Everyone knows that breaking a mirror gives you seven years of bad luck, and that if you step on a crack you’ll break your mother’s back. It’s easy enough to avoid a superstitious catastrophe when you’re at home and know all about the culture and folklore, but what about when you’re outside your native country? If you’re someone who does a lot of travelling, chances are you’re going to eventually run into some questionable scenarios that will either doom your day or bring you great luck according to local canon. So to help you ward off evil spirits and reap good fortune from seemingly serendipitous situations wherever you happen to be, here are 10 absurd superstitions from around the world.
10. Troublesome Elves (Iceland)
Lots of different cultures have myths about elves and fairies, but in Iceland they make reference to a specific supernatural version of elves known as the huldufólk, or hidden people. As the story goes, these magical creatures really hate construction sites. Icelandic authorities and managers have even gone so far as to alter plans for building projects in order to prevent damaging the rocks where huldufólk are believed to live. There was also a law instituted in 1990 which protects any site that has at least 100 years of supernatural history. According to Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the tales of the huldufólk exist today because, in the old times, Icelanders were few in number, and so the country attempted to increase their population size with tales of elves and fairies.
9. Witch Windows (Vermont, U.S.)
Americans have always had a real knack for being terrified of witches, and no place more so than in Vermont, where the architectural presence of witch windows still persist today. If you’ve ever visited the state, you might have noticed one of these slanted windows located on the upper floors of residential houses and perhaps thought it to be nothing more than an overlooked design flaw. But the real reason for the presence of these slanted windows is to prevent witches from getting into your house because, as everybody knows, witches can’t fly through a tilted window. Apparently it has something to do with broomsticks and acute angles.
8. Mice People (Korea)
Okay, this superstition is definitely in the deep end of the weird pool, but in Korea you should never trim your fingernails at night. This follows from the belief some Koreans hold that a mouse could come into your house, eat your nightly nail clippings, and then gain the supernatural ability to transform into a human who steals your life. So you should probably just forget about going for that late night manicure.
7. Don’t Chew Gum at Night (Turkey)
Following the theme of things you should never do at night, in Turkey chewing gum after sun down is a big no-no. Not because night time fresh breath is frowned upon there, but because, according to the Turks, it’s not even chewing gum anymore—it’s been transformed into the rotting flesh of dead people. Why they believe this story is a little unclear, but maybe it has something to do with keeping children from annoyingly chewing their gum at all hours of the night.
6. Tuck Your Thumbs in When Passing the Dead (Japan)
If you walk by a graveyard or a hearse passes you on the street in Japan, you need to tuck your thumbs into your pockets in order to keep your parents safe. The reason for this is because the Japanese word for thumb literally translates as “parent-finger,” and so by hiding your thumbs when you pass by the deceased, you’re actually protecting your parents from death.
5. Good Luck Bird Poo (Russia)
In Russia, if a bird defecates your car, your property, or even on you directly, it’s considered good luck. It’s said the gooey excrement might even bring you riches. So be sure to stand under any high-flying flocks when you’re in Russia, because the more birds that are involved, the wealthier you’ll be.
4. Good Luck Grapes (Spain)
On New Year’s Eve in Spain, instead of kissing someone, you can get yourself some guaranteed good luck by eating 12 grapes within the first 12 seconds of the clock striking midnight. Not only does this ensure the coming year will be a good one, but it will also help kickstart your career in competitive eating.
3. Broken Dishes (Denmark)
Another strange New Year’s tradition can be observed in Denmark, where people hold on to all of the broken dishes and chipped cups they’ve accumulated throughout the year and then leave them on the porch of a good friend. Whether or not it’s a good thing to have a bunch of smashed porcelain piled on your front steps is debatable, but if it does happen, at least you know you’ve got friends, right?
2. Good Luck Dog Poo (France)
Some people in France think that stepping on doggie doo can have a big impact on your luck. If you step on it with your left foot, there’s good fortune in store for you. However, if you step on it with your right foot, you’ve got bad luck and misfortune ahead. Of course, this could all just be a clever story made up by dog owners so they don’t have to pick up after their pets.
1. Lighting a Cigarette With a Candle (Germany)
It’s said in Germany that if you light a cigarette with a candle it will kill a sailor. This superstition stems from the actuality that many sailors took up match making as an additional source of income in the old days. We’re talking about the actual process of making combustible matches, not the type of matchmaking your Aunt Shirley tries to do when she tells you about that interesting person she met at the market. So, in those days, by lighting your cigarette with a candle and forgoing the use of a match, you were depriving a sailor of hard earned money, thereby preventing them from affording any food and causing their death. Leave it the Germans to come up with the most impressively logic-bound superstitions.