Russians are very superstitious people. They will deny this, but it is true. These superstitions affect my life on a daily basis. Most of the time they are harmless and I go along with them to humor my wife. Sometimes I tease her about them.
New superstitions pop up all the time, as new situations arise in our life. I keep telling her that I need a rulebook for them. Perhaps someday I will codify them in a book.
Russians are raised with these superstitions so they have no need to consult a manual.
Here are some of them. It is by no means an exhaustive list:
1) You can’t whistle in the house or car, as they believe that you are whistling away your money.
At a dinner party at our house, a friend of mine started whistling. My wife silenced him immediately. She explained to him, “You can whistle in your own house, but you can’t whistle in mine. In my house, it’s my money you are whistling away.”
When she first came to America, she would see people standing at intersections holding signs. She asked me what they were doing. I told her they were asking for money. She asked me why. I told her that they had done entirely too much whistling in their house for their own good.
2) If you step on your spouse’s shoe by accident, you have to let the other person step on your shoe, or you will have an argument.
I never tested this superstition. It seemed easier to go along with the remedy than pay the price for violating it.
3) If you leave your house, you cannot go back inside for something you have forgotten, or your trip will result in ‘nothing good,’ as my wife says.
4) If you must go back in to get the forgotten item, you can try to mitigate the bad effects of returning by looking into the mirror at your own reflection for a moment before you leave again.
5) Never demonstrate another’s surgery or wound on your own body with your hand or other means as you are likely to visit that upon yourself.
In the few times I have done this, my wife has tried to remedy this by wiping away the spot where I made the imaginary incision with her hand, blowing on her hand to blow it away to the wind, and covering it with the sign of the cross.
6) Never give a Russian woman an even number of flowers. Even numbers are for the dead. Always give odd numbers. When you order a dozen, or two dozen roses, for her, ask them to throw in an extra one for good luck.
7) Never give yellow flowers to a Russian woman. It signifies infidelity and may mean that your relationship will not last.
8) Never give a watch as a gift to a Russian woman. Time is running out on your relationship.
9) Never give knives or handkerchiefs as gifts. I don’t know the reason for this one.
10) Never celebrate a birthday early. You are pushing your luck.
11) Don’t show your newborn baby to strangers until after forty days. They are waiting for their soul to arrive and they may take on another’s soul or energy during that time.
12) It’s best to cut your hair or nails during a full moon.
13) It’s considered bad luck to shave or cut your hair when a family member is in danger or bad health.
14) Whenever someone praises you or offers a positive comment, you knock on wood or imaginarily spit three times over your left shoulder so that you are not jinxed by the comment.
15) Do not shake hands or kiss over the threshold of a door. It forms a bridge that allows the devil or evil spirits from the outside to enter the house this way. When I have done this by mistake, my wife usually pushes me back outside or pulls me inside before greeting me with a kiss at the front door.
16) Before anyone takes a long trip, the whole family sits together silently for a few minutes before the traveler leaves.
17) The truly superstitious have been known to eat ‘lucky’ bus tickets, when the sum of the left three numbers equals the sum of the three numbers on the right.
18) Recently, while preparing to give my infant daughter a bath, the little tyke peed on me while I was taking her clothes off. My wife laughed and said that it was good news. It meant that I would live to dance at my daughter’s wedding!
This list is not exhaustive by any means. Superstitions vary by country and locale. There is a popular Russian television show that travels around the country exploring the unique superstitions of each particular town or village.
Many of the superstitions came from folk tales or fairy stories, Russian Orthodox tradition, or had peasant or agricultural roots. Most Russians are only one or two generations from the farm or village.
At any rate, be aware of the superstitions and try to show some respect for them whether or not you believe in them. Your Russian friends will appreciate it.