The more you travel, the more weird traditions you’ll encounter — and that’s some kind of wonderful.
Part of the wonderment of travel is experiencing cultures that are vastly different from your own. It expands your mind; it helps you understand how we’re indelibly shaped by our environments.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling superior, that places that don’t follow our conventions are somehow more barbaric.
But that’s what makes world travel so fun. Get out of your comfort zone. See things from another point of view. Travel truly changes you.
Here’s a sampling of some of the strangest customs I’ve experienced on my travels.
On Bali, menstruating women cannot enter Hindu temples.
The idea is that women on their periods are somehow “unclean.” But my friend Christina was having none of it.
“I didn’t fly halfway around the world to not go into any temples just because it's that time of the month,” she exclaimed.
“Hey,” I responded, “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
In Thailand, there’s no concept of the closet for gays.
As hard as this is to believe, this is what I was told by my friend Deb, who was living in Bangkok at the time.
Apparently being gay isn’t something you have to hide in Thailand. Which I suppose means there’s no repression, and you just tell everyone around you when you first realize you have feelings for the same sex.
Honestly, this one still astounds me, and I’m not sure I fully believe it. I feel like it would make Thailand the only country on Earth where it was totally OK to be gay.
In Morocco, men hold hands and kiss hello.
There’s nothing gay about it. But Muslim men are quite physical with each other. It’s not unusual to see two grown men walking arm in arm down the street or even holding hands.
And when they greet each other, they kiss on the cheek. The man who drove us to the Sahara used me to demonstrate the traditional greeting. He kissed me once. Twice. Thrice. Four times! It seemed a bit excessive. I mean, who’s got time for that?
In Sevilla, Spain, you toss your napkins right on the floor.
You stop at a tapas bar for some delicious nibblies, and when you’re done, you nonchalantly throw your soiled napkin onto the ground.
“It took me a while to get used to this,” my friend Jo said. “But honestly — they’d rather you do that than leave them on the bar.”
In Peru, you pour out booze as an offering to Mother Earth.
The Andean people worship the Earth as Pachamama, and whenever they have an alcoholic drink, they pour a bit out to honor her.
“What about if you’re in someone’s home?” I asked my guide one evening at our campsite on the Inca Trail.
“Yes,” he told me.
“What about if you’re at a restaurant?” I asked.
He nodded again. “Yes.”
“It’s kind of like pouring one for your homies,” I said. But he didn’t understand. –Wally