Part one: Unusual traditions from around the world
A gap year can be a great time to learn about the world: tradition and culture in another country. Even one you thought you knew can be surprisingly different.
Jump the baby in Spain
As with other festivals in Spain, this particularly unusual one has religious roots: it goes back to 1620, when El Salto del Colacho was used to celebrate Corpus Christi. So what happens? Essentially, some trusting parents lay their babies on a mattress in a street, and cover them in rose petals. Then a man dressed as the devil leaps over them. In fact, it's not unusual to have a whole row of mattresses with babies on top, with brightly-dressed young men leaping over them.
Throwing baby teeth on the roof in Greece
It's not just the Greeks who engage in this unusual tradition - people from Macedonia, as well as Korea and Taiwan, also observe this practice. Why? Explanations vary, but the throwing of the baby teeth onto the roof is often accompanied by the chanting of a little poem containing a request for a replacement tooth which is stronger than the baby tooth lost.
Showing up on time in Venezuela is considered rude
Not to work or an appointment, you understand- but if you happen to be invited to someone's house for a drink or a meal, showing up on time is frowned upon. Why? In Venezuelan culture, showing up at the stated time can mean that the guest is perceived as impatient or greedy, so it's better to wait until at least 15 minutes after the given time to knock at the host's door.
Always use your knife and fork in Norway
Touching your food in Norway is considered bad manners- even sandwiches are eaten with a knife and fork in this Nordic country. Forks should be held upside down in the left hand, and knives in the right. Norwegians are so keen on this that it's common in Norway to see people eating at American hamburger restaurants or even Mexican places, and eating everything without making a mess- because they politely use their knife and fork.
Chopstick Rules in Japan
Thankfully, the Japanese are quite forgiving when it comes to foreigners' chopstick manners, but if you want to fit in and show respect to the local culture during your time in Japan, it's important to make an effort. It's considered poor form to eat directly from communal dishes, so you should take a piece of whatever tasty dish is there with your chopsticks and place in on your own plate before eating it. You should avoid placing your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice when you're not using them, as this resembles a funeral rite and will make other diners uneasy. Instead, use a chopstick rest (or simply lay your disposable chopsticks on the paper they were wrapped in).