Many superstitions get lost in translation.
Full disclosure: I’m very superstitious. I regularly go out of my way to knock on real wood. I can never remember which shoulder I’m supposed to throw spilled salt over, but I’ll always toss a pinch over both for good measure (and then once again in case that last side was the wrong one ). I'm so superstitious that I tend to collect new superstitions wherever I go. To this day, I refuse to let my purse touch the floor because, years ago, an extremely expressive Polish woman I worked with was horror-struck when I set my purse on the ground, a seemingly benign act that apparently ushers in terrible financial luck.
But while you may know to avoid ladders and cross fingers here at home, the folk wisdom in other countries isn't as obvious. You may know to buy a nazar charm in Turkey for protection against the evil eye, but did you know that you should never whistle inside a house in Russia? Or leave your shoes upsidedown in Egypt? Even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s sometimes better to stay safe than end up sorry. Here, then, are some of our favorite weird superstitions to watch for when traveling around the world.
If you happen to be in India during a solar eclipse, stay indoors—the belief that the suns rays become toxic during an eclipse is so pervasive that local newspapers continue to report on the phenomenon.
In many places from Turkey to India, it’s very bad luck to cut your nails at night. In fact, this particular superstition pops up in so many different countries that it may be safer to ditch the practice altogether.
Don’t wear red during a lightning storm. In the Philippines—a country that has seen its fair share of tropical storms—there's a belief that the color attracts lightning.
In Rwanda, an old wives’ tale states that women who eat goat’s meat are likely to grow a beard or to become stubborn. However, local women will often retort that the story was cooked up by greedy men who wanted all the good meat, so you be the judge next time you try to order goat kebabs in Kigali.
Don’t be surprised if, when you head out on a journey in Serbia, someone splashes water on the ground behind you. The water is said to symbolize ease of movement and so brings good luck.
In Japan, unintentionally breaking a bottle is said to be lucky. Intentionally breaking one, however, is just stupid.
If you hear someone muttering “rabbit rabbit” or “white rabbit” on the first day of the month, that person may be from the United Kingdom or the United States, where the practice is said to ensure a prosperous month. (I’ll admit, this is another superstition I keep in my arsenal.)
Don’t let the cat out of the bag! Or rather, don’t discuss private matters with a cat in the room in Denmark. The creatures are said to be terrible gossips.
Under no circumstances should you say former Argentine President Carlos Menem’s name in Argentina. The man’s turn as president was so disastrous and riddled with corruption that his very name is now believed to be a curse that brings failure with it.
In Cuba, there’s always room for one more drink. Cubans say that if you declare your last drink, or el ultimo, you’re tempting fate and are likely to die soon.
The evil eye makes an appearance in cultures and superstitions all over the world, but in Bolivia, a surefire way of curing the mal de ojo’s disastrous effects is to rub an egg over the body of the affected person, break the egg into a glass of water, and then set the glass of water under the person’s bed.
Never kiss a Nigerian baby on the lips or you’ll be blamed for condemning the child to an adulthood of drooling.
It’s true: In South Korea, people believe that running a fan in a closed room while sleeping will kill you. But while the superstition became an Internet sensation, in South Korea, it’s no laughing matter.
Avoid empty buckets at all costs if you’re traveling through Russia. Don’t carry them and don’t hang around if you see someone else carrying one—the seemingly innocuous vessel is sure to ruin your day.