Every culture has its own quirky superstitions and beliefs, and Russia is no exception
Welcome to our weekly edition of the Matryoshka’s Diary! People in Russia do not even realize how superstitious they are. But not all of them of course. Some superstitions like avoiding a black cat crossing your path are the same in Russia and in the Western countries. However, having lived abroad for a few years, I have realized that my international friends have different reactions to some of my Russian superstitious rituals.
Russians always sit down before going on a trip. I think it is our favourite!
Russian people sometimes (well, always!) sit down somewhere near the door inside their home before going away. Even if just one person is traveling from a family or couple, the whole group will sit down – just for a short while, 30 seconds to a minute. I know that some families would be sitting in silence while other families would be wishing the one who is leaving a safe trip. I do not think there is the right way of doing it. This is supposed to ensure a successful trip (or rather, prevent a disastrous trip). I actually realised that when I left Russia and went to live overseas I stopped doing it.
A ritual of Knocking on Wood
Just like in some other countries, when someone in Russia says something they hope will remain that way (e.g. “I’m quite healthy”) they will knock on wood. However, we don’t actually say “knock on wood”. We perform the knocking action and then spit three times over their left shoulder (usually not literally spitting – just making the motion and sound). This is supposed to symbolise spitting on the Devil. Even if we don’t do the spitting part, Russians will still tend to literally knock on something – and in the absence of wood, usually on our own heads. When I moved overseas I stopped knocking on wood but instead I learnt to say “touch wood” which has a similar intention – to avert bad luck.
Stepping on Someone’s Foot
If a person accidentally steps on someone’s foot in Russia, it’s quite common for the person stepped on to lightly step onto the other’s foot. This is because an unreturned step means that the two will have a fight in the future. Returning the offense prevents the fight. I believe it is more common between young people as I cannot really imagine two mature adults doing such a thing in a professional setting.
Don’t Step Over People when in Russia!
If someone is on the ground (e.g. sitting or lying down in the park or on the floor), you are not supposed to step over them or any part of their body. This is because stepping over someone means that they will stop growing. Sometimes if you’ve accidentally stepped over someone, you can step backward over them to ‘lift the curse’.
Walking on Different Sides of a Pole
Couples and friends should not walk on different sides of a pole or a tree. This indicates that the relationship will end – some people take this very seriously! Again, I don’t think this is something that is done by many people of mature age, but it just depends on how superstitious you are.
No Fuzz, No Feathers
When someone has an exam, an interview, an audition, or some other important event for which you would wish good luck, in Russia you are not supposed to say “good luck”. Instead, you are to say “ни пуха, ни пера” which means “no fuzz, no feathers” and is the rough equivalent of “break a leg”. In response, the person must say “к чёрту!” which literally means “to the devil” or “go to hell!” And, yes, if someone says “no fuzz, no feathers” you must tell them to go to Hell. It’s very impolite to not tell someone to go down there if they wish you “no fuzz, no feathers”. Yes, I know, it might make no sense for you but this is what we do in Russia.
If you have hiccups, Russians say it means that somebody is thinking about you. We believe that if you start mentioning people who might be thinking about you – you will stop having hiccups. I don’t think it ever worked for me but you can try.
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