It’s tough to appreciate it, but being lied to as a child can be both interesting and beneficial to your development as an adult. How else could your parents make sure that you wouldn’t eat the fun-colored pills on grandma’s bed stand? Explain to you that the chemical make up of the tablets can cause unwanted symptoms for you and/or death? Pshh, the truth isn’t fun, and you’re too hyper and distracted to listen to boring truth. After all, you’re only four.
So your mom did what any good mom will do, she sat you down and told you that if you ate those pills, all of your friends and toys would disappear. And worst of all, she threatened to cancel the order for the magical television you wanted for your birthday, the one that both hears you and talks back to you.
The message from this lie is clear: don’t eat small unidentifiable objects – even if they are colorful because they can be dangerous.
Alright, but what about the more superstitious lies – the ones that didn’t really have a direct safety message? A prime example is the one about not passing after a black cat has crossed a path – it’s bad luck, they say. Where did this lie come from and how could believing it help a child avoid pain or death?
“I’m not super-stitious, I am only a little stitious” – Michael from The Office
I’m not sure I can answer that question about the black cat superstition, but I can make it more complicated by throwing out a list of the superstitious lies I was told as a little girl – some of which I still follow today:
- Don’t wear your clothes inside out or you will get injured
- If you have a statue or figurine of an elephant, make sure to point his tusks are the door, it will bring money.
- When there is a new moon, put some money in your hands and hold it up to shine in the moonlight. This will bring in more money.
- If the person you are calling doesn’t recognize your voice, it means you will be rich
- Likewise, if a person calls you and you don’t recognize their voice, it means they will be rich
- If a person calls you while you are thinking about them, then he/she will live a long life, and is possibly psychic
- If you step in poop and/or if a bird poops on you or your vehicle, you will have good luck and be rich
- If someone sneezes as you or someone else in the room is speaking, the statement said right before the sneeze is the truth. Russians like to say “na provdu” after a sneeze
- Never wear an article of clothing when it is being tailored/altered. Having it on your body with a needle and thread piercing the fabric is bad luck
- If a plate breaks, it is good luck
- If your ear burns, someone is badmouthing you
- If you are hiccuping, recite the names of everyone you know, if you stop hiccuping after a particular person’s name, that means he/she is thinking about you
- (My favorite) If you reenter your house right after you stepped out, you have to look in the mirror and make a funny face
- If you lick the plate after you ate the food that was on it, it will ensure that your offspring will be very good looking.
- Never give a person a scarf, a gun, or a knife (or anything that they can kill themselves with) as a present. But if you simply can’t resist giving your boyfriend that gun, which is a bad idea, you have to make him pay for it with money – anything from a penny to a nickel will suffice. Because, technically, if they paid for it, it’s not a present and not bad luck any more.
- Don’t whistle in doors or else you’ll go broke
- Don’t open an umbrella inside the house or you will have bad luck
- Don’t kiss or greet anyone in the doorway because it’s bad luck. Your relationship will likely fail. (sidebar: I was watch Sex & The City today, and in one scene Burger greets Carrie at his door and they kiss – I found myself cringing. No wonder that relationship didn’t last…)
- Don’t sit on cold rock/stone or else you will become infertile
- If you are walking with one or more people, do not walk in such a way that allows large or long objects such as cars, poles, telephone booths, or even traffic signs to divide the two of you. Always walk on the same side of a dividing object. If you let something metal or wood come between you, it is likely that your relationship will fail…
- Don’t tell people your happy plans because they will jinx them, and your plans will fail. Remember, everyone is jealous of you, so make sure you don’t give out information that will tempt anyone into giving you the evil eye, even if they do it unintentionally. Beware of even your relatives.
- Keep salt in your pockets, bra, or any other place capable of storing it. This will ward off the evil eye. In the case that you run out of salt or you do not trust the salt, attach a safety pin to your clothes. Better safe than sorry. If you STILL feel unprotected, find some religious guy to tie a red string around your wrist.
- And finally, if you sleep at the edge of your bed, a wolf will come eat you in the middle of the night. Sleep close to the wall or don’t sleep at all.
Who am I kidding, I follow all of these superstitions today.
I know they are excessive and you probably think they’re dumb but for me to forget them would be like forgetting my childhood and my culture. It’s also difficult to ignore them when I hear my family yell at me to look in the mirror and put some salt in my pockets over and over at home.
Most of these “lies” carry a message intended for protection from sadness, hurt, or bad luck. Some of them even make you forget about the unpleasantness of “sticky” situations. Like the one about the poo takes a disappointing senario and turns it into something to feel happy about. “Well this means I’m going to be rich!” Lo and behold, you’re not thinking about the smelly, brown mess on the bottom of your favorite boots anymore.
And the one about not sleeping on the edge of the bed even helps protect you from injury. Everyone knows that little kids like to roll around at bedtime, maybe if you put a wolf in the sleep equation, they’d lie closer to the wall and keep from falling off their beds. The fewer head injuries, the better. And finally, some of these superstitious even make social situations less awkward.
“I’m sorry, who the hell am I speaking to?”
“It’s your Grandmother, dear!”
“Oh, hi Grandma! I didn’t recognize your voice. Throw your food stamps in the trash, you’re going to be a very wealthy woman!”
In the end, I believing in these superstitions actually makes your life more fun…and, dare I say it, lovely.