Your stupid questions about other countries and cultures

OK, here’s how it works. We all have weird questions about strange lands, people and cultures. We have no-one handy to ask, it’s not something easily googleable (or the internet yields conflicting information), and it isn’t substantial enough for its own thread.

Post them here. If someone asks a question you can answer, answer it :slight_smile: Hopefully someone can answer yours.

OK, my stupid question: is there a reason you can’t look up where somebody lives in America? I’ m thinking of all the cop shows where they have a name to go by, and then they have to do a weird ass-backwards search of recents drivers licenses, or speeding tickets or something, and if the person is a law-abiding citizen who doesn’t drive, they’re SOL. Is there really no register of who lives where? Or is that a TV thing?

Well, it used to be that if you knew the area where someone lived, you could look them up in a telephone book. Of course, they’d have to have a phone registered to them, but often enough people would pay for extra listings if they weren’t the primary phone subscriber. Also, often enough, people would pay extra for an unlisted number… so you couldn’t find those people. I seem to recall that the police could get around that, though.

Nowadays, a lot of people don’t have land lines, so that method doesn’t work. So yeah, you’re kind of right - it’s hard to find where people live. I gather that the police have ways of looking it up, though. But the average person? Nope.

So how does that work in other countries? Do you have to register where you live?

Yes, mostly. In the nordic countries there is an official register of addresses, and you have to report a change of address. In Norway, it’s within 8 days of a move. Granted, in Norway, anything from your address to your taxable income is publicly searchable via Google, so this whole American system of just letting people live wherever is fascinating :smiley:

There are similar systems most places in Europe, I believe. (The address thing. Not the tax thing. That’s a norwegian specialty, as far as I know)

That’s a very interesting thread, I’m looking forward to see what new things I will get to learn :slight_smile:

Septima, in my country at least the answer is yes. Everyone over 14 has a state-issued photo ID, that contains all sorts of details about you (e.g. date and place of birth), including the address where you are officially residing. Technically each time someone moves from one place to another the ID should be changed too.

I now see that I have forgotten to say the actual name of the country. I live in Romania.

It’s not impossible to find out where people live in the US - people do have driver’s licenses and non-driver IDs , landline phones, accounts with the electric company ,etc. It may be impossible to find out where a particular person lives depending upon the lifestyle chosen. If you don’t work, don’t have a driver’s license, don’t have credit cards,don’t have phone or electric accounts listed in your name ,don’t own property etc. it may be impossible for someone (including the police) to find your address. Of course, that would also be true in Norway, Romania etc when someone fails to report a change of address. (unless some government agency routinely verifies who lives where instead of relying on self-reporting)

In the Netherlands there is a municipal administration (gemeente basisadministratie, GBA) that records everyone’s address. Filing a change of address there is compulsory. I don’t think the system is publicly accessible but you can go in and see if anyone else is still ‘residing’ at your place of residence (ie if someone forgot to check out). The system is the basis for any number of government services including for instance voter registration. The only Dutch voters that have to register to vote are those residing abroad, everyone else just gets their voting card in the mail.

Yeah, but we have register which would be the first place to look, and which gives a correct address for 99,9% percent of people regardless of lifestyle. Whereas it seems that in America, you go directly to emergency solutions, like licenses, property etc, which seems like such a pain in the ass.

As for government agency verifying things…well, no, but the address in the register is where your mail gets delivered unless you pay money to have it sent elsewhere. Which makes most people register correctly, or keep and “official” address where they can be contacted.

Edit: we also get voting cards in the mail.

To us, driver and non-driver ID records are not emergency solutions and in most of the US, they probably do include 99% of those over 16 or so who are not actively trying to live “under the radar”. Not only can you not drive without a license, but you can’t fly ,get a job, open a bank account or even get a library card without acceptable ID. I know you’ll see a lot of people arguing that voting shouldn’t require a government-issued photo ID , but that has little to do with how many law-abiding people actually don’t have one and much to do with opposition to the idea of a government-mandated ID card. Which is clearly a cultural difference.

I’m not sure if you mean something similar to forwarding mail to a new address (which exists in the US on a strictly voluntary basis, and only involves checking names/addresses if there is a forwarding order in place for that address ) or if you mean that your mail deliverer checks the name on every piece of mail against a list of registered occupants and says “Septima doesn’t live at this address” and either looks up your correct address or retuens the mail to the sender. For example, I often have packages addressed to me delivered to my mother’s house , since there is usually someone at home there to accept delivery. In the US- no problem from the post office end . The post office doesn’t know who lives there and doesn’t care unless there is either a forwarding order in effect or if the occupants of that address return the mail marked “no such person at this address” . How about Norway? Could I have a package delivered to my mother’s house there?

No, no, mail get’s sent to whatever’s on it. If someone sends something for you to your mothers house, that’s where it goes.

But a lot of official stuff registers you via your official address. Your doctor will send your test results to your official address, and you can’t just get his/her office to send it somewhere else. Your university sends everything to your official address. Your bank will use your official address. And everything from the government goes there too (tax papers, voting stuff, speeding tickets, police summonses, court appearances, jury duty, military service, etc.)

And if the police needs to find you, and the people at your official address have no idea who you are and can’t find you, you may get a fine.

And yeah, we need ID to vote. That whole debacle is just funny.

you can do all these things with a passport, which is not tied to an address.

-Sven, who takes the subway and uses a passport as ID

While the government stuff (court appearance, jury duty etc) doesn’t sound so strange to me, the idea that a doctor’s office, university or bank would be required to look up and verify my official address , rather than simply use the one I provided to them is bizarre from an American point of view. But again, that’s a cultural thing- we seem to have a very different attitude toward our government and individual liberties than Europeans do. Americans differ on a lot of things- there are people who want to require photo ID at the polls and there are others who don’t think the lack of photo ID should ever make a difference- but I cannot imagine any group of Americans (there might be a few crackpots) that would be in favor of requiring everyone to register their address with the government and requiring doctors ,banks ,etc to use only that address.

Absolutely, but only about 35% of Americans have passports- so most people are using something else - usually a license or non-driver ID

My mother-in-law left her family in Tokyo to marry an American soldier and move to Smallishville, KS. She broke off all contact, but had a change of heart forty years later, and thought she could just look up her brothers and sisters again.

She spent a decade of searching to try to find them.

A number of times, she was told “We are not a public people like China. There you could look anyone up in a directory. We are a more private people. You need to ‘get fortunate’ and find the correct neighborhood post office. they will know where your relatives are.”

A co-worker of a friend of her son “got fortunate” and found them after trying some little post offices in Tokyo (and calling anyone with the surname-- turns out her brother had only moved a mile away from the address where the family had grown up, but that was far enough to be anonymous), and we had a big reunion! But it took over nine years.
But the OP said "questionS". I’m hoping for some more interesting ones…

Ok, I’ll go into the fire again…

Not a single country, but: Do people ACTUALLY fool stupid tourists by sending them them to hunt for Wild Haggis, Snipe, Jackalopes or any other mythical critter? Or do they tell funny stories about fooling tourists, but no-one ever actually does it?

Snipe hunting (the fake kind that you do by getting people to hold open bags in the middle of a field at night) is very real. My Cub Scout troop including me fell for it when I was young. I have gotten lots of other people to do it as well.

Successful cow tipping is the one I am highly skeptical of. There are a few reputable people that swear they have seen it done but I don’t believe it. It is impossible to approach a cow that closely and push it over as far as I know. There are also no reputable videos of it being done successfully the last time we looked.

USA cities used to publish their own “city directory”. The Wikipedia entry is woefully uninformative so, more info here:

My stupid question: those Mexicans who can afford live-in domestic help (the “cha-cha”), is it almost automatic they will hire an “india”? Do those women talk like the character "la india María"? Or is this a stereotype/prejudice?

I know I have more ignorant questions, but I can’t think of any right now.

I have never heard of anyone doing this to tourists. It something an older brother or older cousin would do, to a credulous family member, usually a younger child. I can’t imagine anyone ever trying such a thing with a stranger. Location: NYC. And Shagnasty’s post doesn’t contradict this. In a Cub Scout troop all the boys know each other and the kids are under 11.

What’s the consumption of alcohol by children actually like in other countries? I’m in the US, and it’s fairly common to hear that other countries have a more “common sense” approach to teaching their kids to drink alcohol than our ostensibly zero tolerance until they binge drink themselves into a coma on their 21st birthday. I don’t think that actually happens all that often, but college aged kids here are notorious for drinking to excess, and many people blame that on their not being taught to drink in moderation when they’re younger.

Here, in reality, it varies a lot. There are many people who are absolutely zero tolerance about their kids drinking alcohol until they’re 21. Then you’ve got people who allow their child a glass of wine with dinner on special occasions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) but would not hand them a beer after yard work, even if Dad is having one. And, of course, we’ve got other people who buy kegs and shots for their teenager’s birthday party. (Highly illegal, but it happens.)

I’m somewhere between the second and third, myself. A glass of wine with a holiday meal has always been an option for my kids - one they’d accept about 25% of the time. When my son was about 17, I started allowing him to have a beer or a mixed drink in my company, in my home, while I was present. (ETA: But I would not buy or serve alcohol to other people’s kids in my home.) That IS legal in my state, although most people don’t seem to know that. While we did have to curtail it once or twice when he started sneaking booze, it seems to have worked out pretty well in the long run. He’s 20 now and not interested in binge drinking, although he certainly has the opportunity now that he goes to hang out with friends without me.

So what’s it like in your country?

I’ve had to register in Spain and the UK in order to be able to vote (in the UK I could vote in local elections, due to being a EU citizen), in Switzerland because you’re required to register residency whether you’re a voter or not.

But both in Spain and in the UK (I didn’t try it in Switzerland) people aren’t required to use their address of record for other stuff. In Spain we have three different concepts: residencia (where you currently are most likely to sleep), domicilio (where you’re registered) and residencia temporal (like the first one but very short-term, such as the hotel where you’re vacationing). So for the purposes of the Spanish government, when I was in Costa Rica my residencia was an apartment complex in Liberia, my domicilio was my mother’s house and my residencia temporal during a weekend trip would be the hotel we’d be staying at. You can even have different addresses for tax and voting purposes.

Re. drinking age: I’m a '68 vintage and grew up with no drinking ages, but also within a culture which despised drunkenness: once was an accident, twice was evidence of radical stupidity; we staged spontaneous interventions on people who clearly didn’t know when to stop. People about a decade, decade and a half younger somehow lost that relationship with alcohol and started thinking it was cool to be “so drunk they had to tell me about it the next morning”; drinking ages were fixed at 16 at the national level, with some local laws bumping it to 18 under the reasoning of “we don’t want to have multiple majority ages”. The law was originally written in such a fashion that it was illegal for First Communion kids to have their Host soaked in the Sacramental Wine :smack: or for a parent to let their kid have a sip of beer - which is the best method I know to ensure that a 7yo will not ask to have another for several years, most kids hate the bitter taste; these concepts later got clarified, but some people think it’s illegal to let your kid have a sip of your drink. And now kids are learning to drink at the same age I did, but instead of doing it in a bar and with an objective of “trying new things”, it’s in the street, with high-grade alcohol provided by older “friends” (actually resellers) and with the purpose of getting dead drunk :frowning: Last year the age was set to 18 nationally.

My HS fiesta involved students selling sodas and beer. One of my classmates said something about smuggling some brandy into our 12-grade dinner and his friends threatened him with turning him into mincemeat, because it was the kind of stupid thing that gets the rules tightened and everybody screwed for the actions of a moron.

Fifteen years later, the fiesta went dry. In the previous year there had been three etilic comas - but the scary part was that students were saying “but it was only three etilic comas”. What, you wanted 1200? For us ancient ones, one was way too many!

I grew up in the Netherlands and the UK. In the Netherlands the legal drinking age was, until this year, 16 for beer and wine. Before that time many teens would’ve had a glas of wine at home. In the UK it’s 18, but there too many teens will have had a glass of wine at home.

It used to be fairly easy to get served under age (I know because uuuhm…) but I think it has become much, much harder now.

In the UK this doesn’t seem to do much to prevent student binge drinking. I do think the Netherlands was slightly better (not that students don’t get dangerously drunk, that is universal I’m sure). But if you’ve been allowed a few beers on a night with friends from the age of 16, it’s not such a novelty when you’re first out on your own. And drinking and then going home to mum and dad is surely safer than passing out and choking on your own vom in student digs. (Yes I know how bad alcohol is for a developing brain, but it might still be better than the alternative.)