“No, dude! Don’t step on the cracks in the sidewalk! It’s bad luck!”
– George Washington
There is a great depth of funny superstitions all around the world but I’m a child of parents who married on Friday the 13th, and I was born on a 13th myself. This is why, apart from my passion for misquotations, I also have a love for the spooky and unlucky! While others will hide inside on Friday the 13th or avoid sleeping on the 13th floor of a hotel, I’ll be out there challenging the bad luck.
But you don’t have to wait for a special day to be a bit unlucky! We’ll show you how in this article. Just one more misquoted warning first:
“If you are interested in articles with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other magazine. In this article, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.”
– Lemony Snicket
In Germany, you can’t congratulate a person before their actual birthday. This superstition goes back to the belief that demons could hear the good wishes and consequently do their best to make them not come true. But even when it’s midnight and you’re finally allowed to congratulate your German friends, party-related danger still lurks around the corner. When you make a toast to them, you’ll have to look everyone straight in the eyes when you clink glasses. This way, you’ll make sure that A) there’s no poison in your drink, the origin of this superstition, and B) your love life won’t be ruined for the next 7 years.
If you see a magpie in Great Britain, you better greet them politely: “Good morning, Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” Forget this little greeting and bad luck will follow you for the rest of the day. This tradition probably comes from the fact that magpies are usually found in pairs, so a lone magpie means sadness. If you add, “One for sorrow, two for joy!” to your greeting, you’ll further ensure that the magpie will be friendly and won’t steal any of your shiny belongings.
Bags have no business being on the ground in Poland because it is believed that if you leave your bag unattended money can easily jump out from there. The Polish also have an interesting history of superstitions surrounding death and funerals. Some believe that if there is a death, you should bury the body before the next Sunday or else another death in your circle will soon follow.
While Friday the 13th is considered unlucky in many countries, in Spain it’s actually Tuesday the 13th. This is why you should never, ever get married or travel on a Tuesday that lands on the 13th. Interesting fact however, the film Friday the 13th was still translated as Viernes 13 though, and was not re-named Martes 13 when shown in Spain.
Speaking of unlucky days, in Italy Friday the 17th is always bad news. This is why you basically shouldn’t do anything on that day, least of all celebrate a special event. If you do (but why would you?!), then please, for heaven’s sake, do not wear any purple! Are you getting paler and paler because you’re reading this on Friday the 17th, at a wedding, wearing your best purple suit? Don’t worry, you can easily combat your bad luck: If you’re a woman, touch your left breast with your right hand (shake a bit for extra luck), and if you’re a man you just have to touch your… well, maybe don’t! After all, it might just be better to risk bad luck instead of almost certainly shaming yourself in front of the other wedding guests.
Killing a spider is a no-go in Sweden, because superstition says that doing will unless cause it to rain the next day. However, before you flee your spider-infested house, be aware that it might be even more dangerous outside: There are two kinds of manhole covers in Sweden, one with an “A” on it, and one with a “K” on it. You should always look carefully and never, ever step on one that has an “A” on it. The “A” can stand for a number of unpleasant things like avbruten kärlek (discontinued love) or arbetslöshet (unemployment). That house full of spiders doesn’t look so bad now…
Unless you’re in France, where they have a saying: Araignée du matin: chagrin — “Spider in the morning: sorrow.” The French have a long list of superstitions around animals including the belief that if a bird looks through your window something bad will happen or if a pregnant woman sees an owl she will give birth to a girl. Most importantly though, be extra careful when it comes to your meals. If you leave bread lying upside down than the people it who were meant to eat it will be cursed.
In Turkey, to give a knife or a pair of scissors directly to someone means that you will fight or even become enemies. This is why you should put these things on the table or floor, so that they can be picked up without being handed over. If someone should still give you a knife or scissors directly (thereby making you their enemy), you can get your revenge by planting a fig tree in front of their house. Having a fig tree in front of your house is bad luck, but so is cutting them down! There is even a saying: Ocağıma incir ağacı diktin — “You planted a fig tree in my home.”
In Russia, you should avoid going back to your house if you forgot something. (“But I forgot my suitcase, and I’m on the way to the airport!”) Erm… how did you manage to forget an entire suitcase? But alright, if you have to go back, just make sure not to whistle inside or else you will anger the Domovoi (the household lord) and lose all you’re money. To avoid further enraging of your Domovoi you must sit on your suitcase to trick the demon into thinking that you won’t be traveling for a while and remember to always look into the mirror before you go back out.
In Brazil, superstitions serve as evidence of the country’s rich cultural mixture: Superstitions like making the sign of the cross when you walk by a graveyard — which clearly came from European settlers — coexist with local ones like not pointing at stars (because this will give you warts on your fingers).
Counting can turn into dangerous business pretty quickly in Japan. The number 4 for example, pronounced [shi], can also mean “death”. This is why you should avoid gifts consisting of four things (four flowers, tableware in sets of four) at all costs. Often, apartment buildings will skip the fourth floor and apartment numbers containing the number 4, for the same reason. The number 9 is almost as bad, because it’s pronounced [ku] — the same as the word for “suffering”.
In Vietnam, skincare is almost spiritual: You should never sleep with make-up on your face or demons might think you’re one of them. Also it’s best to avoid doing any chores on the Lunar New Year. Sweeping or cleaning on such an important day could wipe away any good fortune for your family. Not the worst superstition if it means no chores, right?
Whistling at night is bad luck in South Korea because it will let ghosts and bad spirits notice your presence. Writing can be another dangerous evening activity. Just think what would happen if you accidentally grabbed the wrong ink pot in the dark and wrote a person’s name in red. Korean believe this to be extremely bad luck as red is symbolic of death and the wooden sticks and tombstones on Buddhist graves have red writing on them.