By and large, whether deliberate or circumstantial, younger generations in the modern era are delaying marriage for longer than their parents and grandparents did — or even opting to stay single for good. We say that if flying solo is your path of choice, more power to you. But even though we agree that single-shaming sucks, it’s still a part of some cultures. Perhaps tending toward the misogynistic at times, or at least the overly traditional, these traditions to humiliate single people around the world are at turns bizarre, messy, and hilarious.
1. Denmark: Pebersvend cinnamon attack
Turn 25 without a spouse or marriage prospect in Denmark and you may get cinnamon bombed. It’s tradition for singles to get coated in cinnamon on their 25th birthday, and there’s a fat chance your friends will pass up an opportunity to cover you head-to-toe with the spice. And if you don’t learn your lesson from the cinnamon attack, if you turn 30 and are still going stag, sometimes the practice is repeated — but this time with pepper instead of cinnamon to really encourage you to step your game up. If your friends are creative and resourceful, you may also find yourself confronted with a giant “pepper mill” constructed out of oil drums, placed in your front yard and spray painted with reminders about why you’re still single at such an advanced age.
2. South Korea: black noodles on Black Day
If you’ve never been so single that you wanted to drown your sorrows in a bowl of black noodles, then you’ve never been single in South Korea. On Black Day (April 14), singles who did not receive a present on Valentine’s Day (February 14, when females gift males chocolate) or White Day (March 14, when males return the favor but with expensive white chocolates or marshmallow) gather and cry sad (or happy) tears over black food, especially jajangmyeon, noodles covered in black bean sauce. Whether you’re celebrating or mourning your singlehood is up to you.
3. Armenia: salty bread for St. Sarkis Day
In an effort to spark prophetic dreams of their future partner, singles in Armenia are encouraged to eat a salty piece of bread, known as aghablit, on St. Sarkis Day. If they go to bed thirsty, custom says, their future spouse will appear in their dreams and bring them water. St. Sarkis, one of the most revered saints of the Armenian Church, is widely celebrated on the moveable feast day that falls sometime in January or February each year. Some say the bread must be baked by a grandmother or middle-aged, happily married woman in order to be most effective.
4. China: Shanghai Marriage Market
Talk about embarrassing — every Saturday and Sunday in the People’s Park in Shanghai, parents of unmarried adults gather for a “marriage market” of sorts, during which they mingle and hope to find good partners for their children. They even write down relevant identifying information like their child’s age, height, job/income, education, and Chinese zodiac sign on a piece of paper and display it as an advertisement. Some parents display their makeshift ads on oversized umbrellas in order to create their own private “stall” of sorts at the market.
Sometimes, single women are stigmatized so intensely that they are cast off as sheng nu, or “leftover women,” as marriage in China is taken deeply seriously in many communities, and there is immense pressure to validate your worth through finding a suitable match. Fortunately, some of these women are refusing to carry the emotional burden and reclaiming their power by resisting the traditional style of matchmaking.
5. France: green and yellow hats on St. Catherine’s Day
In France, women who are 25 and not yet married, dubbed “Catherinettes,” are supposed to spend St. Catherine’s Day (November 25) praying for a husband and wearing crazy green and yellow hats; some say this is because green and yellow are colors that do not “marry” well with each other. St. Catherine, who pleaded with Emperor Maximinus II to stop his persecution of Christians, was eventually beheaded and died a martyr and a virgin, becoming a sort of patron saint for the independent women who had other, larger missions in mind ahead of marriage.
6. Austria: finance your own birthday party for Zwangspoltern
Turn 30 without a spouse in Austria and you may be surprised at work by your friends, who will come prepared with an embarrassing outfit for you to wear all day. What’s worse, you’ll be expected to don said outfit as you go around the city attempting to sell random items, like candies and alcohol, to strangers. The money you collect will be spent on the night’s drinks and festivities, so the more attention you get, the better!
7. Germany: invasion of the old boxes for Schachtelfest
If you’re a 25-year-old, unmarried female in Germany, congratulations: You’re now considered an alte Schachtel — “old box” — and don’t expect your friends to let you live it down. On your birthday, you may find your front door blocked with a wide assortment of boxes in every shape and size, from shoeboxes to moving boxes. If you’re still unmarried at 30, you’ll be cleaning your friends’ doorknobs with toothbrushes if you’re a woman; but if you’re a single man who’s hit 30, you’ll just need to sweep the stairs. No matter your gender, however, you can get out of your strange chore by kissing someone of the opposite sex.
8. Malaysia: orange you going to call me on Chap Goh Mei?
On Chap Goh Mei, the 15th and final night of Chinese New Year, young unmarried Malaysian women write their phone numbers on mandarin oranges and then throw them into the closest river in hopes that the man of their dreams will find it and call them. In Penang, the men respond by holding competitions where they take to the water by boat, on a mission to scoop up as many of the thrown oranges as possible — the boat with the most oranges wins.
9. China: shop yourself silly on Guang Gun Jie (Bare Sticks Day, or Singles Day)
Finally, a day to pat yourself on the back if you’re single! Held on 11/11 because of the row of lonely digits in the date, Guang Gun Jie is a day for young unmarried people to celebrate their pride in being single by buying themselves presents. It was adopted by online retail conglomerate Alibaba and is now a major shopping event — think Black Friday meets anti-Valentine’s Day.