You may have grown up fearing Friday the 13th, steering clear of ladders, or throwing salt over your shoulder, but people in many other countries would probably think you’re pretty crazy. Strange superstitions differ worldwide, and I’ve rounded up seven of my favorites.
Toasting with Water
In Greece, it’s bad luck to toast with water. Greeks follow ancient mythology and toast to the dead with water (to represent the departed’s journey via the River Lethe to the Underworld), so you’d never clink your aqua glasses with the living to celebrate. But hey—one more reason to opt for a glass or wine or beer instead.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll stay in room number 404 in a Chinese hotel—that’s because the number four is considered to be very unlucky (it sounds similar to the word “death”). Many buildings skip the fourth floor entirely, although there may technically be a fourth floor that’s been relabeled as the fifth. You may even notice this superstition in Las Vegas, where many hotels and casinos adopt this superstition out of deference to their Chinese guests.
Eating Grapes at Midnight
In Spain and many parts of Latin America, you’re more likely to eat grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve than enjoy a bubbly drink made from them. Legend has it that if you can eat 12 grapes within the first 12 seconds of midnight, you’ll have 12 lucky months in the new year. Of course, if you choke on number 12, you may disprove this superstition!
Dare Not Speak His Name
Argentina‘s President Menem, who held office from 1989-1999, was such a spectacularly bad leader that even mentioning his name is considered bad luck in the country. Instead, Argentinians will refer to him by a similar name (such as “Mene- or Mendez”) to avoid terrible misfortune.
Want to live dangerously in Korea? Sleep with the fan on. A popular belief is that sleeping with a fan on can lead to death, especially in children or the elderly. The superstition is so strong that Chun Rim, a professor at the Department of Nuclear and Quantum Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, ran an experiment with his sleeping daughter and a fan, checking her vitals throughout the night while she slept under a fan. (She survived.)
If you’re 39 in Afghanistan, you might want to tell people that you’re “one year ’til 40.” The number 39 is seriously taboo in the country. No one knows exactly why the number has such a bad connotation, but it has become shorthand for the prostitution business. People avoid the number at all costs, even changing their license plates to avoid the cursed numerals.
Saluting a Magpie
It’s not that it’s rude, per se, to ignore a lone magpie in Ireland. It’s more that if you don’t, you’re dooming yourself to bad luck. The myth goes that seeing a single magpie is a bad omen, but you can salute the bird to show it some respect and hope it will refrain from cursing you. Don’t worry if you see two magpies though—that’s totally good luck.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Most Haunted Cities in America
- 13 Unexpectedly Haunted Places Around the World
- 10 Strangest Places to Stop on a U.S. Road Trip
Follow Caroline Morse’s travels on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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