Habits From Homes Around the World
Discover why salt may be the perfect house-warming gift, how to clean rugs in snow and why you should invest in a pair of ‘toilet slippers.’
One of the best things about traveling to foreign lands is learning about cultures different than your own. But unless you step inside a local’s house while you’re there, getting a true picture about how people live can remain elusive. Journey with us to Japan, Russia, Bali and beyond as we explore surprising, intriguing or just downright sensible household habits. You might find yourself adopting one or two of them at your house.
Welcome home. If you tend to unlock the front door and stroll inside without thinking twice when you get home, take a moment to consider another way. In many countries, removing your shoes before entering the house is expected. But why stop there?
One Houzzer tells us that in Japan, it’s customary to offer guests a pair of slippers at the front door once they’ve removed their shoes. “To enter a Japanese house with street shoes on is unthinkable,” says Anna Semida, who discovered this custom when she was studying in Tokyo for some years.
And don’t be surprised to see some extra slippers or flip-flops by the bathroom door. When using the toilet in a Japanese home, you’re expected to remove your house slippers and put on a special pair of “toilet slippers“ instead. “All for the sake of cleanliness,” Semida says. This custom stems from a time when squat toilets were common in family homes — it was a simple matter of hygiene. An added bonus of the custom is that house slippers sitting beside the bathroom door make it obvious that the room is occupied!
In Thailand, homeowners don’t just remove their shoes, they wash their feet the minute they get home. And why not? Your house will be cleaner, and you’ll instantly feel refreshed.
Gift giving. Global customs vary widely when it comes to gifts given by guests. One German Houzzer explains that it’s traditional to give a small cup of salt and a loaf of bread to someone who’s moved into a new home. The staples symbolize lifelong prosperity.
In Russia, bread and salt are given by the groom’s parents to their son and his bride during the wedding ceremony as a way of wishing the young couple well-being, prosperity and hospitality. One of the Russian words for hospitable, khlebosolny, translates literally as “bread-salty.”
Meanwhile, a user in Japan advises against arriving empty-handed at someone’s home for dinner. Just don’t expect your hosts to open the gift in front of you: The Japanese take as much joy in the wrapping as they do in the gift, after all.
In some countries, giving the wrong gift can be as insulting as not giving one at all. I’ve heard that in China, some people warn against bringing your dinner hosts flowers, as they’re associated with death and funerals.
In Afghanistan, it’s customary to bring nicely wrapped fruit, sweets or pastries when visiting someone’s home for dinner, but it’s important to leave the gift discreetly by the door or eating area rather than handing it directly to your host.
Tip: Always check which hand is appropriate to eat with. For example, in some countries, it’s customary to use your right hand to eat; your left is reserved for business in the bathroom.
Household cleaning. In Russia, giving the rugs a good cleaning outdoors is a custom worth adopting if you live in a place where it snows. “It was so much fun to clean the carpets in the snow in the courtyard before the New Year’s celebrations,” Houzzer Olga Odintsova says. “The children would run around on the spread-out carpets and shovel fluffy snow onto them. Then they would pick up their brooms and beaters and sweep away the year-old dust along with the snow. It was such fun! The air in the household would be fresh and clean in the new year.”
Houzzer Natalya Popova agrees. “I remember how fresh the house would feel after [the rugs] had all been beaten out in the snow. The small children absolutely loved to play around on the carpets outdoors.”
In many Asian countries, the days leading up to New Year’s Eve are a time to give your home a thorough cleaning. The idea is to not only begin the new year with a sparkling abode, but to rid your home of bad energy. Cleaning at the start of the year is a no-no — it’s thought to sweep away the fresh, positive energy flowing into your home.
Cleanliness takes top priority in many homes around the world all year round. A friend of mine in Malaysia pointed out to me once that he sweeps and mops the kitchen floor as part of the cleanup routine after dinner each evening to ensure that the area is pristine for the next day.
Napping habits. It isn’t just the Spanish who embrace the daytime siesta. People in parts of Mexico, Italy, the Philippines and other countries also enjoy an afternoon rest to escape the heat, particularly when they’ve just indulged in a filling family lunch.
“Yes! The siesta! It is sacred,” says Elena Kindtner, a Houzzer in Spain. “Everyone works in two shifts: from early morning until 1:30 p.m., and then in the evening from 5 p.m. and on. From 3 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. is siesta time (sometimes even longer in the summer heat).”
In China, workers typically toil for such long hours — 60-plus-hour workweeks are common — that taking a nap during the day makes serious sense. When someone falls asleep during the day, it’s considered a sign that they work very hard — something admired in Chinese society.
The Japanese engage in inemuri (napping on the job) when fatigue sets in. Far from laziness, workplace napping is seen as a sign of how exhausted a person is from working so hard. So whether you work at home or can find a spot at the office to snooze, you now have the perfect excuse for a siesta. Plus, research shows that a quick nap increases brain function and productivity.
Fun fact: Leonardo da Vinci would sleep for 15 minutes every four working hours. Napoleon, Margaret Thatcher and John F. Kennedy were also fond of naps.
Clothing customs. Where we live determines many of our household habits, not the least of which is how we treat our clothes and shoes. Some Houzzers note that in Australia, home to numerous species of venomous snakes and spiders, shaking out your boots and shoes before putting them on is a smart idea. And in remote parts of the country, people even make it a habit to shake out their clothes before putting them on to make sure there are no creepy-crawly surprises inside.
Habits we take for granted can be considered unusual in other parts of the world. Australians tend to dry their clothes outside on a line, for example, but that’s considered odd in many other countries, where hanging clothes in a drying cupboard or using a dryer is the norm.
The more humid a location, the more prone clothes and shoes are to mold and mustiness. In Bali, for example, washed clothes can take several days to dry. Items are hung in well-ventilated closets and liberally scented to disguise the smell of damp fabric.
Scents of all kinds are encouraged in Bali for another reason: Evil spirits are said to be scared of strong fragrances. “Household routines focus on keeping the spirits happy,” says Elina Gordeeva, a Houzzer in Indonesia. “If you displease the spirits, you should expect trouble. This is why the Balinese never dry their laundry higher than head-height or on the second floor. It’s also considered a major sin and an insult to the spirits to hang your underwear or swimsuits up on display.”