Customs like shaking hands or saying thank you are pretty typical in American society, and they are ingrained in us from a young age. But aside from just being friendly, you may not know the origins of your greeting or the reason for hold a door open for a stranger. These actions are part of our culture, which are different around the world. The things we see as normal may not necessarily be normal to someone else and the things that look odd to us may be standard practice in another country. But that's what makes travel beautiful: we are all different in so many incredible ways. Here are a few interesting global customs to experience while you're abroad:
India: Mehndi ("Henna Night")
"Mehndi" is another word for henna, a plant based dye that usually comes in the form of a paste. Henna is popular in African and Southeast Asian countries, but most famously in India. Traditional Indian weddings are lavish and ornate affairs and you can expect to see the bride and groom in bright, bold colors, heavy jewelry, striking makeup, and done up in henna. Considered to be the most important event in a young woman’s life, every inch of skin is covered in some fashion. Used to create stunning and intricate patterns on the exposed skin, a few nights before the wedding, the bride, her family and sometimes the groom's clan (mostly the female members) gather to adorn each other with designs that represent the excitement of the impending nuptials. The designs can be anything from geometric patterns to leaves, some which have significant cultural and religious meaning like flowers which represent fertility.
Chile: Arrive Late
If you were invited to a social gathering in America, it would be considered polite to arrive on time, or even early, as it is rude to make your host wait on you. In Chile, you're expected to arrive late. South American culture is more relaxed than the U.S., and people tend to ease their way through the day. Arriving to someone’s house on time is considered a faux pas because you run the risk of catching your host off-guard if they're in the middle of preparing for the festivities. Instead of making them feel rushed and uncomfortable, take a few extra minutes to get ready and give them a good 15-30 minutes to make sure everything is as it should be.
Malaysia: Bury Your Teeth
In Malaysia, there's no such thing as the tooth fairy. Rather than hide lost teeth under their pillow in anticipation of a few dollars, children are taught to bury their baby teeth. It’s a common belief in some countries and religions that people came from the earth and they intend to return to that same earth. Since a tooth is a body part, it’s rightful place is in the ground. Malaysia isn’t the only country that participates in this practice. In Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, it’s not uncommon for a parent to take their child’s tooth and bury it in a place they want to have significant meaning to their child. For example, if they wanted their child to grow up to be a scholar, they would bury their lost tooth near a library or a school. If they wanted their child to be a businessman, they would bury it near a business district. In some cultures, all body parts carry equal weight because they are all part of a greater being. This means that your tiny tooth is as special as a heart, and a toenail is as precious as a lung.
Ghana: Eat With Your Right Hand
Children in Ghana are taught to use each hand for different activities. The left is for bathroom use (i.e. wiping), cleaning, and working, while the right is for greeting and eating, separating the savory from the unsavory. Even though both are washed together and are equally clean, it's not uncommon for a Ghanaian to refuse food from you if served with your left hand, or to refuse to shake your left hand because of what its symbolizes. Before antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer, there was probably a logical reason for this, but now it’s just a custom visitors are expected to respect. What’s that old saying? Do as the Ghanaians do, even if you may struggle to eat one-handed.
Japan: Respect the Chopsticks
Chopsticks. Americans either love them, or can’t use them. For those that struggle, many have adopted a "do whatever it takes to get the food in your mouth" attitude. In Japan, these practices would be considered extremely rude and offensive. Piercing your food or holding your chopsticks incorrectly is seen as a sign of disrespect. In the east, eating with chopsticks is considered an ancient art form and taught from birth. Using them incorrectly is seen as mockery and if you’re one of those people that just can’t quite get the hang of it; don’t bother. It’s much more polite to decline the chopsticks and discreetly ask for a pair of silverware.