Ever wondered what daily life looks like in other countries? From cooking equipment to fortune charms, we have drawn a list of the most characteristic objects and rituals that shape everyday living in homes around the world.
1. Italy, Bidet Mon Amour
Italians are quite demanding when they move abroad. When looking for a house to rent, the first thing they will want to check is the bathroom. The reason is always the same and can be explained with the term bidet. Why is this French word so important to the people of spaghetti, pizza and sunny villages? Well, even though it appears to be a French invention of the 17th century, the bidet has over time become essential in Italy, and is the thing that makes most Italians who live abroad want to move back to their home country: it’s not their mums’ lasagne or the Italian art heritage, but the beloved and too long missed bidet.
2. Senegal’s satala
The satala can be thought of at the same time as the Senegalese version of the bidet and as a portable shower. A large water pot with a rounded shape, it is found everywhere in Senegal, from houses to shops and even public places, and is mainly used for ablutions before prayers. Satalas are also found in toilets, where more often than not toilet paper is substituted by a tap for pouring water in one of the traditional pots. Toilets in Dakar’s airport have small satalas fixed to the walls with chains.
3. United Kingdom, nothing tea can’t solve!
Brits believe tea is the solution for everything: black tea, strictly served with milk and sugar, is seen as the go-to drink for breakfast, work breaks and days out, for welcoming somebody in your home or for comforting them when something bad happens. It comes as no surprise then that the staple of British houses is the kettle: a pot designed for boiling water and equipped with a lid and a handle. Kettles used to be heated on a stove but now come with their own convenient electric heating element and plug, and they can be found everywhere in the United Kingdom: hotel rooms always have one and kitchen spaces within offices get windows clouded by steam in winter, as the kettle is switched on and on again to make tea.
4. Poland’s national drink, herbata
When in Poland, do as the Polish do. Contrary to common stereotypes, this doesn’t mean drinking vodka, or more precisely wodka, but sipping loads of tea, known as herbata. Poles are really obsessed with it and offer it to everybody. Not only do they prefer it to any other warm beverage, but they also drink it with their meals instead of water. In every Polish home there is always a kettle ready to boil water to make tea, but, unlike Brits, Polish people won’t judge you for adding something other than milk to it: they are more democratic when it comes to tea, and will gladly respect any choice as long as you drink herbata when you’re offered it!
5. Bosnia and Herzegovina, come have a coffee!
Just as important as tea for Brits and Poles, is coffee for people in the Balkans. Social gatherings in Bosnia and Herzegovina rotate around the habit of coffee-drinking and talking, and the drink is consumed at all times of the day and sometimes of the evening. A lasting trace of the Ottoman domination, Bosnian coffee is a slight variation of Turkish coffee, and is prepared through the simmering of finely ground coffee beans in a special pot, which is then placed back on the stove to reach boiling point and left to settle for a few minutes before serving. The cream that forms on the surface of the drink is collected with a teaspoon and placed in cups first, and only after this is the liquid poured. All Bosnian houses must therefore have at least one Bosnian coffee pot, or džezva, and traditional coffee cups, fildžani.
6. The Netherlands, cheese please…
The object you will always find in a Dutch home is the kaasschaaf, or cheese slicer. Netherlanders have a deep love of cheese, as suggested by the many varieties produced: Gouda, Edam, Maasdammer, Leidsekaas and Komijnekaas are some of the most popular ones. Dutch cheeses can be differentiated on the basis on their aging process, for example Graskaas only ages one week while Extra Eleven takes between seven and eight months. The majority of Dutch cheeses are covered in wax, and are bought in large triangular slices weighting around 200gr each. The wax is removed with the kaaschaaf before eating, and the slicer is then used to cut vey thin slices of cheese, most of the time enjoyed on a piece of bread with salted butter.
7. Romanian polenta, mămăligă
Better known as an Italian recipe, polenta is also a common food in Romania, where it is known as mămăligă. Traditional Romanian polenta is made by adding corn flour and salt to water in a cast iron pot called ceaun or tuci, then bringing the mixture to boil and stirring until the consistency becomes sufficiently thick. Just like in Northern Italy, once the polenta has been served on plates, the thin and crunchy crust is taken off the sides of the pot with a knife to be eaten. In some areas of Romania polenta is served slightly less dense and accompanied by the most popular cheese in the country, Cașcaval.
8. Russia, shoes outside, pozhalujsta!
If you visit a Russian friend you’ll better remember to wear your good pair of socks. Why? Because you won’t be allowed to enter the house with your shoes on. In most Northern and Eastern countries wearing shoes in a house is considered bad manners. In Russia this is probably the case because of the amount of snow in winter, which makes roads wet and dirty most of the time: keeping your shoes on when inside would mean carrying all the dirt from the streets to the floor. The upside is that you will be offered a generous choice of slippers to make you feel at home whenever visiting somebody. It is very uncommon to find a Russian house where there are no spare slippers for visitors…
9. Israel’s mezuzah
A mezuzah is a decorative case containing a small parchment roll, the klaft, inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah. It can be found on the doorposts of Jewish homes as a means to designate the house as Jewish and remind those who live in it of their connection to God and to their heritage. Additionally, the mezuzah is believed to have the power to protect Jewish homes and their inhabitants, who usually touch it for protection before leaving the house.
10. China, fortune on your doorstep
In China it’s common to see upside down signs affixed to the outside of doors. The most common one is the character “福” fu, which means fortune in Chinese. This sign is often hung upside down because the Chinese word for “upside down”, 倒 dao, sounds like the Chinese word for “arrive”, 到 dao, so when you hang the 福 sign upside down it means that “Fortune has Arrived”.