25 Bad Luck Superstitions from Around the World

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iStock

Spilling pepper, complimenting a baby, and cutting your fingernails after dark are just a few of the things that will earn you bad luck around the world.

1. PUTTING YOUR CLOTHES ON INSIDE OUT IN RUSSIA INVITES A BEATING.

A blue item of clothing inside out with the blank tag showing.
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If this does happen to you, though, all hope isn't lost: Put your clothes on the right way immediately and have a friend symbolically hit you, which will minimize the potential threat.

2. MIXING BEERS IN CZECHIA (A.K.A. THE CZECH REPUBLIC) IS BAD LUCK.

A row of different beers in glasses on a bar.
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When you're visiting Czechia—the world's number one per capita beer-consuming country—do not pour a beer into a glass that has beer of a different kind in it; bad luck will surely follow.

3. TUESDAY THE 13TH IS UNLUCKY IN GREECE.

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While Americans are generally superstitious about Friday the 13th, Greeks are traditionally wary of Tuesdays, and especially Tuesday the 13th. The rationale for the superstition goes all the way back to Tuesday, April 13, 1204 (on the Julian calendar), when Constantinople completely fell to the Crusaders. That wasn't the only unlucky Tuesday for the Greeks: On Tuesday, May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. One 19th-century travel writer said that he heard that Greeks even avoided shaving on a Tuesday.

4. IN SOME LATIN AMERICAN CULTURES, IT'S UNLUCKY TO GET MARRIED ON A TUESDAY.

Close-up of a bouquet of flowers being held by a bride.
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The unluckiness of Tuesday is also present in several Latin American cultures, to the point that in some South American countries the movie Friday the 13th was Martes 13, or Tuesday the 13th. There’s even a saying: “En martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes,” which means that on Tuesdays you shouldn't get married, go on a trip, or leave your house.

5. IT'S BAD LUCK TO SHAKE YOUR LEGS IN SOUTH KOREA.

A close-up of a man's legs under a table.
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In South Korea, people are told not to shake their legs, otherwise their wealth and good luck will fall out.

6. IN SOME FISHING REGIONS OF CHINA, IT'S BAD LUCK TO FLIP OVER A COOKED FISH.

A whole grilled fish on a plate with lemons.
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It’s thought that this will lead to a ship capsizing. If it’s a whole fish, some families will use chopsticks to pick meat from the bottom of the fish when they're done with the top.

7. IN SOME PARTS OF EUROPE, LIGHTING A CIGARETTE FROM A CANDLE IS BAD NEWS FOR SAILORS.

A single candle burning on a black background.
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Another piece of sailor-related bad luck from parts of Europe says that if you light a cigarette from a candle, a sailor will die. The common explanation is that sailors used to supplement their income by selling matches, so bypassing the match step took money away from a sailor.

8. WOMEN IN TRADITIONAL RWANDAN SOCIETIES AVOID GOAT MEAT.

Three goats standing in a tree.
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It's not permitted because it's thought it could make women grow a beard.

9. IN ITALY, BREAD PLACED UPSIDE DOWN IS BAD LUCK.

Three loaves of bread in a wire basket.
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In Italy, it’s considered bad luck to lay bread upside down, either on a table or in a basket. Although there are several explanations, the most popular is that the bread represents the body of Christ, and as such needs to be treated with respect.

10. IN SWEDEN, IT'S CONSIDERED BAD LUCK TO PUT KEYS ON A TABLE.

A set of keys on a table.
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Why? Because, in the old days, prostitutes would put keys on tables in public areas to attract clients. So, to avoid risk of misunderstanding, a superstition rose up to prevent people from doing this accidentally.

11. DON'T PASS MONEY BY HAND IN TAJIKISTAN.

A close-up of one person handing money to another.
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The same goes for items like keys, needles, and scissors. They should be placed on a table and then picked up by the second person.

12. AFTER STARTING A JOURNEY IN PARTS OF EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA, IT'S BAD LUCK TO RETURN HOME FOR SOMETHING YOU'VE FORGOTTEN.

A person packing a suitcase for a journey.
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If you absolutely must return home, you need to look in a mirror (and in some traditions smile) before setting off again.

13. IN AZERBAIJAN, IT'S BAD LUCK TO SPILL SALT OR PEPPER.

A pepper shaker turned on its side, with pepper spilling out of it onto the table.
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It will start a fight. The way to remedy this is by putting sugar on the spilled salt and/or pepper, and leaving it there until it’s cleaned up.

14. ACCORDING TO AN OLD PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN SUPERSTITION, A FEMALE VISITOR ON NEW YEAR'S DAY MEANS BAD LUCK.

A view of a woman from behind as she knocks on a door.
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An early 20th-century Pennsylvania German superstition says that if your first visitor on New Year’s Day is a woman, you'll have bad luck all year long. If your visitor is a man, though, you'll have good luck. It was also considered bad luck to take a bath or change your clothing between Christmas and the New Year (and if you change your underwear between the holidays, "you will be full of boils").

15. IN TURKEY, IT'S BAD LUCK TO DRINK WATER THAT REFLECTS MOONLIGHT.

Full moon rising over a body of water.
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According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, those who drink water that reflects moonlight will have bad luck. Bathing in that water seems to be OK, though; according to the ministry, "People, who bath[e] under the moonlight and in shadow, will shine as bright as the moon."

16. TRIPPING OVER SOMETHING WAS BAD LUCK IN 19TH-CENTURY NEW ENGLAND.

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According to What They Say in New England, a book published in 1896, the only remedy was to go back and walk over the thing again. "If it is a stone you have fallen over," the text notes, "go back and touch it."

17. IN SERBIA, COMPLIMENTING A BABY WILL BRING IT BAD LUCK.

A happy baby lying in its crib.
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Instead, you need to say that a newborn is ugly.

18. ACCORDING TO ONE EARLY 20TH-CENTURY AMERICAN SUPERSTITION, ALL DISHCLOTHS SHOULD BE BURNED BEFORE A MOVE.

A person wiping up dust with a cloth.
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Same goes for cloths used for general house cleaning. That way, all of the bad luck you've “wiped up” in the old house won’t go with you to the new house.

19. ACCORDING TO 19TH-CENTURY WELSH TRADITION, IT'S BAD LUCK TO CUT THE NAILS OF AN INFANT LESS THAN 6 MONTHS OLD.

A close-up of a person cutting a baby's fingernails.
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Some versions of this superstition warn of just general unluckiness, while others say that a child whose nails are cut before 6 months of age will become a thief. According to the book Welsh Traditions and Superstitions, instead of cutting nails, the mother should instead "bite them off as they grow."

20. IN SOME ASIAN COUNTRIES, IT'S CONSIDERED UNLUCKY TO CUT YOUR NAILS AFTER DARK.

A photo of nail clippers on their side.
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Proposed reasons for the superstition range from the practicalities of wielding sharp things near your hand at night, to concern that separating a nail in the darkness could attract spirits.

21. IN SOME MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES, IT'S BAD LUCK TO OPEN AND CLOSE SCISSORS WITHOUT CUTTING ANYTHING.

A pair of scissors, open, on a white background.
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This superstition might have something to with the two sides of metal touching each other.

22. HEARING A MARSH CRAKE OVER THE WRONG SHOULDER IN NEW ZEALAND COULD LEAD TO BAD LUCK.

A marsh crake sitting on a branch in the wetlands.
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A New Zealand superstition held that hearing a Kāreke (marsh crake) over your right shoulder was good luck, but over your left shoulder would lead to having a “crook trot”—old New Zealand/Australian slang for bad luck

23. IN GERMANY, YOU SHOULD NEVER WISH SOMEONE HAPPY BIRTHDAY EARLY.

A cupcake with green icing and a sign reading 'happy birthday' stuck in it.
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In general it's thought to bring misfortune, but one German interviewed for a TV segment gave more colorful consequences for wishing someone an early happy birthday: "My grandma always said you'd have blue children."

24. IN SOME PARTS OF AFRICA, OWLS ARE SYMBOLS OF BAD LUCK.

A Giant Eagle Owl perched on a rock.
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Supposedly, seeing or hearing one of these birds hoot is bad news: It could mean anything from bad luck to poor health to death. Some even believe that they’re sent to deliver curses.

25. NEVER MIX WINE AND WATERMELON IN ARGENTINA.

Slices of watermelon stacked in a pile.
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This old wives’ tale says that combining them will cause certain death (or sometimes just an upset stomach).

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

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Apple

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15 Memorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quotes

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away at the age of 87.
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Supreme Court justice, feminist, and all-around badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020 from "complications of metastatic pancreas cancer," the Supreme Court said in a statement. Over the course of her 87 years, she smashed glass ceilings and delivered plenty of wisdom—inside the courtroom and out. Here are some of our favorite quotes from the Notorious RBG.

1. On her mother

"My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the '40s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S."

— via ACLU

2. On turning rejection into opportunity

“You think about what would have happened ... Suppose I had gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably I would have climbed up the ladder and today I would be a retired partner. So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

— In conversation with Makers

3. On female Supreme Court Justices

"[W]hen I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that."

— In an interview with 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, via CBS News

4. On dissenting opinions

"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way,’ but the greatest dissents do become court opinions."

— From an interview on Live with Bill Maher

5. On criticism and not getting a majority vote

"I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day."

— via The Record [PDF]

6. On having it all

"You can't have it all, all at once. Who—man or woman—has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

7. On discrimination

"I ... try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women."

— From an interview with MSNBC

8. On gender equality

"Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation."

— via The Record [PDF]

9. On feminism

"Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent."

— In an interview with Makers

10. ON her fellow Supreme Court Justices

"We care about this institution more than our individual egos and we are all devoted to keeping the Supreme Court in the place that it is, as a co-equal third branch of government and I think a model for the world in the collegiality and independence of judges."

— In an interview with C-Span

11. On the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling

"[J]ustices continue to think and can change. I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow."

— From an interview with Katie Couric

12. On those Notorious RBG T-shirts

"I think a law clerk told me about this Tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the tumblr. … [I]n fact I think I gave you a Notorious RBG [T-shirts]. I have quite a large supply."

— In an interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg

13. On being an internet sensation

"My grandchildren love it. At my advanced age—I’m now an octogenarian—I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who want to take my picture."

— From an interview with the New Republic

14. On retirement

"Now I happen to be the oldest. But John Paul Stevens didn’t step down until he was 90."

— From an interview with The New York Times

15. On how she'd like to be remembered

"Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid."

— From an interview with MSNBC