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Keep up the curiosity

Poster in a New Zealand bathroom stall. (Photo by Arlene Anderson)1 / 2
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Here are some things to wonder about when you can't get to sleep: Did cannibals use cutlery? Why do the British put their toast on racks? Why do men in Ecuador dress up as women on New Year's Eve? Why don't Norwegians use traffic signs to say what the speed limit is? What Duluthian habits are mysterious to people who visit us?

Travel has taught me many things, but as much as I've learned, I'm still amazed at the multitude of curious things to ponder.

After some exploration at several museums, I can tell you that yes, indeed, cannibals used special forks to conduct the ceremonial act of eating the bodies of their enemies. These forks have four prongs, but they are not like the ones in your kitchen drawer. The four prongs are sharpened to a point and arranged in a square. There were also special bowls for the eyes and brains. Try not to visualize too much. Perhaps that's already more than you wanted to know.

As for the British who place their toast in racks — stainless steel contraptions with adjacent vertical partitions — that idea has a very practical purpose. The space between the slices allows the water vapor to escape rather than soak into the pieces next to them, creating a soggy pile. Unfortunately, though, the toast tends to cool off much more quickly, so I cannot recommend this practice. I prefer my toast, well, toasty.

Men in Ecuador really do dress up as women on New Year's Eve, starting in late afternoon. They represent the widow of Ano Viejos, the Old Year. You might expect them to dress in mourning clothes, but you'd be mistaken. They don sexy outfits and parade about begging for beer money. It's all in good fun, of course.

Norwegians are "my people" so I feel a bit free to give them a hard time. Norwegians put up signs saying what the speed limit is NOT. When I asked about this, I was told that when Norwegians study to get their driver's license, they learn the appropriate speed limits for each type of setting. Everyone knows the rules. So, signs are only needed when there is an exception to the rules. (This sort of reminds me of the Norwegian who told his wife he loved her when they got married and if it ever changed, he'd let her know.) I still don't quite understand why there wouldn't be a sign saying what the speed limit IS, but no matter; a sign telling me what the speed limit is not amuses me.

Remember that you are as much a mystery to others as they are to you. Note this picture of a sign showing that toilet paper should be thrown into the toilet bowl. Hmmm ... You may ask, where else would it go? In many parts of the world, the water pressure isn't sufficient for TP to be flushed and it is easy for pipes to clog. Usually a small basket with a lid is placed next to the bowl for disposal.

A related point: Sitting on a toilet seat in a public place seems incredibly unsanitary to those who squat over holes, never touching surfaces touched by others. It is not unusual to see footprints on the toilet seat as people try to replicate their usual habits in unfamiliar territory.

A few other stories I've heard from people visiting Minnesota include such gems such as, "Ice fishing doesn't really exist ... It's just a joke you tell foreigners, right?" and "There are so many electric cars here!" (Referring to the number of electric plugs sticking out of our front grills, actually, for headbolt heaters.)

I'd love to hear about other examples you've come across. In the meantime, stay curious about the wonderful, diverse, mystifying world we live in.

Arlene is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher and global explorer.   She can be contacted at aandersonus@gmail.com or through her website at www.teachabletraveler.com.

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