Every place is filled with its own unique customs and cultures. These traditions and customs have spread throughout local communities and abroad. Some are delightful, but some may be shocking and unorthodox.
Taarof is the Iranian practice of performing a gesture of respect and deference, although it is generally understood that such a gesture should be refused. For example, in some establishments, it is considered polite for the shopkeeper to refuse payment from a customer of a higher social rank. The customer understands, however, that the proper response is to insist upon paying. The shopkeeper may refuse payment several times before allowing the customer to convince him to accept. This practice can be very confusing to hapless foreign shoppers.
Taarof may also extend to social invitations. It is understood in Iranian culture that an invitation to one’s home, no matter how enthusiastic, is a mere formality. Should the invitee accept, they may inadvertently put their host (who may not have wanted them in their house at all) in a very awkward position.
2. Mano Po
Pagmamano is a gesture that symbolizes respect for one’s elders. It is akin to bowing, with the addition of taking an elder’s hand and pressing it to one’s forehead. The practice is predominantly found in the Philippines and some parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is said to have been borrowed from the Chinese centuries ago, when Filipinos began to acclimate to the culture of travelers and merchants. It is quite common at family gatherings to instruct children to ask for a blessing in this manner from their elder relatives.
A similar custom of addressing one’s elders with respect is the use of the words po and opo. For instance, “Ano yun?” (“What is that?”) is a common statement. However, adding po (“Ano po yun?”) signifies respect to the person you are addressing. When an elder or anyone of a higher status asks you a question, you should say opo to indicate the affirmative rather than oo, the common Filipino word for “yes.” In some cases, po and opo are also used as terms of endearment for others of equal stature.
Another unique aspect of Filipino culture is bayanihan, the practice of literally moving an entire home to a new location. The villagers gather to lift up the structures, carrying them over quite a distance. In some cases, it’s done to avoid damage to the home from impending floods or landslides, but it’s sometimes done simply to oblige a good neighbor.
Bayanihan occurs mostly in rural provinces, since the abodes found in these areas are made of lighter materials like bamboo and nipa palm wood. While it does take place in urban areas, it is limited to moving items such as hardware, playground contraptions like swings and seesaws, and basketball courts.
4. Henna Weddings and the Blackening
Islamic weddings follow traditions and rituals passed down over the centuries. Thursday’s are auspicious days for the wedding ceremony to take place since the Muslims consider Friday to be their holy day. Two nights before the wedding it is a custom to have a mehndi or “henna” night. All the women on the bride’s side of the family come and paint henna designs on the arms, hands and feet of the bride. This is done to symbolise the start of her womanhood. Some of the symbols painted on her body are meant to attract luck and fertility.
While henna night is a beautiful custom, another custom that comes from Scotland called “the blackening” is the exact opposite. In the blackening, all the friends of the bride and groom tie the couple together in bathtubs, large crates or trucks and parade them through the streets while passerby’s throw disgusting things like feathers, soot, rotten eggs, curry, show polish, mud, etc. at the couple. This is done in order to ward off evil spirits. It is also a symbol of the hardships the couple will have to endure and conquer during their life together.
Mudras are seals, marks, or gestures unique to Hinduism and Buddhist cultures, most notably India. No fewer than 500 different meanings can be expressed by the way a person moves their hands and fingers. These movements are believed to allow the individual to control the flow of prana, or life energy, and focus their attention toward a certain goal. They can be seen in statues, paintings, dances, plays, yoga, and meditative techniques.
The gyana mudra, wherein the thumb and index fingers touch while the other fingers extend away from the palm, is said to promote mental clarity and calmness, making it the most popular mudra to use for meditative purposes. The abhaya mudra (simply raising one’s right hand with an open palm and fingers extended straight up) shares an almost universal meaning with other symbolic gestures of various religions and cultures. It’s related to the heart chakra and communicates openness and honest intent. The agni mudra (the thumb touching the middle finger while the rest extend away from the palm) symbolizes fire and is said to aid the digestive process.