Cultural Rules of Thumb
February 13, 2015 10:56 AM   Subscribe

The advice to "always look both ways before you cross the street" is fairly common in the United States but I once heard of someone from another culture reacting to the concept like it was a genius-level epiphany. He was amazed by what many school children would consider a simple rule of thumb. I'd like to collect a similar set of idioms that might be seen in that way: common in their country of origin, but unknown (and potentially useful) in other parts of the world.
posted by Jeff Howard to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
"You either teach your child to swim, or you teach your child to drown" is something I was taught as hailing from a Jewish tradition. (I'm Jewish, but I couldn't tell you from which particular strand of Jewish culture this saying comes from, if any.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a side note to the road crossing rule of thumb. I'm from Australia, we were taught look to the right, look to the left then look to the right again to cross a road a habit that gets me damn near killed on a regular basis now I've moved to the US.
posted by wwax at 11:13 AM on February 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


"There is no such thing as bad biking weather, just bad choice of biking clothes." - spoken with conviction by all Danish parents to their children when the snow storms start.
posted by kariebookish at 11:15 AM on February 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


"Slip slap slop." = Australian children putting on a shirt, sunscreen, and hat before going out.

Wise in any sunny climate, certainly where I grew up in CA.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:16 AM on February 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; the question is asking for "a similar set of idioms", not general, non-idiomatic thoughts on policy differences between countries.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:36 AM on February 13, 2015


In the Caribbean, this is a well known saying to remind us when tropical storms and hurricanes are likely to hit:

June too soon
July standby
August come it must
September remember
October all over

Be wary of those cheap September vacation deals!
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 11:40 AM on February 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


One rule of thumb that seemed brilliant to a non-native English speaker I know was "righty-tighty, lefty-loosy" for anything threaded that you need to turn - jar lids, screws, nuts and bolts, etc.

More literally a rule of thumb - for kids learning directional words, the fact that you can make an "L" with your finger and thumb on your left hand is another one that seems obvious but only if you speak English.
posted by trivia genius at 12:14 PM on February 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


> One rule of thumb that seemed brilliant to a non-native English speaker I know was "righty-tighty, lefty-loosy" for anything threaded that you need to turn - jar lids, screws, nuts and bolts, etc.

To get more literal if you hold your right hand with your thumb sticking out in the direction you want the nut/bolt/etc to move your fingers will curl in the direction you need to turn it.
posted by Gev at 12:52 PM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Somehow I never heard the mnemonic rhyme about the number of days in the months (this one) all the time I was growing up in the American upper midwest. In a summer Italian class at my local large university I learned it in Italian (at the bottom of this page) and was baffled when fellow students kept saying, "You know, it's like the one we use in English, don't you know that one?"

Now, if I need to check which months have which number of days, I have to recite it in my head in Italian. It may be the only useful thing that's stuck with me from my short study of Italian (though we'll see how much comes back when I visit Italy this summer!).
posted by gillyflower at 12:54 PM on February 13, 2015


Maybe not exactly what you are looking for. I don't do the month rhyme, I use this.
posted by oflinkey at 1:24 PM on February 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hot water on the left, cold water on the right. (Sorry, no mnemonic.)
posted by monospace at 1:40 PM on February 13, 2015


There's the one for learning left from right where the hand where the extended thumb and forefinger makes an uppercase "L" is the left.

I still use this.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 2:31 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Red skies night, shepherds' delight.
Red skies morning, shepherds' warning.

Wikipedia
posted by Feisty at 5:25 AM on February 14, 2015


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