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​The Superstitious Expat Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​The Superstitious Expat

The Superstitious Expat

Here we go again, another Friday 13th. I really am fed up with reading what all the doom mongers have to say about the likelihood of disaster on this ‘unlucky’ day. It reminds me of an event a few weeks ago when a weird religious sect that takes the Book of Revelations literally, busily promoted the idea that the world was about to end on 21 September. How disappointed they must have been on 22 September. I just hope that they gave some serious thought to those unfortunate believers who committed suicide in order to avoid the big event, or those that had blown all their savings a few weeks before, as they couldn’t take their savings with them. Such foolish predictions are not only dangerous lies, but very cruel for many decent, trusting people.

What is it about the human psyche that loves the idea of disaster, terror and fear? Don’t we have enough real events to terrorise us already? Do we really need any more demons than The Trumper, Little Rocket Man, Global Warming, Islamic Terrorism and Harvey Weinstein to successfully chill us to the marrow? We will shortly have another fiesta, nowadays frantically celebrated in Spain, as well as in many parts of the world. This event is, of course, Halloween, which I personally detest. Gone are the days when it involved little more than drawing a few spooky pictures, hollowing out a pumpkin, and making masks with the kids, with a spot of apple bobbing thrown in for good measure. We now have an event that to many is little more than the celebration of evil, an opportunity to drink excess alcohol, as well putting kids in danger. A few years ago, the idea of Halloween, as opposed to the highly religiously significant All Saints Day, was hardly recognised, let alone celebrated in Spain and the Canary Islands. A commercial opportunity for shops to sell more imported rubbish? Yes, most certainly, but is this kind of celebration healthy, let alone desirable? It is a simple case of ‘each to their own’ I guess, but I’m having none of it.

In Spain and the Canary Islands, you won’t find locals drawing their blinds and running away from black cats. It is actually Tuesday the 13th that is considered to be unlucky, since Tuesday is said to be dominated by Ares, the Greek God of War, who gives his name to the Spanish word for Tuesday, which is Martes. The old Spanish proverb proclaims: ‘En martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes’ – or in English – “On Tuesday, don’t get married, embark on a journey, or move away.” There are also a few more Spanish superstitions that the cautious expats should be aware of, including putting a hat on a bed that will bring bad luck. This superstition is believed to have come from a time when people believed that evil spirits lived in people’s hair, which could be transferred from the hair to the hat and then to the bed, leaving unfortunate souls open to ghost attacks during the night.

As a cat lover, one superstition that I am not too keen on in Spain is that cats have only seven and not nine lives as in the UK. Sadly, cats in Spain and the Canary Islands have to be much more careful, since they are two lives short.

I now know never to give a knife as a gift. Spanish tradition states that buying knives or scissors symbolise the cutting of ties and relationships, so if you gift newlyweds with knives, they will break up. That’s a pity, since I had planned to give a set of kitchen knives to a lovely couple as a wedding gift. It will just have to be the toaster after all.

Many fans of amateur dramatics in the UK tell their actor friends to ‘break a leg’, but in Spain it’s a bit different. Instead you must wish that person ‘mucha mierda’, or ‘lots of shit’. I shudder to think what the origin of this one is, but I do have a very vivid imagination... If anyone knows the origin of this one, please do let me know.

Have you noticed that many homes in Spain and the Canary Islands have cactus on window sills or placed strategically in their homes? It is believed that spikey green cactus can ward away evil spirits, so a nice prickly cactus might make an appropriate house warming gift. Always be careful when brushing, because you must never sweep the feet of a single woman. If you do, she will never get married and hate you for ever.

Fancy getting your own back on someone? This is easy, just buy them yellow clothes. After all, yellow represents sulphur and the Devil, and it is sure to bring them lots of bad luck. Getting ready for Christmas and the New Year? Don’t forget to eat twelve grapes in rapid succession on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Spanish people reckon that wearing red underwear also helps to bring them good luck, so I must remember to pick up some red undies when next in Marks and Spencer. By the way, just a tip when eating grapes, please go seedless. I still recall a very unfortunate incident with someone who choked to death on the seventh grape. There really wasn’t too much luck involved for him, but maybe he wasn’t wearing red underwear.

I’ll let readers into a little secret, which may explain a little of my aversion to ‘disaster planning’ and days that are meant to be unlucky. I was born on Friday 13th at around 13.00. Thanks to my mother’s considerable efforts to destroy the myth of ‘Unlucky 13’, I was taught that Friday 13th is my special day when good things happen. With one or two notable exceptions, and I won’t bore you with the details, this has mostly been the case. Friday 13th is always a good day for me when good things usually happen. I guess it is a state of mind.

I adore black cats, I will happily walk under ladders and never throw spilled salt over my left, or is it right, shoulder. I have no time for superstition and the Book of Revelations. Come on, let’s do reality instead. Have a great Halloween!

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

© Barrie Mahoney

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Expat in Spain
Living in Spain