Cultural Differences: 9 Surprising Customs From Around the World

by | Dec 27, 2020

Localization is essentially a way to make your product or service appear as if it was developed for people in the local market. Cultural localization means using local customs, societal codes and values, acceptable colors, and similar sensibilities and cues that are understood by your target audience. By not taking cultural differences into account, you may give offense and alienate your potential customers.

We’ve all heard that it’s a small world, but is it really? People have such different lifestyles that what feels like a customary practice to some may seem bizarre to others. People have a propensity to develop traditions and customs around everything from beauty rituals to eating habits. This has led to a world enriched with thousands of different cultures since the dawn of civilization. Cultural differences abound, and the following are nine surprising examples

Cultural Differences: 9 Surprising Customs From Around the World 1

1. People in Malaysia Use Their Thumb to Point

Some countries regard pointing with the index finger as rude and abrasive. While members of many cultures probably think that pointing a finger, both literally and figuratively, isn’t very nice, in some countries, e.g., Indonesia and Malaysia, this gesture is seen as incredibly offensive. Instead, it is considered more polite and acceptable to gesture towards things with the thumb. In many African countries, pointing is reserved for inanimate objects only, not people.

2. Nicaraguans Point With Their Lips

While hand gestures vary with cultural differences, few countries can lay claim to gestures made by contortions of the mouth. However, in Nicaragua, it is common to point with the lips instead of the thumb or index finger. Wondering how exactly this is done? It all starts by puckering up in a kind of duck face. The lips can then be directed forward or side-to-side to indicate what the person is trying to point out. The lip-point gesture is accompanied by a directional head movement and is typically used when conversing to indicate something happening nearby.

3. The French Really Go In For Kissing

Pretty much every culture has specific greeting rituals. Romance and Latin American cultures share the common custom of kissing on the cheek as a form of salutation. However, the French have taken this to a whole new level. For instance:

  • Kissing rules vary for men and women.
  • The number of kisses required to complete the greeting varies from region to region.
  • The French people are expected to kiss-greet each person arriving at a gathering, whether they know them or not.

4. Nigerians Kneel or Prostrate Themselves When Greeting

Members of the Yoruba tribe, an ethnic group in Nigeria, take greeting rituals seriously, especially regarding greeting elders. When an adult is approaching, it is customary for young people to greet them by dropping to their knees. To be more specific, women kneel, and men prostrate themselves. These traditional gestures are signs of deference and respect for the elders in the community. Other ethnic groups in Nigeria do not engage in this custom. You can see a video of these greeting postures by clicking here.

5. People Spit on the Bride at Greek Weddings

Spitting in Greek cultures is regarded as a good luck charm to ward off the devil. Spitting is also done as a way to ward off evil when engaging in regular conversations. Today, the custom doesn’t involve wedding guests actually spitting on the bride. Instead of inflicting damage on the bridal gown, it has evolved into the more hygienic and symbolic act of guests forcefully uttering verbal spitting “ftou ftou ftou.” Greeks also do this on other special occasions such as baptisms to acknowledge the baby’s good health and beauty.

6. In Russia, September 12 Is Known as the Day of Conception

Cultures typically approach marriage, sex, and reproduction in unique ways. Russia may take first prize in terms of institutionalized acceptance of a custom. This came about because of serious concerns over Russian society. Russia has declining birth rates, an unequal proportion of women to men, and alarmingly short male lifespans. To help solve this issue, the Russian government instituted a public holiday on September 12 to give couples time off from work to have sex, which will hopefully result in a pregnancy. Prizes are given out to those successful parents whose babies are born approximately nine months later.

7. The Danes Hang Out in Cemeteries

Cemeteries are spooky folklore sites in many countries, but this is not the case in Denmark. Instead of gathering in parks, the Danes (a pragmatic people) have converted their cemeteries into socializing areas. Danish cemeteries are well manicured and thronged with locals when the weather begins to warm up after winter. In Copenhagen, the country’s capital, you’ll be hanging out in great company as many famous Danes are buried there, including Hans Christian Andersen.

8. The Japanese Enjoy Slurping

Most cultures have rules about table etiquette. In western societies, noisily consuming food is considered rude. However, in Japan, making slurping sounds while eating is acceptable. This probably has something to do with the way noodles are eaten. In western countries, you twirl your noodles on a spoon or fork before putting them in the mouth. The Japanese simply slurp up their noodles without winding them around a utensil. This way of noodle eating is naturally noisier. Making slurping sounds when eating noodles in Japan indicates that you’re really enjoying them. Some people even state that slurping lets air into the palate and enhances the noodles’ flavor.

9. Cultural Differences: Using the Left Hand

In some countries, the use of the left hand for eating or other activities is considered insulting and rude. People in these countries use their left hands for cleaning themselves after using the toilet, and, therefore, the left hand is considered dirty. This custom applies to much of the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Africa. When spending time in these parts of the world, always use your right hand for greeting, exchanging money, handling merchandise, and, of course, eating.

Why Cultural Differences Matter

Working in an online global business environment means you need to understand the traditions, customs, and practices of the people in your targeted country. Problematic doesn’t even begin to describe the effects on your international business should you fail to observe cultural differences when planning your marketing campaigns.

Localize understands the importance of cultural differences. We can make a big difference when it comes to all of your translation and localization needs. Explore what we have to offer by clicking here.