If you say “pyramids,” you think of Egypt. If you say “deep dish pizza,” you think of Chicago. There are certain things, be they food, giant ancient structures, or anything in between, that are inexorably linked to specific places. But that does not necessarily mean that they originated in those places, as you are about to find out.
10. The Great Dane
With a name like “Great Dane,” you would think that the origins of this popular dog breed would be obvious, but it’s not quite so. The gentle giant does not come from Denmark but from Germany and we can blame the French for the mix-up.
During the 16th century, German nobles began importing mastiffs and other large breeds from England to use mainly for hunting. For the next few hundred years, these dogs were bred without any formal guidelines and were simply known as “Englischer Hund” or English Hound. The animal became extremely popular, though, and in 1876 it was declared the national breed of Germany and was also given a proper name – the “Deutsche Dogge,” which is still the name used for the breed in the country.
For reasons which remain unknown, when the dog started being imported into France, the French decided to call it the “Grand Danois,” or “Great Dane.” The name stuck around when the breed made its way to England and it’s been confusing people ever since.
9. Venetian Blinds
Just like with the Great Dane, the name “Venetian Blinds” is a bit of a misnomer. Although Venetian traders deserve credit for introducing these window coverings to Europe during the mid-18th century, they picked up the design on their travels to the Middle East, specifically to Persia. And while we can’t really say how or when they first appeared in Persia, we do know that similar, much more basic “blackout curtains” have been used in Ancient Egypt and China, where they were made out of reeds or bamboo.
As to who came up with the name “Venetian blinds,” that’s hard to say. It wasn’t the French this time. They actually called them “Les Persienes,” staying true to their origins. All we know is that, by the time Englishman Edward Bevan received a patent for his curtains with a new pulley system in 1778, they were already referred to as “Venetian Window Blinds.”
8. The Piñata
Although nowadays the piñata can be found at children’s parties all over the world, it is still strongly associated with Mexican culture. Its true origins, however, are a bit more mysterious and controversial than that.
There are two schools of thought here. Some believe that the piñata did, in fact, originate in Mesoamerica during the time of the Aztecs. They were in the habit of decorating clay pots with feathers, filling them with ornaments, and smashing them with sticks as an offering to their gods.
Others, however, disagree. A true piñata, after all, is made out of paper-mâché so it makes sense for it to come out of the land where paper originated – China. When, exactly, this would have happened, we cannot say, because just like with the Venetian blinds, we only found out about it when European traders and merchants brought them back home.
Marco Polo saw these Chinese piñatas on his travels and described them as various animal figures covered in colored paper and filled with seeds, which were smashed open with sticks during the New Year celebrations. Marco Polo brought this tradition to Italy, where piñatas were used to celebrate the holiday of Lent, and from there, the custom spread to other European countries, including Spain who, eventually, brought the tradition to the New World.
7. Danish Pastries
Here we have another Danish product that has nothing to do with Denmark – the Danish pastry. Although to be fair to the Danes, they are, at least, upfront about it. They don’t even call the pastry “Danish.” They refer to it as wienerbrød, which is Vienna bread, or simply Viennese, to signify that it was first introduced to the country by Austrian bakers around the mid-19th century.
But even so, it is not the Austrians who deserve the credit for the tasty treat, either. The Danish Bakers’ Union recognizes a French apprentice baker named Claudius Gelee as the creator of the doughy concoction 400 years ago. One day, while Gelee was preparing a new batch of dough, he forgot to add any butter to the flour. He tried to correct his mistake by folding lumps of butter into the dough and, to his surprise, the resulting mixture was the fluffiest, lightest dough Gelee had ever seen.
Realizing that he was onto something special, Gelee opened his own cafe in Paris in 1622, and his new pastry became an instant hit, quickly spreading to nearby countries.
6. Frogs Legs
Frogs legs are a dish that we immediately associate with France, but not so fast, according to a few archaeologists in England, who claim that the English have been eating them for thousands of years before they made their way across the channel.
Archaeologists from the University of Buckingham have excavated a dig in Wiltshire, close to Stonehenge, which has resulted in a massive treasure trove of over 12,000 Mesolithic artifacts, including one of the largest collections of cooked animal bones in all of Europe.
Among the animals that people used to eat here around 8,000 years ago were, you guessed it, frogs and toads. Meanwhile, the earliest source of the French feasting on frogs’ legs is only dated to the 12th century AD, in the Annals of the Catholic Church.
5. The Bagpipes
There is no doubt that the most popular version of the bagpipes, which is the Great Highland bagpipe, came from Scotland. Unfortunately, there is also no doubt that the bagpipes themselves had been around for over a thousand years by that point, although their exact origin remains a mystery.
There is a 3,000-year-old Hittite sculpture that some think could represent bagpipes, but it’s not exactly a certainty. A more solid source comes from Ancient Egypt in 400 BC, where the “pipers of Thebes” represent the earliest known named bagpipers, who were said to play instruments made of dog skins and charters of bone.
That is probably where the Romans got it from, and the Romans were also most likely the ones to bring the bagpipes to Scotland. Before that, the most popular musical instrument around was the aulos, a Greek double pipe. However, the aulos required the musician to constantly puff out his cheeks and this caused a facial disfiguration known as the “reproach of Athena.” The bagpipes solved this issue, and while the Greeks preferred to stick with their aulos, the Romans adopted this new instrument with enthusiasm. Historian Dio Chrysostom even writes of an unnamed king who liked to play the bagpipes “both by means of his lips and by tucking a skin beneath his armpits? with a view to avoiding the reproach of Athena!”
4. The French Horn
From an ancient musical instrument, we move on to a more recent one with a more certain origin – the French horn. Over the last century, the French horn has become not only one of the most popular instruments in the world but also an indispensable component of any self-respecting brass section. And, since it is featured on this list, there’s also another characteristic worth highlighting – it’s not French.
Various horns have existed for hundreds of years, but it was two German makers named Heinrich Stölzel and Friedrich Blümel who came up with the idea of adding valves to control the pitch and stabilize the tones. And thus, the French horn was born, but it wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms as many composers rejected the innovation. Carl Maria von Weber described the sound made by the French horn as “intolerable,” while others such as Mendelssohn and Brahms felt that their works were composed with the natural horn in mind and had no desire to make the switch.
It wasn’t until over a hundred years later that British virtuoso Dennis Brain popularized the French horn as a solo instrument.
3. German Chocolate Cake
You’ve probably figured it out by now that just because something has the word “German” in its name does not make it German. But in this particular case, we have an even stranger situation because the cake is correctly named, not after someone of German origins, but after someone with the surname German.
During the mid-19th century, English-American baker Sam German worked for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. In 1852, he created a new type of baking chocolate, which the company named in his honor and sold as “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.” This was a bit of a mouthful so it wasn’t long until they dropped the “Baker’s” and it simply became “German’s Sweet Chocolate.”
Fast-forward a hundred years to 1957 and we had a Texas homemaker named Mrs. George Clay who came up with the recipe for the now-iconic cake and got it published in the Dallas Morning Star. People absolutely loved it and General Foods, the company that owned Baker’s Chocolate, made sure that the entire country heard of this new delicious cake made using their special chocolate. Except that they decided to drop the apostrophe-s from “German’s” so now everyone believed that the cake had German origins.
We’ve already gone after one iconic Scottish symbol, and now we have to go after another. Their beloved national dish, no less – haggis. And to make matters even worse, it seems that haggis might actually be English.
It is simply a matter of the earliest recorded sources. The first Scottish mention of haggis comes from 1747. A few decades later, Scotland’s national poet, Rabbie Burns, immortalized the dish in his poem, “Address to a Haggis,” and definitively cemented it as a staple of Scottish culture.
Unfortunately, the first English mention of haggis is over a hundred years older and comes from the 1615 cookbook “The English Huswife” by Gervase Markham. Of course, this does not mean conclusively that the dish is English, simply that they were the first ones to write about it. There are opinions that haggis might be even older than that and have Scandinavian origins, or possibly even Roman.
1. The Boomerang
The boomerang is a weapon that we immediately associate with Australia and with good reason. Aboriginal people have been using it for thousands of years. It is even featured in the Aboriginal creation myth where the Ancestors formed rivers and mountains by throwing boomerangs into the earth. The oldest boomerang found in Australia is around 10,000 years old, but there are rock art paintings depicting boomerangs that are twice as old.
With that kind of pedigree, surely the boomerang has to have Australian origins, right? It is still possible, but at the moment, the oldest boomerang in the world comes not from Australia, but from Europe. In Ob?azowa Cave in Poland, to be exact, where a two-foot-long boomerang made out of a mammoth tusk has been dated to 23,000 years ago. And it is possible that there is one found in Austria which might be even older, but that one has not been accurately dated.