Russian people are quite superstitious. They see omens everywhere – in buckets, thresholds, open umbrellas… Russians themselves find these frightening old wives’ tales a torment and admit that they are the cause of terrible everyday inconvenience. But, the power of superstitions is that they are passed from generation to generation.
My family is not superstitious at all, but I remember growing up with a lot of these curious tales. If you are ever going to live amongst Russians, you should know their meaning and how to react to them!
Clocks/watches, knives, and scarves
Need a present for your Russian friend? Whatever it is, make sure it’s none of the above. Clocks are an omen of parting, scarves an omen of tears, and knives an omen of enemies. A Russian girl would rather buy a designer scarf than get it as a gift from you – if only to save her the tears. If you nonetheless chose to gift someone any of these things, don’t be surprised if they give you a small coin in exchange – to create an illusion of monetary exchange. :)
Carrying an empty bucket
Seeing a woman carrying an empty bucket in the countryside is a bad luck omen. That’s why in an urban setting, cleaning personnel will go out of their way to stuff their empty carts full of rakes and brooms!
Washing floors after guests
Washing the floor immediately after your guests leave is considered bad luck – to the point where the guest in question might meet their death. Needless to say, everyone tries to wash the floors before the guests’ arrival – which makes perfect sense. My question is, when does it become safe to wash the floors? In a week? 3 days? 24 hours?
Spit or knock on wood
Russians are afraid to jinx potentially good happenings, so when announcing them they’ll ‘spit’ thrice over their left shoulder, or knock three times on a piece of wood. If there is no wooden surface available, I’ve been known to knock on my head with a joke that it has the same effect. ;)
Open umbrellas and whistling indoors
Don’t fold your lips but do keep your umbrellas folded when you’re inside a Russian house – doing otherwise is believed to bring poverty or even death into the household! Growing up, I was never allowed to parade around the house with an umbrella and whistling indoors was frowned upon. Kinda silly, now that I think about it – folded umbrella used as a weapon is a lot more likely to cause someone to die than an open one. ;)
Putting money in someone else’s hands
Oh, Russians and their money omens! They believe that money has the power to transfer energy (including negative energy) so they’ll often ask that instead of handing them the money, you put them on the table or in a special money tray if you’re in a taxi. Once the person had left, the energy connection is broken and it’s safe to pick up the money. :)
Taking out the trash at night
You you live with a bunch of superstitious Russians, you will be advised against taking out the garbage at night – as it might bring ruin upon the household. If garbage stinks, tie it up in a bag and take it out the next morning.
Unmarried girls and corner seats
In ancient Rus, it was the old maids and dependents that took the humblest of seats at the table – the corner. And so a superstition came about that sitting at a corner for an unmarried woman means she won’t get married for 7 years! Needless to say, this is avoided at all costs. In modern Russia, most women laugh at this and take the seat anyway. :)
The threshold theory
You will never look at thresholds the same way again: Russians believe that a threshold of a house is where demons dwell. Extra precautions must be taken when approaching it: you must not stand on the threshold, talk across the threshold, or hand anything over the threshold. If you must sign for a delivery, cross the threshold or at least put one foot across it – to keep those evil spirits down!
Of course,there are some good omens as well. For example, a spider or a “message from a pigeon” on your clothes is a sign of good luck, just like stepping in dog poop is an omen of great financial fortune coming your way! Heading to an exam, place a 5 ruble coin in the heels of your shoes for good luck (5 is the equivalent of an “A” in Russia).
Deerlings, are there any superstitions in your culture?