12 Quirky Italian Superstitions
This week we discovered that it’s bad luck to begin anything new in Italy on a Tuesday. Our accountant left off filing our latest papers until Wednesday as she warned us that doing so on a Tuesday could result in bad luck! As a child, David remembers being told:
“Don’t laugh too much on Tuesday, or you’ll be crying by Wednesday!”
There are plenty of other wonderful superstitions in Italy, here are a few of our favourites. You will probably recognise some of them!
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Never get married on a Friday
Whatever you do, never get married on a Friday or your marriage will be haunted by bad luck. This could stem from the belief that Jesus died on a Friday.
Friday the 17th
Speaking of Friday’s, Friday the 13th isn’t a bad omen as it is in Western countries — but Italy has its own date that you should be wary of: Friday the 17th. Just as some airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find the number 17 omitted in Italian planes, street numbering and hotel floors.
The reason for this is because in Roman numerals, the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning “I have lived” — the use of the past tense suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.
Spilling olive oil
Probably dating back to times where Olive Oil was considered a luxury, the act of spilling the liquid in Italy is considered to bring ill fortune.
Seeing an empty hearse
Spotting a hearse with no coffin inside is thought to be an omen that your own death is approaching. To ward off this ill fate, men must touch their groin and women their breast as a gesture of good luck and fertility. Start scratching!
Watch where you put your left foot
This superstition is a tricky one to follow if you sleep on the left-hand side of a double bed (as I always do). But if you can avoid it remember to put your right foot down first when you get up in the morning and your right shoe on first. You should also never hold a spoon with your left hand. Why? Because the left side is said to be associated with the devil.
The Gift of Scent
If someone gives you perfume as a birthday gift, you must give them a silver coin (small change will do). This is to avoid the argument that will occur should this practice not be followed.
Touch your nose
Saying the same word at the same time as somebody else is thought to be an omen that you will never get married – but there’s a way to reverse your fortune. Simply touch your nose immediately and the bad luck will be undone.
It is believed that if you put a photo of a loved one on a bed – for example while tidying, packing or doing housework – this will bring them bad luck. Meanwhile, placing a hat on a bed is unlucky too. These beliefs date back to a time when beds were associated with illness and death, and priests would remove their hats when arriving to visit someone in their sickbed.
If you receive something sharp such as a penknife as a gift, prick the person who gave it to you, or give them a coin in return. If you fail to do this, you risk ruining the friendship forever.
When walking arm in arm with a friend, make sure to pass on the same side of a lamppost rather than splitting to go around it. Italian folklore warns that straying from this rule could spell the end of the friendship.
In some cultures, black cats are thought to bring good luck, but it’s quite the opposite in Italy, where they are considered unlucky due to associations with witchcraft. If you cross one whilst driving, turn around and begin your journey again.
Hearing a cat sneeze, on the other hand, brings good luck.
If you’re from the UK or US, you might be used to saying ‘touch wood’ or ‘knock on wood’ after saying something that might tempt misfortune. In Italy, look for some iron – ‘toccare ferro’ is an abbreviation from ‘toccare ferro di cavallo‘ (touch horseshoe) which dates back to when horseshoes were thought to ward off devils, witches and evil spirits. These days, superstitious Italians might still carry a horseshoe charm or a simple piece of iron around with them, just in case.
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