In our fourth monthly column reflecting on the Romanian experience from the perspective of a native whose life has primarily been spent abroad, BR’s resident repat will temporarily fill the expat’s shoes by musing on superstitions and interesting experiences of life back home.
By Eugenia Pupeza
It wasn’t my intention, but I ended up gathering a lot of superstitions for this month’s article. I grew up in a household where anything labeled “superstitious” was either dismissed or laughed at. Needless to say, my parents were not superstitious in the least… though they hail, as life back in Romania has taught me, from one of the most superstitious countries in the world. It’s like this: America is really not that superstitious at all, so throughout my upbringing, I was never exposed to truly superstitious beliefs or those that believed them. It was only when I landed in Italy for seven years, and now back in Romania, that I have truly gotten a taste for these particular cultural treats in life. Now, there are many beliefs and superstitions, and I will, in this article, touch upon those that I have personally come into contact with. While there is reasoning behind some, others are just beyond any sort of logic that I can comprehend! Of course, this does not mean that all Romanians are superstitious; there is usually no rhyme or reason behind such beliefs. I know many older people that are not superstitious at all and many (otherwise logical) young people that firmly believe in the craziest things. It all comes down to upbringing, I think.
In my previous experience, taking out the trash was a task that was done, quite simply, at any time the trash needed to be removed from the house. There were a few reasons for this: the fullness of the trash bin, the smelliness of the contents of the aforementioned bin, or, most often, when any of the house’s inhabitants could be convinced to undertake this not-so-pleasant task. In Italy, this general routine was only affected on New Year’s Eve and the night before Easter, when it was absolutely necessary to remove all trash from the home before midnight. Doing so would permit you to start the new year fresh, without old baggage, and would bring prosperity; for Easter, it was also like a rebirth, a way to honor (religiously) the death and rebirth of Christ and (non-religiously) new beginnings. In the south of Italy (particularly around Naples), though I never had the opportunity to partake in the experience, people would literally throw old things out of the window in the middle of the street on New Year’s Eve, everything from clothes to washing machines. It was a running joke that you should never walk the streets of Naples on New Year’s Eve, lest you get hit on the head by an old wardrobe!
Now, with these details in mind, imagine my shock to find out that my country of birth also has garbage-related superstitions, but they are the exact opposite. They are so opposing, that I cannot understand them at all, and this frequently leads to heated arguments within the household. In Romania, you can only throw out the trash in the morning, or at most, when it is still light outside. Additionally, God forbid you throw out the trash on Mondays. If you throw it out at any other time, you are also throwing out your luck. And that’s not it: at Easter time (from Friday to Monday), you are also not allowed to throw out the garbage, otherwise you will have bad luck or your house will burn down. While I can understand the Italian traditions, the association between trash and luck in Romania simply eludes me; I am more inclined to believe that this superstition may be rooted in laziness alone.
While this may be the case in most cultures, Romanians are particularly attached to physical money and worried about it, and the prospect of losing it is very bad indeed. Being used to a credit card which, if you lose it, who cares, this money attachment is equally difficult for me to grasp. However, I keep in mind that the modern banking system has been around in Romania for little more than 20 years, so it is understandable for a culture that has been used to dealing exclusively in cash. I wanted to pay my rent on Monday. Nope, “this should not be done,” I was warned by my family. I wanted to pay back a friend who had lent me money. “What’s the matter with you, don’t you know it’s Monday!” she berated me. Do the grocery shopping on Monday? Absolutely appalling! On Mondays, or the first day of the month, it is absolutely unadvisable to give out money because it’s bad luck; it means you will lose all your money. Therefore, never ask a Romanian for money on a Monday, or don’t be surprised if they refuse you. It’s nothing personal, it’s just not done. Additionally, women are not allowed to place their handbag on the floor, EVER! This also means that you will lose all your money. Furthermore, if your right palm itches, you will give out money whereas if your left hand itches, you will receive money.
As in most cultures, if a black cat crosses your path, it means bad luck. This belief most likely stems from long ago, when there was no street lighting after dark, causing fear, perhaps, should an animal that you couldn’t see cross your path. Now, I have grown up with black cats, so it has never occurred to me that they would be anything other than fluffy companions, and that my petting black cats in the street should be the source of such outrage. But yes, they are considered very unlucky, and if you should come across a black cat, you must take three steps backwards, to reverse the bad luck. If it happens while you are driving, I am still unsure of the proper procedure. If, however, a black cat walks along with you in the same direction, it is good luck.
Plus if a bird poops on you, it’s good luck. If you step in dog poop (lord knows, there’s a lot of it on the streets, so your chances are very high), it also means good luck.
Romania is very much a culture where a woman is expected to get married, ideally as soon as possible, and the idea of not getting married is one of the worst fates. In this respect, there are some things that young women intending to marry at some point should avoid at all costs. Never sit at a corner of a table or you will never get married. If you eat directly from the pot, you will never marry. Don’t break a mirror or you will not marry for seven years.
However, there are many superstitions that ensure a wedding will take place. If a bride writes a friend’s name on the shoes she wears at her wedding, the show will “pull well” for her to get married as well. Listen in the direction that dogs bark and your future husband will come from that direction. Place your shoes under your bed four nights in a row and on the fourth, you’ll dream of your future husband. If you try on a wedding dress or a bride’s veil, a wedding will also “catch on” to you. If you catch a bouquet at a wedding, there is an entire proceeding where you sit on a chair and the bride takes off her veil and places it on your head and the band sings, you dance a “hora” and it means you will get married.