Random Shit from around the World


  • Only English-speaking dogs woof-woof (very posh British dogs bow-wow). Polish dogs how-how. Thai dogs hong-hong. Israeli dogs hav-hav.
  • Yet most of the world’s cats meow, albeit may not spell it as ours do.
  • The gesture which means “a table for two please” in Tokyo means “fuck off” in London.
  • And the gesture with which you ask for the bill in Japan is used jocularly in Britain to suggest warding off the devil. If you used it in the same context, it would mean that you found the waiter repulsive or annoying. Mind you, if the first thing you did when you walked into the restaurant was to tell him to fuck off, he might not be too surprised.
  • The thumbs up gesture, as in Facebook likes, means “up yours” in parts of the Middle East. Hitchhikers will not get far with it.
  • There is a bust of Frank Zappa on public display in Vilnius, Lithuania, although he never visited the country and has not the slightest connection with it.
  • Number four is unlucky in Hong Kong and many buildings jump straight from the third to the fifth floor. High-rise blocks sometimes miss out all floor numbers with a four in them, so a 36-storey building might have a 50th floor.        
  • In much of Northern Europe, it is customary to strip off before using a sauna or steam bath. Try it in Britain, though, and you are likely to be arrested.
  • Australia boasts the world’s largest artificial trout, artificial prawn, artificial banana, and artificial potato, while South Africa has the largest artificial pineapple, Canada the largest artificial mushroom, and New Zealand the largest artificial carrot.
  • Baseball is hugely popular in Japan. It is screened in bars much as football is in Europe.
  • The United States, Burma and Liberia are the only countries not to have adopted the metric system. However, while it has been officially adopted in the UK, imperial weights and measures are still commonly used, and many British people use a hybrid system, for example weighing their suitcase in kilogrammes and themselves in stones.
  • No one outside the UK, Australasia and the Irish Republic has a clue what a stone is.
  • Atchoo might be the default sneeze in the English-speaking world but it is no more an involuntary noise than hello, goodbye and thank you. The stock sneeze in Poland it is ap-sik, in Korea eitchee and in Japan hakushon. There are oddities though. My father sneezed in Japanese and my Australian friend sneezes in Polish.
  • The colour red suggests danger, passion and socialism in Europe, good luck and prosperity in China and Sunday in Thailand. Blue denotes depression, pornography and conservatism in Europe, immortality in China and Friday in Thailand. (Thais have a colour for every day of the week.)
  • In the 1970’s a Finnish politician proposed, as an austerity measure, to stop buying Donald Duck cartoons for youth centres. It was mischievously reported that Donald Duck had been banned on moral grounds because he goes about without trousers on. It remains a popular urban myth.
  • However, just last year, Winnie the Pooh was rejected as a mascot for a Polish playground on much the same moral basis.
  • In Japan, you can smoke in restaurants but it is illegal to smoke on the street. It is generally the other way round in Europe.
  • The Vietnam War is known as the American War in Vietnam. World War II is (in some contexts) known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia.
  • In Thailand, you could – until the laws were tightened this year – buy alcohol from a shop at any time of night, and early morning, but not during the day. In much of Europe, you can buy it at any time of day but not after 8pm (Norway), 9pm (Finland), 10pm (Russia) or 11pm (UK).
  • The English football league club, Arsenal, has widespread support in East Africa. Its logo often appears on buildings and vehicles and its name is annexed by cafes and such like across Kenya and Tanzania.
  • Beer, cigarettes and hot coffee in cans are all widely available from street vending machines in Japan.
  • Ibuprofen, routinely sold in supermarkets in Europe, is a controlled drug in Hong Kong. Yet the strong painkiller Diclofenac can be bought over the counter.
  • The Da Vinci Code was banned in Lebanon, for religious reasons rather than because it is so badly written. Animal Farm has been banned in just about every authoritarian state, whether communist or not, from the Soviet Union onwards.

© Richard Senior 2015

Image: By W. Reichmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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