Down Under Baddies – WIF Into Aussie History

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Notorious Australian

Outlaws

The Wild West of the United States sets the stage for famous gunslinger films, but Australia is a land where convicts were exiled, creating the opportunity for new lives of crime to get established. Today, we profile the most notorious (and some lesser known) colorful miscreants in Australian history…

10. “Mad Dog” Daniel Morgan

With a short and violent career, “Mad Dog” Daniel Morgan, born in 1830 in New South Wales, was an unpredictable outlaw. Unlike many bushrangers who became folk heroes, this madman of Australia behaved more like a war criminal. Ranging across Victoria, the widely despised Morgan ended up with a bounty of a thousand pounds on his life. He hated the police so much that he injured a man’s wife badly by forcing her into a fire just because the man was too friendly to law enforcement for Morgan’s liking.

“Mad Dog” was known for taking hostages. In one case, he made Chinese hostages sing for his entertainment due to his curiosity over the foreign language, then shot one in the arm. In another situation, he let a female hostage go free because he was so impressed at her gumption when she out and out slapped him across the face. This incident would be his last, for soon after letting the hostage go, she summoned help, which came as a combined force of police and armed neighbors of the victims. Morgan appeared with three hostages, but was soon shot to death. Beheaded after death, he became the subject of phrenological study after a death mask was fashioned from his face.

9. “Captain Thunderbolt” Frederick Wordsworth Ward

The longest free roaming bushranger in Australia’s history, “Captain Thunderbolt” Frederick Wordsworth Ward, upheld better conduct than most bushrangers, earning him the nickname “the Gentleman Bushranger.” Born in 1835 in New South Wales, the somewhat respected outlaw was the son of convict Michael Ward and the youngest of the 10 children Ward senior had with his wife Sophia. After being sentenced to the harsh prison conditions on Cockatoo Island for his role in theft, namely receiving stolen horses, Ward faced 10 years but was released early on account of his model behavior.

Ward became involved with a woman named Mary Ann Bugg, who was of partially of Aboriginal Australian heritage, and the couple had two children. However, the conditions of his release were broken when he failed to return for his quarterly muster, a requirement comparable to parole. Therefore, he was returned to Cockatoo Island to serve out the remainder of his sentence in full, plus three years for riding a stolen horse. His escape from Cockatoo Island included a chase where he was shot in the leg but survived. In the end, “Captain Thunderbolt” was fatally shot at Kentucky Creek on May 25, 1870.  The outlaw’s death was only the beginning of the legends.

8. Alexander Pearce

Originally sent to Australia for stealing shoes, Alexander Pearce was a bushranger with one creepy backstory. Pearce became a notorious cannibal bushranger in Australia following his humble start as a petty criminal. Born in 1790 in Ireland’s County Monaghan, Pearce ended up in what is now Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land) following his 1819 sentence. He began a string of crimes in his new location of exile before being arrested again and sent to the Macquarie Harbor Penal Colony on tiny Sarah Island. After Pearce and seven more convicts escaped the colony, conditions were tough.

Starvation tough, in fact. Survival became increasingly difficult until, reportedly, the escaped men began to kill and devour each other. By alliance, brute force, and by luck, Pearce ended up being the sole survivor of the hungry massacre until his recapture. Body parts were found in his pockets, and Pearce was to be Tasmania’s first person to confess to cannibalism. Before being hanged at the Hobart Town Gaol on July 19, 1824, Pearce is said to have described cannibalism in the following glowing terms: “Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork.”

7. Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read

A more modern outlaw in contrast to the rest of these accounts, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read was one of the most violent men in Australia’s history, carrying out gangland killings and torture that would have branded him a war criminal had he been in a nation’s armed forces. In addition to his acts of violence in Australia’s underworld that including cutting or burning off the toes of his enemies and allegedly murdering targets, Read was also a children’s book author.

Released from Pentridge Prison in Melbourne in November of 1991 under a shroud of secrecy when his sentence for arson, criminal property destruction, and shooting a drug dealer ended, this “urban bushranger” diversified his portfolio, developing a side business of selling paintings. Interestingly, he has swung between dismissive comments about Ned Kelly (who was also imprisoned at Pentridge), describing him as overrated, and also hailed the notorious bushranger as a folk hero like many do. When it comes to “Chopper’s” paintings, Ned Kelly often appears, albeit with the type of tattoos sported by the painter himself. The works of the outlaw painter can fetch high prices at over 6,000 Australian dollars each. A movie about the notorious criminal, who died in 2013, was released in 2000 starring erstwhile “Hulk” Eric Bana.

6. “Bold Jack” John Donohoe

A folk hero for his bravado against the law, “Bold Jack” John Donohoe was Irish born but transported to Australia after being convicted for ‘intent to commit a felony’. Once in Australia, “Bold Jack” and two associates robbed multiple bull teams hauling goods along the road between Windsor and Sydney. All three were rather harshly sentenced to death for their property crimes — not once, but twice. Bold Jack wasn’t having any of it, escaping from his captors and fleeing for his life. For the following two and a half years, the outlaw survivalist became Australia’s most famous bushranger.

He did not cower as stayed one step ahead of the law, but continued his exploits with his gang of assorted bushrangers dedicated to plundering and wilderness survival. A reward had been put up, but with little result. By September 1830, a combined force of soldiers and police officers caught Bold Jack and his gang at the outskirts of Cambelltown. Donohoe taunted the police during the confrontation, using highly insulting language. Eventually, he was fatally shot by Trooper Muggleston. After his death, the legend lived on, with art completed in his honor and folk songs written about his short life.

5. Harry Power

Harry Johnson, known by the alias Harry Power, was an Irishman well known to the police for petty crimes until he got a 14-year sentence at Pentridge Prison for stealing a horse. He is known for being something of an outlaw mentor to Ned Kelly, whom he visited when Kelly was a boy, but also as a “gently ruthless” bushranger. By that we mean he took what he wanted and ran to freedom but, importantly, he never ended a human life. The gruff looking man was quite clever, with exceptionally humorous aspects to his most daring escapes. With regard to that 14-year sentence for stealing a horse, Harry Power was just not up for it so he escaped in a cart piled with garbage.

Later, when three young men encountered the outlaw and declared their intention to arrest Harry Power… without realizing they were talking to Harry Power. The wanted man pretended to be desperately terrified of this rogue bushranger. To throw them further off the truth that their quarry was standing right before them, Power requested that they protect him from this lawless man. Joining them, he soon robbed them of everything they had — weapons, clothes, and all — and sent them home in the nude. Power was sentenced to another 14 years in Pentridge when he stole a golden watch, then hired an agent to tell the owner he could have it back at triple its original price. Unfortunately for Power, the agent lead police straight to him. After his release, Power took jobs including gameskeeping and ship duties, but was penniless upon his death in 1891.

4. John Anderson

Known in his day as “Black Jack,” John Anderson was a brutal yet often charismatic outlaw was African-American but became Australia’s only known pirate. He is known for robberies backed with death threats, killing Aboriginals and enslaving tribe member women. The pirate might be considered something of a coastal “bushranger,” original hailing from Massachusetts, where he worked as a whaler. He took a trip to Australia on the ship The Vigilant, arriving in 1826 in what is currently known as Albany in Western Australia.

Quickly blamed for the death of a ship’s crewman from a different vessel in a store, Black Jack fled, stole a boat with several crew members, and got to the Recherche Archipelago. There they settled and hunted seals, selling their skins, and also pillaged ships loaded with supplies on their way to Hobart and Sydney. Black Jack is described in court records dating to 1835 as a “master of a sealing boat” who took money from sailors who would be murdered if they refused to give up their currency. It is believed that John Anderson was slain by his crew members, with his body and buried treasure hidden in the elaborate limestone cave systems of Middle Island, the settling place of the pirate gang.

3. Joseph Bolitho Johns, AKA “Moondyne Joe”

Joseph Bolitho Johns was born in England in 1826, living until 1900 was the best known outlaw of Western Australia. The notorious English convict was better known as “Moondyne Joe,” named after the Avon Valley, a remote region of the Darling Range that was called “Moondyne” by the Aboriginal Australians. The crime that got him arrested in 1848 was not huge — stealing about two days worth of meat and bread from a house — but Johns’s attitude toward the judge was significant, to say the least. The punishment was equally grand, with four years served in an English prison followed by a ticket to Western Australia.

After arrival he was granted conditional parole, with work as a horse trapper soon to follow. However, nothing had changed and the fledgling bushranger stole a horse, was arrested, then escaped on the same horse that was being held as evidence (albeit fitted with riding gear stolen from the judge himself). The following years saw repeat offenses, followed by either good behavior or a baffling escape. A special escape-proof cell was set up, but the tricky bushranger got away from that lockup as well. While paroled later on, Moondyne Joe married a widow and stayed on the straight and narrow before running afoul of the law yet again 20 years later. He got old for a bushranger, dying of dementia at 74.

2. Martin Cash

Martin Cash was originally from Ireland, where he committed the crime of housebreaking, for which he received a seven-year sentence. Cash’s personal claim was that his crime actually involved shooting a man in the rear when the man was kissing Cash’s own mistress. Upon being sent to Australia for his misdeed, he became known for his exceptional escape skills and also for marrying a female convict. Cash obtained a ticket of leave, but was soon arrested again, being sentenced to seven more years for theft. He escaped an incredible three times from Port Arthur, but was returned with four years of additional sentencing after being on the lam for two years after one of his escapes. Then, Cash made another escape, going with two bushrangers who helped him avoid prison guards.

Stealing from residences and inns gave the small gang a reasonable living, while their non-violent methods of extracting bounty added to their reputation — so much so that when Cash visited Hobart Town and was soon caught, public pressure helped his death sentence for slaying a pursuer be commuted to transportation for life, with 10 years at Norfolk Island. In 1854, Cash was allowed to marry County Clare convict Mary Bennett. Cash was renowned for hat making. In 1856, he was conditionally pardoned and traveled to New Zealand for four years. Upon his return, he recruited a writer to prepare his biography.

1. Edward “Ned” Kelly

The most notorious gunman in Australian history, Ned Kelly needs no introduction. Still, no list about Australian outlaws would be complete without Ned, so let’s profile some lesser known facts about the man in the metal mask. Born in 1855 and executed in 1880, Ned came from a large family. His father was a livestock thief from Ireland who married his employer’s daughter, with whom he had eight children. The notorious Ned was one of their three boys. The family of his mother was under investigation for livestock thefts, and soon Ned was not only working but helping to encroach on land and eventually steal livestock. Visits from police stoked the perception of police persecution held by the Kelly family. While Ned was an honorable boy, even saving the life of another young boy, in adulthood he strayed significantly, allegedly assaulting a Chinese man and spending a few days in jail over the incident.

When his alcoholic father died, Kelly joined his new stepfather in nefarious activities, ultimately spending three years in prison for accepting a stolen horse from an accomplice. After an unconfirmed claim that Ned Kelly had shot and injured a police officer, Kelly and his gang were classified as wanted outlaws and put up for reward, ending up on the run across Australia’s outback. In an ensuing shootout, the bushranger killed a police officer named Thomas Lonigan, then another, and even took a police station captive with his gang. A wild showdown ensued when the Kelly Gang confronted their pursuers in terrifying and medieval-looking armor fashioned out of ploughshares. After gang members killed a police informant and besieged a train station, 60 people were taken hostage at the Glenrowan Inn, which was set on fire by police after the hostages were released. The gang was also under the influence of alcohol, causing them to attack recklessly. Upon capture after being shot in the legs following his escape from the fire, Kelly was sentenced to death for police murder.


Down Under Baddies –

WIF Into Aussie History

BS or Truth IV – WIF Confidential

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Sounds Like BS

But Oh No No

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Here are 10 more facts that sound totally made up, but are actually true. We highly encourage you to take these tidbits to your friends and family, just to get a “WTF” reaction. They’ll probably go to Google to confirm it later, only to realize that you were actually right. We promise you that these are completely true facts, even if it sounds stranger than fiction. Seriously… you can’t make this stuff up.

10. In the 1700s, Rich People Let Hermits Live In Their Backyards For Their Own Amusement

During the 18th Century, wealthy people in England, Scotland, and Ireland had so few real problems to deal with that it became fashionable to indulge in melancholy. Small houses on these large properties called “hermitages” came into style. Originally, hermitages were a place where someone could be alone and read a book full of tragedy. But eventually, it evolved into keeping a “Token Hermit” in the garden, because it was guaranteed to bum everyone out.

They found a poor man on the street, or one of their existing garden employees, and offered to give him a job and a free place to live at the hermitage. The token hermit was forced to dress up in a druid costume and refrain from cutting his hair or bathing himself for several years at a time. These old men would eventually grow long, white beards. As a “hermit,” the whole point was to be left alone without any social interaction. But whenever the wealthy estate owners felt like visiting, they had to accept them into the tiny house to entertain guests.

This became incredibly popular. People were desperate to keep up with the Joneses, so they did the 18th Century equivalent of buying a fake designer handbag. If someone was not rich enough to actually pay a hermit to live out the rest of their life in the hermitage, they would often stick a mannequin of a druid in the window to trick their neighbors. Other times, they would arrange the kitchen table and furniture to look as though someone was actually living there. So if guests came over to visit the tiny house, they would assume the hermit had wandered off somewhere. Believe it or not, the tradition of having a token hermit in your garden has actually stuck around… Only now, they’re called lawn gnomes.

9. There is a Japanese Town Where the Majority of the Population are Dolls

In the 1960s, the remote village of Nagoro, Japan had hundreds of people living there. They were all employees of a company that was constructing the Nagoro Dam, which is used for hydropower generation. But when the dam was complete, there were no longer any employment opportunities, so the younger generation moved away. The only people still living there were the elderly.

A woman named Tsukimi Ayano grew up in Nagoro, and she moved to Osaka to find work. When her parents were sick and dying, Ayano returned to Nagoro to find that the population had dwindled down to just 40 people, and the school was shut down, because there were no children living there. It was such a small and tight-knit community that Ayano knew everyone who had died. So, she began making dolls to memorialize them. She placed the dolls as life-sized scarecrows in the spots that best represented these people while they were alive — whether it was whispering secrets on their front porch, or planting flowers in their garden. Then, she began making dolls of children to sit in the classrooms of the school. She has created a total of over 400 life-sized dolls. Ayano said, “The time will come when I have outlived all of the people in this village.”

8. Snakes Can Still Bite You When They’re Dead, Even If Their Head is Chopped Off

In 2018, a Texas man found a poisonous western diamondback rattlesnake in his backyard. He quickly grabbed a nearby shovel, and chopped the snake’s head off. Confident that it was dead, he went to pick up the remains of the reptile. However, the snake’s head was still very much alive, and it bit his hand, unloading all of its venom at once. Normally, when someone is bit by a rattlesnake, it is equivalent to 2-4 doses of venom. In this case, it was more like 26 doses. The man fell to the ground and began to bleed and convulse violently. Luckily, his wife was nearby, and she called 911. He had to be airlifted to the hospital, and it took a week of treatment before he was in stable condition.

After this incident, plenty of people were wondering how it’s possible for a decapitated snake to still attack. National Geographic explained that a snake’s bite reflex remains active for several hours after its death. Its brain is essentially pre-programmed to bite whenever something goes near it.

7. Scientists Have Experimented With Interspecies Surrogacy

While it sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, scientists have experimenting with transferring the embryos of an animal into the surrogate mother of a completely different species. This is called “interspecific pregnancy,” and it’s also referred to as “inter-species cloning.” The main motivation is to see if the embryos of endangered species could be carried by surrogate mothers to increase the populations. Cats and rabbits have carried cloned embryos of a panda, but the babies did not survive, because the cat and rabbit bodies rejected them.

A few of the experiments actually did work, though. But as you might imagine, it was between two species that were closely linked. For example, it has been successful with rats and mice, gaurs and cows, as well as two different species of camels. And… yes, there have been talks of experimenting with half-human chimeras, but this has plenty of obvious ethical issues.

6. Two Men Lost Their Arms During Tug-Of-War

While this sounds like a scene out of a Monty Python movie, it was an all-to-real nightmare scenario. In 1997, a group of adult men were playing a game of tug-of-war in Taiwan. There was a huge celebration for a holiday called Retrocession Day in a park along the Keelung River in the city of Taipei.

The media was gathered to capture footage of a massive game of tug of war. There were over 1,600 people pulling on the rope, when it snapped. This amount of force was enough to rip out the arms of two men who were standing at the front of each team. Their arms came straight out of their sockets, and it was all captured on video. They were rushed to the Mackay Memorial Hospital, and it  took over 7 hours of intensive surgery to reattach their arms. These men were actually some of the lucky ones. Tug-of-war has been played since ancient times, and it is responsible for several deaths, injuries, and loss of limbs all over the world.

5. In the Victorian Era, People Collected Serial Killer Figurines

Image result for Serial Killer Figurines vintage

Maybe your grandmother enjoys collecting ceramic figurines, but it is something that has lost a lot of its popularity despite having been a tradition for hundreds of years. In Victorian England, people were obsessed with death. So, it only makes sense that instead of collecting figures of dancers or blushing brides, they wanted to commemorate stories of famous serial killers instead. Just a few examples were the Red Barn Murder, the Murders at Stanfield Hall, the Bermondsey Horror, and William Palmer, who was nicknamed “The Prince of Poisoners.”

If you’re wondering who on earth had the money or motivation to buy these things, look no further than author Charles Dickens. He was inspired by William Palmer and the Bermondsey Horror when he wrote his novel Bleak House, so it would only make sense that he would want to keep around a little memento of the people who helped him write another bestseller.

4. One Cloud Weighs As Much As 100 Elephants

When you look up at the clouds, they look like they must be lighter than air, or at least have a similar consistency to cotton candy. Most people assume that they are weightless, since they are floating. You have probably also experienced going through a cloud when you’re flying in an airplane. However, a cloud is much heavier than you would ever imagine. It actually weighs an average of 1.1 million pounds or 498,952 kilograms.

So how on Earth does something so heavy float? The water droplets crystallize, and this water spreads out, so the weight is evenly distributed. One cloud usually spreads across more than a mile, and they are a quarter of a mile thick. It takes over a million of these small water droplets floating in the cloud to form into just one raindrop. Lucky for us, when clouds have too much moisture it just rains, instead of crashing down on our heads.

3. A Boy Scout Built a Nuclear Reactor in His Parents’ Backyard

In the 1990s, a kid named David Hahn was a boy scout in Clinton Township, Michigan. When he was 14-years-old, he took it upon himself to earn the Atomic Energy merit badge. He continued to remain interested in chemistry, and he caused several explosions on camping trips and in his parents’ basement. His mother forced him to start doing his experiments in the garden shed. By the time he turned 17, he wanted to build a nuclear reactor as his Eagle Scout project.

He started collecting small bits of radioactive material from smoke detectors. He bought thousands of lamps from an army surplus store to collect Thorium-232, and gathered antique glow-in-the-dark watches and clocks to collect Radium-226. He even pretended to be a professor to gather materials that are normally only given to certified laboratories.

Eventually, he had enough to create a real nuclear reactor. He had a Geiger counter, and realized that the radiation was spreading down his entire block. So, he tried hiding it in the trunk of his car. One day in 1994, the police were called on Hahn because he was stealing tires off of cars. When the police opened his trunk, they found the reactor. According to Harper’s Bazaar, this “automatically triggered the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan, and state officials soon were embroiled in tense phone consultations with the DOE, EPA, FBI, and NRC.” It took over $60,000 for the government to clean up his nuclear waste, and his reactor had to be entombed in the Great Salt Lake Desert to make sure it could not harm anyone. Needless to say, the Atomic Energy merit badge has been banned from the Boy Scouts.

2. In Spain, People Have Fun Jumping Over Babies

In a Spanish village called Castrillo de Murcia, citizens continue to mix old Catholic and Pagan traditions together once a year for their Baby Jumping Festival. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. The babies born in the town each year are Baptized in the Catholic church. Then, a man dressed up in a yellow costume and mask that is supposed to represent the Devil runs through the streets hitting men as they run away.

Then, this same man dressed as the Devil begins running and jumping over mattresses on the ground with at least four babies laying on each one. This is called “the flight of the devil,” and it represents taking away original sin. Superstition leads people to believe that it will bring good health and prosperity to the child. As soon as the ritual is done, the mothers lay rose petals on the babies, and then bring them back to safety. So far, there have never been any recorded injuries. It is considered to be so safe, in fact, that people from all over the world are starting to bring their babies to participate in the festival each year.

1. Drinking Wine Was A Torture Method Used By The Spartans

The Spartans are remembered for being some of the best warriors in history. Every single soldier in their army was basically a perfect specimen of physical fitness. It only makes sense, then, that their attitude toward alcohol was very strict. Wine was always watered down, and they were only allowed to drink during certain times of the year. Getting drunk on purpose was unheard of, and if someone over-indulged in drinking, they were severely punished.

Young Spartans were taught about the dangers of drinking by watching the captured prisoners of war. These Helots were forced to drink “pure wine”  that had not been watered down. Once the young Spartans saw what it looked like to be drunk, it was seen as proof that it made men weak, stupid, and unprepared for battle. From the Spartans’ perspective, getting drunk was seen as a form of torture. But the Helots? They may not have minded so much. Most of us would take a glass of wine over the rack any day.


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Overrated! – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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World’s Most

Overrated Cities

The urban environment is powerful and evocative, reflective of the people, places and times that saw the construction of specific communities. Cities can be iconic, but they can also be overrated. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this list, you might come to the conclusion that it’s equally unwise to visit your favorite cities. They may not live up to your lofty expectations after all…

You may or may not agree with me. This is just one traveler’s opinion. It could be I had:

  1. one lumpy mattress,
  2. two bad taxi rides or
  3. three  bad meals.

10. Paris

Paris may be iconic for its Eiffel Tower, culture, and architecture, and for being a romantic and meaningful place to get away. However, Paris is reputed to be overrated, so we’re going to check out the somewhat startling facts about this exceptionally famous French metropolis. Referred to as the City of Love or the City of Lights, Paris does have a variety of most famous human artifacts to appreciate or places to check out that are of historic or cultural fame and significance. Paris even has its own Disneyland. While seen as romantic and a place of love, Paris in fact might ironically be defined as a place to get lonely. Yes, there is much to appreciate architecturally and in the form of art and culture but Paris is well known as a place where bids for politeness do not constitute the highest priority in day to day life.

Paris has actually suffered the fate of being voted no less than Europe’s most overrated city, topping the list due to its unfriendliness. Visitors have often complained about unduly curt or unwelcoming treatment by locals. While Paris is a dream destination for foreign visitors around the world, it seems that becoming tired of serving foreigners without perfect French is an attitude clearly conveyed by enough Parisians. Apparently condescending attitudes and bluntness are ubiquitous in Paris to the point where visitors may not only feel disappointed but downright depressed. Finding that Paris does not measure up has created such severe symptoms as to be labelled as Paris Syndrome.

9. Rome

The Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain. In iconic Rome, Italy, the list goes on, and there’s plenty to see for those interested in some more modern history too. The Vatican is also a stone’s throw away. While the famous ancient city does have remarkable architectural sites that are rich in history of religious, civic, and political significance, as well as being the scene of great conflict and drama, Rome itself is a place that one might say has seen better days in some regards. The ruins of ancient structures in Rome have been preserved for visitors but unfortunately, a number of modern amenities have come to resemble a less appealing version of what might be called another form of ruins.

Despite a steady injection of funds through tourist dollars, work to improve problematic transportation, sanitation, and municipal infrastructure shortcomings in Rome have lagged exceptionally. As money keeps coming in and the city remains crowded with tourists, a lack of efficiency and even strikes have left much to be desired, to put things mildly. Remarkably, sanitation problems, including garbage being left to the point of mass overflow, led to threats of European Union sanctions. Furthermore, visitors have complained about disreputable conduct from touts taking on the roles of taxi drivers, cash exchangers, and guides. Rome might attract millions of visitors yearly, but the city suffers some of Europe’s lowest repeat visit rates.

8. Sydney

The iconic Sydney Opera House of Sydney, Australia is so famous that one might say it is touted rather than simply promoted. Images of Sydney are also so curiously focused on the Down Under city’s famous opera house that you might make that image and the general character of the city synonymous in your imagination. However, the fact that the Sydney Opera House is such a focal point of the city’s depictions might hint, to the analytical mind, that perhaps this is the case because there is really little else that is all that remarkable in Sydney. Furthermore, the opera house itself is so overrated that the entire presentation begins to fall upon critical inspection.

The design of the opera house is the work of Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who won the contest to design it out of 233 contestants in 1956, with construction beginning in 1959 and lasting 14 years instead of the originally anticipated four years. Despite the fantastical appearance of the Sydney Opera House, the acoustics have presented many problems and it has not been the world star venue it was intended to become. With the acoustics of the opera house being widely criticized, makeshift solutions have often had to be sought due to some parts of the building being too big and others too small. The pit in the opera theatre has been identified as too small, causing acoustic difficulties, with the concert hall being overly large, causing sound to get lost. Interestingly, Australian music magazine Limelight gave the opera theatre the worst rating for acoustics out of 20 venues of significance, while giving 18th place to the concert hall.

7. London

London, England has a history going back to the Roman Empire with everything from sites of Royal interest at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben as a monument for the most die-hard clock fans, those infamous red double decker buses, and perhaps the odd unexploded German bomb lying somewhere waiting to be discovered, decades past the rabid fighting of World War II. The largest city in England and the United Kingdom, the capital of England suffers pollution in the Thames that was once so bad people were dying from it, and air pollution had the same effect by a different means of causing ill-health. Despite the mix of grandeur and squalor, visitors to London may find themselves disappointed by the crowding and also the lack of friendliness despite being surrounded by people, as London has the questionable distinction of being voted the second most unfriendly city worldwide.

Then there’s the sometimes garish and disjointed modern construction that has grown up in the city. While historic squalor and wartime damage have been definitive events in London’s history, visitors will be surprised by how iconic traditional buildings and perceptions of English culture and architecture in London are dwarfed by modern architecture. The skyline of London definitely appears rather random, with buildings in the financial district described in comparison to a cheese grater, a scalpel, and a walkie-talkie in some prominent examples.

6. New York City

New York City may not be the political capital of the United States but the grand city is certainly the de facto financial capital of America (and some might argue the world). With such iconic elements portrayed in popular culture, literature, news, movies, and daily discourse, New York occupies a larger than life place in the minds of the American public and further. Those who live there know what it is like, but first time travelers may be in for a disappointment upon actually arriving.

From 1785 to 1790, New York was actually America’s capital city. In recent history, the tragic 9/11 attacks represented the single worst incident to strike any North American city. While many cities are destinations for visitors, there has been a surprisingly significant level of effort — to the point of sacrificing comfort — just for the sake of living in New York City. Due to grand real estate costs, living in tiny, overpriced, and sometimes substandard accommodations has become commonplace. For visitors, sites such as the Empire State Building, Wall Street, and Statue of Liberty are certainly icons of great interest, but the actual city will produce a feeling of being dwarfed by two things. These are the enormity of the buildings, crowds, and traffic-jammed streets, and the enormity of the tab run up to stay in the city.

5. Shanghai

Shanghai is so well known that it has become an almost clichéd stand-in for popular imaginations of the People’s Republic of China. Yet while Shanghai is an important Chinese city with enormous economic, historical, and cultural significance, it is a city with a significant legacy of influence by Western culture and hotspots of past east and west conflict. Known for its modern towers, including the aptly named Shanghai Tower, and a myriad of modern architectural wonders, Shanghai is also defined by “The Bund” — a block of iconic European colonial buildings now repurposed for a variety of uses. Yes, Shanghai may feel too “westernized,” a valid perception based on the composition of the city by those seeking the “real China.” It certainly is the place to get coffee and hamburgers in China.

While modern architectural creations may define the Shanghainese skyline, the “waterline” of Shanghai is largely defined at its most famous points by these magnificent but undeniably foreign European buildings, the work of “Laowai” — or foreigners — in China. The foreign presence in China has been a tumultuous one, with many flash points relating to trade and attempts at colonization. So, why is Shanghai perhaps overrated as a place to experience China? While interesting, there are many other places, such as Xi’an in Shaanxi province, with the Terra Cotta Warriors close by, remote hill forests in Sichuan and incredibly spicy cuisine, ancient temples in Henan province, and of course the many access points to the Great Wall that more accurately reflect traditional Chinese culture over a more Westernized one.

4. Rio de Janeiro

Depicted in countless movies and artistic images, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is known for being located below the huge Christ the Redeemer art deco statue that contrasts with the extraordinary natural features of Rio de Janeiro combining steep hills, the sea, and perched buildings. The world famous statue constructed above the city is 98-feet tall with a 92-foot arm span, built on the 2,300-foot tall Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National Park. While famous for everything from car race hosting to nightlife and urban tourism, Rio de Janeiro is actually not so great to look at once you are down amongst the buildings, many of them generic in architectural form, lacking a sense of place, and often run down.

While Rio is often promoted as a center of culture, activity, and interest for travelers in search of a lively and exotic destination, the Brazilian city is becoming a hotbed of criminal activity. Crime rates have risen so drastically that violence is feared throughout the city, costing an immense number of tourism dollars. People are becoming smart enough to stay away from many parts of Rio much of the time, to the point where lost revenue in the year 2017 totaled an incredible $200 million.

3. Barcelona

Spain is both renowned for positive cultural aspects, notorious for being host to events with which many people do not approve (including bullfighting), and as the site of a brutal civil war in its 19th century history. With all of the complexity and intrigue of Spanish architecture and historic and modern culture, Barcelona is a famous destination that draws visitors globally every year, but something is clearly wrong when disappointment follows the arrival of the discerning traveler. What exactly is the problem with Barcelona? While the city is a cultural icon, the true Spanish cultural experience has unfortunately been, shall we say, diluted by the emergence of an extraordinary quantity of tourist traps replacing a quality experience.

At the same time, overcrowding of this already highly populated parcel of Spain is making additional visitors face immense challenges in simply getting around to see the place once they’ve arrived. Esteemed Spanish writer extraordinaire Miguel de Cervantes put the praise of Barcelona into the mouth of his fictional character Don Quixote, describing the city as nothing less than a “fountain of courtesy, shelter of strangers, hospice to the poor, land of the valiant, avenger of the offended, reciprocation of firm friendship, a city unique in its location and beauty.” Yet the crowded-ness of the city and tendency for many people to treat it as a short stop interestingly leads many people to be less responsible given that they will be in the area for a limited time, further adding to the aggravation many visitors experience.

2. Athens

Afforded near mythical status for being so ancient and the place where countless Greek Gods and Goddesses are described as having their origins, Athens is a richer place in history and culture than it is today in the flesh — or rather, in the brick and mortar. While the development of ancient democracy, philosophy, and faiths in a place where such famous humans such as Socrates and deities such as Zeus and Venus have their claim is bound to make Athens a revered site in popular imagination, there is much to disappoint, according to some visitors. The city of the Acropolis and other impressive architecture actually consists of vast arrays of run-down buildings that are often crowded together without very much shade in many areas. The Acropolis itself is known for being less spectacular and archaeologically, architecturally, and historically pristine than is popularly imagined.

Try to get to it, and you could be turned back by heat due to the barren nature of the grounds where the ancient relics stand, and monumental levels of overcrowding. Add that to the sometimes suffocating air pollution that Athens experiences. Upon arrival at the Acropolis, the scaffolding significantly takes away from appreciation of the architecture, creating the feel of a construction site. While ancient people built the monumental sites expediently, modern repair works have taken decades and still remain underway, resulting in not only scaffolding but all manner of construction equipment anti-climatically lying about the grounds of the most iconic structures of Athens.

1. Amsterdam

World famous Amsterdam. This city is an active metropolitan area situated on flat land, including areas that have had to be reclaimed from the ocean. Subject to flooding, massive urban construction has required more than just a little engineering to be sustainable. Amsterdam may be geographically flat and lacking in mountains, but it has been viewed as a place of where people can get high in the drug use sense without fear of legal reprisals. So-called “coffee shops” function more as marijuana lounges in Amsterdam, where use of the almost universally banned drug is tolerated by the authorities.

Furthermore, red light district activities draw more than a fair share of visitors, since prostitution is legal. However, a variety of issues, as well as a simple lack of interest when it comes to more standard comforts, render Amsterdam a place that is not just overrated but leaving something to be desired when it comes to mainstream human comforts.Amsterdam’s food is lagging behind the attention given to the marijuana focused “coffee shops,” being monotonous and simple for the most part, while the architecture of the coastal city is less than spectacular in many instances, with exceptionally plain construction defining much of the municipal jurisdiction.


Overrated! –

WIF 10 Cent Travel

American Oddities – WIF Fun Facts

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Facts About

America

That Make

No Sense

to Foreigners

America. It’s one of the biggest countries on Earth, both in terms of population and sheer size. It’s the planet dominating superpower; the heaviest hitter where culture is concerned; a place known by nearly every single human on the planet… and, to all but the 4-5% of humanity who live there, it makes absolutely no gosh darn sense.

 See, despite its cultural clout, America still seems deeply weird to foreigners. And we don’t just mean people who come from repressive kingdoms and tin-pot dictatorships. Europeans, people from Southeast Asia, Australians and Brits all find yuge chunks of life in the good ol’ US-of-A beyond comprehension. If you were born stateside, the following might not seem super crazy to you. But trust us, every single foreigner is reading this with their jaw dangling open and their eyeballs popping out.

10. US Toddlers Shoot One Person a Week

Americans sure love guns. The US has the highest rate of gun-ownership on planet Earth, and the least-restrictive gun laws (only Switzerland comes close). That’s all thanks to the 2nd Amendment, which has been the subject of near-constant debate since being written.

But it’s not the sheer number of guns in America that really astounds foreigners. It’s the crazy things that leads to. Things like US toddlers shooting one person a week.

There’s literally no other country on Earth you could write that sentence about. Even countries that are swimming in guns, like Serbia, Norway, and Switzerland, don’t have toddlers blowing one another away. To be fair, they have tiny populations, but, to be even fairer, c’mon buddy. US toddlers have shot on average one person a week (including themselves) for the past two years. Even war zones don’t have numbers like that.

More bizarre still, America keeps on arming its toddlers. In 2016, Iowa made it legal for babies to handle loaded guns. That’s right. The guys in the Hawkeye State elected to arm the very babies that are trying to shoot them. How’s that for hubris?

9. Bestiality is Still Legal in 9 US States (but premarital sex is outlawed)

Despite this being 2017, plenty of US States still have sex laws on the books that are… unenlightened, to say the least. And by that, we mean they were seemingly written by two guys named Festus and Bubba while necking with their pet hog Clancy.

Incredible as it may seem, there are nearly ten US States where it is still legal to have sexual intercourse with animals. We say ‘nearly’ ten, because one’s the District of Columbia (not a state, kids!). The other nine are Hawaii, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. In addition, plenty of states still only consider bestiality a misdemeanor.

This would be odd enough if the US was a spectacularly licentious place, but it’s not. In addition to allowing you to marry your best-est sow, four states still outlaw either premarital or extramarital sex, or co-habiting with your partner prior to marriage. While the laws are effectively never enforced, the fact they’re still on the statute books attests to America’s unique mix of religious piety and deep-seated desire to mimic the guys from Deliverance.

8. The Highest Paid Public Employee in 39 States is a Sports Coach

Go to any other country in the Western world – Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, wherever – and the highest-paid public employee will be someone working in a selfless capacity. They’ll be the guys and gals running universities, or public hospitals, or the local council. America, though, laughs in the face of such devotion to the public good. Instead of rewarding headmasters or doctors or teachers, the highest public pay package in 39 states goes to sports coaches. Specifically, guys coaching football or men’s basketball.

We’re not talking comparatively small sums, either. The salaries involved would be enviable in the private sector. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, for example, rakes in over $7 million, plus bonuses, likely making him one of the highest-paid public employees not living in a corrupt dictatorship. For those from outside the states, this seems less extravagant, and more like an absolute inability to get priorities right.

Only Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New York, Nevada, New Hampshire, Vermont and both Dakotas refuse to award their highest public pay packet to a football or men’s basketball coach. Interestingly, both Hawaii and Vermont, as you’ll remember from a second ago, still technically allow bestiality. We’re really not sure what to make of that.

7. Over Half of All Americans Don’t Hold a Valid Passport

In 2014, polling company YouGov revealed only 8% of Britons had never left their country of birth to travel abroad. While this is maybe not all that super-impressive (Britain is tiny and France is close), it puts the US to shame. The same poll found only 50% of Americans would admit to ever having left the country. That’s nearly 160 million people who have never been to Canada or Mexico, let alone Europe or Asia.

For people who were born in Europe, that’s almost like saying you’ve never seen a glass of water. The idea of not going abroad from time to time is alien. In places like Germany, over 90% of the population hold a valid passport, and you better believe they use it.

But that’s Europe, we hear you cry, it’s a small continent with, like, a bazillion countries. Well, first, we’re pretty sure you’re exaggerating there, bud. Secondly, look at Australia, a country nearly as big as the US, and more cut-off from the rest of the world. According to official data, one third of the population goes abroad every single year. That compares to 50% of Americans over their entire lifetimes. Clearly, the US is a travel-averse country.

6. 30% of Americans Prefer Saving Money to Vital Medical Treatment

Compared to other developed nations, healthcare in the US is expensive. You can blame that on too much Obamacare, or not enough of it, but the fact remains that public systems, private systems, and public-private systems elsewhere in the world all deliver better service at lower cost. This alone can seem staggering to foreigners. Then there’s the American attitude to health. Faced with a serious illness or injury, around 30 percent of Americans would rather walk it off than pay for treatment.

 This… simply doesn’t happen elsewhere. Norway has the second most-expensive healthcare in the world, and pretty much no-one there avoids necessary treatment. Japan has an insurance-based, private system with payments often covered by employers, just like the US, and people don’t skip out on medical care. To find other people choosing money over hospitalization, you have to leave the developed world behind and start poking around in poorer countries where wages are low and healthcare unaffordable.

We’re not trying to rag on American healthcare here. America has some of the best doctors and hospitals going. But the idea that you’d choose money over health (or that you’d have to choose)? To non-Americans, that’s insane.

5. 7 States Have Custody Rights for Rapists

OK, let’s turn to some really, really dark stuff now. There exists a certain subsection of guys who like to rape women. Occasionally, this results in their victims getting pregnant. Depending on where they live and their religious convictions, the women may then decide to carry the baby to term. Now, here’s where it gets creepy. In around 7 states, it’s perfectly legal for the rapist-father to sue for custody of his newborn child.

Imagine that for a second. You’ve been violently assaulted, gone through the hell of guilt and self-recrimination, been courageous enough to bring the resulting baby into the world… and now you’re forced to watch as the D-bag who hurt you decides he wants to be a father to your son/daughter. Well, if you live in Alabama, Mississippi, Maryland, New Mexico, North Dakota, Wyoming or Minnesota, that can totally happen.

In addition, there are 20 more states where it might be legal. In Indiana, for example, you can only block the rapist from seeking custody if you remember to do so within 3 months of your baby being born. This is some seriously dark stuff, and we guarantee that if you mention it to anyone from elsewhere in the developed world, their jaws will drop so low they hit the ground. Sure, some Middle East states may have even-worse laws, but that’s not really a benchmark to aspire to.

4. America Has More Self-Identified Patriots than Anywhere Else on Earth

In July 2016, Gallup released the results of their yearly patriotism poll. They found 52% of Americans call themselves “extremely patriotic”, the lowest level in polling history. The news triggered a slew of introspective articles by American writers, wondering what had gone wrong. For those reading elsewhere in the world, it felt like stepping through the looking glass. 52% is such a good score it leaves other countries eating the USA’s dust.

Such levels of patriotism simply don’t exist in the rest of the developed world. In a similar survey by YouGov, only 13% of Brits thought their country was “the best in the world.” That was the highest score in the EU. Germany and France got only 5% each. The second and third highest-ranking countries globally, India and Australia, scored 34% and 36%. But the US? The US busted through the 40% mark, with an additional 32% claiming America was at the very least “better than most other countries.”

For the majority of foreigners, the idea of showing US-levels of patriotism is simply alien. You will never see a flag in every yard in any other country on Earth. But that’s the US public for you: optimistic to a tee. Even if they’re unhappy with their current government, folks still believe that the idea of America itself is worth believing in.

3. Americans are More Likely to Get Bitten by Other Americans than Rats

The stereotype is that Americans likes three things: football, fast food, and violence (often all at once). It’s true that America’s murder rate is crazy-high. It’s also true that the national sport is getting drunk and starting bar-fights. But surely it’s not as bad as all that?

Well, we hate to break it to you, but this arresting statistic says otherwise. If you live in America, you are more likely to be bitten by another American than you are by a rat.

To be clear, this isn’t because US rats are particularly docile or rare on the ground. Cities like New York are completely infested, and people get bitten all the freakin’ time. There are over 40,000 rat bites recorded in America each year. The only trouble is, there are at least 45,000 human bites recorded right alongside them.

Again, this is a freaky fact for Americans, too. But, also again, it’s just something that doesn’t happen in most other countries. Sure, drunks in Britain like to hit each other, and Italian soccer hooligans are violent as heck, but biting enough people to outstrip rats? It’s something we can’t imagine happening anywhere else.

2. Americans Take ‘Fast Food’ Extremely Literally

The US is the birthplace of fast food. It’s the nation that brought the world the drive-thru, perfected the snack, and coined the phrase “lunch is for wimps.” Foreigners know all this intellectually. But confront them with a statistic like the following, and it’ll still blow their minds. Americans, you see, are the 3rd fastest eaters on Earth. On an average day, Americans spend only 74 minutes eating, nearly the lowest in the world.

That’s only slightly over 20 minutes each for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and far less if you include time put aside for eating snacks. If you live in the USA, this probably doesn’t seem so weird to you (the working lunch is an American specialty), but if you live elsewhere… man, you’re probably wondering how the heck they do it. In France, the average eating time is 135 minutes a day. In Turkey, it’s 162 minutes. Even in Japan, where people work far longer hours than in the US, they still manage to put aside 117 minutes a day for chow. The only other countries to spend as little time eating are Canada (72 minutes) and Mexico (under 70 minutes).

This is probably to do with both the American hard work ethic and fast food culture, which prioritizes productivity over relaxation. The same can be seen in a related statistic on cooking times. Nowhere else on Earth do people spend as little time cooking each day as in America.

1. Government Departments Have Official Advice for Reporting Elvis Sightings

One of the things foreigners know about the US is that it’s full of wackos seeing wacko things. There’s a reason The X-Files was so popular 20 years ago. But it’s one thing to hear about guys filming shaky footage of Bigfoot on their cell phone. It’s another entirely to hear that actual US government departments have official advice for reporting Elvis sightings.

Here, for example, is a link to the Federal government’s official website for copyright. Hover your mouse over the link. See that it ends .gov? It’s impossible for anyone not representing a government entity to register a .gov address. This site is legit. It’s part of the Federal government, and paid for by taxpayers’ money. And it includes official advice on how to copyright your sighting of Elvis.

 This isn’t a joke section put up by some lighthearted bureaucrat indulging a whim. It’s completely, mind-bogglingly serious. Which means the government was getting deluged with enough requests about Elvis sightings that they went to the trouble to post official advice about it. OK, say it with me now, altogether: only in America.

American Oddities

wif-fun-facts-001

– WIF Fun Facts

Not Your Granddad’s Christmas – WIF Customs and Traditions

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Unusual Christmas

Traditions From

Around the World

In the United States, Christmas is celebrated in ways that are, at least to Americans, fairly banal by now. America and a lot of Western countries with extremely similar traditions (many of which are provide the origin of US traditions) have a Santa Claus figure who brings gifts to the good children, many people go to church, and of course, there’s all the delicious food and time spent with family. However, while these traditions are perfectly enjoyable, many other countries or cultures have Christmas celebrations and traditions that many Americans might find quite zany, but would also likely consider to be a lot of fun.

10. The Japanese Eat KFC On Christmas

In America and many Western countries, Christmas dinner is usually an absolutely ridiculous affair. Aside from a giant turkey being fairly traditional, people will also go to great lengths to make side dish after side dish, sometimes spending the whole day (or even days before) preparing the meal. However, in Japan, things are done a bit differently. Now, people in Japan don’t really celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday (most Japanese people are Shinto), but over the past few decades, they have made up their own Christmas tradition that they are now quite wild for.

It started out in 1970, when the manager of the first KFC in Japan, Takeshi Okawara, heard some Americans talking about how hard it was to get a turkey in Japan for Christmas and how much they missed that, and he had a light bulb moment to bring Americans who had moved to Japan a taste of Christmas. He created what he called, at the time, the KFC Party Barrel, and it took off with the Japanese public — even those who knew little or didn’t care about Christmas. Nowadays, people reserve their KFC Christmas order weeks in advance, and lines on the day of stretch out the door, often reaching 10-times usual sales. These are not your normal KFC boxes, either, as they often contain things like chocolate cake and champagne as well.

9. The American Jewish Tradition Of Eating Chinese And Going To The Movies

In recent years, a meme has been passed around showing a sign written — supposedly by the Chinese Restaurant Association of America — saying they don’t understand why Jewish people eat at Chinese restaurants on Christmas, but that they appreciate the business all the same. While the meme is of dubious veracity, the tradition itself is certainly real. It stretches all the way back to 1899, when Jewish newspapers would criticize Jewish people for eating at Chinese restaurants, for fear of breaking Kosher.

Today, most American Jews do go out for Chinese on Christmas, and often go to see a movie as well. This isn’t because Jewish people have a religious reason that forces them to eat Chinese on Christmas, as the alleged meme suggests, but because it’s the only thing that is ever open. Of course, when it comes to doing something besides eating, you are pretty much just left with going to the movies, which has also become a very common tradition for American Jews. It’s a way for them to not feel entirely left out, or at least stuck inside, on a day where most places shut down.

8. The Catalan Poop Log

Some people may think Mr. Hanky from South Park is bizarre and gross, but oftentimes truth is actually both stranger, and grosser, than fiction. In the Catalan region of Spain, people still celebrate the holidays with a traditional poop log. The log isn’t made out of actual poop — it is made out of wood. However, the log is made up to look kind of like a sentient poop log, and is brought out on the feast of the immaculate conception. Children spend the days up until Christmas Eve ritually “feeding” the log every night, and even go so far as to make sure it’s tucked in with a nice warm blanket.

On Christmas Eve, the children beat the fake poop log with sticks and sing songs about having good bowel movements, before finally removing the blanket to find treats and gifts underneath the log. This is may sound disgusting to most people, but to the people of Catalan, it is a tradition that goes back a long way, and has its roots centered in wishing(s) of good health. Another strange tradition in Catalan is a man named Caganer, who is depicted as a statue of a man squatting and defecating, often by the nativity scene. While some may consider this disrespectful, it is really just a ritual to bring fertility in farming for the next year.

7. The Chinese Sort Of Celebrate Christmas, But In A Very Different Way Than Most Countries

As many people know, China isn’t exactly all that friendly to religious people. While laws restricting religion have relaxed somewhat over the years, it is still not easy to be religious. If you want to join the Communist Party, and have any real power in the country, you have to entirely denounce religion. Christmas is observed by many non-Christians in China, but the observation is much more secular, as China has had a real war on religious celebrations for quite some time.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun time; you just cannot expect it to have the religious solemnity or significance you are used to. Chinese people celebrate it more like a holiday where you go out and spend time with friends, instead of staying at home to be with family like many do on Christmas. In China, Santas will show up at the mall — typically in groups — with several of Santa’s “sisters” instead of the usual elves. The sisters are usually good-looking young women dressed vaguely like American “elves.” Giving away apples on Christmas is also a common tradition, often decorated with various well wishes since the word apple sounds close to the greeting for Christmas Eve in Mandarin.

6. In Venezuela, They Roller Skate To Church On Christmas Day

As a country, Venezuela is going through a rough patch right now, but their economy and government were in a much better position not even that long ago — they’ve recently had a dramatic drop in oil production that’s had an enormous impact on the nation. Despite the toll the oil drop has taken on their economy and political stability, the country still has a certain sort of whimsy about it, and there are some Christmas traditions that will likely live on even in the worst of times.

One of the strangest traditions in Venezuela is that they like to roller skate to church on Christmas Day. In fact, the government is so used to this happening that they close the streets until about 8 a.m. on Christmas morning to make the roads safer for the ridiculous amount of people who go to church as a family… on roller skates. Some of the priests are not particularly enthralled, and will attempt to get their congregations to refrain, but it hasn’t seemed to have slowed down the tradition in the least.

While no one knows what the reason behind the tradition is for sure, some suggest it may be an alternate to sledding or other winter sports often enjoyed around that season, as Venezuela does not have the climate. As well as riding around on roller skates, Venezuelans (if they can afford it) like to repaint their houses before Christmas, and firecrackers and other noisemakers and fireworks are a common sounds and sights on Christmas Day.

5. The Night Of The Radishes Is Celebrated The Day Before Christmas Eve In Oaxaca, Mexico

In Oaxaca, Mexico, every year on December 23 the town celebrates the Night of the Radishes, or Noche de Rabanos. This tradition sounds particularly bizarre, but it has roots (er, no pun intended) in practicality. Merchants back in 1897 were trying to find a way to attract shoppers going to and from church services, and started carving their radishes into crazy shapes, or making radish people or other ornaments. The mayor at the time was so pleased that he decided to make it an official celebration from then on.

People sometimes queue up for very long lines just to see and buy all the various radish sculptures and carvings that people have made. As the years have gone by, the radishes have become increasingly elaborate and large, but it isn’t size that really gets you the prize. The radishes are carved into figurines, or have scenes from the nativity or traditional Mexican culture carved in, and the very best artistic design gets a 12,000 peso prize. Now, these radishes aren’t really meant to be eaten, and go bad pretty quickly since they’ve been carved (you wouldn’t eat a Jack-o-Lantern, after all, right?, but the tradition has now become more about a celebration of art and culture than actual food.

4. La Befana — The Italian Christmas Witch

While some in the United States and other countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day or the Epiphany, only certain countries display particular reverence to them, and very few actually place more importance on either than Christmas. To most countries, these are sort of auxiliary holidays that are part of the “extended Christmas.” However, some countries don’t believe Christmas really ends until the Epiphany, and Italy in particular actually treats more Epiphany with more importance than Christmas itself, at least in terms of gift-giving traditions.

They do have a Santa figure named is Babbo Natale that is starting to catch on a bit more, and he’s pretty similar to most versions of Santa. However, their Christmas Witch, known as “La Befana” and the Epiphany Holiday she holds sway over is still much more popular. Her legend goes that the Three Kings were heading to the infant baby Jesus to give their gifts, and getting others nearby to go with them when she gave an excuse of being busy cleaning up her house. She realized her mistake the next day and rushed, still holding her broom to bring the baby a gift. But alas, it was too late. In order to make up for missing out on giving the newly born savior a gift, she has roamed the Earth ever since on her broom, giving toys to all the good little boys and girls, and coal to all the bad ones.

3. The Story Of “The Boy Who Ate Santa’s Cookies” Is Of Completely Unverifiable Veracity

Another tale that has been passed around is one the internet claims to originate from South Africa, and it tells the story of a boy named Danny who mischievously ate the cookies that were left out for Santa Claus. In the morning, his grandmother was so angry that she beat him to death. Seems a little harsh, but hey, she worked hard on those cookies. Anyway, now parents in South Africa tell this as a cautionary tale to their children so they won’t eat Santa’s cookies. In some versions of the tale, the boy comes back as some kind of ghost in order to haunt children who eat Santa’s cookies.

Now, while it’s an interesting (if horrific) story and definitely something that could be told by parents as a morality tale to their children, we were unable to find any verification online that the story is actually a real South African fable, or if it was made up whole cloth on the internet in order to troll people, or simply to amuse. Regardless, it is an interesting legend, and even if South African parents are not telling this story to their children, it does bring up some amusing questions. If Santa were real, what would he do if he found out you ate his cookies? Would you immediately make the naughty list? And just how naughty would Santa find you to be for your crime? And if you’re from South Africa, please let us now… is this a genuine fable? And do your grandmothers really get that made about cookies?

2. The Tradition In Spain Of Eating 12 Lucky Grapes And Wearing Red Underwear

While Spain has many normal Christmas traditions that, like many Western countries, place a great emphasis on the holiday, they also have some rather strange ones. Now, the strangest, and some of the oldest traditions in Spain technically occur during the New Year’s celebration, shortly after Christmas — but still during the days of Christmas. On Old Night, the day before the New Year, everyone gathers around their TVs or in Puerto De Sol in Madrid, and prepares for the clock tower to count down for the New Year. First, the bell rings four times, and then people wait for another twelve chimes that signal each month of the year. Fair enough, that’s pretty close to what Americans do on New Year’s Eve.

The quirky difference, though, is that on each chime people attempt to eat a grape, and the goal is to eat twelve grapes — seeds and all — before the last chime ends. If you can manage this feat, you will have good luck for the coming year. Another strange part of the tradition involves wearing red underwear under your clothes for luck, and it is said that if you got the underwear from someone else as a gift, it will make you even luckier. And we say if you’re getting red underwear from someone else, chances are you’ve already gotten quite lucky. High five.

While this tradition may seem strange, it’s completely harmless (well, unless you choke on the grapes), and helps everyone ring in the New Year, and enjoy the Christmas Season, in a festive and silly way.

1. The Ukrainian Story Of The Spiderwebs And The Christmas Tree

Ukraine and many of the surrounding areas of Eastern Europe have traditionally had less wealth and prosperity than their neighbors to the west (though that’s been changing a bit in certain countries). In fact, for most people living in Eastern Europe, much of their existence has been marked by a long and unending struggle. For this reason, it probably does not surprise many that the type of Christmas legends to come out of countries like Ukraine are often rather grim. One of the most famous stories from Ukraine tells the story of a spider, and how it saved one family’s Christmas.

In some stories the mother of the family is a widow, and in others there is still a father, but the family — which includes a boy and a girl — is always desperately poor. They are so poor that they cannot afford anything to decorate their Christmas Tree, and they lament it the night before. In order to give them a good Christmas and boost their spirits, a spider in the house hears their plea and overnight, spins webs on the tree in order to beautifully decorate it for the family. When the family wakes up, they go to the tree and it is decorated beyond their dreams. To make things even better, when the sun shines on the tree, the webs turn to silver and gold, and they never need to worry about money again. In some versions the webs turn to precious metals because of the spider, and in other versions because of divine intervention. But in every story, the spider is a benevolent figure trying to help a poor family have at least one good day.


Not Your Granddad’s Christmas –

WIF Customs and Traditions

The Night Before Christmas – WIF Holidays

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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

Julaftonen by Carl Larsson 1904 edit.jpg

Julaftonen (Christmas Eve), a 1904–05 watercolor painting by Carl Larsson
Also called Christmas Evening
Christmas Vigil
Day before Christmas
Night before Christmas
Observed by Christians
Many non-Christians
Type Christian, cultural
Significance Day or evening preceding the traditional birthday of Jesus
Observances Gift shopping, gift giving, goodwill greetings, Midnight Mass, other church services, meals, preparations for the arrival of Christmas gift-bringers, preparing for Christmas
Date 24 December (Western Churches and Eastern Orthodox churches that use the Revised Julian Calendar), 5 January (Armenian Apostolic Church), 6 January (Eastern Orthodox Churches that follow the Old Julian Calendar and most Oriental Orthodox Churches), 18 January (Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
Frequency Annual
Related to Christmas Day, ChristmastideNew Year’s Eve

Christmas Eve is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the attendance of special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmastime is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas Day, St. Stephen’s Day, New Year’s, and the Feast of the Epiphany.

During World War I in 1914 and 1915 there was an unofficial Christmas truce, particularly between British and German troops. The truce began on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (“Silent Night”). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon there were calls for visits across the “No man’s land” when small gifts were exchanged. The truce also allowed a breathing space during which recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man’s Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from Psalm 23. The truce occurred in spite of opposition at higher levels of the military command. Earlier in the autumn, a call by Pope Benedict XV for an official truce between the warring governments had been ignored.


The Night Before Christmas –

WIF Holidays

An Independent Russian Investigation from WIF

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 Ways that Russians

are Misunderstood

Around the World

Today, Russia is arguably one of the most controversial countries on the planet. Much is said about them one way or the other (primarily due to Vladimir Putin), and very few countries have as many stereotypes (especially negative ones) floating around about them. While it’s understandable for many Westerners to be worried about Russian influence on their governments or people, it’s also important to be able to separate the Russian people and culture from their government, and to understand who the Russians really are — and not just what we know from crude and often demeaning stereotypes… or potential meddling in United States politics.

10. Russians Don’t Look At Governance The Same Way Many Westerners Do

Many Americans and other Western countries have trouble understanding Russians’ idea of government, because Westerners cannot imagine a life where they could have so little personal freedom. To Westerners, personal freedom — or at least the appearance of it — is practically a life or death matter. Now, Russians see things differently. It isn’t that they are naturally submissive or something, but the Russian people have never really had anything like the Democracy that many Western countries enjoy… and the Russian people go back a very long way.

When you haven’t ever had something in the first place, you’re hardly going to find yourself missing it greatly or fighting for it. For this reason, personal freedoms are a much lower priority for many Russians, and they don’t entirely understand why so many countries are worried about those issues. Particularly when they haven’t fixed other problems yet. This doesn’t mean there’s no one in Russia interested in Democracy, but by and large, you aren’t likely to find many willing to risk prison for something they’ve never even had to begin with.

9. Russians Look European, But Are Also Sort Of Asian

Perhaps one of the things that makes it so difficult for Westerners to deal with Russians is that they look so similar to many of us, despite thinking so drastically differently. This likely stems from their cultural origins. The larger portion of Russia is, geographically, essentially in Asia, but the more populated part is in what some call “European Russia” — a portion of Russia that’s still considered part of Eastern Europe. This is all quite confusing, and borders are all, of course, man-made to begin with, but the overall issue is that the Russian people hardly fit in any normal cultural box.

Even the ones from “European Russia” are still much farther East than most people who are considered to be from Europe, and this likely changes their thinking. They’re also part of a country that has much of its territory in the actual continent of Asia, which means many people from the European part will still have their culture influenced by the more Asian part. For this reason, some in Russia have said they felt they have a more unique identity, which is actually part Asian and part Eastern European.

8. Napoleon Made Them Incredibly Paranoid Long Ago; Now Others Think Them Aggressive

Americans Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812 well, and some even confuse as being in reference to the American War of 1812. However, at that same time in history, there was a war going on basically all over the world because of a little guy named Napoleon. This titchy fellow had been stirring up the nest all over the place, and had even pushed his way into Russia. Now, today many people look at this as a folly of Napoleon, and talk about how Hitler later repeated the same mistake: Attacking the hardy Russian people during the harsh winter.

However, the truth was that Napoleon came far closer, at least in the Russians’ minds, to completing a successful invasion than they were comfortable with. They were absolutely terrified, and never forgot it. Well over 100 years later, the term “Bonapartist” would still be a fairly common term in Russia. They feared the idea of a warrior general rising up and going on a rampage so much that they immortalized Napoleon’s name with a specific word for his little invasion attempt into their country. Many people today think the Russians are just aggressive, but this near-miss so long ago drove them to shore up their borders, and it’s primarily for this reason they’ve been so hostile to those closest to them since. The truth is that the Russians only won with scorched earth tactics and great losses. Napoleon scarred them forever.

7. Russian National Pride Goes Back A Long Way, But Has Clashed With French Culture

Some people don’t understand why Russians are willing to forego so much comfort for the good of their country, and many people like to claim it’s Soviet propaganda. But the Russian people have been behaving this way for some time now. Considering the country of Russia is really one of the oldest surviving countries and cultures in the world, it’s not surprising that they have a gigantic wellspring of national pride, whether the situation warrants it or not. They also have a history of dictatorships, which means they’re used to simply being proud of their country and letting others run it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Russians have always remained truly proud and obsessed with Slavic culture. A situation that still exists (to a smaller extent) today — but blew up shortly after the time of Napoleon — is the fight between the Slavophiles and the Francophiles. The Slavophiles wanted to keep Russia Slavic and focus on Slavic cultures, traditions, dress, and customs. However, enthralled and enraptured by the French, many young people were now dressing in French fashions, taking up their customs, and studying their culture and language. This has changed the Russian people even further over the years and, if anything, has made them even more incomprehensible to the rest of the world.

6. The Russian Concept of “Poshlost” Explains Why They Often Think Of Wealth Differently

These days you have people who like to make fun of people like the Kardashians, or joke about how they became famous for doing literally nothing at all. However, at the same time, many of those same people view being in a position like the Kardashians as something to aspire to. Now, despite misconceptions, the Kardashians still have a lot of work to do to maintain their empire of nothing. But many see their lifestyle as an aspiration because it’s perceived as a life where they can just chill and enjoy the finer things while not having to work or do… well, anything. In many ways this almost makes them the ultimate American dream, but Russians would find the whole thing ridiculous.

While there are some Russian billionaires today, and Russia has a lot of corruption, those who are at least in business or working are given a great deal of respect by the common person regardless of their ridiculous wealth. It’s only the playboys, who don’t really work or do anything, that get the true disrespect. In Russian literature, there’s a concept that many of the greats like Pushkin, or Lermontov, wrote about called “Poshlost.” Poshlost has been called untranslatable, but we will try our best to explain the concept: it’s used to refer to outer beauty, or empty wealth that is flaunted, while the individuals behind that wealth spend most of their time lounging, trying to look important, and contributing nothing of value to society at all. In a way, it was a backlash to the fashionable trappings of high society brought forth by the Francophile fad.

5. The Idea Of Struggle Is Entirely Embedded In The Russian Cultural Ethos

One of the things many people in America, in particular, understand least about the Russians is their willingness to accept a life without a lot of particular luxuries, and without a lot of options in general. This isn’t because the Russians are just masochistic and enjoy taking punishment, or are trying to prove some kind of specific point. Nor are the Russian people necessarily taking one for the team in order to advance the cause of the current government. The biggest reason most Russians are okay with things being that way is because, within in their ethos, the idea of struggle is deeply embedded.

In many ways, it may by their most important cultural value: Working hard and muddling through to get by is seen as extremely important. For a culture that’s often had to deal with poverty and want, even under their most benevolent leaders, this was something they had to learn as a people very early on. In many ways it has defined them, and explains why they are willing to accept what many in Western culture would consider unacceptable. They are simply far more accustomed to hardship, so they don’t act like everything is out of sorts when things get difficult.

4. The Origins Of Their Language, And Its Structure, Give Them A Unique Perspective

The Russian language, and most Slavic languages, use the Cyrillic Alphabet; however, the origin of their written language is rather strange. The people of the region had mostly used spoken-word and wrote little down when two Catholic missionaries named Cyril and Methodius traveled to the region. These two decided to help create an alphabet and written-word system for the language spoken by the people of the region, and something similar is in use today in most Slavic Countries. Now, this gives them a rather unique language structure and perspective.

The language itself was formed entirely by natives of the region, but the written form was made up mostly by outsiders who didn’t entirely understand their thinking. This has created a language system where the written word (and, as they’ve evolved together, sometimes even the spoken word) are hard to articulate the way the writer would want. Many writers like Pushkin took the written form of Russian to its limit to extract as much wordplay as possible, but they could only go so far, despite their genius.

3. Russians Are Generally Thought Of As A Drunk Country – But There Is A Lot More To It

One of the most famous stereotypes about the Russians is that they are huge drunks, and may even be bigger drunks than the Irish. People talk about teens using mouthwash, hand sanitizer, and other awful things, but in any country with poverty and bored children, things like that aren’t uncommon. And while people like to act like the average Russian just pounds alcohol like there’s no tomorrow, even among the heavy drinkers there are customs to drinking, and it’s only when you ignore them and actually do start pounding for no reason (which is relatively rare) that you have a real problem.

In Russia, drinking is a big social thing, but it is accompanied by lots of little bits of food, toasting to friends, and good conversation and camaraderie in general. Russians like to toast to things while drinking so they have a reason to imbibe, and it’s custom to eat a bit of food after each shot or drink — both for your health, and to avoid a hangover later. Many Russians will simply not drink if they don’t at least have a little bit of bread so they can have a little bite with each drink.

2. Internet Pirates Are Often Russian, But Due To Poverty – Not Inherent Cultural Dishonesty

The Pirate Bay, and other popular torrent sites, have always had a huge amount of torrents coming from Russian hackers. Many who pirate a lot are all too familiar with their written “Russian Accent” and have noticed that many torrent-ed movies have Russian subtitles. Now, some people have noticed this and come to the conclusion that Russians are inherently dishonest or thieves, but this is not really the case.

For starters, an incredible amount of Westerners use torrent sites — even middle class Westerners — so it’s a little bit hypocritical to brand Russians as thieves. However, more to the point, many common Russian folk feel compelled to do these things because they are desperately poor, and simply cannot afford the content otherwise. In many cases it may not even be available for legitimate purchase within their country, so they have to resort to piracy in order to get past government censorship. Russians aren’t generally a bunch of horrible cyber thieves; well, at least not any more-so than most other modern countries and people. Also, while Russians aren’t more dishonest, necessarily, they are better educated than many countries when it comes to IT.

1. The Russian People Usually Know Full Well When They Are Being Fed Propaganda

A lot of folks think that the Russian people are easily fooled, and that Ol’ Putin completely has the wool over their eyes. They believe that Putin’s propaganda machine has managed to get people under his spell, and that they are basically putty in his hands. However, the situation — and the Russian people by extension — are a lot more complex and complicated than that. The Russian people are well aware of the concept of propaganda, and have a word called “Pravda” (which some of you may be familiar with) due to the ironically named Soviet Propaganda paper of the same name.

Now for those who aren’t aware, Pravda means “truth,” but it can also mean a lot more (or less) than that. Some know that Pravda was used sarcastically as a phrase to subtly disagree with Soviet propaganda, but most Westerners don’t know how long this phrase has been in use, or how many things it can mean (and it can mean dozens of things). After all, Russians may not have as many words as some languages, so they often use the same word to mean many things.

Pravda can mean actual truth, but it can also mean that you know you aren’t being told the truth, and are very slightly sarcastically saying “Oh yes, of course I believe that,” when you both know it’s a lie. And this is the funny thing about the Russian propaganda machine: It often knows it isn’t really fooling anyone, and the people often know they aren’t being fooled, but everyone pretends the propaganda is working anyway in order to avoid any kind of confrontation with the government.


An Independent Russian Investigation

from WIF