Superstitions – beliefs with no basis on reason, knowledge, or logic – are all over the world. Superstitious people act on these beliefs, and learning about different superstitions around the world is a fun, funny, fascinating part of travel and life as an expat.
In this first collaborative post about world superstitions, four fabulous expat/travel writers join me in sharing short stories about how they learned about these superstitions through their own experiences.
Enjoy these stories from South Korea, Russia, Hong Kong, and Uganda! 😀
1) Fan Death in Korea
A couple years ago, on the first night of that summer, I turned on the fan in my room cursing the dorms for not having air conditioning as I crawled into bed.
My Korean boyfriend at the time walked into the room and turned off the fan before getting into bed. Horrified and sweaty, I asked indignantly, “What are you doing? It’s so hot!”
Unfazed, my boyfriend of 6 months turned and said, surprised, “Don’t you know? It’s not safe!”
“What do you mean it’s not safe?”
“If you leave the fan on while you’re sleeping, you’ll die.”
This is when I learned of the Korean fan death superstition: if you have the fan on while sleeping, you’ll die. Even though my ex couldn’t explain to me scientifically why this would lead to death defying logic and reason, he still absolutely refused to turn the fan on.
The fan death superstition runs deep for Koreans, and I was hot for the rest of that summer.
by Shaurya from Asian Tours and Holidays
My favourite teacher who used to teach us Hindi was also fluent in Russian. This helped her get a job in Russia as an Indian foreign officer. Even after she moved to Russia, I kept in touch with her. By the time I finished school, I had enough money to go to Russia with my girlfriend, backpack across the country, and meet my teacher.
My girlfriend Neha suggested we take a rose bouquet with us. Although the flower shop owner made the bouquet out an odd number of flowers, I took out one rose and gave it to my girlfriend completely unaware that the bouquet should have an odd number of flowers.
When I gifted the bouquet to my teacher at her house, she accepted it graciously.
However, while we were having dinner, she told me gently that in Russia, bouquets with an even number of flowers are used just for funerals and jokingly said that she had no plans to die anytime soon. We all had a good laugh and I learned a valuable lesson: know the local culture and traditions of a place before you go there!
I did some digging and it seems that giving an odd number of flowers at funerals and an even number at other events brings bad luck to the host!
A quick note from me, Becky:
One of my students told me that if she ever received an even number of flowers, she’d remove one from the bunch because it’s bad luck! Since then, I’ve counted all the flowers in people’s bouquets in public, and they’re always odd numbers.
On Ching Ming or Grave Sweeping Day, locals will flock to the tombs of their ancestors to offer them food, tea, wine, incense, and joss paper.
Joss paper is usually red or gold and symbolizes money. You burn the joss paper and it is said that once the paper has turned to ash your ancestors have received your gift and can use it in the afterlife. This has evolved to keep up with the times and now you can send up paper versions of your relative’s favourite things. Maybe that’s a TV or the latest iPhone. Or perhaps designer shoes and bags are more to their taste?
Gucci even took offense at the thought of burning paper offerings of their bags and shoes and threatened legal action on several Hong Kong shops.
I’m a Canadian who has lived and worked full-time in Uganda for over 12 years. When I first arrived, I was 31 years old.
Family, being the most important aspect of life in Uganda, is always a topic of conversation.
As I was learning about my new community and meeting new people every day, I was repeatedly asked about my marital status (single) and how many kids I had (zero).
Everyone could clearly see I was a mature, accomplished woman. Everyone believed I could give a child a wonderful life. How could I possibly remain without either a man or child? The answer: witchcraft.
Someone had put a spell on me. While everyone felt just terrible about this, there was no shortage of information about where to go and how to reverse the spell. This is just what happens in Uganda.
When I did get pregnant, 8 years later, people rejoiced in the streets. However, I did have a few take me quietly aside to ask if my growing stomach was a disease, rather than a baby. My son is now 4 years old and is happily learning about all the ghosts that inhabit Uganda’s dark, dark nights.
Have you heard of any of these superstitions?
*If you’re an expat/travel blogger with a story to tell about how you learned about a different country’s superstition, give me a shout! 😀