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Big List: Origins of the mundane

Big List: Origins of the mundane

PHUKET: We do these things everyday, without skipping a beat most of the time. It’s good to know that several goodwill gestures and the seemingly innocent started out as something that is not.

By Jean-Pierre Mestanza

Friday 20 September 2013, 11:35AM


It only takes seconds and is the standard greeting, deal-sealer, and act of forgiveness. But in the good ol’ Roman days, the handshake extended to the elbow and was a way for two parties to check if the other had a weapon hidden under their sleeve. It wasn’t until medieval Europeans that we started to clasp hands and shake, mostly to see if any smaller weapons would fall out. The reason we usually use our right hand? Well, the left hand was commonly used as a way to clean one’s self after sitting on the toilet. Thank you hand sanitiser, thank you so much.


Ever wonder why we cover our mouths during yawns /sneezes and say “God bless you”? In medieval Europe, the bubonic plague spread like wildfire and covering one’s mouth during a sneeze was not only proper, but necessary to help limit the spread of the disease. The saying began when Pope Gregory instructed people to start blessing all who sneezed. Covering our mouths during a yawn was very different in the Muslim and Indian worlds: people believed that a yawn invited satanic spirits into the body and covering your mouth was a surefire way to block it.

Driving on the left, then right side of the road

Thai Residential

Again, we look back to Rome as the forefather of left hand driving. The reason? It was easier to kill passersby that were hostile or threatening your life. Most people during that time were right-handed and it was easier to whip out your dagger/sword/trident on your right. The reason for the switch back to the right-side? Guns. Horseback riders would hide their firearms on their left hand side and could easily steer with their right. The right-side change was further solidified by Napoleon and Adolf Hitler who preferred to use the right-side of the road for this reason.

Male adulthood

In several counties, adulthood is conclusively reached when a man turns 21. Of course, there are several exceptions to this in the modern era, but during the Middle Ages this age was set aside as special for one, maybe two reason: armour. A knight was not expected to fully carry the weight of a steel vest until they reached 21, when there was no doubt he could. In addition, Europeans at the time had high regard for the number 7 since it was connected to Aristotelian Greek philosophy. Boys became pages at age 7, squires at age 14, and knights at 21.


Go anywhere in the world, and there is a crazy backstory to wedding traditions. Dowries aside, weddings have been conducted in the name of anything but love for thousands of years. The Germanic Goths and the Mongols were known for kidnapping their ‘wives’, which included their best man – who was usually an accomplice. Once the ‘bride’ and groom were together, the best man became a bodyguard in case a counter-kidnapping ensued. In ancient Rome, bridesmaids would dress the same as the bride in order to confuse evil spirits and used them as bait, which may have led to the tradition of hosting grand weddings. That, and everyone likes to party.  

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