25 Bad Luck Superstitions from Around the World

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Spilling pepper, complimenting a baby, and cutting your fingernails after dark are just a few of the things that will earn you bad luck around the world.

1. PUTTING YOUR CLOTHES ON INSIDE OUT IN RUSSIA INVITES A BEATING.

A blue item of clothing inside out with the blank tag showing.
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If this does happen to you, though, all hope isn't lost: Put your clothes on the right way immediately and have a friend symbolically hit you, which will minimize the potential threat.

2. MIXING BEERS IN CZECHIA (A.K.A. THE CZECH REPUBLIC) IS BAD LUCK.

A row of different beers in glasses on a bar.
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When you're visiting Czechia—the world's number one per capita beer-consuming country—do not pour a beer into a glass that has beer of a different kind in it; bad luck will surely follow.

3. TUESDAY THE 13TH IS UNLUCKY IN GREECE.

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While Americans are generally superstitious about Friday the 13th, Greeks are traditionally wary of Tuesdays, and especially Tuesday the 13th. The rationale for the superstition goes all the way back to Tuesday, April 13, 1204 (on the Julian calendar), when Constantinople completely fell to the Crusaders. That wasn't the only unlucky Tuesday for the Greeks: On Tuesday, May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. One 19th-century travel writer said that he heard that Greeks even avoided shaving on a Tuesday.

4. IN SOME LATIN AMERICAN CULTURES, IT'S UNLUCKY TO GET MARRIED ON A TUESDAY.

Close-up of a bouquet of flowers being held by a bride.
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The unluckiness of Tuesday is also present in several Latin American cultures, to the point that in some South American countries the movie Friday the 13th was Martes 13, or Tuesday the 13th. There’s even a saying: “En martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes,” which means that on Tuesdays you shouldn't get married, go on a trip, or leave your house.

5. IT'S BAD LUCK TO SHAKE YOUR LEGS IN SOUTH KOREA.

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In South Korea, people are told not to shake their legs, otherwise their wealth and good luck will fall out.

6. IN SOME FISHING REGIONS OF CHINA, IT'S BAD LUCK TO FLIP OVER A COOKED FISH.

A whole grilled fish on a plate with lemons.
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It’s thought that this will lead to a ship capsizing. If it’s a whole fish, some families will use chopsticks to pick meat from the bottom of the fish when they're done with the top.

7. IN SOME PARTS OF EUROPE, LIGHTING A CIGARETTE FROM A CANDLE IS BAD NEWS FOR SAILORS.

A single candle burning on a black background.
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Another piece of sailor-related bad luck from parts of Europe says that if you light a cigarette from a candle, a sailor will die. The common explanation is that sailors used to supplement their income by selling matches, so bypassing the match step took money away from a sailor.

8. WOMEN IN TRADITIONAL RWANDAN SOCIETIES AVOID GOAT MEAT.

Three goats standing in a tree.
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It's not permitted because it's thought it could make women grow a beard.

9. IN ITALY, BREAD PLACED UPSIDE DOWN IS BAD LUCK.

Three loaves of bread in a wire basket.
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In Italy, it’s considered bad luck to lay bread upside down, either on a table or in a basket. Although there are several explanations, the most popular is that the bread represents the body of Christ, and as such needs to be treated with respect.

10. IN SWEDEN, IT'S CONSIDERED BAD LUCK TO PUT KEYS ON A TABLE.

A set of keys on a table.
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Why? Because, in the old days, prostitutes would put keys on tables in public areas to attract clients. So, to avoid risk of misunderstanding, a superstition rose up to prevent people from doing this accidentally.

11. DON'T PASS MONEY BY HAND IN TAJIKISTAN.

A close-up of one person handing money to another.
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The same goes for items like keys, needles, and scissors. They should be placed on a table and then picked up by the second person.

12. AFTER STARTING A JOURNEY IN PARTS OF EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA, IT'S BAD LUCK TO RETURN HOME FOR SOMETHING YOU'VE FORGOTTEN.

A person packing a suitcase for a journey.
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If you absolutely must return home, you need to look in a mirror (and in some traditions smile) before setting off again.

13. IN AZERBAIJAN, IT'S BAD LUCK TO SPILL SALT OR PEPPER.

A pepper shaker turned on its side, with pepper spilling out of it onto the table.
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It will start a fight. The way to remedy this is by putting sugar on the spilled salt and/or pepper, and leaving it there until it’s cleaned up.

14. ACCORDING TO AN OLD PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN SUPERSTITION, A FEMALE VISITOR ON NEW YEAR'S DAY MEANS BAD LUCK.

A view of a woman from behind as she knocks on a door.
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An early 20th-century Pennsylvania German superstition says that if your first visitor on New Year’s Day is a woman, you'll have bad luck all year long. If your visitor is a man, though, you'll have good luck. It was also considered bad luck to take a bath or change your clothing between Christmas and the New Year (and if you change your underwear between the holidays, "you will be full of boils").

15. IN TURKEY, IT'S BAD LUCK TO DRINK WATER THAT REFLECTS MOONLIGHT.

Full moon rising over a body of water.
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According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, those who drink water that reflects moonlight will have bad luck. Bathing in that water seems to be OK, though; according to the ministry, "People, who bath[e] under the moonlight and in shadow, will shine as bright as the moon."

16. TRIPPING OVER SOMETHING WAS BAD LUCK IN 19TH-CENTURY NEW ENGLAND.

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According to What They Say in New England, a book published in 1896, the only remedy was to go back and walk over the thing again. "If it is a stone you have fallen over," the text notes, "go back and touch it."

17. IN SERBIA, COMPLIMENTING A BABY WILL BRING IT BAD LUCK.

A happy baby lying in its crib.
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Instead, you need to say that a newborn is ugly.

18. ACCORDING TO ONE EARLY 20TH-CENTURY AMERICAN SUPERSTITION, ALL DISHCLOTHS SHOULD BE BURNED BEFORE A MOVE.

A person wiping up dust with a cloth.
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Same goes for cloths used for general house cleaning. That way, all of the bad luck you've “wiped up” in the old house won’t go with you to the new house.

19. ACCORDING TO 19TH-CENTURY WELSH TRADITION, IT'S BAD LUCK TO CUT THE NAILS OF AN INFANT LESS THAN 6 MONTHS OLD.

A close-up of a person cutting a baby's fingernails.
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Some versions of this superstition warn of just general unluckiness, while others say that a child whose nails are cut before 6 months of age will become a thief. According to the book Welsh Traditions and Superstitions, instead of cutting nails, the mother should instead "bite them off as they grow."

20. IN SOME ASIAN COUNTRIES, IT'S CONSIDERED UNLUCKY TO CUT YOUR NAILS AFTER DARK.

A photo of nail clippers on their side.
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Proposed reasons for the superstition range from the practicalities of wielding sharp things near your hand at night, to concern that separating a nail in the darkness could attract spirits.

21. IN SOME MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES, IT'S BAD LUCK TO OPEN AND CLOSE SCISSORS WITHOUT CUTTING ANYTHING.

A pair of scissors, open, on a white background.
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This superstition might have something to with the two sides of metal touching each other.

22. HEARING A MARSH CRAKE OVER THE WRONG SHOULDER IN NEW ZEALAND COULD LEAD TO BAD LUCK.

A marsh crake sitting on a branch in the wetlands.
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A New Zealand superstition held that hearing a Kāreke (marsh crake) over your right shoulder was good luck, but over your left shoulder would lead to having a “crook trot”—old New Zealand/Australian slang for bad luck

23. IN GERMANY, YOU SHOULD NEVER WISH SOMEONE HAPPY BIRTHDAY EARLY.

A cupcake with green icing and a sign reading 'happy birthday' stuck in it.
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In general it's thought to bring misfortune, but one German interviewed for a TV segment gave more colorful consequences for wishing someone an early happy birthday: "My grandma always said you'd have blue children."

24. IN SOME PARTS OF AFRICA, OWLS ARE SYMBOLS OF BAD LUCK.

A Giant Eagle Owl perched on a rock.
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Supposedly, seeing or hearing one of these birds hoot is bad news: It could mean anything from bad luck to poor health to death. Some even believe that they’re sent to deliver curses.

25. NEVER MIX WINE AND WATERMELON IN ARGENTINA.

Slices of watermelon stacked in a pile.
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This old wives’ tale says that combining them will cause certain death (or sometimes just an upset stomach).

5 Actors Who Could Play the Next Batman

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by Natalie Zamora

Ben Affleck's casting as the Caped Crusader wasn't exactly met with a lot of excitement. While many DC fans were (and still are) happy with the casting, many definitely weren't, and even took it upon themselves to think of who could replace him. Now, with Affleck's role in Matt Reeves's upcoming The Batman completely unknown, it's worth looking at who has been actually rumored to take his place.

5. JAKE GYLLENHAAL

Jake Gyllenhaal attends the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Sisters Brothers' premiere at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2018
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As early as November 2017, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal has been rumored to be playing the next Batman. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal had a meeting with Matt Reeves, something reporter Rob Keyes tweeted out at the time. When asked about the possibility, the actor shot it down, saying, "Wow, that’s a very difficult question. The answer to that question is no."

4. RYAN GOSLING

Ryan Gosling attends the 'First Man' press conference during 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 11, 2018
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Another acclaimed actor, Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling has also been rumored to take on the role of Bruce Wayne for some time. When recently asked at the Toronto International Film Festival if he would consider, Gosling simply said, "I don't know," before joking that if his First Man and La La Land director Damien Chazelle made it, he'd be in.

3. JOSH BROLIN

Josh Brolin attends the 'Sicario Day Of The Soldado' Photo Call at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
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Although Josh Brolin now plays two major Marvel characters, Cable and Thanos, he once confirmed he was in the running for Ben Affleck's role in 2016. Ultimately, Brolin backed out after he had disagreements with Zack Snyder on how the character should be played. Ever since Affleck's departure from directing The Batman, Brolin has been rumored to take the role.

2. MATTHEW GOODE

Actor Matthew Goode attends the 'The Imitation Game' New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater in 2014
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Like Brolin, Matthew Goode was also one of the actors in the running to play Batman before Ben Affleck was cast. He was also reportedly considered for the roles of both Superman and Lex Luthor. Clearly, Goode would be welcomed into the DCEU. Now would be the perfect time.

1. JON HAMM

Jon Hamm attends the Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures And New Line Cinema's 'Tag' at Regency Village Theatre on June 7, 2018 in Westwood, California
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Ever since Jon Hamm played the dark and brooding role of Don Draper on Mad Men, fans have been rallying for him to play Batman. Though rumors have been circulating for years, Hamm just recently revealed that he has never had a conversation about the possibility. However, he did say he would be interested, if the script was good.

13 Secrets of Obituary Writers

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When Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell sits down to assess the lives of the recently departed, she feels less like a journalist and more like a historian. “I sometimes feel like I’m a frustrated history teacher,” she tells Mental Floss. “I get to teach a lesson every day and share it with readers.”

Unlike death notices, which only recite basic facts about the deceased, or funeral eulogies, which offer impassioned remembrances from loved ones, obituaries are a written memorial of a person’s legacy published for the world to see. Instead of dwelling on death they celebrate life, from the most recognizable celebrity to the quietest neighbor. They prove that almost everyone has a story to tell, and it’s sometimes only after a passing that people realize exactly how a person has left their mark in the world.

O’Donnell recalls a 2010 death notice for a Montana resident named Jim Cole, which mentioned his interest in photographing grizzly bears. Only after excavating details of his life did she realize Cole is the only person in North America to survive two grizzly attacks, 14 years apart. “They called him Grizzly Jim,” she says. “He wore an eyepatch because the second attack left him without an eye.” (Cole died of natural, not wildlife-related, causes at age 60.)

For more on how obituary writers approach the delicate art of human posterity, we asked several of them—including O’Donnell—to tell us about their work. Here’s what they had to say about a life spent covering death.

1. THEY LOOK FOR THE “ROSEBUD” MOMENT.

John Pope, who writes for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and assembled a book of obituaries, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, says that the goal of his work is to discover the “Rosebud” moment of an individual’s life. (That's a reference to the 1941 film Citizen Kane, and the desire of a reporter to define the mysterious dying word uttered by wealthy business magnate Kane.) “I look for ‘Rosebud,’ what makes a person tick,” he says. “When you talk to relatives, they talk about how he loved family, how he loved life, but you need to keep going and dig deeper.”

In 2009, Pope was tasked with profiling William Terral, a beloved pediatrician and gardening hobbyist. While the former was a noble career, Pope found his real jewel in the fact that Terral was once so struck by the bag of plasma separated from his blood during a medical procedure that he took it home, hung it from an IV hook, and pumped the liquid into the ground to see if it would help his garden grow. “His hibiscus flourished,” Pope says. So did his obituary.

2. IT’S ACTUALLY A PRETTY UPLIFTING JOB.

The stereotype of obituary writers toiling under the shadow of death, constantly aware of the fragile nature of life, isn’t exactly accurate. According to Pope, some family members have such fond memories of the deceased that talking to them can provoke a lot of amusement. “With Edward ‘Bud Rip’ Ripoll, a saloonkeeper, I had to ask his daughter to stop because I was laughing so hard and the stories were so good,” he says. (Ripoll was a Budweiser fan, and his urn was inscribed with the dedication, “This Bud’s for you.”)

O’Donnell describes it as “uplifting” work. “You’re frequently writing about people who made a difference in the world, large or small. The end of life is always sorrowful, but with someone like Mary White, who lived to be 93 and started the La Leche League [to normalize public breastfeeding] in her living room that now has tens of millions of members across the globe, that’s inspiring.”

3. THEY SOMETIMES KNOW WHEN DEATH IS IMMINENT.

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Obituary writers have all kinds of information channels when it comes to mortality. Funeral homes may call to notify them; death notices in their paper or in another might provide a clue that a lesser-known person’s life is worth investigating further. Or they may simply be tipped off that the end is near. “For Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of Second City, one of my co-workers heard she was ill,” O’Donnell says. “I was able to prepare the obituary in advance, so when the time came, there was something comprehensive for readers available.”

Other times, that information can be a little off. When an editor was sure a prominent celebrity was going to die, Pope was told to prepare a lengthy obituary. “It was Paul Prudhomme, a chef who a line editor was convinced was going to launch to glory at any moment," Pope says. “He died 27 years later.”

4. THEY NEED TO BE READY FOR AN EMOTIONAL DELUGE.

Mike Bodine, who writes for the Sheet in Mammoth Lakes, California, says that an obituary writer will often be the first person a relative of the deceased has spoken to in depth about a loved one’s passing. “They can be really distraught,” he says. “It’s a matter of waiting it out while people just let their heart out. You can’t always use what they’re saying, but just listening and being patient can help open people up. It can feel a little bit like handling the body itself. You don’t want to push people.”

5. THEY CAN GET CAUGHT UP IN FAMILY SQUABBLES.

Phoning family members to collect memories of the recently deceased can be a sobering experience. Bodine says that children of the deceased can sometimes try to use an obituary to vent about personal vendettas. “When someone has passed and a lot of money and kids are involved, it can turn into animosity,” he says. “Someone will say a sibling is screwing them over on money. It’s just distortion you have to wade through.”

6. FAMILIES CAN GET UPSET AT THEM.

While an obituary writer’s job is to celebrate life, that doesn't mean they exclude the less-flattering components. When he was writing about a local politician, Pope discovered that he had once been to prison for misappropriating campaign funds. When he mentioned that in the obituary, the man’s daughter phoned in an uproar. “She asked why we were doing that. I told her it was because it was the truth.”

O’Donnell has had similar experiences. “Unfortunately, in Chicago, a lot of politicians have been investigated and convicted of corruption," she says. "It gets reported at the time it happened and readers would have known about it. It would be a disingenuous, fraud obituary if you didn’t include it.”

7. OTHER TIMES, PEOPLE LIE.

Family members may also omit certain facts. Because obituaries are perceived as the last word on many people, relatives and friends sometimes lean into the idea it should be a hagiography. “With [socialite] Mickey Easterling, no one was going to tell me her age,” Pope says. “I had to cite public records, which I’ve never had to do before.” On another occasion, the deceased’s loved ones refused to inform Pope that a suicide had occurred. He found out the truth months later, after listing the cause of death as “undetermined” in the obituary.

8. IT’S BETTER TO DIE ON CERTAIN DAYS THAN OTHERS.

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If you want a well-read obituary, try to die on a Friday. According to Pope, people who expire that day of the week are more likely to be targeted for inclusion in the Sunday edition of the paper, which affords more space and more time for the obituary writer to do a thorough job. “Dying on a Friday will get you more play on a Sunday,” he says. Holidays are also ill-advised times to make an exit, as reporters with dedicated beats (politics, movies, sports) aren’t usually around to assist in reporting notable deaths in those fields, and readership is down.

While you'd think the dying and their associates would have more pressing issues, sometimes they prioritize that recognition: In 1936, King George V's physician injected the monarch with enough morphine and cocaine to hasten his death in time for the next morning's papers, rather than the less-desirable evening editions.

9. PEOPLE CAN BE A LITTLE NERVOUS AROUND THEM.

When an obituary writer becomes well-known in the community, their very presence can portend bad news. If Pope needs to phone someone for any reason other than someone’s passing, he’ll sometimes begin the call by saying, “It’s Pope. No one died.”

That slight unease can work both ways. Once, Pope walked into a social gathering where three people whose obituaries he had already written and banked for future use were standing. “I just kind of stopped,” he says.

10. THEY GET INVITED TO FUNERALS.

Obituaries are often treasured by families who appreciate how a writer has summarized and memorialized the deceased. Sometimes, that gratitude can extend to invitations to come to the funeral. “That happens with some frequency,” O’Donnell says. “I went to the services for a rock concert roadie, who I didn’t know, but he worked a lot of rock concerts I went to the in 1970s. I met a lot of people there who went to the same concerts.”

Other times, they’ll be dispatched to cover the funeral for the purposes of writing a piece. “I went to Al Copeland’s funeral, the founder of Popeyes Chicken,” Pope says. “There were 24 white Bentleys, a horse-drawn hearse, and a band playing ‘My Way.’” The solemn music continued until the procession reached the grave, at which point they broke into “Love That Chicken From Popeyes.”

11. CERTAIN PHRASES CAN ANNOY THEM.

Work the death beat long enough and certain recurring phrases begin to wear on a writer’s patience. Pope dislikes using the term the late to precede a decedent’s name. “What’s the point?” he says. “Can we get over that?” He also dislikes funeral service because “it’s redundant,” and avoids using “natural causes” as the reason for a death whenever possible, because it's non-specific. "Always get the cause of death," he says.

12. SOME PEOPLE USE OBITS TO TAKE REVENGE.

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O’Donnell says she's struck by the more contemporary practice of “revenge” obituaries, which are penned by family members and tend to criticize their departed relative for allegations relating to abuse or other personal reasons that have prompted a vendetta. Pope recalls a time when a widow sent in a death notice to his paper claiming her late husband’s law firm had sent him to an early grave. “We spent a day with lawyers de-fanging it,” he says.

13. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN AWARDS SHOW CALLED “THE GRIMMYS.”

Acting as a kind of unofficial trade organization, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers invites devotees of the dead to exchange information on their work and attend functions like ObitCon. Each year, awards—known as the Grimmys—are awarded for best long- and short-form obituaries, as well as for lifetime achievement. The trophy resembles a tombstone. “I was nominated last year,” Pope says.

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