Curiosity is part of my everyday routine. I like to catch people off guard by asking pointed questions. It might fall under my idea of small talk since my questions are usually off topic, and when I am trying to be sociable and engaging, my mind wanders off and I might ask “what superstitions did you grow up with?”. It is quite amazing to find that people are very quick to respond and describe a belief that they follow based in nothing but dogma.
In our home, growing up, dropping various pieces of silverware, meant that we could expect a visitor. A fork was a woman, a knife was a man, and a spoon a child. My mother would pronounce “Company’s coming!” and we would look expectedly at the door for the bell to ring and confirm what we had been told. We did not question it but we also probably did not test it on an empirical basis. We just acknowledged that it was so. This went along with putting shoes on the table meant an arguement, and the corollary which proclaimed that opening an umbrella in the house would bring bad luck, never mind poking someone’s eye out. That of course was the parental rule of sharp objects that I am sure most people grew up with. So, we were careful with shoes and umbrellas. Actually I am not sure why anyone would put shoes on the table in the first place, but I was not going to tempt fate. I observed the spilling of salt and then throwing salt over one’s shoulder at a friend’s house and it was done with such fluidity, I was hesitant to ask, until curiosity forged ahead and I was told that spilling salt was bad luck and throwing the salt would reverse it. I just filed that in my people are strange folder in my mind. Yet, once again, I considered that, on the off chance I did happen to spill salt, I had a back up plan. Just in case, I put the salt far away from where I would sit, when I would visit. We didn’t do it at my house but that was more about the thought that putting salt on food after it was cooked meant you were insulting the cook. We would talk about something good happening retrospectively so that the evil eye wouldn’t come and undo the good. If by accident, you said something positive, you would then make a spitting sound three times, which would sound like “toi, toi, toi” and that would banish the possibility. I found it absolutely fascinating listening to my mother and her sisters talking about something normal (?) in conversations but as soon as one of them said a statement that could be construed as too good, one of them would have to make that awful spitting sound to eradicate the bad luck, and then they would just continue on where they had left off. It was almost like a dance move. I was mesmerized. It was magic and I was watching it in vivo and could not explain it.
My FHB had this habit in the past of sneezing and then pulling his ear right afterwards. I watched the first few times, and then I had to ask what I was seeing. He responded in a rather matter of fact tone that his mother had done this and it was a thing. He thought he remembered it as something to do with bad luck and superstition, but didn’t really think about it, and it was as automatic as my saying “Gesundheit” when he sneezed. So imagine 1) large and loud sneeze of the seismic type 2) pulls ear 3) I say “Gesundheit” 4) cha cha cha. I was now a part of this ridiculous ritual. Jump right in, the water’s fine.
We all try and control what we can. So much is way beyond our pay grade, we just have to figure out other ways to not allow the world to spin off its access into disaster. Thus, we follow the rituals we have witnessed and now perpetuate. Why, because we do. Why don’t we stop? Well, just in case something happens and we don’t do, we don’t want to be responsible. We take comfort in small ways. It makes the bigger decisions and questions less frightening. In our house, salt is in the spice cabinet, umbrellas are in the car and we just temper the possibility of things going badly, when everything seems to be going well, by quickly changing the subject. There is no spitting. One has to draw the line somewhere.
Have a good weekend. Please say thank you and you’re welcome. Please don’t say “no problem” because then it is one. Just one of those pesky rules.