Playing Games with World Proverbs

2706821422_b976cbc1db_mLooking for a game to play with family and friends? Here’s one you might like.

I’ll call it simply The World Proverbs Game. I came up with the idea several years ago after playing a version of Balderdash, just using a dictionary. (As you probably know, Balderdash is a board game in which players try to come up with believable sounding definitions for obscure words.) Similar to Balderdash, there’s a game called Wise and Otherwise that requires players to complete proverbs that come from around the world. I found out about it after I’d already bought a book of world proverbs and made up my own rules. Honest.

Judging by the reviews at, Wise and Otherwise is a great game. For about $43.00, you get a game board, a die, paper and pencils, playing pieces, and 500 cards containing 2,500 proverbs. But if you can do without most of that and would like to save some money, here’s how to play The World Proverbs Game:

First, you need an encyclopedia of proverbs. There are several out there, but the one I got is Wolfgang Mieder’s Prentice-Hall Encyclopedia of World Proverbs. It says it’s “the largest compilation of its kind,” and I won’t argue with that claim, since it includes 18,520 sayings from all over the globe (that’s a big increase over Wise and Otherwise). The proverbs are arranged by topic, and each one is followed by the place from which it comes. As I write this, I see there are a couple used copies at Amazon for under $3.00.

Next, cut up some scratch paper and gather up some pencils. That’s it. You’re ready.

The rules are simple: One person in the group (you need three or more players) looks through the encyclopedia and chooses a proverb. He then reads it to the other players, leaving out one or several words. For example, he might read, “Nine out of ten matchmakers are BLANK.” Then everyone writes down the full phrase, filling in the blank with a word or phrase of his choosing.

After everyone is done, the players hand in their papers to the reader, who has written down the real proverb on his own piece of paper. He then reads them all out loud. The rest of the players then vote on which one they think is the real proverb. You can work out your own scoring system, but here’s one to start with:

  • 10 points go to a player for every person who mistakenly chooses his made-up proverb
  • 10 points go to a player if he completed the proverb correctly—regardless of whether anyone chooses it
  • 20 points go to the reader if no one chooses the actual proverb as being correct (he gets no points if anyone correctly picks his phrase as the real saying)

Each player takes a turn being the reader. To save time, the person next in line should vote first and then make her own selection from the encyclopedia while the others are voting.

Play continues until someone reaches 100 points (or that can be higher or lower, depending on how long you want the game to last).

It’s fun to see how people with different personalities play the game. Some people are very logical. Some people would rather go for laughs. Some are experts at bluffing. Some, not so much. And some people can’t keep a straight face when they read the false proverbs, no matter how hard they try.

What about you and your friends? If you want to find out, start playing. As the Russians say, “One gets to know people during games and on journeys.”

By the way, according to the Chinese, “Nine out of ten matchmakers are liars.”

[photo: “A Bird in the Hand,” by Dave S., used under a Creative Commons license]


Cultural Plate Tectonics

Since we’re all globally savvy, we could find all the countries on a world map, right? (Well, most of them . . . at least the big ones.) But could you locate the countries on a map arranged by culture? That’s the kind of map that the World Values Survey has produced, with each nation positioned along two axes: Traditional/Secular-rational and Survival/Self-expression. The result is a graphic on a square grid that puts like-minded countries into distinct groupings, like the stitched-together pieces of an abstract quilt.

The Traditional/Secular-rational scale measures the importance placed on religion, while Survival/Self-expression distinguishes, in large part, between the haves and the have-nots, where the survival cultures are concerned with basic needs, and the self-expression cultures focus more on “subjective well-being” and “quality of life.”

The countries that sit closest to the four corners of the 2005-2008 map are

  • Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Bulgaria: Secular-rational and Survival
  • Zimbabwe and Morocco: Traditional and Survival
  • Sweden: Secular-rational and Self-expression
  • US and Ireland: Traditional and Self-expression

This more recent layout is interesting, but what makes it even more interesting is to see how it compares with the 1999-2004 map, showing the shifting of cultures over time.

Both maps are part of an article, “The WVS Culture Map of the World,” written by Ronald Inglehart and Christ Welzel. After explaining the survey findings, the authors go on to evaluate them as they relate to the development of democracy in societies around the globe, giving particular attention to the correlation between the move toward self-expression and, therefore, interpersonal trust:

This produces a culture of trust and tolerance, in which people place a relatively high value on individual freedom and self-expression, and have activist political orientations. These are precisely the attributes that the political culture literature defines as crucial to democracy.

This seems to be a basic theme of the World Values Survey organization. My guess is that not everyone across political and ideological spectrums agree with their conclusions. But their interpretation of the survey results are certainly thought provoking, especially in light of recent world events, such as the Arab Spring.

[photo: “Blue Mountain Center (September 2007),” by Sherri Lynn Wood, used under a Creative Commons license]

In Praise of Petite Feet

I remember seeing a large advertisement in the Taipei subway station showing a Western model in a swimsuit sporting a dark tan. In the US, a photo of a lady with that kind of complexion might be promoting a tanning product, but in Taiwan, it was an example of what you don’t want to look like. Instead, the ad was for a skin whitener. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. But recent research has finally shown us a female trait that everyone around the globe agrees is attractive: little feet.

According to a team led by Daniel M.T. Fessler, six studies confirm that “small foot size is preferred when judging women.” In one study, when asked to pick the most attractive women, males and females from eight countries chose the ladies with the smallest feet. That’s because everywhere in the world, small feet represent “youth and femininity, and thus desirability.” . . . Um, well, not everywhere. Seems there is one group of people who disagree. They are the Karo Batak of rural Indonesia, hard workers who often don’t wear shoes. They prefer women with large feet, which are associated with strength and a better ability to work in the fields.

The research was presented in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, under the title “Testing a Postulated Case of Intersexual Selection in Humans: The Role of Foot Size in Judgments of Physical Attractiveness and Age” (abstract here). (I’m thinking a lot of cultural anthropologists and their ilk have a preference for long titles.)

(Tom Jacobs, “Great Dessert? Depends on the Plate,” Miller-McCune, March 2, 2012)

Evolution and human behavior. Now those are a couple topics that can cause some disagreement around the world. An article published in Science in 2006 reported on studies showing that adults in the US, when compared to people in 32 Europe countries and Japan, are much less likely to accept “the evolution of humans from earlier forms of life.” Back then, only 14% of adults in the US believed evolution to be “true,” while about one third said it was “false.” The only country in the study with a lower opinion of evolution was Turkey. On the opposite extreme of the spectrum was Iceland, where over 80% of adults believed in evolution.

(John Hartman, Eugenie C. Scott, and Shinji Okamoto, “Public Acceptance of Evolution,” originally in Science, August 11, 2006, online at The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science)

[upper photo: “Chinese Bound Feet (7)” by DrJohnBullas, used under a Creative Commons license; lower photo: “DanicaPatrick_05” by daisygold2002, under a  Creative Commons license]