Travelling in a foreign country can turn out being more exotic than expected. Especially when you run into strange local customs… Here are 7 French superstitions you need to respect if you want to avoid crooked glances and bad luck:
1. Never put the bread upside down on the table.
A Baguette is sacred. This superstition comes from the Middle Ages. The condemned’s executions took place in the public square. Everyone could witness it.
The people feared the executioner with hatred. No one approached him, and the bakers were reluctant to serve him. It took a royal decree to force the bakers to set aside bread for this pariah.
They believed the hostility felt by the baker while preparing this “special” bread would poison it somehow. So they put it upside down, to avoid any confusion with the rest of the batch.
However, if you do put the bread upside down on the table, and wish to erase the curse, you must draw a cross with your knife on the flat side of the baguette before cutting it. Better safe than sorry.
2.Don’t offer a knife to a friend.
This nice gesture might be seen as inappropriate, even offensive. Symbolically, offering a knife to a loved one implies you consciously take the risk to cut off every link you had. In order not to end your relationship, the person to whom the knife was offered must, in return, give a small amount of money, which turns the gift into a transaction (and breaks the curse).
3. Don’t break a mirror, unless you’re willing to endure 7 years of misery.
According to this beautiful superstition, the mirror reflects not only a person’s face but also his soul. From a symbolic point of view, breaking this support isn’t the best thing that can happen to you…
Why 7 years ? According to ancient beliefs, a person evolves in seven-year increments (from 0 to 7 years, 7 to 14…), each step further forging the individual’s personality. If someone broke a mirror, the curse had to run to the end of the current cycle (maximum of 7 years), and could only be lifted at the beginning of a new one.
This superstition persisted over centuries, probably transmitted by angry mothers who were tired of telling their children not to play ball inside.
4. Don’t thank your french friend if he says “merde” to wish you good luck.
Here is another odd tradition, quite common in the world of entertainment. In theatre, we must not wish each other good luck: for actors, this is the best way to attract a disaster. So they looked for a metaphor, to say good luck… without saying it.
Back to the 19th century. At the time, spectators were dropped off in carriages in front of the theatre’s entrance. The more popular the show, the more the carriages flow, the more horses were relieving themselves in front of the entrance. This is how a thick layer of crottin became a sign of success. Then, the habit of wishing merde to the actors before a show was born, and extended to all ranges of society.
So if your French friend responds “merde” when you announce that you’re soon going through a stressful exam, just smile back.
5. Don’t spill table salt
Not just for economic reasons, but because it bodes very badly.
According to the christian tradition, it’s related to the Last Supper, and especially Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting where Judas is seen knocking over a pot of salt.
In the folklore, spilling salt would be the predicator of an argument with the friend located in front of you. But it’s also a sign of bad luck. To ward off fate, the one who committed this lèse-majesté crime must grab a few grains and throw them over its left shoulder.
6. Knocking on wood makes a wish come true.
This one comes from the antique period.
It brings good fortune : if you make a wish, or if someone does in front of you, it’s a good idea to say “I touch wood”, and even to do it if you can.
It is also said to scare evil spirits – they have sensitive ears.
7. Beware of the number 13.
If you’re holding a dinner party in France, consider the guest list carefully. 13 people sitting around the same table is said to bring bad luck. This superstition is thought to come from the Last Supper (again), where there were 13 guests, one of which was the traitor Judas.
So if you don’t want to get betrayed, be careful not to end up with 13 guests. Instead, invite your mother-in-law so that the guest’s numberfalls just right. Again, better safe than sorry.