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19 Bizarre National Customs From Around The World

Penis festival, anyone?

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1. CZECH REPUBLIC: smacking women with a special whip at Easter.

Flickr: elpadawan / Creative Commons

On Easter Monday men go from house to house lightly whipping the women with braided willow branches called 'pomlázka' ('korbáč' in Slovak) to, apparently, imbue them with fertility.

2. UK: saluting lone magpies.

Magpies are ill omens in British folklore - it's "one for sorrow, two for mirth," according to the old Lincolnshire nursery rhyme. That's why, in many parts of the UK, if you see a single magpie you can mitigate the bad luck it brings by greeting it with the salutation, "Good morning Mr Magpie, and how is your lady wife today?"


5. SCOTLAND: Wearing skirts and reciting poetry once a year.

Flickr: monkeypuzzle / Creative Commons

On 25 January people all over Scotland (and in other parts of the UK) tune up their bagpipes and get gussied up in their finest tartan to celebrate Burns Night, which commemorates the life of legendary Scots poet Robert Burns. Festivities include ceilidh (pronounced "kaylee") dancing, and platefuls of haggis (offal in sheep intestine, in case you were wondering).

6. RUSSIA: having a sit-down before leaving on a trip.

Whether it's a family excursion or just one person's journey, entire Russian households will sit down for a few minutes before the trip to ward against bad luck (also a good idea if you're prone to leaving your keys at home).

7. USA: listening to a weather-forecasting rodent.

On 2 February, the people of Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania gather to observe a groundhog called Phil emerge from his burrow. If Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, you can expect an early spring. Groundhog Day dates back to 1886, and apparently there has only been one Punxsatawney Phil. He owes his great age to a closely guarded punch recipe.


10. AUSTRIA: Pulling fingers.

The CW Network /

In Austria, Fingerhakeln - or competitive finger-pulling - is a serious sport, with very strict rules. Finger-athletes aim to drag their opponent across the table by just the finger. Fingerhakeln is also played in Bavaria in Germany.


12. FRANCE: buying funny hats for your unmarried friends.

Flickr: photigule / Creative Commons

25 November is St Catherine's Day in France, and all unmarried 25-year-old women (or "Catherinettes") are given elaborate green and yellow hats, which they must wear all day.

13. GERMANY: following a sock-garland to your birthday party.

Flickr: rhoadeecha / Creative Commons

Meanwhile, if you reach 25 without getting married in Germany, your friends will string a garland of socks from your house to the venue of your birthday, and every few socks you'll be encouraged to have an alcoholic drink.

14. GERMANY: Cleaning on your thirtieth birthday.

Flickr: j_a_g_a / Creative Commons

If you're still unmarried at 30 in Germany, don't expect any special treatment. Unmarried women are expected to clean their friends' doorknobs with toothbrushes, while men have to sweep up, although a kiss from someone of the opposite gender could excuse you from these chores.

15. FINLAND: Competitive wife-carrying.

Flickr: allhandsvolunteers / Creative Commons

Wife-carrying is a fully endorsed sport in Finland, with competitors from all over the world congregating in Sonkajarvi each year for the wife-carrying championships, and the sport itself is said to date back to the 19th century.


16. ALSO FINLAND: Athletic boot-throwing.

Flickr: allhandsvolunteers / Creative Commons

Like wife-carrying, boot-throwing has been around so long that it's taken very seriously, and considered a championship sport in Finland (although competitors have been known to drink during the event to enhance their game).

17. MEXICO: Shoving your face into your birthday cake.

At Mexican birthday parties, once the cake has been brought out and everyone has sung 'happy birthday', you're encouraged to take the first bite of your cake. At which someone will inevitably push your face into the icing, and you're not allowed to get angry, because it's tradition.

19. JAPAN: Following a giant penis through the streets.

The festival of Kanamara Matsuri dates back to the 17th century. Revellers dress as penises, eat penis-shaped sweets and create giant iron penises to carry through the streets of Kawasaki. It honours the legend of a woman who had a demonic toothed vagina that ate men's penises, and it remained undefeated until a metal-worker built a metal penis that broke the demon's teeth.

Inspired in part by this Reddit thread.