"Why are wheelie bins half-buried in parts of Luxembourg?" has four close-votes now and will likely be closed as off-topic soon.

I was about to cast the fifth vote, but then I thought about it a little bit.

I thought it was a very interesting question. However, it's certainly not very much related to travel. Well, OP saw it during traveling. But that would also mean that people could also ask about almost anything curious they see, anywhere in the world? That is very broad. That would mean this could almost turn into "ask us anything" Yahoo Answers. That may be an exaggeration, but you know what I'm saying. (No offense to Yahoo Answers.)

So while I didn't vote to close, I don't feel bad if it's closed either. IMO it might be better if OP asks this at Home Improvement SE.

However, Jonathan Reez pointed out in the comments that if we're gonna close that one, we should also close the popular question "Why is this bathroom symbol in Germany “00”?" One may argue that this question about a toilet in a brewery is more travel related because tourists are more likely to visit breweries and toilets than they are to get involved with underground [sic] trash cans. I guess that's fair enough. And the "00" question is also quite interesting.

Next, I myself commented that by this standard, the popular question "What does “K+M+B 2016” mean in when written on a church wall?" might also have to be closed. Another quite interesting question. Also, one could argue that it's far more common for travelers to visit churches than to be concerned with trash cans. Religious buildings are, after all, a chief tourist attraction in a vast number of places. However, this is also a matter of taste. When I travel, I like to just stroll around the city/town and look at what life is like there. I would have also probably noticed the trash cans myself and become curious about them. Thus, both can be said to be similarly travel related. And where the trash can question could have been asked at Home Improvement, the church question could have been asked at Christianity SE. (Not that that matters much, though. But personally, I would have asked both questions at those respective sites.)

What the church question has going for it is that it can help you understand the culture of the country. The toilet question, much less, but still to some small degree, I suppose? As for the trash can, I'm not sure. Seems miniscule, and not very much related to culture.

In either case, how can we be consistent here? Is the trash can question really that different from the other two?

IMO we need some clearly defined criteria. Do we have them? Otherwise, how can we be fair when deciding to close or leave open?

  • 2
    I believe we should be consistent either way: either delete everything or leave everything as it is. Subjective judgement for each question would cause constant bickering.
    – JonathanReez Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:09
  • @JonathanReez Agreed. But you probably mean "close", not "delete"?
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:11
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    Thanks @Fiksdal. FWIW, I did try to check before posting. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:20
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    I am leary of the Two Wrongs make a Right argument, so I don't think the existence of the other posts should be taken as a precedent to protect mine. Better to decide explicitly, as @Fiksdal does here. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:21
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    @GayotFow Don't you agree that we should try and agree on some criteria?
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:45
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    @GayotFow: That paints a picture of a community that is hostile to join, where there is no inkling of whether your efforts to ask a question will be discarded, even if you ask for advice from the locals first. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 11:26
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    I speak of the picture you paint - a world of chaotic neutral characters closing and re-opening questions based on whims rather than community-wide standards. That the chat room couldn't predict the on-topicness of a question is a shame; it wasted everyone's time. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:00
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    It is an interesting question. But we are not "interesting questions stack exchange" or even "curious things I saw when I was travelling stack exchange". I have so many photos of curious things I've come across on my last couple of trips that I simply wouldn't ask here. I do however ask quite a few of them on Quora. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:07
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    We need to put more work in here on meta to decide what we're actually for. Meta posts on useful topics often get a loss less activity than needed to shape our future and even our present. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:12
  • @hippietrail Can you link to a few of these Quora questions? They'd be interesting contributions to the discussion. Personally I'd love to see more "I saw this while travelling, what is it?" questions. The ones that are asked routinely attract 10+ votes and excellent answers (for example, Underwater pyramids off the Cinque Terre ). Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:36
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    I've also asked on several of our sisters sites. One for an interesting bird I saw in Taiwan, one for an interesting kind of chile I saw in the balkans, several for interesting Chinese characters I saw in Asia. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:40
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    chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/20827 Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:45
  • @hippietrail good point, I've added something about that to my answer Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:47
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    I've also asked similar questions on travel where I felt it was on topic. A half-buried monastory in Armenia I found in a photo. An accommodation I stayed at in Bulgaria but didn't have a name or address for. It has to be about travel to belong here. Interesting this I saw while travelling = programming in a boat otherwise. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:50
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    @hippietrail Our equivalent of "boat-programming" would be programmer-travelling, e.g. "What do I need to pack to do programming while travelling?". If we want stackoverflow analogies, these are equivalent to "Why is X function so bad for performance?" or "Why would X popular library use Y obscure language feature here?" (which I believe are controversial there too, but are accepted because it's knowledge about programming, not boats, that answers them). Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 13:03

4 Answers 4


"Local customs" questions are about understanding how things are done in your destination - those things locals "just know" but visitors aren't in a position to figure out on their own.

It's not (as suggested in some comments) literally anything you see while travelling, but things where something is done differently, where not understanding such differences or misidentifying a local custom can be the root of "dumb tourist mistakes". (this assumes it really is widespread in Luxembourg and nowhere else; if not, comment like "Actually this is common in [West/Central Europe], the people at DIY.SE are better able to explain it" then migrate).

Are they relevant to the visitor's trip? We don't know for sure until we know the answer. It seems intuitively likely that a visitor to Luxembourg might well not need to know why wheelie bins are half buried, but that does also depend on why wheelie bins are half buried. If the answer was, say:

  • "Because aggressive urban foxes knock over wheelie bins to get at the food, and sometimes carry rabies. Beware when in suburbs at night!"
  • "Because of an unusual municipal law, [x]. Travellers staying in short-let apartments and AirBnB have been fined for allowing bins to be in a condition that doesn't comply with this law."
  • "Because the design of wheelie bins used in Luxemborg is top heavy and can topple over. There have been cases of small children or pets being injured this way."

...then yes, that's relevant to a visitor, and are the sorts of things where lacking this local savvy could cause an awkward situation or a problem. It's likely these aren't the answer, but you shouldn't have to know the answer to you judge if you can ask.

Trying to understand how things around you work differently to what you're used to is a good general practice for any traveller, and helps avoid "dumb tourist" mistakes. I don't see why our site policies should discourage good practice or make assumptions. Local knowledge and know-how is useful in unexpected ways: so it makes more sense to treat local customs as travel related unless proved otherwise (and allow "actually, this might look like a local custom, but it isn't, it's [x]" as an answer).

For example, I've recently been to a country where bar staff always give tissues with drinks, but only for glass bottles and cans, not for cold drinks served in glasses or (not normally) plastic screw cap bottles. If I asked why here, someone with no specific knowledge might think "Pah, trivial, travellers don't need to know why!" and close it - but apparently it's a prevention measure for lassa fever, a hemorrhagic fever related to ebola endemic in the region, spread by rat urine which can come into contact with bottles and cans while in cellars, trucks, shipping containers etc. The tissue is (apparently) so you can wipe clean the part of the bottle or can that you pour from. Lassa fever outbreaks are uncommon, but the incubation period is long, so you could be infected before anyone knew there was an outbreak. Definitely something a traveller should know.

Closing an "understanding how things are done at your destination" question based on such a presumption is like answering it with "The answer is something we think travellers don't need to know about. We're not going to tell you what that is" - except unlike a normal answer, you can't be outvoted by a better answer if there is one, you can't be corrected with a comment if you're wrong, and no-one learns anything.

It's better if the person who believes there's no relevant reason just downvotes the question and posts their reasoning as to why there's probably no relevant reason as an answer, which can naturally sink to the bottom if there's a better answer.

Of course this is only for things in the broad category of "understanding how things are done in your destination", catching up with what's common knowledge for locals. Not literally everything seen while travelling, for example:

  • Wildlife identification belongs on biology
  • Language related questions belong on the appropriate language site
  • "X thing is stupidly designed here, why?" belongs on UX... e.g. door knobs, UK style taps
  • Local history questions belong on history, local politics questions belong on politics...
  • Questions about food preparation belong on cooking
  • etc
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    I don't buy this argument. But in any case we already have a history of saving bad questions due to good answers that seems to work well enough. I feel the same about both flag questions by the way. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:52
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    @hippietrail this is a great point, why not put it in a more visible place like an answer?
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 22:38
  • @GayotFow: I'll put some thought into that. Excuse me if I'm a bit slow (-: Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 6:47

I think the odds of finding an answer to this question are greater at this site than at a Home Improvement site. All the regulars here have an interest in other countries, and their customs, increasing the likelihood that even if there is no one from Luxembourg (a rather small place) someone will know. At a DIY site, you are basically hoping to hit one of the half-million residents, unless the same practice is common elsewhere, which I don't think it is.

I would not vote to close.

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    Stack Exchange is not a network of sites where all questions are acceptable and you just have to find the "least wrong" site to put it on. It is a network of sites on defined topics where each has a defined scope. If a question does not fit on any of them it does not belong on Stack Exchange. There are plenty of other sites. I recommend and use Quora for all questions that don't fit Stack Exchange. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 6:49
  • @hippietrail: Travel.SE has totally become that 'least-wrong' site for curiosity questions about anything people see on their travels. (These is not 'solving a travel-related question', so they're off-topic.) Given this is apparently what users want the site to be, based on upvoting patterns, then the scope needs to be broadened and clarified. So: time to spell out upfront which curiosities are deemed interesting, and which aren't. Or: time to create TravelCuriosity.SE
    – smci
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 20:42
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    @smci: Or just start asking question of all type and see which ones stick and which are rejected to see the pattern. I've always seen no consistent pattern at all when such things are tried, which is also what this question is about. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 13:57

Well, there is a tag "identify-this" which I believe has over a hundred questions.

I posted such a question a few months ago which got an almost immediate close vote, but dozens of up-votes since. So (obviously) people think differently.

If one of the reasons people travel is to learn about other places and cultures, then some such questions should be encouraged. On the other hand, I don't think it's "chaos" to close any which are obviously not travel-related. If it takes five votes to actually close, I don't think any good questions will suffer.

However, I might suggest in some cases instead of voting to close, flag for a moderator to move the question to a more appropriate site.

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    Is identify-this applicable for the three questions discussed in OP? Also, can you link to the question you mention in your answer?
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 7:02
  • @Fiksdal: Answer edited with link.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 5:51
  • Thanks. This question is indeed relevant to the discussion here.
    – Fiksdal
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 11:17

I wanted to jump in with an answer here also...

The question was put to the DIY SO over here. The process of composing the question took about 10 minutes.

8 hours later it attracted an informed answer from a Luxembourg resident. A happy ending all the way around the table. TSE could not have outperformed DIY in this case and it was right to ask over there.

As I see it, the wheelie bin question is the only concrete example of what prompted this META thread. Given that we have a plausible answer, I am not sure all the various proposals make sense any more. Yes, if there is a trend where somebody can point to 20 or 30 questions that are affected, then it's time to rethink how we do business. But a single question about wheelie bins (even with two or three supporting examples) doesn't warrant it.

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    I think there is a definite trend of more and more curiosity questions being accepted. My perception is that it has seen an uptick since I defended my question about a combination padlock that stopped working which was closed twice then in the end kept. People felt that was not a travel question as it could also happen when not travelling. Same goes for curious bins, flags, and toilet symbols. But some are problems travellers run into and some are merely "hmm that's funny". This is the key that seems to be overlooked from both perspectives! Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 6:53
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    The same person also wrote the same answer on Travel though, at almost exactly the same time... and in both cases their Luxembourg wheelie bin answer is their only post. It's not the clear cut "DIY answered it, Travel didn't" that you say. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 8:37
  • @user568458 would you check again?
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 1:31
  • It's clearly time for TravelCuriosity.SE. Stop deleting, start migrating. Most of the other contentious curiosity questions do not have a home in SE network, not even a 'least-wrong' one, so they get arbitrarily deleted which is hostile to users when they see these blatant counterexamples. TravelCuriosity.SE would become the inevitable sister-site of Travel, just like SuperUser is the sister site of StackOverflow. This is your solution.
    – smci
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 21:05

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