Cultural beliefs: superstitions

Posted: 14 October, 2011 in ICPP

Today, October 14th, I had my fourth meeting with Vera. We met before lunch (during the lunchtime for her) at the lounge in the Students Activities Center, a room full of couches where we can comfortably seat and talk without disturbing anybody.

Since Halloween is coming closer, we started talking about ghosts. I told her that this week one of my professors asked a student whether she believed in ghosts or not and she said yes. Only me and a German international student seemed surprised with that answer, since believing in ghosts in not really popular in Europe. However, I still don´t not if joking or not, the professor continued asking her questions, like if some dead person had appeared to her in dreams and talked to her. She replied again yes, that had happened to her some months after this person´s death; and the professor commented that it was normal by this time because when you are new somewhere you need some time to get adapted, meet everybody and know how to get in touch with the livings. My professor did not even smile a little, but I guess he was kidding.

This led us to talk about superstitions, so I explained Vera some of the most widely-believed in Spain. One example would be Tuesday 13th, something curious, because both in English and German speaking countries it is Friday 13th. To see a black cat or go under a stair is also supposed to bring you bad luck. I also told her that my former nanny always punished me for rolling my open umbrella while going down the street for that reason (although it is true that it is better to avoid doing that for not distracting the drivers), and could never stand seeing open scissors: she always had to close them. Finally I remembered an interesting superstition that there is in my country, although I have only seen my former nanny doing it: if, by accident, you spill the salt, you have to throw some salt over your shoulders three times. Weird. I must say that I am not superstitious at all and don´t believe in all these things.

Vera told me also about some of the most popular American superstitions, like lifting your feet when you are on a car and drive over a train track. That really surprised me, because I thought it might be dangerous if the driver does that, but she told me only the other passengers do it. Another curious belief is that, when driving past a cemetery, you have to hold your breath.

It is interesting how stupid superstitions sound when they are new to you (and you don´t have assimilated them since you were born), and how much they differ from culture to culture.

Next we talked about a Spanish tradition: the book day, that takes every year on April 23rd, when Miguel de Cervantes died. That day, the women in the couple have to give a book as a present to their boyfriends. In exchange, they receive a red rose. In fact, I told her that that day a lot of bookstores give roses for free if you buy a book. This celebration doesn´t exist in the US.

Vera and I also talked about food. I am really curious about this topic, because some time one American friend told me that her favorite American dish was pizza. And pizza is Italian; I have no doubt about it. Vera agreed with me in that and answered that typical American food are burger and fries, Americanized pizza and chicken wings. In fact, she said the only truly American food are pop corn, since native Americans “invented” it.

We finally spoke about the distribution at my home of the house tasks, like cooking or doing the dishes. I told her that my mother cooks for lunch and my father for dinner. My brother and I take turns to do the dishes. We also distribute the house when vacuuming and doing general cleaning at home.


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