Are you superstitious? Do you avoid things reputed to bring bad luck even if you don’t believe they will – just in case? Most cultures have their particular ideas about what is lucky or unlucky, and France is no exception. So, on this Friday 13th, I thought I would share a few curious French superstitions with you. Some are common in other places and some seem unique to France. Which ones have you heard of?
One of the strangest French superstitions has to do with stepping in doggie doo. If this happens to you, your friend will excitedly ask, “Right or left?” That might seem like an odd question, but the answer is very important to your future. That’s because if you step in it with your left foot, it’s lucky and, hopefully, the rest of your day will go better (after you get your shoe all cleaned up). However, if it’s the right foot, you might as well just go home and pull the covers over your head, because the forecast for you is as stinky as your shoe.
Breaking white glass
Another accident that at first might seem unfortunate is breaking something made of glass. But if it’s white glass you are guaranteed to have good luck. Verre blanc casé – Bonheur obligé. And the more broken pieces the more luck you’ll have. But if you’re tempted to break something just to get some good luck going, I’m sorry to tell you, that won’t work: the luck knows…
The importance of food in French life shows through in this superstition: When moving into a new home, make sure the first piece of furniture you bring through the door is your table. This infuses the home with good fortune (and gives you that all important place to eat).
Just make sure you never have thirteen diners at that table. If that ever happens, send one person to another room to eat by himself or call up a neighbor to come over and bring the number up to fourteen. Another way to invite bad luck into your home is to place the bread upside down on the table. Click here to read about the reason for that one.
Spilling salt on the table is bad luck. In antiquity, salt was a precious commodity and essential for conserving food. It was even used as money, and the Romans paid salaries to their soldiers in salt. In fact, the word salary (salaire in French) comes from the latin word “salarium” or ration of salt. So with salt being so important and expensive no wonder it was bad luck to spill it.
Salt retained its importance during the Middle Ages and was heavily taxed. In Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper painting Judas is depicted as spilling the salt. Today, people are no longer paid in salt nor do they pay an extra tax on it, but the superstition persists. This is why in France you should never hand the salt to another person at the table. Just carefully set it near them and give them the responsibility of not spilling it. However, it is allowed to throw a pinch of salt over your shoulder to keep bad luck at bay.
When making a toast and touching glasses, you must make eye contact with the other person. If not, you will be unlucky in love for seven years! Quite a hefty penalty! This superstition seems to come from the Middle Ages when slipping poison in someone’s drink was not uncommon. The custom was to pour a bit of liquid from each glass into the other – just in case – and then to look straight in the eyes of the other person watching out for suspicious behaviour.
As in many places, Friday 13th is considered an unlucky day in general. Many people think it’s a bad day to move house or start a new venture. However, it’s considered a lucky day to buy lottery tickets. So, maybe you want to try your lotto luck this Friday 13th.
For More About Superstitions
- Find out why you should never place bread upside down on the table in France in: Bread and Bad Luck
- In one restaurant in London, if you have 13 at the table you will be joined by a lucky black cat: 13 Diners and Kaspar the Lucky Black Cat
* More about France – You can read more stories like this in my book Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond.
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