Russian Superstition and Triskaidekaphobia

Russians are definitely superstitious. Some beliefs and customs that seem really strange to me are an integral part of everyday life here. For example:

  1. No whistling in the house. Supposedly you will whistle your money away. My host family in St. Petersburg (back in 2005) used to scold me about this one, and I had to take to subversive whistling.
  2. No sitting (or standing) in drafts. The belief is that drafts will make you sick. While perhaps a good idea in winter, this one is particularly frustrating during hot summers like this one! I remember one funny instance on a hot night in June. I was in a big group, huddling around a sticky oil cloth table in our friends’ sweltering 6th floor apartment, sipping hot tea, and sweating. Every once in awhile a refreshing puff of evening air would waft through the open window. Towards the end of the evening, as the room really heated up, our host, Alyona*, concerned about our health, told Boris* to shut the window. Poor Boris  swung the window slightly closed, hopefully leaving a small gap still open. “All the way!” Alyona insisted, pointing towards the red-faced babies in the room, “We don’t want them to catch a cold!”
  3. No sitting on stone. Not only will this make you sick, but it is particularly harmful to women, I’m told. The belief goes that resting too long on cold floors or ground is supposed to freeze your reproductive organs, making you incapable of having offspring.
  4. No talking about future plans or successes. Boasting is considered bad luck. Better to be silent about it all, or sound pessimistic about everything until the success has actually been achieved.
  5. Don’t buy clothes, toys or furniture for a baby until after it is born. Accordingly, there are no baby showers in Russia.
  6. Birthdays must always be celebrated after the actual date. Don’t wish someone a happy birthday before the actual big day. Also, parties always occur on or after the actual date.

I don’t consider myself superstitious. I’ve absorbed a few Russian health beliefs and habits since living here. I’ll readily agree, for example, to the medicinal properties of tea, and even vodka and will also admit to getting a sore throat after sleeping under a fan all summer (although, I’d argue that it has more to do with the smog and allergies than anything else). I have also, among other things, started to hate drinking ice water since living here. (Why go for cold when you can have a nice, soothing lukewarm beverage??)

Some Russian beliefs may seem silly (I certainly disregard superstitions!), but many American beliefs and superstitions are just as ridiculous! Americans, for all their practicality, self-sufficiency, and claims to be rooted in modern science suffer from their own superstitions. Friday the 13th is just as good a day as any to bring them up.

Triskaidekaphobia is, I discovered today on  dictionary.com, “the fear of the No. 13.” You may say that Friday the 13th is just a joke superstition to the majority of Americans, but have you noticed that nearly all tall buildings in the States are missing the 13th floor?

My Russian friends laugh in disbelief, “Crazy Americans!” upon finding out that elevators in the States ride right from the 12th to the 14th floor…

Any other American health beliefs or superstitions that you could add to the “perhaps ridiculous” list?

*not their real names

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3 Responses to Russian Superstition and Triskaidekaphobia

  1. Maryfran says:

    I had forgotten what today was! I even walked under a ladder!

  2. Phyllis says:

    I know it’s been a while since you wrote this, but I have American friends who are at least as obsessive about germs as Russians are about cold. 🙂

  3. Oh germs! Sanitary wipes and gels… That’s a good one – you could also talk about how Americans think drinking water will cure everything…

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