum.eiu.com

9. In China there are sweat shops of workers who perform repetitive mouse-clicking tasks on online games such as World of Warcraft. The points thereby obtained are sold on Ebay to gamers in the West.

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2005/mar/13/games.theobserver

10. Indian women are regularly hired to grow the babies of Western couples. Their wombs are hired and after they’ve grown the child, they’re given $5000 in compensation.

Source- http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22441355/

11. The babies that beggars carry in poor countries to pull the heartstrings of tourists are frequently rented and drugged with opium to keep them looking quiet and sickly.

Source – http://www.newint.org/issue194/born.htm

12. In India, when people give money to beggars they thank them for the opportunity to give and gain merit.

Sources – http://www.indianchild.com/hindu_ceremonies.htm http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/zakat.htm

13. Devout Jains are famous for taking precautions to protect even minute insect life. But during monsoon many will stay home for fear of disrupting the life of puddles.

Source: Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

14. While most of us have only heard about the 10 commandments, there are actually 613 that religious Jews are expected to follow. Giving pleasure to your wife on the sabbath is one.

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2003/jul/25/water.india (about 8 paragraphs down)

15. The Japanese health minister recently referred to Japanese women as ‘baby-making machines’.

Source – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6306685.stm

16. There’s an urban myth in Israel to explain the above-average breast size of Israeli women that the government puts hormones in dairy products. The theory goes that larger breasts ensure a higher national birth rate, always a priority for Zionist pioneer types.

17. While almost half the world is either Chinese or Indian, as most of the world abandons the countryside for the cities, the birthrate tends to drop. No longer needing so many kids to tend the fields, it makes economic sense to be more careful. Some experts such as Stewart Brand say the world population should stabilise at around 8 or 9 billion this way as we all end up living in cities.

Source – http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/stewart_brand_on_squatter_cities.html

18. When the first McDonalds opened up in East Berlin there was a queue that stretched 3 miles to get in.

Source: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. [we may have exaggerated the length of the queue but you know, it was long)

19. There are parts of India where Coca-Cola has used up most of the local water supply in their bottling plants. Leaving nothing to drink other than…

Source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2003/jul/25/water.india

20. The pigmy Bushmen of the Kalahari desert used to survive thanks to their knowledge of underground water sources that they would access with a long reed and suck the water up from below.

21. The Bedouin have always been expert smugglers. One of their tricks to avoid pursuit in the old days was to leave hidden water supplies in the desert. That way they could continue their flight into the barren hills while the pursuing coastguard had to give up or die of thirst.

Source: Hashish by Henrie de Monfreid

22. There are still tribes in the Amazon that have never made contact with the modern world. Some anthropologists have decided it’s better that it remains that way and work to protect their boundaries – each time an arrow comes flying at them through the bush they make a mark on the map and go back a bit.

Source – http://www.wtop.com/?nid=389&sid=1412370

23. Indigenous people around the world are always victims of alcohol, often having neither the biological or cultural resistance to the poison. Verily, ‘fire water no good for red man.’

Source – http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200702/s1846111.htm

24. There are islands in Polynesia where on festive days the local women set out to gang-rape men they find walking on their own.

Source: The Happy Islands of Oceania by Paul Theroux

25. It was no problem to smoke marijuana in most parts of the world until Nancy Reagan went on her ‘just say no’ campaign. Legislation followed almost everywhere once the WHO picked up the international anti-drug ticket.

Source – http://www.cannabisculture.com/library/history_of_pot.html

26. Marijuana and cocaine were only driven into illegality in the US on the ‘those Negros/Chinamen get high and then rape your daughters!’ ticket.

Source – http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200702/s1846111.htm [go down to 1914 to see the first instance]

27. The Coca-Cola company still buys quantities of coca leaves from South America each year so as to maintain their trade description.

Source – http://www.narconews.com/Issue35/article1159.html

28. The Chinese government has banned advertising copy such as ‘deluxe’ and ‘first class’ so as not to alienate the proletarian masses.

Source: The Asian Age sometime last year.

29.When Albania quarreled with China back in the 70’s, they then trained up a team of Albanians to learn Mandarin and broadcast propaganda on the radio to undermine the Chinese regime. Unfortunately they chose a frequency unavailable on Chinese radios and the signal only reached Pakistan where Western intelligence listened with mild interest.

30. Albania remains the only country in the world to have gone bankrupt as a result of a pyramid scheme. Even the government invested in a plan which promised to double their money each month. Until the perpetrators abruptly disappeared with all the cash.

Source – http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2000/03/jarvis.htm

31. The government of Kazakhstan publicly announced it suspected Borat to have been funded by neighbouring nation states jealous of their rich natural resources. Sasha Cohen responded by encouraging his government to ‘sue this Jew’ and cited recent improvements such as allowing women to sit in buses and no longer requiring homosexuals to wear blue hats.

Source – http://www.abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=1315240 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFVN59sR4lY

32.There are still places in Tibet where the tradition of sky burial is practiced. As the vultures descend to gobble up the chopped bits of bodies, tourists with cameras frequently pass out.

Source – http://alumnus.caltech.edu/~pamlogan/skybury.htm

33. In many parts of Asia it’s common to shave your head when someone close to you dies. If it’s a family member then the women are often expected to howl and wail in remorse for hours to demonstrate their grief. Any less would be considered heartless.

34. Although most funeral parlours in the US present themselves as traditional family enterprises caring for the community, the grand part are franchises. No one wants a McCoffin, after all.

Source – http://www.inc.com/magazine/19980401/898.html

35. Jesters are considered integral elements of burials in certain African tribes as the Trickster is always present at the gateways.

36. Grooms are traditionally insulted in some parts of India by the bride’s family to see if he’s man enough to take it and go through with the marriage.

37. It’s also common to read of death tolls reaching three figures in India when half of the invitees to the wedding get poisoned by drinking the homemade hooch.

Source – http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/southasia/features/article_1358701.php/Alcohol_deaths_spotlight_Pakistans_drinking_culture [note: this is actually an article about homemade alcohol in Pakistan but it’s the same deal]

38. A good part of the taxi drivers in Medellin, Colombia, are ex-assassins. During Pablo Escobar’s reign as drug lord of Medellin, he paid out thousands of dollars for each confirmed killing of a policeman. Many of these young killers, of sicarios, invested their money in a taxi cab.

39. Taxi is probably the most international word in the world today. Followed closely by sex, ok, pizza and chai, the latter getting you a cup of tea from England to Morocco to Russia to Bangladesh.

40. Although the British did much to change India, much of India came home with them and there are hundreds of words in the English language of Indian origin including thug, bungalow, piddling and pukkah.

41. The most popular food in the UK today is considered to be chicken tikkah. Without immigration where would British cuisine be?

42. The answer is where it always was. In the north of England you can buy deep-fried Snickers and Mars Bars.

43. In Iran many consider it perfectly acceptable to openly fart after a meal.

44. In Israel the French have the reputation of being less than hygenic and thus a French shower refers to when you only had time to wash the armpits and groin.

45. In the markets of Mexico you can buy magical soap to conquer a lover, sprays to silence gossip and even talcum powder to avoid unwanted attention of the police.

46. Belief in the evil eye is almost universal and people will stop you if you compliment them too much on their good luck as they feel it invites disaster. There are words of protection uttered and amulets of different kinds in homes across the world to keep the evil eye away.

47. In sadhu circles a piece of the food or a drop of chai will be given to the fire in tribute to Shiva before meals.

48. But as fire is sacred in India, no one of a religious disposition would ever blow on a flame, preferring to snuff it with moistened fingers or, in the case of a fire, to fan it with branches.

Source – http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Hindu%20Primer/feetsymbolism.html

49. Indian women will call their children ‘bit of dung’, ‘useless shit’ and other derogatory names in order to convince any passing demons that there’s no profit in taking them away or cursing them with illness.

50. A visual form of this can be seen when Indian women used to paint the boils typical of smallpox onto their infants. Smallpox having been personalised in a wrathful aspect of Kali, when she passed over she would see that her work there was already done.

51. Hashish used to be grown in Greece and then exported to Egypt until the British managed to stop the trade, probably to support the charas and opium exports from India.

Source – Hashish by Henrie de Monfreid

52. Cocaine is a poor man’s drug in South America. Costing just a couple bucks per gram, people can be seen sniffing lines off the roofs of cars or bags in their hands.

53. In South America men still faithfully repeat pick-up lines called piropos such as ‘wow, what curves – and me without brakes!’ or ‘If your ass was a football I would be your Maradona’.

Source – http://www.tapenawines.com/spanish-wines-piropo.html

54. There’s a slang for a girl’s ass in Brazil called poupanca, which translates as ‘piggy bank’. The idea being that if she’s broke she can shake her booty and the money will come tumbling to the floor.

55. Japan leads the world in incest between mothers and sons. It’s thought that sexual favours are dispensed in order to help overexcited adolescent minds concentrate on homework.

Source – http://www.psychohistory.com/htm/06a1_incest.html [go down to point 168 and read the stuff about “The most commonly reported incest occurs when the mother sees her son masturbate as a teenager and tells him, ‘It’s not good to do it alone. Your IQ becomes lower. I will help you,’ or ‘You cannot study if you cannot have sex. You may use my body,’ or ‘I don’t want you to get into trouble with a girl. Have sex with me instead.’”]

56. You cannot read the Koran unless you speak Arabic. In fact, you cannot just read it, the Koran must be spoken aloud. Otherwise it simply isn’t the Koran, according to Islam. So don’t take the translated thing too seriously.

57. Most nationalistic movements are supported by emigrants to America who often have never been home or speak the language any more. Jews who donate to Israel, Sikhs who support a Punjab homeland and even Irish-Americans provided generous support for the IRA in the 80’s.

58. The gang culture of El Salvador is blamed on America, too. Young men emigrate, get involved with gangs in the US and when they return home the organised violence and crime comes with them.

Source – http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/5-26-2003-40835.asp

59. Catholic churches in many parts of the world operate on something like a franchise scheme. The priests that solicit the most money from the faithful via donations or small lotteries are given the best churches in the center of town.

60. Israeli travelers coming home from their journeys with a head full of psychedelic experiences and mystic experiences often go straight into the welcoming arms of New Age Judaism.

61. In Sardinia there used to be a woman in every village called the acabadora who would put the sick and dying out of their misery with a little hammer. The last reported incident was in 1978.

62. Whereas most airports might issue warnings about unauthorised taxi drivers, in Los Angeles there are loudspeaker announcements to beware of roaming lawyers who prey on unsuspecting new arrivals.

63. In some American airports there are little shuttle trains to transport the obese from the check in to the departure gates.

64. In many European countries no one actually checks if you have a ticket to get on the train/tram/metro/bus – instead inspectors make random checks and fine offenders and it still works out cheaper just to take your chances.

65. The famous slide blues guitar technique actually came from India. A man from Kerala was kidnapped by pirates a few hundred years ago and after many adventures ended up in Hawaii. The locals loved his technique of using a shell on strings for that slide feeling and from there the trick made its way to the Mississippi when Hawaii joined the Union.

66. Modern music would be nowhere without Africa. Mostly everything we hear today was built on the music revolution of the 60’s and that had its roots firmly in the tradition of American blues and jazz which in turn was based on African chants and rhythms. The same can be said for samba and salsa.

67. Many Latin American houses are built with a little maid’s room for the domestic help in washing clothes, cooking the beans and rice and cleaning up after the kids.

68.On long-distance buses in Turkey the driver’s assistant will walk down the aisle offering perfume to the passengers.

69. When the communist Russian regime fell at the beginning of the 90’s, one million Russian Jews came to Israel and the streets filled with classical musicians playing Bach for a buck.

Source – http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D01EFDA153EF936A35752C1A962958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

70. Hitchhiking is incredibly easy in Romania and everyone does it. In communist times, drivers used to get extra gas coupons if they picked up hitchers. These days money changes hands instead.

Source – http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=travel&res=9C0CE0DE123AF932A15753C1A966958260 [about 5 paragraphs down]

71. Find anywhere picturesque in Europe and odds on there are English and Germans buying up all the old cottages as holiday homes. They’re then left empty for 50 weeks of the year.

72. There’s a phenomenon in Japan called ‘compensated dating’ where female students will sleep with old men in return for consumer goods like Louis Vitton handbags and Gucci rings.

Source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enjo_k%C5%8Dsai

73. English stag nights have become a cottage Eastern European industry as tour operators get the lads drunk and laid in exotic Slavic brothels as part of package deals.

Source – http://www.pissup.com/ [sites like this boast they send 35000 people a year to get drunk abroad]

74. In India it’s common to see Vote For Hand or Vote Wheel with the appropriate symbol painted on walls. To a fairly illiterate population a graphic image works better than a manifesto. In any case, votes are usually bought with bags of rice or bottles of arak, the deals cut by the local caste boss.

75. Almost all Indian politicians are fat as in a hungry country almost no one would vote for anyone skinny. Many of them also run from office from prison cells.

76. Japanese yakuza mobsters are required to cut off a segment of one of their fingers each time they screw up. The tradition goes back to the days of when losing a finger weakened your grip on your sword and hence made you more dependent on your master.

77. In many countries like Bolivia and Brazil, when you get sent to jail you’re still required to rent your cell your bed and buy food and supplies. Many turn to dealing drugs just to make ends meet while inside.

Source – Carindiru)

78. Italians regularly stay at home until 30 or more. The cash they save on not paying rent lets them buy all those designer goods so necessary to maintain appearances.

79. Although part of the G8, Italy is hopelessly corrupt. Napoli, in particular, suffers from incompetence and corruption as public money goes into private pockets. During the recent garbage crisis when the streets were piled up with refuse, comedian/activist Beppe Grillo begged the Germans to come and invade.

Source – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7266755.stm

80. All around the Lake of Nicaragua there are signs thanking the Japanese government for building roads etc – the deal was the Japanese parted with wads of yen and in turn got to hunt to near-extinction the only species of fresh water white sharks in the world.

81. All around the world the accepted length of stay is 3 days. Sikh temples will give you food and a rood over your head for 3 days, Bedouins in the desert have always given hospitality for 3 days + a picnic when they send you on your way (even if they came to hunt you down and murder you afterwards) and there are sadhus in India who spend their entire lives moving on every 3 days. Even the Germans, amongst others, say that guests are like fish – after 3 days they begin to smell.

82. Most Norwegian houses have a cellar built in for brewing homemade hooch. Heavy drinking is about the only way most people can get through the winter when there’s practically no daylight.

83. Young Arabic men in countries like Kuwait, the U.A.E and Saudi Arabia go out to shopping malls and exhibitions in the hope of being able to toss a rolled-up piece of paper with their phone number on it to any young woman who meets their eye. Without the chaperone observing. She can thus call them after afterwards and they can have a telephone romance without either of their families finding out.

84. The street stalls selling imitation goods in Japan are primarily run by Israelis. Spots on the street are bought from the Yakuza and then young Israelis are imported to work on a 40% commission for all that they sell. The Japanese are defenseless against the Middle Eastern chutzpah.

85. Whereas it’s usually the rich who can afford the ocean views and hilltop villas with a breeze, in Rio de Janeiro it’s the dirt poor who have squatted the hills above the rich districts and founded their favelas.

86. Kidnapping is considered by many to be the fastest growing industry in Latin America. The entry costs are low, the profit margins are high (generating an estimated $500m a year) and it’s not taxable.

Source – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1672125.stm

87. Most of the world wipes their asses with their left hand and water. From Morocco to Ethiopia, from Turkey to Thailand, wiping with paper is considered too disgusting for words. And let’s not even talk about handkerchiefs.

88. There are pregnant Latin American women who wait near the US border until their waters break and then make a run for it with their lawyers. If they succeed in crossing the line they chain themselves to a rock or a bush and hope that their baby will be born on US soil (and hence get automatic US citizenship) before they’re cut free and sent back.

89. Most countries in Africa are a joke. Countless tribes were lumped together under the name of a nation when the Empires were forced to renounce the days of openly robbing the colonies. Thus in any one African country you’ll usually find several ethnicities, languages, beliefs and cultures. Just one of the reasons that Africa is so fucked.

[in response to reader anger, by ‘fucked’ we mean subject to civil war, genocide, massive state corruption, disease and drought. We have the utmost sympathy for the hundreds of millions of Africans who have to deal with this on a daily basis.]

90. Many consider the work of aid agencies in Africa and elsewhere to be a cause of the chaos and poverty. They flood the markets with free food, free labour (all those bright-eyed volunteers) and thus completely upset the local economy and engender a hand-out mentality.

91.Microfinance on the other hand is picking up steam all the time. Through the internet individuals can now loan small amounts of cash to people in Africa, Latin America and Asia who need some capital to start their own business and get on their feet. Check out http://www.kiva.org for a good example.

92.The amount of money sent home by immigrants each year is far more than all the foreign aid given by governments.

93. Banknotes in India have a limited lifespan. They’re often issued stapled together which means they start with holes in them. Once they get any noticeable tears shops refuse to accept them and they end up getting traded in with the used-note wallah who gives 60% of the face value.

94. Stop a rolling coin with your foot or lick a stamp in Thailand and expect trouble. The king’s head is on both and he’s revered beyond belief. His son is considered to be something of a schmuck, however and Thais dread the day the king passes away.

95. There are tourist boards in rural Cuban towns that tried to promote themselves by declaring in brochures that one of the local favourite pastimes was ‘having sex with foreigners’.

96. Israel decided to boost its image with American men aged 18-35 by arranging a photo shoot with Maxim of hot army girls. They also made tourist videos with lots of sexy Israeli girls on the beach. ‘If you go to Tel Aviv, this is one of the realities’, an official declared.

97.While there may not be many pirates in the Caribbean these days, piracy is a real problem off the coast of Africa and in South East Asia. Small motor boats with machine guns make effective pirate vessels and they neither say yo-ho-ho, drink bottles or run or abide to any code of conduct.

98. Americans are considered to be the loudest tourists in the world as they walk down the street chattering away. One theory has it that as they watch more television than anyone else in the world they’ve learnt to talk above the volume of the blaring commercials.

99. In most poor countries the police are so badly-paid that they have little choice but to extort bribes in order to feed their families. Not that they usually feel too bad about doing so. The word ‘police’ puts fear into most people’s hearts across the world.

100. The English are famous for talking about the weather. Between strangers it’s actually a social function as they can discover to which social class the other belongs by his accent.

101. Japanese babies have traditionally been carried by their mothers on their backs as they went around town. They thus learn from an extremely early age just how low to bow in a variety of social situations.