Friday the 13th is supposedly the unluckiest day on the calendar, but where does our paraskevidekatriaphobia (that’s fear of Friday the 13th) come from? Superstitions surrounding the number 13 date back to Biblical times, Norse mythology and even pagan rituals. It seems we’ve been wary of the date for quite a while, but not all cultures share our worry—check out some other superstitious beliefs from around the world.
Putting bread upside down on the table
In France, when you place your baguette down on the table for dinner, be sure it’s right-side up. A flipped-over loaf can mean you have contempt for the recipient, or that your house is cursed by the evil eye. But don’t worry, you can reverse your bad luck by cutting a cross into the crust of the bread before setting it back down—face-up, this time.
Sticking your chopsticks in your rice
In Japan, leaving your chopsticks in your bowl of rice can bring everyone at the meal bad luck. The gesture is reminiscent of Buddhist funeral rites and considered poor table manners. Not a good omen that you’ll be invited back to dinner!
Spilling olive oil and salt
It’s not just a big mess—spilling olive oil and salt is serious bad luck in Italy. It might be because both were once (and sometimes still are) expensive commodities; dropping any on the floor meant a lot of wasted money. The unluckiest day to spill your olive oil in Italia isn’t Friday the 13th, either—Friday the 17th is an Italian’s least lucky day.
Whistling inside the house
Financial ruin or a bad storm are just some of the things Russians believe will befall you for whistling in the house, which will scare away the good spirits watching over you. Russians also believe that if you return home to retrieve something you forgot (cell phone, anyone?), you should look at yourself in the mirror before you head out again.
Saluting when you see a magpie
Magpies, the black and white birds related to crows, pair up with their partners for life. So, in the United Kingdom, a lone magpie is considered a portent of poor fortune. Tipping your hat, saluting or saying “Good morning, Mr. Magpie,” can keep the bird from spreading bad luck to you.
Picking up a penny
See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have… bad luck? If you’re traveling in Cuba, that’s the case. Locals believe that discarded pennies contain discarded curses—you might just catch a case of mal de ojo, or “evil eye” along with your souvenir.
Have a different superstition you’d like to share? Tell us more in the comments below!