Cultural Bucket List
To experience another culture is to step for a moment into someone else’s everyday life, to leave all the social rules and norms that you take for granted behind and learn new ones. It broadens your horizons and helps you develop empathy for people who might seem different to you at first glance, but actually have a lot more in common than you might think.
Learning why cultures do what they do helps deepen your understanding of the world around you. It might be shocking, overwhelming, scary, and confusing, but it’s also fun, exciting, and you’ll push yourself to make new friends and ultimately become a better person.
Make sure you don’t judge any of the rituals or values – go in with an open mind, and an incredible cultural experience will be your reward.
Piñatas are papier-mache containers filled with candy and toys, which are traditionally whacked with sticks by kids (or kid-like adults) who are blindfolded to make it a little harder. They’re usually found at children’s birthday parties, with the smashing ceremony happening just before the cake. A little destruction always gets kids appetites ready for sugar.
Most Turkish restaurants will have a belly dancer come out at some stage on the weekends – and she may even get you up to join her! Belly dancing is fun, sexy, and has an air of the mystical about it. You’ll feel like a Sultan of old as she jingles her bells and shimmies her hips to the sultry music.
Hindus attach a great deal of importance to marriage, so a Hindu wedding is of course going to be a huge celebration. The ceremonies are colourful, bright, and happy, and the celebrations can last several days. If you’re lucky enough to get an invitation, wear bright, bold colors (even the men!) and prepare to eat your body weight in delicious Indian food and dance til the sun comes up!
K-pop is the popular music of South Korea, which has spread to become a global phenomenon due to its squeaky-clean boy and girl bands, the production value of it all, and the hyper-sanitized songs. There’s laser shows, incredible dancing, rapping, and over-the-top everything. K-pop concerts are as much about the manic fans as they are about the music – it’s something you need to see to believe.
The Greeks perform traditional folk dances at weddings, birthdays, festivals – pretty much any social gathering or celebration – and you’ve ever joined in on one, you know why. The most popular, sirtaki (the Zorba dance) is incredible fun, and knowing the steps is less important than getting in there and having a go. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to an event where dancing is on the cards, you simply must join in.
The Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland was used by the Nazi Germans to imprison and kill over a million people during WWII. It’s the largest of its kind, and indeed the largest mass murder site in history, so to visit Auschwitz is to both pay respect to the many who lost their lives there, but also to make sure nothing like it happens again. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and this can never be repeated.
There are more than 3,000 tribes in Africa, and they speak 2,000 different languages, so as you can imagine there are a fair few tribal dances to learn. While we don’t recommend you head out into the desert in search of a tribe to join, an opportunity to learn a traditional dance is an amazing experience and privilege.
A kimono is a traditional Japanese dress, and is usually worn on formal or special occasions. It has long, wide sleeves and is made of silky fabrics, often with ornate patterns and colors. Match it with a pair of traditional clogs to shuffles around Tokyo the way the geishas would have back in the day.
Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the day Australian and New Zealand forces landed at Gallipoli during WWI. Today it’s the day of official remembrance of Australians who have died at war. Many Anzacs were killed on the beaches of Gallipoli, so making the journey there is seen as a mark of respect. After the dawn service, head to your nearest pub for a round of two-up and a pint – it’s what the diggers would have wanted.
A Jewish wedding is very similar to most other weddings you’ll have attended in your life, with a few key differences. There are vows and a document to sign, and a rabbi to officiate. At the end of the ceremony a glass is put inside a cloth bag and the bride and groom step on it to shatter it, while everyone shouts ‘Mazel tov!’. Then, as with all good weddings, the party begins!
Springtime in Japan is known as cherry blossom season, a time when tourists and locals come together to admire the bright pink bloom of the Japanese cherry trees. Cherry blossom viewing, or hanami, can be done all throughout the parks of Tokyo – take a picnic along and make a day of it!
You’ll see more fireworks than you ever have in your life over the days of Chinese New Year (the Chinese invented them, after all). It’s also the cause of the greatest human migration in the world, as billions of Chinese workers travel back to rural China to spend the day with their families and eat dumplings. A massive celebration and one that needs to be experienced at least once.
If you only think of the Red-Light District and getting high when you think of Amsterdam, you’re in for an absolute treat when you visit. This gorgeous city is built with canals gridded through it, so you can sail down the street almost as easily as you can drive. Just make sure you go there in summer, as the canals completely freeze over in winter – not that this isn’t equally beautiful, just makes boating tricky.
The Rio Carnival is considered the biggest carnival in the world, with two million people per day on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. See some amazing live music and dance, try some delicious food and samba your way along with the parade. It’s the world’s biggest street party!
When people ask if you tried the brownies in Amsterdam, it’s not out of a love of fudgey chocolate goodness. The Netherlands has legalized the sale of marijuana, which means you can find it in all sorts of baked goods. We recommend being somewhere you feel safe and going with friends. And if you’ve never tried the old Mary Jane, maybe start small – it’s a rookie error to assume it hasn’t worked and eat the whole thing!
Adapted from the original Japanese version, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling style of martial art where you wrestle on the ground and attempt to pin your opponent. It is known as a fighting style which incapacitates an aggressor rather than hurting them and is great for self-confidence and core strength.
Sumo wrestling isn’t just big fat guys slamming into each other – there’s actually a lot of strategy, strength, and ritual to it, all of which makes for an exciting event when you get to watch it live. Fun fact, if either of them lose their loincloth they’re immediately disqualified. No nudey bits in the ring!
Flamenco is a beautiful performance of Spanish guitar, flowing dresses, hand clapping, and singing, so if you’re in Spain you should definitely check out their most famous art form (well, most famous art form without bulls). If you’re going to learn how to do it anywhere, it should be here – though be sure to catch a performance at a tablao and see how the experts do it, too.
The subject of countless books, movies, documentaries, and crazy theories, Jack the Ripper is considered the original serial killer. Learn about his (or her?) crimes by following the grisly route around the back alleys of London. Inspect the sites where he stalked and butchered prostitutes, see if you can find any clues… Because of course, Jack the Ripper was never caught.
The tartan Scottish kilt is a symbol of the Scottish Highlands, most often worn at formal occasions like weddings. These days it’s become a bit of a fashion symbol as casual kilts pop up more and more, so trying one on might not be as weird as you think. Plus, just think of the freedom of being able to wear a skirt and feeling the breeze around your privates – maybe the Scots were on to something!
The bright red double decker bus is an iconic London symbol, as well as a mass transport system. Head up the to the top level and sit on top of the driver for a birds-eye view of the street as you go barrelling down it. It’s been said that the best way to see London is from the top of a bus, so sod ‘minding the gap’ – hail a bus and get around like a true Londoner.
The traditional understanding of café means that you might expect food and drink to be involved – that’s not what we’re suggesting you try when you visit an Amsterdam café (although they do bake a mean brownie). Having said that, you’ll probably want to grab yourself some snacks for the trip home…
No summer BBQ or Christmas lunch in Australia would be complete without an aunt whipping out the old pavlova. A meringue-based cake traditionally topped with heaps of hand-whipped cream and fresh fruits, it’s light, sweet, and bloody delicious.
You’ve probably tried sushi before, as it’s become incredibly popular all over the world. The kind of sushi rolls that you can pick up at any sushi store, however, are not authentic Japanese sushi – these were made popular in the US as a version that westerners would enjoy. In Japan you’re much more likely to find sashimi, as fresh fish is a staple and complicating it with rice and vegetables detracts from the delicate taste of the fish. Try a restaurant where they create the menu based off the freshest fish of the day and taste the difference.
Providing you have an open mind and aren’t too easily scandalized, the Red Light District is an interesting look into the seedier side of Amsterdam. Skimpily-clad ex-workers pose in the red-lit windows of 290-odd brothels – if that’s not your cup of tea, why not visit the Sex Museum for a bit of kinky education? Mind that you don’t take photos of the workers – it’s not very respectful and you may find your phone being hurled into the canal by an enforcer.
If you’ve ever imagined yourself as a beautiful, doll-like Geisha, why not visit a Geisha studio and get the makeup professionally done? Head to Kyoto where there are a number of geisha or maiko studios where you can dress up just like a traditional geisha, then walk through the streets as a proper geisha. Heads will turn as you clack down the cobblestone in your clogs, and you’ll be sure to get many smiles and photos.
Haggis is the national food of Scotland and banned in many other countries. Traditionally made sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs and cooked in its stomach, haggis is probably not for everyone – but if you’re going to try it anywhere, it should be Scotland, where it will be served with bashed neeps and mashed tatties (turnips and potatoes to the layman) and you can wash it down with a good Scottish whiskey.
Every country has their thing that they gleefully make visitors eat simply because they know they’ll hate it. Australia’s thing is a thick black fermented paste that smells like yeast and salt and tastes like a beer gone terribly off, which they put on toast for breakfast. Pro-tip: go heavy on the butter and very light on the Vegemite, it’s the way locals eat it even if they insist you should spread it on thick. It’s a trick, believe me.