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6 Foreign Subcultures You’ve Never Heard Of

Dandies in Congo, emos in Iraq, electro-hillbilly truckers in Japan. No matter how hard life can be, people carve out original ways of living.

1. La Sape (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Devotees of this dandy Congolese subculture live in the world’s poorest country and often work many menial jobs to support their pride in fashion (their suits often cost many times the average annual salary). As a result, they’re treated like local celebrities and get paid to appear at weddings. Le Sapeurs insist it’s just as much about genteel conduct and pacifism as it is about clothes. The subculture started in the ’70s in defiance of Mobutu Sese Seko’s repressive regime. Recently they were featured in Solange’s excellent music video. Read more about them here.

2. Punk Street Kids (Indonesia)

Indonesia’s vast punk scene differs from their Western compatriots in that many street kids (some as young as 11, with the word “PUNK” tattooed on their knuckles) live at communes and record stores. Under Jakarta’s highway overpasses, local bands such as The Marjinal offer food and shelter to these slum children and teach them how to busk with ukuleles, as well as make buttons, T-shirts, and Ramones bootleg cassettes. In parts of Aceh province, police contend that they flout Islamic law and have forced them to shave their hair or enter re-education camps.

3. Betel Nut Beauties (Taiwan)

Dressed in nightgowns, bikinis, and maid costumes, these women pose in glass booths around Taiwan’s major highways to woo truckers into buying betel nuts (think tropical chewing tobacco). Many are poor rural college students attracted by wages considerably higher than those of Taiwan’s ubiquitous 7-11s. The more lavish booths give an illusion of peeking into a very sexy living room. Taiwan’s metropolitan newspapers often decry the exploitive sales tactic, but the practice shows no signs of waning in rural areas. Read more here.

4. Botas Picudas (Mexico)

Cowboy swagger meets Lisa Frank – young men in northeastern Mexicon have taken to dancing in glittery bedazzled boots with enormously long toes. Many men do DIY toe extensions on their boots with plastic foam, decorating them with butterflies, stars and flashing lights. Every week, men flock to nightclubs and dance off to tribal guarachero music for cash prizes and, some hope, the attention of single women.

5. Emo Kids (Iraq & Mexico)

You’ve definitely heard of emos, but in Mexico and Iraq it makes enormous courage to dress like Pete Wentz. Variously labelled Satanists and gender-deviants, kids with skinny jeans and side-swept bangs face violent mobs and sometimes state and clergy-sanctioned stonings. In Mexico, internet-organized mobs stormed parks in Queretaro chanting “kill the emos!” which had city government scrambling to urge emo tolerance (perhaps the first government entity anywhere to have a stance on emo). Emo-hate comes, as usual, from a confluence of uneases: gender norms, rivaling music fandoms, Islamic law, and fear of an encroaching Western middle-class fashion.

(Bottom photo credit: Zonbebas.com)

6. Dekotora Truckers (Japan)

Driving delivery trucks across rural Japan can be a drab affair, so some rebel drivers have taken to decorating their rigs into campy midnight juggernauts. Chrome rims, Christmas trees, random pipes, chandeliers, cartoon murals – nothing is considered too flashy for a dekotora highway rally. Aesthetics range from Gundam anime nerd to Bōsōzoku rockabilly. Some even have mini tatami rooms onboard. Kids in the countryside can deck out their bikes this way too. Vice did a mini documentary on them.

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