Across the world, language varies to an incredible extent – depending on how one defines a language, there are at least 4,000 or 5,000 living languages in the world today. Love however, like music, is often said to have a language of its own that cuts through these barriers. In a sense, this is perhaps true, but when you look a little closer, you find that even this language isn’t quite as universal as it seems.Romantic customs and traditions in one part of the world aren’t necessarily romantic to people in another part of the world, and don’t always translate very well. For example, if a man offers a woman a beautiful wooden spoon in Wales, the gesture will most probably be understood, even if it’s not appreciated. A man can splash a woman with water in Poland, and this will be seen as part of a wonderful, romantic tradition; at least, at the right time of year. Try these gestures of love elsewhere in the world though, and there’s no telling what the reaction will be.
Here are a few of the strangest ways that people across the world express their love for each other, as well as some unusual ways that family and friends express their affection for the lucky couple.
Wet Monday in Poland
Easter Monday can get pretty crazy in Poland. It’s called Dyngus Day or, more traditionally, Śmigus-Dyngus – Wet Monday. In a tradition that has been recorded as far back in history as the 15th century, boys in a village throw water on girls they have a liking for, hit them with pussy willows (the local substitute for palm leaves, which are a part of many Easter traditions but don’t grow in Poland), and go around spouting romantic verse on this day. The specifics vary from one region to the next, but sometimes the soaking can be done early in the morning, while the girls are still in bed, even still asleep!
Sometimes the soakings are announced in advance and in great detail from a village rooftop; the girls may sometimes escape a soaking with a bribe of a painted egg, which is then treated as a good luck charm by the boy; and there might sometimes be rather processions through the village, with singing and treats alongside the soakings. If this all seems unfair, don’t worry – according to the tradition, on Easter Tuesday, the girls can return the favour.
Rice Parcels in China
How romantic can rice be? If you’re in China, it can be very romantic indeed. At the Sisters’ Meal Festival of the Miao people in Guizhou, rice is at the center of all the wooing. There is of course plenty of music, dancing, wine, and some particularly elaborate dressing up, but love (or the lack of it) is communicated through the medium of rice parcels.
Young men will present women they are interested in with parcels of colorfully dyed rice. The women hand their own parcels of rice back to the men, but here the communication gets a bit more cryptic. If the parcel from the woman contains a complete pair of chopsticks, it’s a yes; if the parcel contains a single chopstick or a garlic stalk, it means the offer has been turned down; if the woman, for some reason, wants to make a negative point more forcefully, the parcel will contain a red chili. Pine needles, bamboo, and flowers all convey their own special meaning, but are usually an indication that the man stands a chance.
Love Spoons in Wales
Wales has a tradition that is arguably more graceful, if not as much fun as splashing water on your beloved. According to this tradition, a man would offer a spoon as a sign of his love: not just any spoon of course, but an elaborately, intricately carved wooden spoon. The woman could either keep the spoon to accept his proposal or return it to reject it. There was a practical aspect to this too, as there is with many romantic traditions: the prospective bridegroom’s ability to offer such a gift indicated to the prospective bride’s father that the young man was capable of providing for his daughter. The love spoon tradition exists in a few other places too, but it is quite rare today, although the spoons themselves have fortunately not died out. They are now more common as wedding gifts, anniversary gifts, and Valentine’s Day gifts, and of course they’re never actually used to eat.
Love Locks in Rome
This one isn’t very old, and it also happens in many places across the world. Love locks are padlocks attached to gates, fences, and other public structures in order to either proclaim or ensure that your love and your relationship will never be broken. The key of course is thrown away – a bridge is one common location, in which case the key is thrown into the river – so that the lock can never be opened. The custom is said to have started around a hundred years ago in Serbia, based on a local legend about an unhappy couple. However, it remained localized and obscure until a 2006-2007 Italian book and film popularized the practice in Rome. From there, it seems to have spread across Europe and to a few places in Australia and the US too.
Feet Beating in South Korea
For many people across the world, marriage and married life may be something to look forward to, but the wedding itself is sometimes seen as a source of stress that can’t end soon enough. In South Korea though, the torture gets a bit more literal: to prove his love and worthiness, the groom must submit to having the soles of his feet beaten by members of the bride’s family (or, traditionally, all the male members of the bride’s village). And it’s not just any old beating – the groom’s feet are tied together, he is hung upside down, and then, while he is beaten with wooden rods and dried fish, he must answer an assortment of questions, riddles, and puzzles. The practice, known as dongsangnye, isn’t as widespread as it used to be, but it does still happen. Of course all of this roughhousing is done more in jest than malice, especially today; but still, we’re not sure how much fun it is for the groom.
Shooting the Bride in China
The Yugur people in the northern province of Gansu in China are a small ethnic group of barely 14,000 people, but they still have large, extravagant wedding celebrations that can last for two days, with some spectacular performances, ceremonies, and costumes. Of course that’s not particularly special – many cultures across the world do that, although not in exactly the same way. The strange tradition at the Yugur wedding though is the part where the bridegroom shoots the bride with a bow and arrow. The arrows are without their sharp arrowheads, so there’s no damage done, but as a sign of his eternal love for the bride (and hers for him) the groom must shoot three arrows at her, and then break the arrows. The wedding can then go on.
Whistling in Mexico
In most parts of the world, whistling at a woman isn’t considered a polite way to communicate your feelings for her, but then in most parts of the world, whistling doesn’t really say much and is almost always one-sided. In the Kickapoo tribe of Mexico however, whistling is a lot more complex, and is used by both men and women to communicate with each other. Every evening, couples whistle their meeting plans and I-love-yous to each other.
The whistling (some say it’s more accurately described as fluting, since it uses a kind of “hand flute”) is a sort of extension of the tribe’s spoken language, and the two have many similarities. The practice is only around a hundred years old, and is said to have been the result of young people wanting to communicate with each other without their parents’ knowledge. Of course the youngsters doing the whistling eventually grow up to be parents themselves, but since couples typically develop their own codes and patterns for identification and communication, this isn’t a problem, and the tradition continues.
Eye-Rolling and Teeth-Baring in Niger
Normally, if your loved one rolls their eyes at you, they’re definitely not saying “I love you” – it’s a pretty reliable sign that the evening isn’t going too well. And if the eye-rolling progresses to teeth-baring, it’s quite likely a problem. Among the Wodaabe Fula people of Niger however, stark white eyeballs and teeth are among the most valued signs of beauty, and flaunting them is part of the courtship ritual at the annual Guérewol festival. Here, men do the courting, for which they wear elaborate make-up, feathers, and other traditional costumes and ornaments, and perform for the women. The performances are done as a group, but it’s a kind of competition in which each man tries to outdo the other with his singing and dancing, and the dancing involves swaying, rising on one’s toes (height is another sought-after male characteristic), rolling one’s eyes and baring one’s teeth to flaunt their whiteness.
Blackening in Scotland
Married life can be tough, and in Scotland, because your friends and family love you and want you to be prepared for the challenges ahead, they just may grab hold of you and cover you in treacle, feathers, and soot. Of course there’s always that one friend or cousin who loves taking things a little further, so there’ll often be some spoilt milk, a few eggs, and some raw fish thrown in as well.
But wait, that’s not the end of it – now that you’re “blackened”, you must be paraded around town in the back of a pickup truck, with plenty of honking and screaming, and possibly some more blackening. At the end of it all, you might be tied to a lamppost or dunked in the ocean. The tradition isn’t as widespread today as it used to be – it now tends to be practiced in only a few regions in the country, and another thing that’s changed is that the bridegroom has been roped in as well; traditionally, it was a privilege reserved for the bride alone. The good thing though is that they’ll ply you with enough alcohol to sail through the entire blackening with a smile on your face.
Money-Pinning in Greece
During the bride and groom’s first dance in Greek weddings, guests start pinning notes of currency to the couple’s clothing. The pinning continues through the dance, and gradually, the bridal couple accumulates some long and expensive streamers that float around them. The custom is practiced among groups of Greek expats in other parts of the world too, but not as widely as it is back home. Especially among younger people who have not grown up inside Greece, it is sometimes seen as a bit over the top to be pinning streamers of money to people. However, others see it as a fun and traditional way to give the couple a little financial boost with which to start their life together. And really, if you’re not being beaten, blackened, or tied to a pole, you surely shouldn’t be complaining.
There are of course many other strange customs of courtship and matrimony across the world, some well-known and others more obscure. Does your country have any unusual romantic traditions? Let us know in the comments!