- Superstitions vary from culture to culture all over the world.
- In Portugal, many people believe that walking backwards brings bad luck.
- People in Spain traditionally eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to bring luck for each month of the coming year.
Thinking that trimming your nails at night will bring bad luck is a common belief in India, for example, while many people in the US see pennies as a sign of good luck.
Keep reading for 20 superstitious beliefs from around the globe and the stories behind them.
INDIA: Trimming your nails at night.
There are several grooming-related superstitions in India, including the belief that it is bad luck to trim one’s nails at night. Historically, people typically tried to avoid using sharp objects at night to avoid hurting themselves in low light, according to US News.
It is also considered bad luck to get a haircut on a Saturday in India.
RUSSIA: Putting empty bottles on the ground.
Placing empty bottles on the ground is considered a good luck practice in Russia. The superstition comes from a legend involving Russian soldiers in the 19th century.
According to the Moscow Times, while the soldiers were in Paris, they were able to save money on alcohol by hiding their empty bottles on the ground rather than leaving them on the table, as they were being charged by the empty bottles they left behind.
EUROPE: Knocking on wood.
People in the US often use the phrase “knock on wood” to ward off bad luck, although this superstition is said to have originated in Europe.
During the Medieval period, many churches claimed to have pieces of Jesus’ cross. Church officials would say that knocking on the wood would bring good luck, according to Yahoo.
TURKEY: Chewing gum at night.
According to Turkish legend, when a person chews gum at night, it turns into the flesh of the dead. As a result, people are strongly advised against chewing gum after dark in Turkey.
The exact origin of this morbid superstition is unclear, although our guess is that most people would rather not risk it.
THE UK: Saying the word ‘rabbit’ on the first day of the month.
This good luck practice has been around for over 2,000 years, according to NPR, although it has only been recorded since the 19th century with roots tracing back to the UK.
According to legend, if the first thing you say on the first day of the month is “rabbit rabbit,” you’ll have good luck for the rest of it. Alternatively, if you forget to speak the magic words in the morning, you can say “tibbar tibbar” (rabbit backwards) right before you go to bed that night.
BRAZIL: Leaving your wallet or purse on the ground.
Placing your wallet or purse on the ground in Brazil is said to bring bad financial luck. This superstition is also popular in other South American countries, as well as the Philippines.
Similarly, people in China commonly use the phrase that translates to “a purse on the floor is money out the door,” to warn against not valuing wealth. It may stem from the idea that putting money on the ground — the lowest point — could look careless or disrespectful.
SERBIA: Spilling water behind someone.
Spilling water may seem like it would be a sign of bad luck, although the opposite is actually true in Serbia.
It is a common Serbian superstition to believe that spilling water behind someone will bring them good luck. People will often spill some water behind a loved one who is about to go on a trip or job interview in order to wish them luck. The water is thought to be lucky because it represents fluidity and motion.
PORTUGAL: Walking backwards.
It is considered very unlucky to walk backwards in Portugal because doing so allegedly lets the devil know where you are and where you’re going.
JAPAN: Tucking in your thumbs in a cemetery.
In Japan, people are often advised to tuck their thumbs into their fists when walking through cemeteries. The reasoning is simple; In Japanese, the word for “thumb” directly translates to “parent finger.” The legend warns that tucking in your “parent finger” will protect your parents from death.
GERMANY: Toasting with water.
The superstition of believing that toasting with a glass of water brings bad luck or even death is commonly held in Germany, although the tradition has roots going back to ancient Greece.
According to Greek mythology, spirits of the dead would often drink from the river Lethe, which is named for the goddess of forgetfulness. After drinking from the river, the spirits would forget about their lives on Earth before entering the underworld.
SWEDEN: Manhole covers marked with a ‘K’ or ‘A.’
You might not pay much attention to manhole covers, but in Sweden some people believe that the symbols on them can bring either good or bad luck.
As legend has it, stepping on a manhole cover marked with a “K” is good luck because it represents the Swedish word for love. Stepping on a cover marked “A,” however, is believed to bring bad luck because it stands for the Swedish word for heartbreak.
In reality, “K” stands for kallvatten, which means “clean water” and “A” stands for avloppsvatten, which means sewage, although the superstitious are still careful where they step.
RWANDA: Women eating goat meat.
Local folklore advises women against eating goat meat because it allegedly causes facial hair growth, as well as stubbornness.
However, some people have also offered up the theory that men created this superstition so they could have more meat to themselves.
CHINA: The number four.
Some people in China will avoid anything having to do with the number four.
Why the number four, specifically? The pronunciation of “four” in Chinese is similar to the word for “death.” Unsurprisingly, this makes many people believe that the number four is a sign of bad luck.
RUSSIA: Yellow flowers.
Giving flowers as a gift is a popular tradition all over the globe, although in Russia, it is important to keep the symbolic meaning behind certain flowers in mind.
Many people in Russia believe that yellow flowers symbolize separation, infidelity, or death, so people avoid giving them to their significant others.
EGYPT: Opening scissors without cutting anything
In Egypt, there are multiple superstitions related to scissors in Egypt that believers hold dear.
First, it is considered unlucky to open and close scissors if you’re not actually cutting anything. Similarly, leaving scissors open is also said to bring bad luck. Bottom line, if you are in Egypt, you’d better be careful with scissors.
SOUTH KOREA: Sleeping in a room with a running fan.
“Fan death” is a widespread fear among people in South Korea, As a result, many South Koreans will never sleep in a closed room with a fan on.
It is commonly believed that prolonged exposure to fans causes hypothermia, loss of water in the body, and even asphyxiation.
ITALY: Writing love letters to Juliet Capulet.
For years, people have been traveling to Verona to send their love letters to Juliet, which they hope will bring them good fortune when it comes to love.
Lovelorn travelers can visit the Casa di Giulietta, the 14th century home turned museum that is said to have inspired Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and leave their letters for Juliet.
Today, a group of volunteers called the Juliet Club actually responds to the letters from Juliet’s persona, carrying on the old tradition of asking the classic Shakespeare character for advice.
SPAIN: Eating grapes on New Year’s Eve.
Instead of counting down to the new year and clinking Champagne flutes, Spaniards traditionally stuff 12 grapes into their mouths at the stroke of midnight.
The 12 grapes represent the 12 months of the year, and the Spanish tradition is meant to bring good luck in the new year.
TURKEY: Turning your thumb at the Hagia Sophia.
If you are superstitious, you can’t leave the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul without doing this one thing.
Inside the church, you’ll find a bronze column with a thumb hole, and also probably a long line of people. Local legend has it that rotating your thumb in this hole in a full clockwise circle in the wishing column will make all of your wishes come true.
THE US: Lucky pennies.
Finding a penny on the ground, especially if it is heads facing up, is considered a sign of good luck in the US. People often use the saying “find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.”
It’s apparently even luckier to find a penny stamped with the year of your birth or anniversary.