Bizarre Cultural Practices And Quirky Traditions From Around The World

9 January 2015

We all know the saying, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." Seeing the world and the way other people live doesn't just broaden your horizons, it serves as an insight into the cultural differences found from country to country and even village to village.

From the hilarious to the downright painful, this is a no-holds barred look at some of the most intriguing, bizarre and quirky traditions around the world.

Easter In The Czech Republic - Pomlázka

Easter traditions in the Czech Republic are symbolic of a new life and signify the transition into spring. Easter Monday is when all the excitement happens.

Traditionally, boys and girls use the preceding days to prepare; girls decorate eggs, known as kraslice, while the boys craft their pomlázka, a braided whip made from pussywillow twigs and ribbon. The twigs are thought to bring health and youth to anyone who is whipped with them.

Boys set off on Easter Monday to smack girls lightly on the legs and even douse them with water, which is said to chase away illness and bad spirits. Think of it like a detox cleanse except free and without forgoing any treats. Although potentially a little more painful and wet.

As a 'reward' for the whacking, the girls offer the boys the decorated eggs. Older males are commonly rewarded with money and even shots of plum brandy, so it's not an uncommon sight to see groups of men staggering along the streets in the afternoon.

 The ingredients of the pomlázka (credit: Getty Images)

Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling And Wake

How much do you love cheese? I love it as much as the next guy though probably not enough to chase it down a hill. But that’s exactly what keen racers do each year in England’s Gloucestershire.

Competitors line up at the top of Cooper's Hill in the village of Brockton to pursue an enormous wheel of Gloucester cheese down a very steep incline on the last Monday of May.

Crowds, estimated at up to 5000 people, gather in the Gloucestershire countryside to watch and participate in this oddity. Originally held by and for the people in the village, these days, the Brockton cheese-rolling is a world-famous event with participants from all over the planet.

Technically the competitors aim to catch the cheese, but it often reaches speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour, so the winner is deemed the first person over the finish line.

And in case you're wondering, the 'trophy' is a 3.5 kilogram Double Gloucester.

(video credit: SoGlos)

Keen to celebrate St Nicholas Day in Europe? The Very Best Of Europe’s Christmas Markets

See why everyone's going to Japan All My Friends Went To Japan

As if you needed more than one: 9 Reasons To Visit Brazil


Kanamara Matsuri – Gongs And Dongs

Forget cherry blossom season; springtime in Japan sees revellers flock to Kawasaki on the first Sunday of April to celebrate Kanamara Matsuri, aka the Festival of the Steel Penis. Yes, you read that correctly.

While the festival has its roots in 17th-Century folklore, today you’ll find it’s a jovial event encouraging fertility and happy marriages. The streets come alive with revellers celebrating the 'peen' with all manner of paraphernalia from costumes and sweets to gifts that include phallic candles and even penis-shaped carved radishes.

Kanamara Matsuri culminates in a vibrant street procession where three giant penises including a giant hot-pink phallus named Elizabeth Mikoshi are carried through the streets by transvestites. You can’t make this stuff up.

Surprisingly, the festival isn't the only one of its kind in Japan. At Nagoya’s Honen Matsuri, a 2.5-metre long wooden phallus is carried to the Tagata Jinja shrine where it's furiously spun before it's 'erected'. Naturally.

(video credit: TVShinjuku)

The Amazon - Leave Your Machismo At The Door

Coming-of-age in the modern world for young men often means that first beer, first girlfriend, first job and travelling overseas. These Western practices pale in comparison to what the boys of the Amazonian Satere-Mawe Tribe in Brazil have to endure before they can call themselves a man.

Leave any preconceived notions of machismo at the door; the Satere-Mawe tribe take manhood rites to the extreme. Becoming a man means sticking your hands in woven gloves full of stinging bullet ants for 10 minutes and enduring a pain so excruciating it’s likened to being shot – over and over again. The pain often sees these boys writing in agony for days. Oh, and they endure this ritual up to 20 times over the course a year.

Think you’ve got what it takes? Check out radio funnyman, Hamish Blake’s attempt before you traipse through the Amazon searching for these pint-sized weapons. Unless a visit to an emergency room in Brazil is something you want to tick off your travel to-do list.

(video credit: Hamish and Andy's Gap Year) 

Krampus - Santa's Devilish Friend

That face. Those horns. The pointed teeth and snarl. Jolly ol' St Nicholas has a dark companion, a friend by the name of Krampus.

Santa doesn't have a need for a naughty and nice list; he leaves Krampus in charge of the bad kids, swatting them with chains before dragging them to the fiery depths of the underworld.

Well, that's how the pagan legend goes.

These days, Krampusnacht takes place on the eve of St. Nicholas Day across Austria, Northern Italy and parts of Europe. He visits homes to dish out lumps of coal for anyone who has misbehaved during the year. Forget milk and cookies, Krampus prefers schnapps.

For those who want to get into the spirit of things, party-goers on the night of the 5th December masquerade as the horned devil in the Krampuslauf, or Krampus Run, terrifying anyone that crosses their path. All in good fun of course.

 Scares galore courtesy of the Krampus (credit: Getty Images)

Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.