No matter where we live in the world, we share the same human experiences. We all attend birthdays, funerals, and weddings. We all have a last day of school, and buy our first car, and get chased out of a bank after being told we're not allowed to poop there. There are some variations depending on where we live, yes, but for the most part we all do things more or less the same way.
Except in some places, where everyday things like going to school or waking up in the morning are activities so alien that you will insist we made them up. For instance...
Imagine waking up every day to the sound of this delightful music:
Every morning, the residents of Pyongyang, North Korea are treated to this, the eerie theme song of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea blasted over loudspeakers to rouse them from the illusion they might have a normal day. Just about every Western visitor reports the experience as being intensely creepy. "Bizarre, sci-fi dystopia" is a common phrasing. "What the unabridged fuck?" is another. But even the North Koreans can be weird about it; one Australian tourist asked his guides about it, only to get the response: "What music?"
There is an explanation of sorts. For the song at least, not the endless years of insanity. The tune is apparently called "Where Are You, Dear General?" and was reportedly written by Kim Jong-il.
It was originally written for a Revolutionary Opera, a style which you should not be at all surprised to learn North Korea is quite fond of, and if you're wondering, yes it does sound less creepy when sung and not being blasted across the city while being played on a goddamned theremin. And oh look, you can even buy a copy for yourself.
Now even the decadent West can wake up in style.
It's been close to a century since refrigerators were introduced to American homes. Since then they've ruined the careers of milk men, given children a fun place to hide, and provided an easy nickname for hefty rectangular athletes. They're ubiquitous, and most definitely not luxurious. Unless you live in Los Angeles, that is, where rental properties place refrigerators on the same tier as parking or a gym.
"Yeah, it's got a rooftop pool, squash court, and submarine base. A fridge? Of course not. Fuck you."
When you rent in L.A. you're quite possibly going to have to cart your own fridge to your new place; 50 percent of apartments don't come with them. They're classed as an amenity by the city's municipal code, so landlords aren't required to provide them. Which means that whoever lived in your apartment before you had to haul theirs out of the place, and you've got to bring your own in, which has essentially turned the city of angels into a nomadic community of fridge-toting pack mules.
If you don't live in L.A. this is actually quite funny to imagine.
This happens nowhere else in the country; in New York for example, a refrigerator is a legal requirement to rent out a property. Other cities might not have it mandated so clearly, but it's still extremely rare to be required to BYOF. But not in L.A., where apparently a lack of refrigeration does not make an apartment unfit to live in. However, it does make them fit to die from salmonella poisoning in.
Driving down the highways of Taiwan, you're bound to see scantily clad sirens standing by the roadside inviting you inside their brightly lit glass booths. Once you approach, you'll see the women are only figuratively selling sex, and are instead "betel nut beauties" selling betel nuts, a mild stimulant similar to chewing tobacco. Betel nuts are the fourth most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world, a number that might just possibly be boosted by motorists buying them out of embarrassment, because of course that's why they pulled over.
"Yes I pulled over to nut, why would you even ask, what are you doing, what are these?"
These girls are legal in Taiwan, but only just barely. They're flat-out banned from the capital city of Taipei, and elsewhere the government has had to regulate the amount of skin they can show. Most of the girls are barely legal, though some have been found who are reportedly as young as 15.
Outrageous! Why, in America, we repeatedly and egregiously sexualize teenage girls for any number of similarly dumb reasons.
All of this seems a little unnecessary to us. Think about your closest convenience store and the guy who sells cigarettes there. Probably not the most attractive fellow, right? That doesn't seem to be hurting sales. So what's wrong with your product, betel nuts?
We've covered the Icelandic elf obsession before on the site, but it's worth repeating: Like frozen Tolkiens, Icelanders take their elves seriously. For example, if you want to build a road in Iceland, not only do you need to take heed of the environment, community, and local regulations, but you also need to consider the needs of the elves.
You know. The archers, makers of cookies, and Santa's only friends.
They're the "huldufolk", or hidden people, and over half of the country believes in their existence. Which means that when a boulder needs to be moved for a road project, protests erupt to defend the interests of the hidden folk. Only once a settlement is reached -- typically through a human intermediary who is no doubt creatively dressed -- is it safe to move the boulder and begin the actual work. The construction workers aren't necessarily fed up with all this; plenty of them believe in the hidden people too, and there are countless stories of freak accidents that occur to those who interfere with the elven domain. Broken vehicles and equipment seems to be the most common mishap, but in at least one case, the elves apparently killed 70,000 trout.
Anything to prevent humanity from discovering the road to Rivendell.
Even NATO isn't immune, having suffered busloads of Icelanders protesting an airbase that was supposedly encroaching on sovereign elven territory. These elves are even the subject of academic papers coming out of the University of Iceland, who without a hint of satire, explain elven lives, sizes, and customs. The beliefs are so widespread that the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration had to create a five-page form to give to reporters asking about it. The guidelines take an agnostic position on the invisible creatures who don't actually exist, but acknowledges the importance of taking into account local concerns relating to the supernatural.
Everywhere in the world, drinking is a pretty standard activity for students finishing high school, as they transition from a life of study to a life of gin-drenched adult despair. No country does it quite like Norway, though, whose end-of-school-year partying can go for three straight weeks.
"Let's go into the woods and forget everything we learned."
The math alone is working against the cause of sanity here. The legal drinking age in Norway is 18, while kids graduate from school at 19. So high school graduation was always going to be a piss-up, but what might surprise you is just how organized of a piss-up it is. The celebrations (known as "russefeiring") are actually governed by a board of local adults in the community, giving the partying a level of legitimacy unknown to most other nations. And it's not just about the drinking, although there is -- good god -- an awful lot of that. There are a whole host of other customs and traditions that go along with russefeiring. One of the most visible is the overalls the students are required to wear for the three-week period.
Seems like this would make pee breaks harder, but they must know what they're doing.
Another tradition is the number of cars, vans, and buses the students buy and decorate in a variety of elaborate ways. Awards are handed out at the end of russefeiring for the best vehicles, and in a nice blend of Norwegian and American tradition, many students now get corporate sponsors for their vehicles. And as combining automobiles with excessive amounts of alcohol seems like a bad idea even to Norwegians, they now require a designated driver accompany the transportation so that the kids can get shitfaced without damaging important corporate property.
No-one's policing their taste though.
Russefeiring also has an elaborate system of dares, marked by "knots" students earn for the ceremonial cap they don at the end of the party. Like a less-lame Scout badge, these knots are combined with little charms that are earned for things like spending a night in a tree, or downing a bottle of wine in 20 minutes. Those are some of the tamer ones, obviously, and while a lot of the more risque items have been taken off the official list, somehow the responsible and risk-averse teenagers do them anyways.
And while that's all well and good, here's the real kicker: All of this highly organized binge drinking takes place before final exams.
Because school in Japanese culture is as much about learning how to become a member of society as it is about learning traditional school subjects, every day Japanese children go to work cleaning their own classrooms.
Tan Yi Wen/The Straits Times
This many children in masks in an American school is typically a sign something's gone horribly wrong.
The schools have their own adult cleaning staff, but children are still required to do these chores. Soji, as the tradition is called, encourages students to not be such little cretins, knowing that they'll be the ones cleaning up the chewing gum and desk graffiti they might leave behind. Each student even has their own washrag which they stitch themselves for the end-of-day tidying.
The students react as if it's just a regular subject, another part of their education. It does foster a certain egalitarianism among the kids; both rich and poor clean, and on certain occasions older kids are paired with younger ones, a particularly valuable experience in a country with so many only children. And if you're not questioning your own slovenly childhood yet, there's more! Older students in Japan do a tri-yearly neighborhood clean, chiiki seiso, where they put on cotton gloves and clean up trash in the areas around their school. Which means that by the time they hit puberty, Japanese children have put more effort into their community's advancement than most adults in other countries will do in a lifetime.
We're actually more likely to have classes on littering.
According to the news, there's a lot of weird shit going on in Florida. But this isn't necessarily due to some inherent lunacy in the residents of the Sunshine State (also known as America's wang), it's because in Florida, government business is everybody's business.
In Florida, various laws make it so that government records are almost unbelievably accessible to the public. The main benefit of this is that it allows journalists (and any private citizen, really) to uncover corruption and conflicts of interest in their elected officials. Which is why Floridians take these laws so seriously. In 2008, the governor was required to invite a journalist to his wedding in order to comply with them. Neither political party has been able to do lasting damage to the laws either, making them more or less a permanent feature of the state.
Like mouse ears and sweat.
But back to that side effect. These laws are probably responsible for the creation of one of the most fabled creatures in Odd News history: the Florida Man. People do weird drunken shit everywhere in the world -- that's one of the fun things about drinking. But it's only in Florida that reporters will get rapid access to these goons' arrest reports and mugshots. And because reporters -- in Florida or elsewhere -- know it's so easy to get this information, they now go fishing specifically for it. It's practically a cottage industry now, with reporters trawling Florida police blotters for a cheap way to fill column inches or land a viral hit.
The content mines are deep and treacherous. We will take any edge we can.
So there you go. Florida Man isn't unusually insane. It's just that his insanity is well documented.
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