petite anglaise

January 12, 2005

religion of feeble minds

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:52 am

I shan’t be crossing a stream carrying a cat any time soon. Or treading on any cats’ tails. This is because I don’t own a cat. Not out of a healthy respect for French superstition, which dictates that these actions would bring me bad luck, or worse still, in the case of the latter, prevent me from finding a husband this year.

I came across the aforementioned French superstitions on a catblog (and yes, I admit it, I was surfing on blog explosion at the time. Where else would one find such a thing?) These expressions excepted, it occured to me that most of what I had assumed to be English superstitions are actually shared by the French and have direct translations. The French are as prone to finger crossing (croiser les doigts) and wood touching (toucher du bois) as the English. They avoid walking under ladders, breaking mirrors and opening umbrellas indoors. Horseshoes and four leaf clovers are thought to be lucky. As are rabbits’ feet. So far so good.

The number 13 is considered unlucky in many cultures. There is even a very long word meaning ‘fear of the number thirteen’: triskaidekaphobia. More specifically though, it is deemed bad luck in France to have only thirteen people à table when sitting down to dinner. Apparently the thing to do in this situation to keep bad luck at bay is to set a place for a fictitious fourteenth person.

Friday 13th is also considered unlucky, but I think this date is only seen to be ‘unlucky for some’, not least because the French national lottery (Loto) always holds an exceptional super-cagnotte Friday 13 draw.

Apparently, in French folklore, breaking a white glass brings good luck (for as long as a year). Sadly we don’t own any white glasses, only transparent ones. I think it might be worthwhile checking whether I can source some white wine glasses in the sales this week, as a little extra luck couldn’t go amiss. And, judging by the number of glasses Mr Frog has managed to break this past year while washing up, we could be onto a winner.

Vying for the number one spot in the most bizarre superstitions I have come across today are the following:

Treading in a crotte with your left foot is considered to be lucky. Pardon? I’m sorry, but I fail to see how by any stretch of the imagination treading in dog excrement can be A Good Thing. I cross-examined to Mr Frog about this belief, and he said it didn’t matter which foot you did the treading with, it was lucky to tread in dog poop no matter what. Well, I suppose us Parisiens can count ourselves lucky as we must have a very high luck quotient.

It is allegedly bad luck to sneeze while lacing your shoes. Hay fever sufferers beware! It may be advisable to invest in a pair of slip-on shoes, or alternatively, footwear with a handy velcro fastener.

That is if you subscribe to any of this charming nonsense.

One superstition which I do plan to take seriously from now on (I suffer from very selective scepticism) is the French notion that it is dangerous to ‘passer le balai une fois le soleil couché’. Now that is good advice. The sun sets at approximately 5.30pm at this time of year. So I shan’t be allowed to reach for a broom on weekdays. And, as I feel it is appropriate to apply a modern interpretation to such old-fashioned expressions, that goes for the hoover to.


  1. It was on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, that France’s King Philip IV had the Knights Templar rounded up for torture and execution. The Knights Templar were an order of warriors within the Roman Catholic Church who banded together to protect Christian travellers visiting Jerusalem in the centuries after the Crusades. The Knights eventually became a rich, powerful ‹ and allegedly corrupt order within the church and were executed for heresy.

    Could this be one of the reasons why?

    Comment by adrian — January 12, 2005 @ 10:00 am

  2. Well, I’m not at all superstitious, but I was once in the way when a pigeon overhead decided to empty its bowels. I was wearing a lovely pale green silk top from Nicole Farhi so I was really quite upset about this. Somebody told me that, actually, it is really good luck to have this happen to you. I didn’t get the stain out of the top and never wore it again. But there was a happy ending because during that same week, I passed a difficult banking exam, got a new job and didn’t need any work doing at my dental check-up. I don’t know whether or not this is a widely accepted superstition or if whoever told me was just being kind, but I decided to go with it in view of my good fortune. It seemed more believable in the case of the exam anyway.

    Also, my mother once told me that good luck will come your way if someone other than you picks up your glove if you drop it. I’ve never tested this out – the idea of behaving like a helpless victorian female doesn’t appeal.

    Comment by rachel — January 12, 2005 @ 10:40 am

  3. I think Friday 13th is considered unlucky because the Last supper is supposed to have taken place on a Friday and that there were 13 guests.

    Comment by Jenny — January 12, 2005 @ 10:49 am

  4. Hello

    Just a comment about breaking white glass ;) . The expression ” casser du verre blanc” means transparent glass..You’re going to be lucky, then :lol:

    And concerning the dog poop, I always heard it’s lucky only for the left foot. Anyway, I don’t look for that kind of luck, no thanks ;)

    A few spanish superstitions for you :

    – the 13th is considered lucky, there.
    – carrying in your pocket a small piece of white glass brings you luck
    – leaving the sheets of the bed opened ( ne pas avoir fait son lit) on the 1st November brings you very bad luck. The spirits of the dead are supposed to be free, and will hide in your bed.
    – Changing the name of a boat or a horse will bring you bad luck…

    Comment by Miss Cyalume — January 12, 2005 @ 10:58 am

  5. There’s a superstition shared by some – but not all – off my French drinking associates that when you “trinque” or clink glasses you must a) never cross arms with others trinquing at the same time, b) only touch the bases of the glasses and c) – this is the one that I find disproportionately irritating – look the other person in the eye. Otherwise, unspecified bad things will befall you. Like maybe you’ll break a glass and spill your drink whilst looking elsewhere?

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — January 12, 2005 @ 10:59 am

  6. The Last Supper took place on a Friday, but it’s not proved if it was the 13th or not. That’s why I added the Templar thingy.

    Comment by adrian — January 12, 2005 @ 11:11 am

  7. I don’t know if it’s specific to my family, but it’s considered very bad luck to use someone else’s crutches or wheelchair; you’re bound to have an accident and be inflicted with the same disability. Oh, and never open an umbrella indoors. Very very bad.

    Comment by céline — January 12, 2005 @ 11:27 am

  8. Jim – I’d forgotten about the looking in the eyes thing. I’ve been told it will ruin my sex life (?) if I don’t look people in the eyes when I say tchin. I do it, but only because I think it’s more polite that way…

    Comment by petite — January 12, 2005 @ 11:27 am

  9. I was told on this New Year’s Eve that women should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve: that’s suppose to bring them a husband.
    or did people say that just to get a chance to have a peek at women’s underwear that night ? :roll:

    Comment by quietseb — January 12, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  10. Petite, circumstantial evidence (many years of “Tchin”-ing without eye contact) in my case could prove the ruined sex life theory… I shall henceforth be assiduously catching people’s eye & clinking glasses at every opportunity. Although my instincts tell me that this may not lead to an instant and major reversal in fortune…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — January 12, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  11. I have a friend that sneezed while bending over to pick up something and he hurt his back really bad. Could have happened to a Frenchman also!!

    Comment by Amy — January 12, 2005 @ 2:29 pm

  12. Friday the 13th did, indeed, get its ominous reputation for being the day when the Templars were rounded up and eventually executed.

    In fact, their leader (Jacques de Mollay, I believe) was executed on the Ile de la Cite, at the spot that’s presently the bottom of the staircase leading down to the park on tip of the island.

    Comment by Lawrence — January 12, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

  13. I believe it was Mark Twain who said that superstitions, no matter how vigorously denied, remain with us till the day we die, or something to that effect, anyway.

    The matter of good fortune, a left foot and ‘crotte’ is one eludes me entirely.

    Perhaps that superstition was concoted by by shoe shine boys?

    Comment by sigmund, carl and alfred — January 12, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

  14. Can anyone explain ‘see a pin pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck’ ? Surely a fiver would be better and it would still rhyme

    Comment by Vernon — January 12, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

  15. Yes! My French friends tell me it is seven years of bad sex for not looking in the eye during “tchin, tchin.” Also, have you heard the superstition about knives as gifts? Should someone give you a knive (as a wedding gift, for example) you must pay them a euro or so, thereby making it a transaction, not a gift :)

    Comment by Coquette — January 12, 2005 @ 4:31 pm

  16. The following things will bring bad luck:
    Leaving shoes on the table.
    Making a toast with water.
    Lighting a cigarette from a candle.
    Lighting three cigarettes from the same match.
    For actors:
    Mentioning a certain Shakespeare play set in Scotland.
    Whistling in the theater.
    Wishing somebody Good Luck before a play. (One is supposed to say Break a Leg! Which I did, dutifully, and then realised with horror that he had just had one of his legs amputated :shock:)

    Comment by Elin — January 12, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

  17. ah yes, Elin, there are some theatre related French ones too.

    Good luck is ‘merde’ and the actor is not supposed to say thank you. And there is something about not giving yellow flowers I think too…

    Comment by petite — January 12, 2005 @ 6:16 pm

  18. I have severe nasal allergies and sneeze at least twice every 15 minutes. Therefore, I will no longer buy lace shoes and will purchase only those shoes that contain velcro or zippers or no clasp at all. So thanks for that information. May I have nothing but luck . . .

    Comment by pismire — January 12, 2005 @ 7:43 pm

  19. I believe “Three on a match” goes back to WW I. It is said that lighting 3 cigarettes on a match gave the snipers enough time to find the target and dispatch the third person. True? Who knows?

    As far as stepping in dog crap being good luck, it was probably started by a dog owner to justify not cleaning up after their animal.

    Comment by Rance — January 12, 2005 @ 8:13 pm

  20. I translate the words on here using several different online resources.

    The word crotte translated as muddy. That made me think of walking in Philadelphia with my grandfather and him warning me not to step in the dog dirt.

    One other interesting thing is that my wife’s maiden name is Crotty. I always knew that some of them were muddy!

    Comment by Bob — January 12, 2005 @ 8:37 pm

  21. Superstitions really get on my nerves, especially now I’ve got kids, so can’t muck about taking risks with numbers/avoiding dog poop/ladder etc etc etc.

    A London pigeon once shat in my eye while I was on my way to meeting…as I got into the office, scraping the nasty poop out of my eyebrow some bloody woman told me I was REALLY lucky. I looked at her sternly and only just avoided telling her to eff off.

    Comment by vitriolica — January 12, 2005 @ 8:48 pm

  22. In West Africa, people often carry the crotte-bonheur link over to any malheur: baby pukes on your suit? Accidently splash on your shoes in the toilettes turques? Ah ca porte bonheur, ma cherie!

    Here in Italy, there is a great combo superstition: hearing a cat sneeze brings good luck! Nuns are also considered ill-starred. Something of a problem here in Rome …

    Comment by Ria — January 12, 2005 @ 9:36 pm

  23. I lived in a block of 16 1930s flats in Southampton. There was no number 13 in the block. It went 12, 12A, 14, 15 etc…

    I always found it quite quaint.

    Comment by witho — January 12, 2005 @ 10:46 pm

  24. The looking in the eyes thinggy is supposed to be 7 years of bad sex if you don’t do it. I’ve told that to my kiwi friends and one replied to me:”well, I’d rather have 7 years of bad sex than no sex at all’ :grin:

    Comment by Maurine — January 13, 2005 @ 1:35 am

  25. Anything green on stage is supposed to be bad luck for a theatre play, especially for the last rehearsal.

    And I’ve heard about green shoes bringing bad luck, anybody heard this one and knows where it comes from (the interesting part of supertitions I guess)?

    Comment by Maurine — January 13, 2005 @ 1:37 am

  26. Well, I know I’m a bit late for Michele’s party over here. Sorry. She sent me on a day when I was being pulled in numerous directions, none of which brought me closer to a computer. And so, here I am. And, lucky me, it seems that you are just a party girl yourself!

    Very interesting post! I’m not very superstitious, but when I was growing up, my mother convinced me that my lucky number was 16. It was, indeed, lucky for me and few other people fought me for it. My father is a child psychologist–I think they conspired together to come up with that one. It worked. I am SUCH a sucker…

    Comment by Pink Poppy — January 13, 2005 @ 4:00 am

  27. I read adrian’s comment – sounds too much like the Da Vini code for my liking. I read a hilarious post on this sort of stuff entitled “Leonardo was a Lunatic” at

    Comment by BHR — January 13, 2005 @ 5:22 am

  28. BHR- That’s what I thought as well. Please don’t take me for a fan of this pseudo-esoteric babble. ( I did read it, though…)

    Comment by adrian — January 13, 2005 @ 9:46 am

  29. The “knock on wood” superstition exists in my spiritual homeland (Hungary)as well. Oddly enough, however, although the expression “kopogj le!” when literally translated means “knock down”, when you perform the accompanying gesture you use your left hand with clenched fist and rap the knuckles off
    the table or whichever other piece of furniture happens to be handy three times from below (upward motion in other words). An unattached woman should
    never sit with the corner of a table pointing at her, as this means she will never wed.

    Comment by chameleon — January 13, 2005 @ 4:31 pm

  30. :grin: What a fun post!!!:smile:

    Comment by Cori — January 13, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

  31. Damned! Why did I not know about the green on stage thing? It would have saved so much trouble not to mention bad reviews…:wink:
    Chameleon: In Finland one has to tap the table from underneath as well. Supposedly because the wood is unfinsihed so there is nothing between the knuckle and the wood. However they use the right hand.

    Comment by Elin — January 13, 2005 @ 9:57 pm

  32. To follow on Witho’s comment, we bought a newly built house in the UK which should have been number 13 as our neighbours were 11 and 12 (in a close) but we were nb 15 !
    However you can’t escape fate as the house we are currently renting in France in nb 13. :neutral:


    Comment by Froog — January 14, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

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