In Tibet, it is considered normal, even polite, for people to stick out their tongues at one another when greeting or coming to an agreement. This originates from an old legend about an evil 9th Century Tibetan king who was famed, not only for his cruelty, but also for his black tongue. As Buddhists, Tibetans are traditionally superstitious and believe heavily in reincarnation. People show each other their tongues in order to let the other know that they are not the embodiment of the barbaric and black-tongued king.
In Mexico, when walking alongside females, men will habitually walk on the side of the pavement closest to the road and cars in order to shield the fairer gender from potential, unforeseeable harm. And they say ‘chivalry is dead’?
In Russia, people only give bouquets of flowers containing an odd number of stems. Giving even numbers can turn a kind gesture into an offensive one. Even numbers of flowers are used solely for funerals and, by bringing even numbers into a home, you are tempting death over the threshold.
Streets in Japan have no names. Whole blocks of land are numbered and divided into smaller numbered plots, in no particular order. Addresses are written starting with the largest land unit and ending with the name of the addressee. In Kyoto and Sapporo, however, an unofficial street name system has been devised, using North, East, South and West as starting points.
Traditional Lithuanian weddings frequently involve a custom known as the ‘hanging of the matchmaker’. Historically, as it was difficult for young couples to meet, a suitor was chosen for a woman by her parents, aided by a hired matchmaker. Towards the end of the ceremony, friends of the bride would jokingly claim that the matchmaker had lied about the groom’s wealth and they would pretend to take him away to be ‘hanged’. The bride or her mother would then pity him and save him by wrapping a sash or towel around him before a dummy was hanged instead.
By Harvey Wilks