Most superstitions had their beginnings a long time ago and are based on ignorance or misunderstandings of science. As far as I can tell, American and European superstitions run along the same lines with minute differences. For example, in America you “knock on wood” to keep bad things from happening. In Europe you “touch wood” to do the same thing.
Oftentimes we do things not even realizing we are keeping a superstition alive. One such example is when someone sneezes.
God bless you.
Why in the world would you want God to bless someone after they sneeze? It was a popular belief that sneezing let the soul escape through one’s breath. Oftentimes the German word “Gesundheit” was and is still said. Probably because the people of that time also noticed that sneezers often took ill. Wishing someone health (Gesundheit) or asking God to bless them was thought to protect that person.
It is now known that sneezing spreads germs and wishing a sneezer well has no effect on them. Still, even today, not saying anything after a sneeze is considered somewhat impolite! Superstitions aside, I suppose the correct response to a sneeze would be “Cover your mouth when you sneeze!”
Bad Luck in Threes
Ever had a run of bad luck? Haven’t we all? Well, you know they say bad luck comes in threes. Why three? Who knows, ask three people and get three different answers! I think this kind of superstition has to do with seeing what you want to see, sort of like horoscopes. You expect bad things to happen, then you only see the bad.
Once, when travelling during the Christmas holiday in the States, Ben and his friend had a long streak of bad luck. So many in fact, that you could probably put them into groups of threes! Their travel plan was to pick me up from my school in Pennsylvania and drive to my parent’s home near Chicago. Maybe see Niagara Falls, then go west to California. They would then return home by way of New Orleans.
The first bit of bad luck happened before picking me up. They drove to a small town where Ben had lived to look at all the gaudy house and garden Christmas lights. This was back in the days when Switzerland did very little Christmas lighting, so this was a novelty. While looking at the lights they didn’t notice that they had driven into a huge mud hole until it was too late. They were stuck. Ben’s friend got out to help push the car out. It turned out to be a classic case of comedy slapstick. Ben’s friend ended up covered from head to toe in mud.
After a shower and change of clothes they decided to do something American: go roller skating at a skating rink. Except for the annoying person saying “Merry Christmas” over and over again over the loud speakers they had fun. At least until Ben’s friend fell, ripping his new pants.
They arrived to pick me up without any further bad luck. We loaded the compact rental car with all the things I wanted to take home from school and were on our way. Somewhere in Indiana a snow storm (well, it was December) caught us. There were huge snow drifts on the highway. On both sides of the road 18 wheelers were lying on their sides or belly-up like stranded turtles. No problem for us though, a Swiss was driving our car. If anyone knows how to drive in snow, it’s Swiss!
Unfortunately, not even the best driver could have prevented a flat tire. Okay, where’s that spare tire? Right under all that luggage from school. After taking out all the extra things from the trunk we found what we were looking for. There they were: the jack, lug wrench and spare tire. Off with the flat and on with the spare.
Wait. It doesn’t fit.
What do you mean, it doesn’t fit?
The number of lug nuts on the tire was different than the ones on the car!
So there we were, on a cold night, out in a snow storm, in the middle of nowhere. Our luggage was piled in the snow to get to a spare tire that didn’t fit. Someone took us to the nearest truck stop (pre cell phone era) and we called the 24 hour car-rental service. They said a serviceman would be out to give us a replacement car. We went from a compact car to a full size luxury. Who cares about the 5 hour delay and cold fingers? We were on our way again, our luck had changed and our streak was broken.
The Next Streak…
Okay, our luck hadn’t really changed, our next bad luck streak started shortly afterwards. We got to my parent’s home and celebrated Christmas. A couple of days later we went to the Windy City to see the ice sculptures. On the way home we were in a car accident. No one was hurt but our car was totaled. The rental place and insurance came through again and a new car was delivered.
I know, I know, this sounds like the vacation from hell, but the fun wasn’t over yet. Not people to let their heads hang, Ben and his friend decided to take the excursion to Niagara Falls as planned. It was sure to be lovely in the winter when the mist freezes on the railings. It took them longer than expected to get there. Sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning they were hungry, tired and everything seemed to be closed. Finally they found a place that looked open, found a parking space and got out of the car.
Then out of nowhere, this mean, growling, teeth fletching German Shepherd attacked Ben’s friend from behind. Apart from the dog’s teeth marks in his leg, another pair of his pants were ripped and ruined. Of course he had only brought one pair on this mini-trip, everything else was at my parent’s. They went to a hospital immediately to get shots and stitches. The next morning they called the police and went back to the restaurant. To get to where they were the night before they had to pass through a gate with a large, mean picture of a dog. Understandable in any language. How in the world could they have missed that? But they did. There was no way the owner was going to pay for any damages. At some point they got something to eat and some rest. I believe as a consolation prize they even saw Niagara Falls.
Getting to California
Back at my parent’s it was time to board a plane in snowy, cold Chicago and go to sunny California. They boarded their 9am plane at O’Hare and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally they were told that another flight that was cancelled would be boarding their plane. They went from a half-filled plane to an overfilled plane. Standing room only; a minor inconvenience. The rest of the flight was uneventful.
When it Rains, it Pours
Two weeks in sunny California. You’ve heard the song, “It never rains in California…” Well, that’s true unless Ben and his friend are there, then it rains for two weeks almost non-stop. Not really a bad thing after 5 years of drought. When they left the radio stations were reporting that all the water reserves were filled again. They had enough water for another 5 years if needed.
Smile, Say Cheese
At one point Ben’s friend wanted to take a picture of the beach from the Pacific ocean. He rolled up his pants legs to his knees and waded to his ankles into the water. He shot a couple of pictures then the roll of film was finished. Then he stooped down to put in another roll. From the shore, where he was standing, Ben saw a huge wave coming up behind him. Too far away to be heard, he jumped up and down and waved his arms to get his friend’s attention. At the last moment his friend saw Ben acting crazy and stood up to see what he wanted. At that moment the wave reached him and he was standing up to his chest in water. Soaking wet, but his camera was still dry.
The French Quarter
After California they were off to New Orleans. Unbelievable, but they got there without any bad luck. They were, however, so tired that they went straight to their hotel to catch some shut-eye. They wanted to be fresh to immerse themselves into the legendary night life and music of the French Quarter. Their alarm clocks woke them up and they were off. When they got there everything was closed! No music, no crowds, nothing at all. It turns out they had forgotten about the time difference from California to Louisiana. Their clocks were set to the wrong time zone.
After three weeks of practically everything going wrong that could, their trip was finally over. The only thing missing in their bad luck streak would be the airline losing their luggage… What do you think?
Now, if you were the superstitious type, you would think after every third piece of bad luck the streak was over. After all, bad luck comes in threes. I guess you would have to believe that because at some point you are bound to be right.