Culture vulture – top tips on living the good life from around the world

Enjoying life is a global goal. From Thai water fights to German pubs – we can learn from them all.

For some of us life might be going along okay. For others maybe not so much and then there are those who feel that life is peaches and cream.

Whatever the case, it never hurts to look around and see if we can borrow something and add it to our lives. Whether it’s to lessen stress, add more purpose or to simply shrug and say “Ah who cares – this coffee is top notch!”

We can get some handy little pointers not just from each other but from other cultures. Some may not be doable, such as closing businesses in Spain for the afternoon, but others may be easy to start today. Right now.

Germany: Feierabend

The stereotypical image of a German worker is that of a seriously disciplined, hard-working individual with little time for idle amusements. (Apologies to our German readers, it’s only a stereotype.)

The first part may be true – on the whole Germans are a productive bunch at work as evidenced by their robust economy and high standard of living. However they have plenty of time to unwind and even have a word for it: Feierabend.

Feierabend has two parts to it. the first feiera can be translated as “celebration” and the second refers to the evening period, right up until lights out.

Celebrating the end of work. Billions of us can relate to this. Yeah, yeah there are those who’ll say “But my work is my passion…etc” but seriously, normal humans love some downtime.

The philosophy of Feierabend can be translated as cutting off work and starting the rest/recreational part of the day. A clear distinction with no grey areas, no overlapping work at home nonsense. When the allotted time to finish work rolls around, the Germans switch straight into play mode.

This is completely up to the individual. Perhaps a bike ride or a pleasant evening sketching then playing with the kids. Maybe drinking 10 steins of beer with schnapps chasers then dancing on tables. Whatever works, really.

The origins date back as far as the early farming days when people realized that in order for workers to return to work fully refreshed (and more productive), they needed sufficient rest.

A basically capitalist mindset that has endured for years and is unlikely to change.

It can take effort to ensure the cut-off is possible but the rewards are worth it.

Hammer those emails out to potential clients until 5:00 and then hammer that beer on the train home, singing with you fellow hard-resting citizens.

Brazil: Samba

Yes, to many samba is just a dance. A very up tempo, highly watchable dance. However most Brazilians would argue samba reflects who they are as a people. It is a national symbol and at the heart of Brazilian culture.

Samba’s importance lies in it enabling anyone to become lost in the moment and to express the joy of being alive. It also represents a country unified despite historical and social differences.

The origins can be traced back to indigenous and African dance traditions that stemmed from rural communities and then into Brazilian cities, transcending classes and social barriers.

For a country where over half the population identifies as being of mixed descent, the unifying power of samba is remarkable. Because it originated amongst the slave and working classes the Brazilian elite initially either dismissed it or wanted it banned.

However as rural populations migrated en masse to the cities in the early 20th century, they brought the magic of samba with them.

Samba was soon a national phenomenon and everyone from school children to politicians embraced the dance.

A dance that helps unify a country and brings joy to those who partake.

Time to think up a national dance if you don’t have one. How hard can it be?

Japan: Eiyoshi and nutrition

Eating healthily in Japan is a way of life but they really take it to another level. Eiyoshi (pronounced “Ai-yoshi”) means “nutritionist” and every kindergarten, primary and junior high school has a full-time eiyoshi to plan and deliver healthy lunches.

People in Japan learn from an early age the value of eating nutritious, balanced meals. The eiyoshi decide the daily menus and instruct the kitchen staff on how to cook and prepare the meals. Every lunch has a serving of vegetables, protein (fish, chicken or pork), soup and carbohydrates (usually rice or noodles).

The recipes are varied, creative and delicious. Teachers reinforce the importance of eating a mix of food sources and children quickly jump on board. They eat and grow to love healthy meals from 3 years old up until 15, when they take packed lunches from home for their final years.

The culture of eating well, enjoying healthy food and appreciating where it comes from carries on into adult life. There is a distinct lack of fast food restaurants in comparison to other countries and the demand for them isn’t great either. As a result, Japan’s life expectancies are among the world’s highest.

The eiyoshi lunches are crazy cheap – roughly $USD 40 / month. Yes, 40 bucks. As you spit out your french fries in shock, consider replacing them with some miso salmon and spinach. You might live to 100.

Thailand: Sanuk

Thais are know for their warmth, hospitality and friendly demeanor. (Again, a stereotype but I don’t hear our Thai readers complaining.) After all Bangkok is the most visited city in the world and for good reason. It’s fascinating and fun.

“Fun” is the literal meaning of Sanuk in Thailand but it runs a little deeper than most other countries.

Sanuk is a way of life, to be lived every waking moment. The Thai version of fun means taking joy at every chance. No structured “Okay folks, now take your seats – it’s fun time!” as in many other cultures. No need to manufacture fun with office parties and amusement parks. Fun can and should be had throughout every day.

Most likely influenced from the Buddhist perspective of living in the moment, Saduk enables Thais to laugh at work, home and in their interactions with friends and strangers.

It’s not uncommon for someone to quit a job if it’s not “fun”. Similarly, a friend might return from a business trip and be asked “Was it fun?” ahead of “Was it a success?” To ask something like ” Were you proactive in securing upmarket sales lead?” could lead to being deported or ostracized for showing zero understanding of the concept of fun.

Thais maintain a light mood no matter the situation – cheekily teasing co-workers, engaging in silly word play or just laughing if a situation seems ridiculous.

The concept of work hard/play hard which is embraced in many countries is looked upon a tad disdainfully in Thailand.

Hey, get off your high horse Thailand – we know how to have fun! you may cry.

And yet Bangkok architect Sumet Junsai says, “People in many countries take their fun very seriously. We Thais do not. We don’t believe in this work hard, play hard mentality. Our fun is interspersed throughout the day. It could be a smile or a laugh during the work day. It’s not as uptight as in Western countries.”

Ouch! Yes, he nailed it.

While it may not be possible to completely replicate some of these good-living habits and principles, it must surely be worth trying to adapt some of them. Laugh at work and with strangers, worship your down time, celebrate music and eat like a Japanese 5 year old.

Starting today.

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