Superstitions around the world

One of my hobbies is collecting superstitions and old wives’ tales, so I’m curious about the superstitions you viewers at home might have, wherever you are. So, anybody have any superstitions you’d like to share?

I’ve got tons but I’ll just share a common one: It is bad luck to enter a house through one door and exit through another.

Some of the First Nations people I’ve met believe that you have to burn the hair left on the floor after a haircut. Probably a pretty common one too, hair is an important ingredient in all sorts of sympathetic magic.

Didn’t think to ask them about toenails and fingernails. Or what’s done with baby teeth, either, come to think on it. I’m gonna have to check, now.


My best friend is debilitatingly superstitious. For example:

I think everyone knows the one about kissing your fist and punching the ceiling when you drive under a yellow light. Apparently there is a variation where you kiss your finger and then tap the dashboard once for each person in the car. Well…when we ride a crowded bus and drive under a yellow light, she kisses her finger and taps the air in front of her and I watch her eyes counting every single person on the bus as she taps.

Turning off the radio when driving by a cemetary. “Why?” “Because it’s rude.” Huh?!

Lifting your feet when you go over a railroad track. (Driving…this would be impossible while walking)

If your friend steps on your heel, touch their hand or you won’t be friends anymore.

In Japan, the numbers 4 and 9 are bad luck (4 is homonymous with death and 9 with suffering). What’s worse, with western influence, 13 is now bad luck as well.

It is also bad luck in Japan to stick your chopsticks upright into your rice as this is (supposedly) the way offerings are made to the dead.

One that I’ve encountered in Japan, “If you rent to a foreigner, the whole building will stink.” :rolleyes:

Ok, a serious answer to the OP.
In Japan, sneezing once means someone is thinking about you.
Twice means they’re thinking bad thoughts about you.
Three times means they’re thinking good thoughts about you.
Four times, no idea. You have a cold?

Salt is often used to ‘purify’ areas and buildings in Japan. After the funeral of a family member, the rest of the family is supposed to sprinkle salt on their doorstep. It’s not considered unlucky to not do it, but more traditional people may feel that the house is still ‘unclean’.


I just remembered a few that may (or may not) be particular to Western Canada - sneeze four times, and you get to make a wish, and it is bad luck to walk over graves. Or maybe just disrespectful; we were told not to do it, at any rate. Also (and this may be a more universal one), if you shiver for no reason, that means a goose just walked over your grave.
(oh, if you’re hesitant to respond to the OP because you think your superstitions are too common, please don’t be. I’ve never seen any of the superstitions listed before).

In Southeast Asia every stray cat you see has a kinky tail.
When I asked around about this I was told that some people believe that if you go through life and never break any of your bones then you get a free pass into heaven.

As a result they believe that cats, being so agile, must be overrunning heaven. So when they are born they simply snap their tails. Heaven’s got enough cats apparently.
Also, in many Budhist countries there are always stray dogs that hang about the temples, the monks usually feed them. They believe that in a previous life the dogs were monks who failed to keep their vows.

Never hand a knife to someone you don’t want to become your enemy.

If you don’t join the religeon/sect of my choice
you will suffer agony in hell forever.

In Iceland (don’t know if it’s practiced elsewhere) you can’t give someone an instrument of death, such as a knife. If you give a knife or gun or something as a gift, it will end up killing somebody, possibly you or the recipent.

To get around this, one can ask for a single cent (or krona, or what have you) in exchange for a gift of something like a kitchen knife for example. Then you have to pretend you wanted to sell this person the knife for practically nothing, so as to fool fate.

Weird, I know. Oh, and I don’t give a mad f*ck about this kind of stuff, I’d happily hand out any weapon of mass-destruction without asking for anything in return. Sometimes Napalm just has to be a gift…

— G. Raven

Here in Central Virginia, USA, it is very bad luck to hesitate before answering NO you your spouses’ question “Does this dress make me look fat?” Or answering “What kind?” to ‘Does this dress make me look like a sausage?’

What about holding your breath when driving through a tunnel?

These are fascinating - thanks, guys. We have a superstition here about never giving a gift wallet or purse empty. You must always put some money in before giving it, or the recipient will be poor forever.

Some Korean Superstitions

When your ear itches, it means someone is talking about you. (Is this an international one?)

The number 4 is bad luck for the same reason as in Japan (it’s pronounced the same way as death). So some buildings in Korea don’t have a 4th floor (well, we do but we call it the 5th floor…), like how some buildings in the U.S. don’t have a 13th floor.

If a stray dog wanders into your house it means you’ll get bad luck.

If you hear a magpie, you’ll get a pleasant visitor.

I probably know some more, but i can’t remember them right now.

non-native’s magpie story reminded me of another Japanese superstition. If a woman marries a younger man, a swallow will build a nest over her door. This wasn’t considered a bad thing, at least not by the people who told it to me.

Not that I want to encourage belief in superstitions (we’re here to fight ignorance, after all), but I’ve only seen swallow’s nests over the doorways of two people, and they were both older women with whom I was, um… on good terms with.


If you drop a piece of silverware, you’ll receive a visitor. I think a spoon meant a lady visitor and a knife was a gentleman visitor, but I could have that part mixed up.

Not a superstition per se, but as kids we were told that if we lied to our parents, our tongues would stick out of our graves! :eek:

Boy, I thought people would eat this up!

Okay, here are some more!

If you hear a rooster crow at midnight, it means someone in the community will die soon.

The first (bride or groom) to fall asleep on the wedding night will be the first to die. (This may have something to do with unfulfilled desire! ;))

It is a sign of misfortune if a bridegroom looks over his shoulder as the bride approaches during the wedding ceremony. It symbolizes that he will always look behind him with regret.

Along the lines of more marriage superstitions, it is considered unlucky if the surnames of the couple who are marrying begin with the same initial. The superstition says, “If you change the name but not the letter, you marry for worse and not for better.”

Ok, guys, let’s hear more of these!

Getting back to the Japan/salt thing, I recalled the reason salt is used for purification…according to my Japanese friends, anyway. The original thing for purification is (obviously) water, but since that gets everything wet, they use salt to represent sea water. Sublight, have you heard this one?

Speaking of salt for purification, salt is what sumo wrestlers throw into the sumo ring to purify it before they wrestle and please the gods.

And speaking of sumo wrestlers, do any of my fellow ex-pats recall Cecil’s article about retired sumo wrestlers acting as “oshiya” (pushers) to fit commuters on the subways? I have not seen a one here in Tokyo and the Japanese folks I talk to about it just laugh at the idea. Has anyone actually seen one? Maybe I should make a thread.

Some Russian superstitions:

You must never shake hands (or air kiss) across a threshold, or your friendship will be cut in two;

no matter how many people are sitting at a table, no one sits at the corner, or they will never be married;

instead of crossing fingers or knocking wood to ward off bad luck, they spit three times over their left shoulders (though you don’t actually have to expectorate, a simple tfu!-tfu!-tfu! sound will do);

whistling indoors will make your money fly out the window;

you must never wear one shoe only (not sure what the expected horrible result of this is);

if you leave a place but forget something and have to come back, look in the mirror before you leave the second time, to make sure your reflection is still there. Almost every Russian home has a mirror by the door.

There’s literally dozens more (Russians are very superstitious), but that’s all I can remember off the top of my head. They have the no-knives-as-presents thing, too.

Oh, and I almost forgot: vodka is a panacea (I have been told in all seriousness that it will protect you from the effects of radioactivity, by a doctor no less :eek: )

When I was a kid, I once heard that you’re supposed to hold your breath while driving by a cemetary (so the ghosts can’t get inside you). I wondered about walking…