In the western world, we grow up with a few pearls of apron-string wisdom that get passed down through the generations. A friend in need is a friend in deed. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Don’t run with scissors you’ll have someone’s eye out, seriously put them down now. That sort of thing.
But there are hundreds of far more interesting and exotic proverbs that grow like tulip bulbs in the weed-choked garden that is global common sense. They range from the pithy and poignant to the strangely unsettling, and we’ve collected them all in one place for your amusement.
To take revenge on an enemy, give him an elephant: first he must thank you for the gift, and then the elephant’s appetite will deplete your enemy’s resources – Nepalese proverb
Possibly the greatest proverb of all time. I’m going to use it at least once a week.
A good husband is healthy and absent – Japanese proverb
All those Japanese business trips suddenly make sense.
A drowning man is not troubled by rain – Persian proverb
The silver lining of deaths at sea. Thanks Persia.
A country can be judged by the quality of its proverbs – German proverb
Germany getting a little meta with this one.
A closed mouth catches no flies – Italian proverb
Possibly the only proverb where the alternative is worse?
A prudent man does not make the goat his gardener – Hungarian proverb
An even more prudent man doesn’t make the goat his chef, valet or financial advisor. Goats are limited.
A monkey never thinks her baby’s ugly – Haitian proverb
Monkeys need to start telling it like it is.
A little too late, is much too late – German proverb
This explains the phenomenon of German Rail.
A hungry man is an angry man – English proverb
This explains the phenomenon of English Breakfast.
A throne is only a bench covered with velvet – French proverb
Three guesses when the French thought this one up…
A courtyard common to all will be swept by none – Chinese proverb
A surprise entry from the country that still thinks communism is pretty neat.
If you can’t live longer, live deeper – Italian proverb
I don’t know what this means exactly, but I think it has something to do with eating a lot of cheese and watching operas.
Measure a thousand times and cut once – Turkish proverb
It’s this sort of attention to detail that builds a carpet empire.
In a battle between elephants, the ants get squashed – Thai proverb
It’s always the ants that suffer in these things.
If you go to a donkey’s house, don’t talk about ears – Jamaican proverb
Who is this donkey and how did he save up a house deposit? Seriously, the market is inflated as hell right now.
No man can paddle two canoes at the same time – Bantu proverb
I know you’ve had your eye on a second one for a while, but trust me, one canoe’s enough. Leave it at one.