Thursday, May 14, 2015

Russian Superstitions

In the Kitchen
  • People who eat off of or lick knives are evil
  • Laying a knife directly on a table/counter is bad luck
  • If you drop a fork or spoon (both grammatically feminine), a woman will come
  • If you drop a knife (grammatically masculine), a man will come  
  • Young unmarried people should not sit at the corner of a table, or run the risk of never getting married!
  • Don't put empty bottles on the table (move them to the floor if you're eating and finish a bottle), or you will invite money problems to the home; some people also avoid keys or loose change
  • If you spill salt, it leads to a huuuge fight (not physical), so you have to throw it over your left shoulder three times (the spilled salt) and laugh
  • Women should never sit on cold surfaces, it will freeze their ovaries  
  • Cold drinks will make you sick (sore throat, cough, sinus infection)
  •  Wind or cool air blowing on a particular spot (e.g., sitting near an open window) will give you muscle or joint pain there
  • You should always wear shoes (тапочки/tapochki) in the house, lest the cold from the floor seeps up in through your bare feet and makes you sick
  • Going outside with wet hair will make you sick, as will anything cold/wet, really
  • Bruises, sprains, and other minor injuries heal more quickly if you paint a checkerboard pattern of iodine on them
  • An upset stomach needs "activated charcoal" (sold in pills, not straight charcoal exactly) 
**Some of those aren't really superstitions, I know, just general cultural practices, but they're interesting! Russian conceptions of illness in general are very different than western conceptions. In the west, germ theory prevails- the only way you get sick is though bacteria and viruses, with perhaps some psychosomatic possibilities thrown in. In Russia, the natural environment is much more strongly at play- particularly air and cold. My favorite method of dealing with this is trying not to get frustrated and just laugh things off, with the small things, it's easier to adopt the mentality that things simply work differently in Russia!

In and Out
  • If you leave the house, and realize you've forgotten something and need to come back (you should really just suck it up and not go back), you have to look in the mirror in the house and smile or laugh, some people even spit over their shoulder
  • Handshakes/hugs and other greetings and farewells should never be made over the threshold of a door
  • Things should never be passed from one person to another over the threshold of a door
  • (Note: Traditionally, not just in Russia, thresholds like doorways and bridges are transition points, and they are where the barrier between our world and the spirit world are thinner. This thin space makes people vulnerable to attacks and danger, thus the tradition of carrying a bride over the threshold when the couple enters their new home.
  • Don't put money directly into someone's hand. In stores, there's a little plate for you to put money on, cashiers will generally put the money on the plate even if your hand is outstretched. 
  • It's also a good financial omen to find a spider on your clothes, to have a bird poop on you, or to step in dog poop
  • Some gifts need to be "bought" by the recipient. Certain things are considered bad omens as gifts, particularly scarves, timepieces, and knives. If you insist on giving one of those as a gift, the recipient will probably give you a coin in return, to create the illusion of buying it rather than receiving it as a gift an inviting bad luck.

Other Stuff
  • Never give someone the last piece of anything (gum, candy)- even if you just split the last piece and the other person eats their part first
  • If you notice someone is wearing an article of clothing inside out, it means you'll get into a big fight, so the one who notices should punch the other to preempt another, worse fight 
  • If you wear a hat while driving, you're stupid or crazy and that's probably why you're a bad driver
  • You must sit down for 30 seconds, or a minute or so before someone leaves for a trip
  • Never celebrate a birthday (or any milestone event) before the day, jinxing your continued life; many people also don't celebrate the 40th birthday, as 40 is considered a number of death
  • Never, I mean NEVER wash hands together at the same time under the same stream of water in your sink. You will fight

Have I missed any big ones? Do you have any interesting stories about superstitions in Russia or the former Soviet Union? Let me know!

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