Years ago, my husband slowly backed into a tight parking space in Vancouver’s Chinatown and lightly touched the bumper of the car behind us. The driver ignored my husband’s apology and, staring at his perfect bumper, declared “I curse you.” My husband’s incredulity (“What? You’re not serious, are you? It’s just a bumper, there’s no damage at all.”) was met by a clarification: “My ancestors curse you.”
Whether in fact my husband’s life is cursed we’ll leave for another day, but the story shows that superstitions are an interesting beast – serious stuff to those who believe, and silliness to those who don’t.
Whichever camp you fall into, you’ll find people on your side all over the world. Because superstitions, whatever else they may be, are international. Check these out!
The French boast the superstitious view that while it is bad luck to step in dog crap with your right foot, it’s downright fortuitous to plop your left foot in a steaming pile. Maybe those lucky left French feet would benefit more from a Stoop and Scoop campaign?
Kids in Japan are told to hide their stomachs during thunderstorms, especially before sleeping, or else god of thunder Raijin arrives to eat their belly buttons. But how, exactly, does one hide one’s stomach?
Don’t whistle indoors in Lithuania, or you’ll attract small devils that will torment you. I once aroused the ire of an uncle in Malaysia for whistling indoors at night – maybe the Lithuanians and Malaysia have more in common than meets the eye?
Speaking of Malaysia, apparently sitting on a pillow there will lead to boils and blisters all over your bum. Best to add Preparation H to your packing list!
Not all superstitions suggest bad luck. In Denmark, people collect broken dishes during the year for the festivity of throwing them at the houses of friends and family on New Year’s Eve. Good fortune in the new year corresponds with how big a heap of broken stuff lies in front of your house.
A broom is a weapon of reckoning in Nigeria. If a man is hit with one, it’s said he’ll either become impotent or his genitals will disappear. But all hope is not lost – he might be able to save his jewels by grabbing the emasculating broom and whacking the offender at least 7 times.
More on brooms. Many 19th century farmhouses, especially around Vermont, were built with slanted windows. This was supposed to prevent witches from entering, as they couldn’t fly their brooms into a tilted opening.
Don’t chew gum at night in Turkey, because its people believe that at night gum becomes the flesh of dead people. Ew.
As in many other parts of Africa, the Senegalese believe in the existence of evil or devil eyes. Since no one knows who has this power, people will refrain from discussing upcoming travels to prevent them getting botched by someone with the evil eye.
Watch out for 4. The Chinese pronunciation of the number sounds just like the word for death. So don’t expect a fourth floor in a high-rise, and if you’re trying to sell a house anywhere in the world with the number 4 in the address, go ahead and exclude most Chinese buyers.
Does it all sound ridiculous? But then where exactly the 13th floor is in countless North American buildings? Is broom fear any odder than chopping a foot off a rabbit and hanging it from a key chain? Do you hold your breath when driving by a graveyard “just in case”?
Let us know if you have any superstitious tendencies. We’d love to hear them, and you’ll be in good global company.