A rational, educated person might argue that superstitions are nonsensical. A Brazilian lady told me once not to put my purse on the floor because, according to a Brazilian superstition, my money “will run out”. I like to think of myself as rational and educated, but ever since that incident I avoid putting my purse on the floor, and I am not even Brazilian! However silly and irrational they are, superstitions are inherent in every culture and are a part of who we are. Here are some Russian superstitions that I grew up with and with which most Russians are familiar.
Before going on a trip, one must sit down for a few minutes. We say “присядем на дорожку” [prisyadem na doroshku], which can be translated as «let’s sit down before we hit the road.” Usually, friends and family who are seeing you off or taking you to the airport or train station will sit down with you. Out of all superstitions this one is the most reasonable one because it has a very sound explanation. Preparing for a trip and packing can be frantic and stressful, therefore, sitting down and calming yourself for just a few minutes has a soothing effect that also allows you to ensure you remember to bring the most important things such as passports, tickets, and money.
If you are invited to a Russian person’s home and you are the happy type who likes to sing, hum and whistle wherever you go, refrain from whistling at your Russian friend’s house. “Don’t whistle, there won’t be any money” is what you might hear in response to your whistling. At least that is what I heard from my parents when, after my brother taught me how to whistle, I attempted to practice my whistling skills at home.
It is a bad omen to return back home if you forget something. They even sing about it in songs («возвращаться плохая примета» - [vozvrashat’sya plohaya primeta]). This superstition has several variations. Some people say that if you do return home, in order to ward off bad luck, you need to look in the mirror before heading out again, while others say that you need to look in the mirror and say hello to yourself. I am embarrassed to say that I do look in the mirror and give myself a nod before leaving the house for the second time...
Giving your lover or significant other a watch or shoes as a present is a foreboding of breaking up with this person. The logical explanation behind this belief is that a watch “times” how long the relationship will last, and shoes mean that the person will “walk out of your life”.
Don’t celebrate a birthday early. This superstition baffles me. In my opinion, if you celebrate early and then something unfortunate happens, at least you have celebrated. Otherwise, you are just completely out of luck! However, most Russians do not share my point of view and celebrating a birthday early is a no-no.
When someone leaves the house to travel to another city, don’t sweep, vaccuum, or wash the floor for a few days, otherwise, the person might not have a smooth trip. My mother taught me not to clean the floor for one-two days after the person leaves, whereas my sister-in-law instructed me not to clean the floor for seven days until her parents safely arrived in Western Russia after departing from the Far East!
There are a lot of other superstitions in the Russian culture, and some of them vary from one region to the other. If you spend a lot of time with Russian people, you will notice that they pay attention to many of these. You don’t have to make them constrict your life, but they are fun to know, a curious insight into what drives us to do what we do.
What superstitions do you have in your family?