When we are talking about cultures around the world, we basically talk about the variety and rich elements of different things. Our world is vast and big, consisting of many countries and nations. Each of them has their own belief, culture, habit, and lifestyle. Different cultures have their own special traits and unique aspects. It can be quite fun to learn about them all. Making comparison between one another is also exciting.
What Is Culture?
Before you get to discuss various cultures around the world, we need to understand the term first. Culture is the combination of the people’s social behavior, belief, custom, and ideas in a particular society. It is the core of that particular society – typically unique and ingrained deeply in that population. Culture is different from tradition. Tradition may also ingrained deeply, but it’s more related to specific behavior, event, or activity that is repeated (again and again) and pass over generations.
A lot of people may think that a custom and a tradition are similar, but they are actually different. A custom is related to collective behavior and it doesn’t exist long enough to turn into a tradition. Traditions are also part of the cultures. That’s why different cultures would have different traditions.
The Table Manner
It’s quite normal when you ask for a salt when dining, but in Egypt, it is considered an insult. If you are dining with colleagues and friends in the country, or you are traveling to the country and have dinner at the restaurant, avoid asking for the salt. It means that you don’t like (or even repulsed) by the taste of the served food. If you want to be polite, never ask for a salt.
The way people eat their meal and handle their food is different from one country to another. With the aspect of cultures around the world, some people consider it acceptable for doing things that may be considered rude in others. In some countries, eating food with your bare hands is normal. In Indonesia, table manner is pretty flexible. You can eat with your hand, even when you are eating rice, or you can use your eating utensils. Considering that the country is rich in various foods, being flexible in using the utensils can be quite handy. So, when you eat pizza or nasi padang, you can use your bare hands. But when you eat soup, soto, or steak, make sure to use the proper utensils.
In Norway, however, they are quite adamant on using the knife and fork, even when you are eating sandwiches or burgers. Yes, you still need to use the knife and fork! Using your bare hand would be considered rude.
In Turkey, don’t try to ‘go Dutch’. In other cultures, such as America or Germany, splitting the meal tab would be considered impolite – even when the meal (dinner or lunch) is held for your honor or favor. You can offer paying half (of the meal), but don’t insist on it because it may offend the host. You can return the favor by inviting the host for the next meal, so you have your turn to pay for it.
With different cultures around the world, you also need to be careful – even for things that you presume to be okay. In China, giving out gifts should be done carefully. Chinese people and their cultures are bound to their traditions – which have dated back to ancient times. We need to remember that China has the oldest and most ancient civilizations, which means that their traditions have been shaped for millennia, passed down for generations.
So, when you want to give out presents to your Chinese colleagues or friends, remember about the aspect of cultures around the world. Here are the things you should keep in mind:
- Avoid giving whites because white is often associated with death and ghost
- If you want to send out flowers, don’t choose the ones with thorny stems
- Don’t give out green hat because it means ‘Your wife is unfaithful’ or anything that comes in four. Number 4 is like white – it is associated with death.
- Don’t give out handkerchief, umbrella, or straw shoes (or sandals). They are often associated with farewell and good-byes. Handkerchief is for farewell, straw shoes means that you want to go separate ways, and umbrella is for ending the relationship. If you want to lend out an umbrella, you need to take it back. If you leave it, it means that you are saying good-bye.
Business Arrangements and Deals
Different countries have their own different cultures, including the way managing the business. In Bolivia, discussing business during social occasion or dinner party would be considered impolite and rude. For them, dinner time and social occasions are for personal relationship improvement. So, if you are being invited to a business dinner or lunch, don’t talk about business or mention about it at all. Let your Bolivian host to bring it up first. When you are invited to such an occasion, just enjoy the atmosphere and form a better relation with the host. You can talk about everything, including your family, except for business matter.
In Finland, the people would view sauna moment not only for personal enjoyment, but also for business success. Yes, going to the sauna is supposed to be a personal way to relax and wind-up. But in Finland, it is also a moment to be sociable. If your counterpart or client somewhat invites you to the sauna, especially after a meeting, it is a good sign. It means that the business meeting is great and successful.
Sharp Objects Gifts
You probably want to send out a set of knives to your friend, whom you know is working as a chef. Or you probably give out knives to those who just move in or just got married – you simply want to provide them with enough culinary sets. However, be extra careful when giving out sharp objects for Dutch or Chinese people. Remember, there are different cultures around the world, including about sending out sharp objects as gifts. When you give out sharp objects to the Chinese, they would see it as a symbol to cut or break ties (with them). For the Dutch, they would see those sharp objects as unlucky items.
A Matter of Punctuality
In America, punctuality is crucial. When you have a meeting at 9, it means that it starts at 9. The same norm also applies to the Japanese, South Koreans, and Germans. If you are late, you are considered impolite. However, different countries have different opinions and views about punctuality. In Venezuela, arriving 10 minutes to 15 minutes late is the norm, especially for dinner invitation. If you are early, they would consider you excessively greedy or eager.
In Malaysia, being 5 minutes late or even 60 minutes late is normal – and you won’t even have to apologize. In China, being late for around 10 minutes is still okay. For Greeks and Mexicans, their tolerance can go to around 30 minutes (after the appointed period). In Morocco, however, there is no limit to being late. Whether you are late for an hour or even the entire day, it is still okay. That’s how each culture is unique in terms of cultures around the world.
Different Greeting Manners
Don’t forget that different cultures around the world may also extend to their ways of saying (or showing) the greetings. In America or Germany, it is the norm to shake hands when you meet someone else. It is even normal when you shake the hands of any kid – you need to do so to everyone in the room. In Japan, saying thank you or greeting is done through bowing. The depth (of the bow) depends on the age or social status of the person you are addressing. If he/she is at the same age as yours, the bow won’t be so deep. But if it is an elderly or you are dealing with someone rick or powerful, you will have to bow deep. In Argentina, Brazil, and France, it is part of their culture to kiss the cheek. In Brazil, friends usually exchange 3 cheek kisses. In different parts of France, the cheek kisses are different. In Toulouse, kissing both cheeks is okay. In Brest, it is normal for a kiss only in one cheek. In Nantes, the norm is to give 4 cheek kisses.
Countries have different kinds of celebration when it comes to birthdays. With different cultures around the world, it’s quite exciting to see how people deal with birthday events. In Mexico, shoving the face of the birthday person (to the cake) is acceptable and considered normal. After the happy birthday song, the birthday person has to blow the candles. They have to lean over to take a small nibble (of the cake) and this is the time when someone else will push the birthday person’s face into the cake.
In the Netherlands, birthday greeting goes not only to the person (who has the birthday), but also to the relatives and family. Basically, you will never go lonely during your birthday – or any birthday of your family member!
In Bolivia, it is the norm to bake money – into the sweet cakes and pastries. It is usually done during New Year’s celebration but it can also be done during birthdays. When done during the New Year celebration, it is meant as good luck, especially if you find a coin within your food.
There are also unique sports cultures around the world. In Finland, they have the so-called wife-carrying competition. Known as Eukonkanto, the sports event is designed for couples. The idea started in the 19th century, and it has World Championship too! Because of the unique idea and the fun, other countries have started having the same competition. You can find the wife-carrying content in Asia, England, America, and Australia. The price isn’t fancy. It is beer – as much as weight of the winner’s wife.
In Austria, they have the finger-pulling event – basically the tug of war, in mini version. Known as the Fingerhakeln, the rules are pretty strict and it is a serious game. The purpose is to drag your opponent’s finger across the table.
There are several events in several areas where you won’t find elsewhere. They are unique in their own sense and characteristics, providing fun and entertainment at the same time. Basically, you have fun during these celebrations. For instance, La Tomatina in Spain is the event for throwing tomatoes – to everyone! This is considered the biggest tomato fight in the world. The event was held in Valencian town in Buñol. Spaniards would throw tomatoes to everyone. This is a fun event that attracts people from every corner of the world. People would love coming to the town before the event so they can take part in the celebration!
The Italian has the same event. But instead of throwing tomatoes, they are throwing oranges. It’s called Battaglia delle Arance which takes place during Carnevale di Ivrea. The residents of Ivrea (a city in Italy) would get together and throw oranges at one another. It is basically a commemoration event to remember the past battle – happening between the ruling tyrant and townsfolk. At that time, the townsfolk threw oranges during their fight – for freedom.
If you want to take part in a beautiful event where you float baskets (containing candles) to the river, there is Loy Krathong event in Thailand. It is the event to respect Pra Mae Kongkha, the River Goddess. Besides as a sign of worship, the event is also done for forgiveness. The action of floating the baskets symbolizes washing sins away, saying good-bye to any misfortune, and hoping (and wishing for) good luck for the upcoming year.
There are still plenty of other unique cultures, habits, and customs all over the world that haven’t been discussed here. It’s interesting to learn different kinds of things from various cultures around the world.