Russian traditions and superstitions

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Many of the things on this list may, or may not, be regarded as superstitions by Russians, or by outsiders. Most of them apply to the other countries that made up The Soviet Union as well. Many of them are now inseparable parts of every day life or simply common social etiquette, though they often have their origins in superstition. This list is by no means complete, but it covers a great deal of them. The awareness of them, and the weight they carry, depends on various factors including region and age. Some are extremely common and practiced by the vast majority of the population. Some are extremely obscure. However, it is all relative and opinions vary greatly on the subject.


Contents

[edit] Russian folk medicine

  • It is widely believed in Russia that sitting on cold surfaces, such as rocks or even the ground, is not simply taboo for a woman, but it is extremely hazardous to her health and inhibits her ability to bear children (by somehow exposing her ovaries to the cold). It is a practice that is rigorously upheld, especially in cold weather and with young children, who will often unknowingly sit on the ground, and who will frequently be lifted up by a supervising adult.
  • Keeping all parts of one's body as dry and warm as possible in cold weather and rain is generally practiced as prophylaxis for the common cold in Russia, as it is in many parts of the world. There are a variety of home remedies used to treat the common cold, including hot tea. Cold beverages are avoided while one is sick. This is not unique to Russia; however, many Russians tend to be more adamant about it than most Westerners.
  • Traditional self-medication is prevalent in Russia. Banki (банки) are little glass jars that are usually applied to the back. A match is lit inside in order to burn up the oxygen and create suction. This technique is known as fire cupping in traditional Chinese medicine. Gorchichniki (горчичники) are mustard plasters that are applied onto the back or the chest. Mustard plasters have been and still are used by Westerners, as well. <ref> Template:Cite journal </ref> [1] Doctors often prescribe banki and/or gorchichniki instead of chemical medications or antibiotics when a patient has flu and cold like symptoms.

These beliefs and practices may be considered as superstitious by some Westerners, who think that viral and bacterical causes of colds and flu make it irrational to associate body temperature with the probability of getting sick and hot remedies with better recovery. However, some existing research shows that mild hypothermia inhibits the immune response, in which case Russian traditional beliefs and remedies may be not be completely baseless. <ref> Template:Cite journal </ref> [2]

[edit] Russian Etiquette

  • Men in Russia will always shake hands (or at least offer a wrist if a hand is dirty, wet or otherwise unavailable) when they greet for the first time during the day. However, it is taboo to shake hands with your gloves on. One glove must be removed, no matter how cold it may be. Russia is one of the many countries where this handshake tradition is rigorously upheld.
  • Shaking hands and giving things across the threshold is taboo. Usually a guest will come inside before shaking a host's hand when arriving and shake it before leaving the threshold when leaving. Sometimes people will even avoid saying "hello" and "goodbye" across the threshold.
  • It is traditional in Russia for men to give flowers to women on nearly every occasion, but only an odd number can be given. Giving an even number of flowers is taboo, because even numbers are brought to funerals.
  • You should never go to someone else's house empty handed. Alcoholic beverages and/or dessert is a common gift to bring when invited to someone's home.
  • It is traditional to always propose some kind of toast when drinking. Refusing to drink vodka on certain occasions or to a certain toast (honor) may sometimes be considered rude. For instance refusing to drink vodka at a funeral banquet is considered unacceptable. However you never toast in honor of those who have passed away or on Easter (for the same reason). Your glass cannot touch the table from the time a toast is proposed to the time you drink. Your glass should remain on the table when it is being refilled.
  • Many Russians consider it bad form not to finish a bottle of vodka once it has been opened, no matter how few people there are left to finish it.
  • When pouring wine, you should never pour back handed.
  • It is impolite to point with your finger. But if you must point, it's better to use your entire hand instead of your finger.
  • It is impolite to put your feet up on furniture with your shoes on. Sometimes, simply showing the soles of your shoes is considered rude.
  • Whistling indoors is taboo. Russians sometimes say superstitiously that you will "whistle away your money". The origins of this are in superstition, as it used to be considered a sin: it was believed that when you whistled you were entertaining the devil. In general it is considered rude.
  • Traditional Russian cheek kissing is done using three kisses, but it is not widely upheld all the time.
  • When someone sneezes you tell them "Bud'te zdorovy" (Rus: Будьте здоровы), which literally means "Be Healthy" (in the formal form of address). It used to be believed that saying this would help the sneezer keep from getting sick. Russian speakers will say it just as freely as an English speaker will say, "Bless you", but the superstitious origins of the phrase have been widely lost in both languages.

[edit] Customs that are more often regarded as superstition

  • Before leaving for a long journey the traveler(s), and all those who are seeing them off, must sit for a moment in silence before leaving the house. It is often conveniently written off as a time to sit and think of anything one may have forgotten.
  • After someone has left the house on a journey, their room and/or their things should not be cleaned up until they have arrived.
  • Knocking on wood is practiced just as much, and in most cases much more, in Russia as it is everywhere else. However Russians tend to add a symbolic three spits over one's left shoulder (or simply with the head turned to the left), and Russians will often knock three times as well. Traditionally one was spitting on the devil (who is always on the left).
  • Breaking a mirror isn't considered bad luck in Russia, but looking at one's reflection in a broken mirror is. And the effect is more severe than 7 years of bad luck.
  • On examination day, you shouldn't make your bed, wear anything new or cut your fingernails. It's good luck.
  • It is bad luck to use physical hand gestures to demonstate something negative using oneself or someone else as the object. For example, when describing a scar you saw on someone's face you should not gesture on your own face or someone elses. If you must, you can demontrate in mid-air. If one does it without realizing, it can be countered by making a hand motion towards the body part used and then an abrupt motion away (as if to pick up the bad energy and throw it away).
  • If one person accidentally steps on another person's foot, it is common for the person who was stepped on to lightly step on the foot of the person who stepped first. It is said that they thus avoid a future conflict.
  • Birthday parties should be celebrated on or after one's birthday, not before. So when one's birthday falls during the week, it's best to celebrate the following weekend.
  • Talking about future success, especially boasting about it, is considered bad luck. It’s better to be silent until the success has been achieved or to even sound pessimistic.
  • Returning home for forgotten things is a bad omen. It is better to leave it behind, but if returning is necessary, one should look in the mirror before leaving the house again. Otherwise the journey will be bad.
  • Many Russians consider giving sharp objects, like knives or scissors, as gifts to be taboo.
  • Birds that land on a windowsill should be chased away. If they tap on the window, or fly into it (open or closed) it is condsidered a very bad omen (often of death).
  • Things bought for a new born baby (such as clothes, toys, furniture, etc.) should only be purchased after the baby is born. This is usually done in a big hurry.
  • It is often considered taboo to step over people, or parts of their body, who are on the ground. It is often said that it will prevent the person from growing (if they are not fully grown already). It is better to politely ask the person to move or to find a way around them. If one accidentally steps over a person (or people), it is sometimes standard to step backwards over them.
  • Unmarried people shouldn't sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise they won’t marry. This mostly applies to girls, and often only young girls. Sometimes it is said that you will not marry for 7 years, making it alright for young children to sit there.
  • When giving an animal as a gift (a cat, dog, bird, etc), the receiver should give the giver a symbolic sum of money (for example: one Russian ruble).
  • A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is bad luck.
  • A woman with empty water buckets coming towards you is considered a bad omen.
  • A group of two or more people should not walk on either side of a tree. They should all keep to one side or the other.
  • Bread should only be cut with a knife, not with your hands. Otherwise, it is said, that your life will be broken. The opposite is held true by some people.
  • Two or more people should never use one towel at the same time to dry their hands or bodies, or it is said to bring conflict.
  • A stranger should not look at a new born baby before it is a certain age (between two months and one year). If one looks at the baby it is considered bad luck to compliment it. Instead, one could say, "Oh, what an ugly child!" instead.
  • It's good luck to trip on your left foot.
  • One should never hand a knife directly to another person or it is said that the two will get in a fight. Instead a person should always place the knife down on a surface, and only then can the other person pick it up.

[edit] "Cause and effect" Russian superstitions

  • If your ears or cheeks are hot, someone is thinking or talking about you (usually speaking ill).
  • If your nose itches, you'll be drinking soon. For children they might say, "You'll get hit in the nose."
  • If your right eye itches, you're going to be happy soon. If your left eye itches, you'll be sad.
  • If your lips itch, you'll be kissing someone soon.
  • If your right hand itches, you're going to get money soon. It sometimes means you're going to greet someone. If your left hand itches, you're going to give someone money.
  • If you have the hiccups, someone is either just talking about you or talking bad about you.
  • If an eyelash falls out you'll receive a gift. If someone finds an eyelash on someone he or she will sometimes let the person blow it away and make a wish.
  • If a fork or spoon falls on the ground, expect a female guest. If a knife falls, expect a male guest.
  • If you eat from a knife, you'll be "mad like a dog".
  • If someone is not recognized when seen or heard, he or she will be rich. So if someone calls you on the phone and you don't recognize them you can cheer them up by telling them they'll be rich.
  • If a cat is washing its face, expect guests soon.
  • If a black cat crosses your path, it's bad luck (as it is in most places). People will often avoid crossing the place where it crossed, or will at least wait for someone else to cross it first.
  • If a hare crosses your path, it's bad luck. This is much less common than the cat superstition, which is understandable given the lack of hares in urban conditions.
  • If you spill salt, it's bad luck and is said to bring conflict, but no one will throw salt over their left shoulder.
  • If you step on a crack, it's bad luck. This one isn't very common, and Russians who do avoid cracks don't do it in an effort to save their mothers' backs.
  • If it's raining when you leave a place, it means you'll return, and it is considered a generally good omen.
  • If it rains on someone's wedding, it means they'll be wealthy.
  • If someone sneezes, it means he or she is telling the truth.
  • If one or more birds defecate on you, it's good luck.
  • If you find a bay leaf in your soup (commonly Borscht) while eating, it means you'll get mail from someone.
  • If you wear clothes (such as an undershirt) inside out, you will get beaten.
  • If you wear a shirt backwards, you will become acquainted with someone new.

Interestingly, Russia lacks some of the superstitions Westernerns find commonplace. Most Russians are not particularly concerned with the number 13 (number), opening umbrellas indoors or walking under ladders.

[edit] Notes and References

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Russian traditions and superstitions

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