5 Iconic Symbols You Associate With the Wrong Country
Every nation has cherished icons, symbols that represent its unique individuality. Australia has cork hats and spiders. Colombia has cocaine and gangsters. Ireland has leprechauns and alcoholism. But you'd be surprised to learn that some of these icons represent only the ability for one nation to shamelessly rip off somebody else. For example ...
Chinese Fortune Cookies Aren't Chinese
On some level, we all know that fast food isn't a great snapshot of a foreign culture (try going to a restaurant in Mexico and asking for a Crunchwrap Supreme). Yet if you ask the average American to name the most Chinese thing they can think of, many if not most will say "fortune cookies." So of course here is where we find out that they don't actually have them in China.
"You're looking for fortune cookies? No, ours are all two for a dollar."
The story goes that back before World War II Japanese immigrants to America did a good trade bringing cheap, delicious rice-based cuisine to their Western neighbors, and with it, they introduced the bland, gimmicky treat that was mostly associated with religious shrines in Japan. Prewar Americans took to the fortune cookie like modern-day Americans have taken to anime, and an institution was born.
Just like anime, but with MSG in place of borderline-illegal pornography.
But unfortunately for prosperous Japanese restaurant owners, after their motherland bombed Pearl Harbor, America went into a racist frenzy of rounding up Japanese immigrants and putting them in internment camps, operating under the assumption that they came with some kind of "kill all Americans" switch.
Realizing that a vacuum had just opened up in the "watered-down Asian food for white people" market, Chinese Americans started moving in to take over the vacant Japanese restaurants, because to most Westerners, Asian was Asian, and customers needed a way to indulge in exotic cuisine without being arrested for treason. Because Americans loved their fortune cookies, the Chinese faux-Japanese restaurants kept making them.
They're as culturally significant as koi ponds full of nickels and fat guys eating alone.
Ironically, fortune cookies are now served in Chinese restaurants everywhere in the world except China. An American firm did try to introduce them, but failed after three years of Chinese patrons refusing to eat this bizarre foreign crap ("Also, somebody accidentally left a hunk of paper in here").
Mexican Pinatas Are Italian Toys Ripped Off from the Chinese
When people think of Mexico, or at least when racist people think of Mexico, they probably picture sombreros, tacos, tequila, and children hitting colorful papier-mache donkeys with sticks. The pinata is one of those definitively Mexican creations that Americans now use as a way to appropriate Mexican culture while at the same time trying desperately to keep actual Mexicans out of our country.
"GO HOME, FOREIGNERS! ... but leave the salsa, if you don't mind."
Actually, the pinata, like the candy and cheap plastic toys we put in them today, is originally from China. When Marco Polo visited the country around the 14th century (presumably by shouting his first name and then heading in the direction he heard his last name shouted back from), he saw Chinese people celebrating the New Year by creating animal figures stuffed with seeds. The figures were smashed and people collected the seeds, which were then burned, and the ashes would be kept to bring good luck.
Responsible for more questionable culture than Yoplait.
Marco Polo brought this puppet-bashing idea back to Italy, where they decided to fill it with the only thing less exciting to kids than seeds: religious symbolism! It became an Italian tradition to create a seven-coned pignatta for Lent that was representative of the seven deadly sins. Soon the Spanish picked up this custom, added a tilde and some treats, and took it over to the New World to try to convert the Mayans to Christianity. Oddly enough, they found that the Mayans already had a "bash an object until shit falls out" party game -- they celebrated the birth of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, by watching blindfolded priests break a feather-filled pot over an altar. The Spanish missionaries saw this as an opportunity to co-opt the Mayan ritual by replacing the feathers with delicious candy, letting everyone take a whack at it, and covering the whole thing with hastily justified Christian symbolism.
Although it seems like the more obvious message is "beating an animal with a stick is wholesome fun."
Since candy trumps feathers any day, it became a popular tradition. Eventually the pinata became less a religious exercise and more a socially acceptable excuse to smash something at a party and then eat food off the ground.
Budweiser Is Not an American Beer
Budweiser, the "king of beers," is surely an American national icon. It was introduced in 1876, not long after brothers and fathers were blowing each other away with old-timey cannons in the Civil War, and since then it has been the patriotic intoxicant of choice for everything from Independence Day celebrations to NASCAR races. You'd be forgiven for thinking that "Bud" is about the most American name you could give to a beer, but you'd also be forgiven for thinking that "Budweiser" sounds suspiciously European.
These crafty bastards just keep popping up.
Not only would you be right, but you'd have stumbled across a very bitter subject for the people who actually invented "Budweiser." See, the original Budweiser is actually from the Czech Republic, specifically from a city called Budweis that has been brewing beer since the freaking 1400s. And in the local language, anything brewed in Budweis is called "Budweiser." So you can see how brewing a beer somewhere else and calling it "Budweiser" would be something of a dick move.
And sticking the name "Budweiser" on this might as well be an act of war.
That brings us to two German immigrants, Carl Conrad and Adolphus Busch, who were responsible for bringing Budweiser to the United States. They wanted to brew a beer similar to what was available back in their homeland and the Czech Republic, so they ripped off not only the name but also the taste and the style of the beer. At one point, the original brewers from Europe had the rights to call their beer the "original Budweiser," because it was the original, but they eventually sold away the rights around 1939, as Nazi troops were on their way to conquer Czechoslovakia. The Czechs are still bitter about the sale, claiming that it was done out of desperation and that the payment they received was modest at best.
Great, now we feel guilty and hung over.
The dispute continues to this day, as Anheuser-Busch has been fighting the Czech brewers for over 100 years over the rights to the name. In America, Anheuser-Busch can legally call their brew "Budweiser," but ironically, brewers who actually make beer in Budweis are forced to sell it under the name "Czechvar" in the USA. Hey, just consider yourself lucky that Budweiser's corporate lawyers don't force you to change the name of your town.
Bagpipes Were Invented by the Romans
We said earlier that when asking people to name something Chinese, they'll likely blurt out "fortune cookies." Well, if you do the same with Scotland, you'll get one of two answers: "kilts" or "bagpipes." But while the Scots in Braveheart used bagpipes to scare the willies out of the English, before that, the Romans used them against the Scots.
"Now that it's not part of my cultural heritage, I suddenly understand why you all hate that sound."
There are many ancient carvings and statues depicting someone playing an early form of bagpipe, including a Greek statue of Apollo playing one. Reed pipes were a popular instrument throughout the ancient world, but on paper, Emperor Nero was the first man described as able to play reed pipes with the bag (presumably before he took up the fiddle). As he described it, the bag was invented because the cheeks didn't store enough air to make a really effective imitation of a cat on fire.
Tyranny, bagpipes, and neckbeards: nice legacy, jackass.
But the Romans, as we know, didn't stay in Rome. They conquered the known world, using bagpipes as a war instrument as their armies marched across the globe. It's said that when Caesar marched on Britain, he used a troupe of bagpipe players to scare the living shit out of the barbarian Scots. And it worked, because the Scottish forces (who weren't actually "Scottish" yet, but a mixed bag of Celtic tribes) had yet to hear such an incredible racket, so much that they believed it was some kind of supernatural weapon of irritation.
"Couldn't you just conquer us with torches and swords?"
Once they learned what a bagpipe was, legend says that they began to worship it and eventually built their own in an effort to learn the secret of its magic. Then when it turned out not to be magic, they apparently just decided they might as well keep them.
Russian Nesting Dolls Aren't Russian
Your grandmother probably has a set of these stashed away in the attic somewhere -- Russian nesting dolls (or matryoshka dolls) are those hollow wooden figures that split apart to house progressively smaller dolls until you ultimately come to the diminutive midget at its core. They're pretty much the only thing we know about Russian fashion besides those tall, furry hats. But once again, Russian nesting dolls are actually about as Russian as the cheap American knockoffs you see at the local craft market. In reality, they're a carbon copy of an invention that originated in China.
For those who enjoy the thrill of knickknacks and keeping their possessions in storage.
Of course, the original idea as produced by the Chinese was just a set of boxes that bore little resemblance to the dolls we see today (except that they fit inside each other). It was the Japanese who knocked off the Chinese boxes in order to produce sets of nesting dolls. The Japanese version used an old bald man in the design, as if they figured that everyone wanted a vision of their own inevitable deterioration staring at them from the mantle.
The Japanese dolls were, if anything, more impressive than the Russian version -- they would keep getting smaller until the final doll was no bigger than a grain of rice. These days, the smallest doll in the set is simply where the guy who carves dozens of them a week in his garage says "screw it."
"Nuts to this. No one's gonna check all the way to the bottom."
Citing extreme paranoia and a completely rational fear of sea monsters (still depicted in modern Japanese cinema), the island nation had been closed to outside contact for a long time, but they slowly opened to trade in the mid-19th century. And as soon as they did, they got burned. A couple of Russian artists saw the imported dolls, realized they'd look great when converted into quick cash, and replaced the old man motif with a series of more appealing Russian ladies.
These days, nesting dolls are known by most as a distinctly Russian concept; some refer to the knickknacks as "the soul of Russia." In an ironic twist, the Japanese have recently started importing the dolls from Russia for their apparent effectiveness in exorcising demons. We're not sure how this feature was originally discovered.
Related Reading: Cracked has a whole slew of stereotypes to myth-bust, including the idea that French people suck at war. And if you've got a head brimming with crazy ideas about Chinese people, Christina's article here will set you right. Round out your study in "isms" with this look at gender stereotypes that used to be the opposite.
We have some bad news: all those 'underdog' myths about the United States are bullshit, the Ancient Egyptians didn't "worship" their Pharaohs and your favorite book sellers are now taking pre-orders for a text book written and illustrated entirely by the Cracked team! Hitting shelves in October, Cracked's De-Textbook is a fully-illustrated, systematic deconstruction of all of the bullshit you learned in school.
It's loaded with facts about history, your body, and the world around you that your teachers didn't want you to know. And as a bonus? We've also included the kinkiest sex acts ever described in the Bible.