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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This old wives’ tale says that combining them will cause certain death (or sometimes just an upset stomach).

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10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
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Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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