From a single tooth wobbling precariously in its socket to a cascade of incisors from our gums – in bedrooms across Britain, millions of us regularly dream about losing our teeth. But the same is not true around the world.
What we dream about is shaped by our culture, geography and climate of our surroundings – and even the politics
The most common dreams vary enormously across countries and cultures, according to a fascinating analysis of Google searches. Namibians dream of squirrels, for example. Ethiopians dwell on shoes. In Argentina, it’s spiders which appear in the dead of night.
Over my four decades as a psychologist analysing dreams around the world, I have seen first-hand how where you live affects the themes which dominate your sleep. Our fears, anxieties, hopes and ambitions are influenced by the culture, geography and climate of our surroundings – and even the politics.
That’s why, at its simplest, Icelanders are more likely to dream about snow, or Cambodians about crocodiles.
And while being chased is a common theme in many countries, those living in urban areas are more likely to report dreams of being chased by a gang, with those in rural areas pursued by wild animals.
Above: A pair of joke wind up chattering teeth. Losing teeth is the most common dream across not just the UK, but much of the Western world – from the US and Canada to Australasia.
Above: Purple high-heels. Can you guess which country habitually dreams of shoes?
Intriguingly, the analysis by sleep website Mornings shows losing teeth is the most common dream across not just the UK, but much of the Western world – from the US and Canada to Australasia.
Why? Well, in technologically advanced countries like ours, image is everything and success is often related to confidence. Dreaming of your own teeth falling out suggests a dip in confidence, or a loosening grip on power or control.
Many of my US clients also report dreams of being pursued. The prevailing culture in the States is of chasing goals, and having individual autonomy and freedoms. So being chased is about these freedoms being threatened, or feeling under pressure to achieve.
Other cultures’ dreams are more concerned with collective identity and family. In Guyana and Bolivia, dreams are filled with babies. These are developing nations with abundant natural resources, and babies are a symbol of bringing new ideas to life, using your entrepreneurial instincts.
While dreams involving dead relatives or friends – as commonly reported in Mali, Niger, Sri Lanka and Costa Rica – may reflect feelings of grief and loss, they are also about seeking to revive something which has lain dormant.
In Mali, in particular, cultural traditions are strongly influenced by the stories and songs of ancestors, so it’s hardly surprising the dead feature in people’s dreams.
But more widely, our relationships with others reveal something about ourselves. No one else sees us quite like our grandparents or parents, for instance, so dreaming about them can suggest you want to reconnect with a part of yourself that you thought was lost.
Meanwhile, dreaming about marriage is often about compromise and joining together two opposing forces. It’s no surprise that Algerians seem to experience it in their dreams the most – a nation where the colonial French influence is in a constant battle against Arabic cultures. Interestingly, conflict in general has crept into many dreams around the world recently – sparked by the Ukraine crisis – but it can often be a symbol of far more personal frictions in our own lives.
People in Peru dream of rats; in Chile they dream of mice! Be careful if you’re French, Mexican orJapanese – your ex might come to you in your dreams. And Nigerians…. happy dreaming
Creatures and objects can be powerful symbols too. When Namibians dream of squirrels, it’s not ‘about’ squirrels but what they represent: adaptability, agility and opportunity. In Ethiopia, where living barefoot is still the norm in rural areas, shoes represent identity and status.
Spiders feature in many cross-cultural myths, and in our dreams are symbolic of feeling trapped in a web from which there is no easy escape. They have scuttled into the national psyche in Argentina, where they are the most common dream – hardly surprising given the political system under President Alberto Fernandez, which has been dogged by corruption.
Our dreams might feel like deeply personal experiences, and it’s true that no two are exactly alike. But they are also a huge cultural mirror reflecting how we see the world.
Who we really are is most purely expressed in our dreams. And that is more deeply rooted in where we come from than we realise.