You know what’s funny about travel? It teaches you. A LOT.
It makes you more open-minded in the way people do things differently from what you’re used to back home. There were so many times where I got out of a plane into a new country, and saw something that made me think, “People do this here??”, “Interesting, that’s weird,” or “That’s such a genius idea!” Apparently, I’m not the only one whose had those thoughts. As told by these travel bloggers, here is a roundup of funny and interesting quirks they’ve encountered around the world and have lived to share it:
Laura Goyer from Touramisu:
“Italians love to let their hands do the talking. After a very good meal in a restaurant, for example, an Italian might put their index finger to one cheek then rotate their wrist back and forth. The first time I saw this in action was after having a wonderful dinner with a Roman friend. Just after we settled the check, I saw her give the chef a huge smile, put her fingertip to her dimple, and give it a twirl. It looked really flirtatious. Since the chef was much older than her, I thought she must have lost her mind.”
Roxanna from Gypsy With A Day Job:
“Puerto Rico: I was a bit baffled at the traffic laws that are a bit relaxed. Red lights at intersections were more like yield signs, or suggestions. Drivers stopped for a moment, to ensure no traffic was coming, then moved on. Remaining at a stop resulted in an onslaught of honking. It was also possible to pull over to buy a roadside Pina Colada, for the drive.”
“Roadside shrines were a surprise to me in Ireland. Shrines themselves can be found all over the world, but in Ireland it appeared they were tended on a daily basis. It was not uncommon to come upon a shrine that seemed very isolated, and far from any homes or businesses. Yet, there was a candle actually burning, so it was certain someone had paid their respects that day.”
“Bathroom habits in Germany would be shocking to visitors in many countries. Yes, public toilets do have a charge. However, what was odd as an American is that the main doors are almost always left open. Yes, passersby can hear you do your business. And of course, in some cities, there are outdoor stalls for urinals. Obviously, it is better than peeing behind a tree!”
Jonny Bradford from JonnyBradford.com:
“I was sitting down in the Dublin Airport around 5 am to enjoy a full Irish breakfast. I had a piping hot cup of Irish tea on my right to help wash the black pudding down. Because that’s what you do in Ireland, right? Contrary to my thoughts, after minutes of sitting at my table, I noticed everyone around me was having a Guinness. At 5 am on a Wednesday. When in Ireland, do as the Irish applies here as well.”
Ben Reeve from BenReeve.Co:
“One interesting quirk I noticed when travelling was the language of driving in South Africa. A lot of the phrases used seem completely unique to this country. I’ve not heard them anywhere else in the world. It can get quite confusing! For example: A ‘circle’ is a roundabout. A taxi is actually a minivan or minibus. A bakkie is a pick-up truck. A slip is a receipt at a toll booth. A ‘robot’ is a set of traffic lights! So if you’re told to pick up a slip, take your bakkie through the robots, and go straight across the circle you’ll now know what to do!”
Kimberly from The Unlikely Traveler:
“I was rural Indonesia (Java) with a group of Americans and we were visiting a village. A very pregnant lady came up to us and complimented my friend on his nose (it was long and pointy, not like an Indonesian nose). She then asked if she could touch it; he obliged. She touched his nose with her thumb and then rubbed her belly. She believed her baby would now have his pointy nose. Also in Indonesia, pointing with your index finger is considered very rude (like giving the middle finger in the US). You point with your thumb only.”
Anne Betts from Packing Light Travel:
“My first exposure to yarn bombing was in the sleepy village of Melk, Austria, on a Danube bike-and-barge tour. “Yarn bombing” is a form of graffiti that involved covering objects in public spaces with knitted, woven or crocheted yarn cozies. I admired how much effort and skill it took to create such a fine work of art. I appreciated how new life had been breathed into something that was no longer functional. But, most of all, it epitomized the Donauradweg, the Danube Bike Path. I imagined the many miles that bicycle had travelled on the Donauradweg, and how it had been appropriately honored in retirement.”
While cycling in Cambodia, I was impressed by the inventiveness of Cambodians. People made use of what was around them, and repurposed things in imaginative ways. Scaffolding was made out of wooden poles, and roofing material out of rice straw. Gasoline was sold in pop bottles, old tires were converted into trash cans, and CD disks were used as reflective lights on carts.
“A little over a hundred kilometres north of Lisbon, Nazaré (Portugal) is a colourful coastal community steeped in tradition. An interesting practice is the method used to rent rooms to visitors. Women hang out at the bus station, or beachside, with multilingual signs advertising “quartos, chambres, rooms, zimmer” to rent. Most of the rooms are located nearby, in the quiet neighbourhood behind the beach, and are half the rate of a cheap hotel room.
Cindy & Simon from Free Two Roam:
“One thing that really puzzled me about Japan’s smoking policies was how smoking in the street is strictly forbidden. On the other hand, if you go to a restaurant or a bar, you may well come out smelling like an ashtray! Yes, smoking inside is totally fine; who cares about second hand smoke?!”
“In Myanmar, most of the cars are right-hand drive. This is despite the fact that the entire country drives on the right side of the road. It used to be that everyone drove on the left, until the law was changed in 1970. Because most of the cars in the country are very old and therefore right-hand drive, it makes for some fun on the roads. For example, in busy Yangon our guide would often have to help out our driver when changing lanes because he had a very big blind-spot on the left-hand side of the car!”
“I don’t know about you, but I always like to photograph the locals in the countries we visit. But I always feel shy about asking them. In Myanmar, this was no issue because local people were always the first ones to ask. No, they didn’t ask us to photograph them. They wanted to take photos with us. Yes, with our boring selves! Apparently, we were so white and beautiful. That’s nice to know! Needless to say, it was a lot easier to ask for a photo of them once they had posed with us!”
Lauren from Wanderluluu:
“My first time experiencing an Asian market was in a neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City that not many foreigners frequent, and it was immediate sensory overload. From the woman shaving a butchered pig’s leg, to the ladies getting their hair and nails done in an open salon just a few feet away, to the people riding their motorbikes through the narrow market to pick up their produce, it was unlike anything I had ever seen before! Since then, going to a local market is the first thing I like to do when visiting a new place!’
“One thing that also blew me away during my many travels to Southeast Asia is how specific streets are designated to selling one kind of item. For example, on a particular street, each shop located there will sell electronics. Sometimes it’s even more specific like cleaning products or jewelry. It made me think about how long my shopping day would be if I needed to get multiple things all at once! I saw this across Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and it has always stood out to me as a unique and interesting quirk of this region.”
Vyvy from Viva La Vyvy:
“In Bayan-Olgii of Mongolia, families of about 10-12 people live in gers, which are single-roomed wooden huts. There were about 4 beds inside, with one bed having a curtain around it. I asked why that bed was special, and they said it was for the newlyweds to get privacy.”
Casey from Let’s Travelle:
“While in Berlin & Prague (plus many other places), you can drink alcohol while walking around the street or at a park. Whereas back home in Canada, it’s illegal to consume any alcohol (or have an open alcoholic container) in public unless you’re at a house or somewhere with a permit like a restaurant or pub.”
“For many of us used to modern sanitation, this is a bit of an adjustment! In most parts of Greece, from my experience, you cannot flush toilet paper… at all. All toilet paper must go in the trash bin since their sewage pipes can’t handle it. Some places also have squat toilets, meaning no toilet seats – definitely an adjustment for us women! Just make sure to check first so you don’t fall in!”
Michele from The Intrepid Guide:
“Italian’s don’t drink cafe latte (milk) any time after breakfast. Don’t be surprised if an Italian looks you up and down in horror or roll their eyes if you order one.
Italian’s put fresh cream on gelato. Trust me, this is a blessing. If they ask, just say yes. You’re welcome!
There is no such thing as a queue in Italy. Everyone has the right of way and using your elbow to get ahead is commonplace. Watch out for the little old ladies.
Italian’s firmly believe that you should never swim after eating for fear of drowning. Most Italian’s will wait until they digest their food before taking a dip.”
Sarah from World Unlost:
“Going to see a movie at the cinemas in Berlin, Germany was an eye-opener for me — I gasped out loud when I had my first mouthful of popcorn and found that its flavor wasn’t salty like back at home but rather sugary-sweet!
Norfolk Island, Australia is an incredibly quirky place, full of those little mind-boggling travel moments — even for mainland Aussies like myself. The local phone directory there lists residents by their nicknames rather than full names, for one thing, and the community is so tight-knit that when you order fresh seafood at a restaurant they can tell you who caught it that day and where. It’s an amazing place; highly recommend!”
Stephanie from Poppin Smoke:
“In cities in Japan, you can’t find a garbage can . . . but you also won’t see litter. Whether you’re in a train station, a department store, or a bathroom in the subway, it’s rare to see a wastebasket. Japanese keep any trash they accumulate during the day and throw it away when they get home. They don’t throw it in the street!
The Japanese don’t use hot water to do laundry. Whether you’re in an apartment with a washing machine or at a laundromat, the only option is cold water. At least you know you won’t ruin any delicate clothing because you can’t read the buttons!”
And here are some from Travel With Trang:
“In Portugal, many students wear a uniform with black capes. Author JK Rowling was inspired by this during her stay in Portugal, hence the students at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books wear them as well.
The French eat cheese and fruit after their meal. They usually will have a variety of cheeses on a plate in the fridge and take it out to sit on the counter once lunch or dinner is started. That way, it will be softened and ready to eat at the end of the meal.
In Spain, everyone takes a siesta in the middle of the day. It happens around 2-5pm. Even if you’re bored, there’s not much to do because everything literally shuts down for those hours. Major tourist cities like Madrid and Barcelona may have more shops opened during that time though. Also, they are very laid back and usually tardy when it comes to time. My Spanish friend said a plumber came 4 hours late once which was normal!
In Italy, there are places where you can get an ‘aperitivo’, where there are many free finger foods laid out at the table or bar. All you have to do to enjoy them is to buy a drink!
I noticed outside of the US, particularly in Australia and Asia, tampons did not have the plastic applicator. It literally is just the cotton piece that you insert!
In South Korea, alcohol is sold in cartons, so it’s easy to pick one up thinking you’re buying fruit juice. There were vending machines in the subway that sold random things including cigarettes and condoms which looked like bubblegum packaging. Christmas is seen as a holiday for couples and New Year’s is seen as a holiday to celebrate with the family. Also, it’s common to have heated floors in homes which was amazing for the wintertime!
In China, there are many restaurants with very hilarious English translations for their dishes:
Bathrooms are quite different in many countries, especially in Asia. In third world countries, you’ll usually have the squat toilets where there is a huge bucket of water next to you to pour in the toilet to “flush it”. I learned late in my trip you’re supposed to pee facing the public bathroom door (aiming at the toilet bowl) instead of facing the wall (aiming towards the toilet hole). This way you don’t get as much splash back. Many places don’t have toilet paper so you just have to make sure you carry tissue around with you just in case.
There are toilets with a “bum gun” on the wall. It pretty much looks like a garden hose spray that you can use to clean your bum after you poop. Homes usually have a bathroom and shower right next to each other, with no wall separation. Before you shower, you close the toilet lid so the shower doesn’t get all over the toilet seat.
Then you have the nice ones in Japan that include a bidet and air to clean your bum and include music to mask the noises you make. Fancier ones even come with seat warmers. Some toilets have a sink above them so when you flush, new water runs from the faucet so you can wash your hands. That water then goes in the drain to fill up the toilet tank to be used for the next flush. Very space-saving and resourceful!
In Japan, it’s very expensive to have a car. It costs about $3000 to get a driver’s license. This is because they highly encourage people to use public transportation instead. To get from city to city, there were so many tolls that you pretty much were paying to get somewhere. Also, some taxis there have doors that automatically open and close.
My Japanese friend used to be a bar girl, but it’s not what you think. It was a common thing for men to come to this type of bar after work. They paid to have someone to talk to for a few hours and that was it. Usually it was middle aged men, married or unmarried, usually on the rich side, who talked about work, life and how stressed they are. They would buy food and drinks and they’d talk. She’d make about $20-$25/hour, even more if a customer specifically requests to talk to her.
In Vietnam, I learned how to bargain from watching my aunts do it so naturally. Many countries find it normal to bargain when shopping. Instead of just throwing price numbers around, you casually talk and diss the seller’s clothes, find faults in it, or mention the other shop is cheaper. Example: ‘This fabric’s so thin and cheap. There’s a tear here in the back. I bought a sweater just like this at ABC Shop for only $X though.
In Vietnam, it’s very common for the locals (generally women) to go to the salon a few times a week to get their hair washed, which is called “goi dau”. They put your choice of shampoo and water in your hair. Then you get this awesome scalp/head massage which is the best part. After rinsing your hair, they can also give you a little face massage. Afterwards, they blow dry your hair. It all costs only $1-$2 so it’s definitely worth trying, especially if you’re too lazy to do your hair!”
I hope you enjoyed these fun little tidbits from around the world! Whether they make us laugh or feel puzzled, they help us learn and understand where people come from, what shapes them, and discover the little interesting things that add to their culture. Finally, I’d like to give a special thanks to all the lovely bloggers that took their time to share their travel experiences here at Travel With Trang and please make sure to check out their website!