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Very Superstitious: Concepts of Luck Around the World Posted by on Sep 11, 2013 in Archived Posts

With Friday the 13th right around the corner, we’re feeling quite superstitious! Most (though not all) of us don’t put a lot of stock in superstitions these days.  We might knock on wood when discussing something that’s gone well so far, or avoid walking under a ladder, but not because we think these actions will have far-reaching effects.  We don’t really believe that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck (we just don’t like cleaning up the mess of glass bits).  Still, superstitions are fascinating, and the common ones you’re used to are just the tip of the iceberg.

While you’ll recognize a lot of Brazilian superstitions as familiar (black cats, broken mirrors, ladders), what is considered bad luck varies widely from culture to culture.  For example, our Italian blogger, Serena, has written about the fact that it’s Friday the 17th that is considered a day of bad luck in Italy, not Friday the 13th.  Why?  It’s all about the Roman numerals for 17…

And while we’re on the subject of numbers, Chinese culture contains a wealth of interesting superstitions about what brings good luck or bad luck.  Four is the unlucky number there, because the pronunciation is similar to the Chinese word for death (Japanese culture takes a dim view of the number four as well).  And while in English culture seven tends to be considered lucky, Chinese culture favors the number eight.  Care to take a guess at the precise minute the Beijing Olympics kicked off?  The answer probably makes sense now.

Naturally, the subject of death comes with a great many superstitions.  Old Polish folk traditions held that animals have the ability to see death, and predict its coming.  The horses drawing a coffin were monitored for any signs that they noticed the ghost of the deceased making unscheduled visits to other peoples’ houses.

In Thai, the action of putting your hands together in a praying pose is a greeting called the Wai.  It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds, though; you must take care to never Wai to someone younger than you unless they Wai to you first – it’s like wishing them bad luck!  This is a great example of why learning cultural nuances is a fundamental part of language learning, especially if you ever mean to travel to the foreign country where the language is spoken.

While most superstitions are dismissed as the stuff of folklore, we still seem to have a love for coming up with new ones, like a psychic octopus predicting victorious sports teams.  At the end of the day, while different cultures have very different superstitions, the basic primeval concept of trying to avoid bad twists of fate unites us all under the umbrella of humanity.  Which hopefully you didn’t open up inside the house!

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