I don’t think any Croat would actually admit it, but if you spend more than a couple of weeks in Croatia, you’d probably start noticing that we are quite superstitious. Let me give you an everyday example right away. Just before I started writing this article, I’d asked my parents if they could remember any superstitions (in Croatian: praznovjerja) they believe in. They almost got angry at me, being all modern and civilized: “How could I even begin to think they are superstitious?”. I told them not to worry and continued doing whatever I was doing at the time. And then it happened. Mom had said that she wanted to go to the bar to watch the football match with my dad and their friends. But this appeared to be a great problem for my dad as he remembered that in 2006 (12 years ago) my mom was watching a match at the bar, and that time Croatia lost. I overheard this conversation and couldn’t stop laughing. As I said earlier, no one will admit it, but each one of us will feel either discomfort or joy when confronted with some of the situations from my list.
I’ve decided to introduce to you some of the most popular superstitions (at least in the Dubrovnik region where I live) by organizing them into a few groups so, if you see someone acting weirdly, you can easily check the list and decide whether it’s a superstition thing, or you should start running immediately. So, let’s start…
It’s raining cats and… pigeons
As to many other people, cats have been bringing bad luck to Croats for centuries. No matter if you are having a romantic walk or heading off to the office with your partner, if you see a black cat crossing the road, you must instantly spit three times to make sure you are safe. Why three? We’ll talk about it in the next paragraph. If you’ve ever been to Dubrovnik, you are well aware of how hard it gets to avoid all these irrespective cats just wandering around and acting like making you miserable is none of their business. Of course, sometimes it will happen that you are not sure if it was really a black cat or maybe just a dark grey or a brown one, but leave nothing to chance, make sure no one is watching, and follow the procedure.
On the other hand, pigeons can bring you luck. Nonetheless, there aren’t so many people who would like to get lucky in this way. The thing is, in order to become happy, you will have to be pooped on first. And in Dubrovnik, this superstition is only valid for pigeons (in Croatian: golubovi). Other birds will not bring you any luck: on the contrary, they will probably make you and everyone around you annoyed and angry. But if it’s a pigeon… wow! People around you will start celebrating like it’s the best thing that has ever happened to you. And you will be the only person aware of the fact that it’s definitely not.
Three is your lucky number
As I’ve already mentioned, if you see a black cat (in Croatian: crna mačka) you should spit three times, but this is not the only time you should use this miraculous tip. It gets even better. When a child is born, everyone is supposed to gather around it and, while spitting three times say how ugly it is. It is believed that, this way, the child will actually become beautiful and smart. My mom, not being a local, was terrified with this procedure, so she forbade everyone to come and see me. Luckily, it seems that the first few visitors have managed to save me.
One other superstition says that if you say something good about yourself or someone you care for, you should knock on wood three times. Knocking is usually followed by words “da se ne ureknem” (not to put a curse on myself). For example, if someone asks you how’s your health and you want to answer that it’s pretty good, you should first check if there is something wooden around you to knock on. This way you will make sure that it stays good in the future.
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Even though most of these superstitions sound funny, they are deeply related to that tiny but persistent voice in our heads, telling us that we don’t deserve to be happy. If we are laughing a lot, we will start to think that something bad is going to happen. Here in Dubrovnik, we even have a saying “Igrača dobi i plača”, which means: You were playing and now you’re crying. This saying is used to validate once again the opinion that you should always be moderate. It affects people’s lives a great deal. You will usually hear them talking about bad things and even if they are feeling great, they will prefer to say they are doing ok or so-so.
There is one more occasion in which you could use your lucky number (in Croatian: sretni broj) three. If one of your eyelashes falls out on your face, don’t be surprised if someone runs to grab it. This is your chance to make a wish come true. So, here is the procedure: when a person notices an eyelash on your face, they will take it and place it between their thumb and index finger. After that, you are both supposed to blow on the fingers three times each. Now is the time to make a wish. When ready, you will choose one finger and if you’ve guessed which one is holding the eyelash you can either blow it away or take it and put it under your shirt. Your wish will come true!
Even though we are talking about superstitions here, the significance of number three probably originates from the Holy Trinity. For example, there is a widely spread belief that you shouldn’t walk under a ladder because that way you will break the unity of a triangle and bring chaos to your life. In Dubrovnik though, it is believed that you will just remain short.
You win some, you lose some
There are a couple of ways for you to win or lose money, no matter if you are aware of it or not. The most popular one is related to your palms. If your left palm is itchy you will get some money, if it’s your right palm; better luck next time. Although, we will usually comfort ourselves by saying: “well, if I will be giving money away, at least it means I will have it first!”.
The other way to lose money is by putting your bag or purse on the floor. This one probably originates from real-life experience of people who literally lost their money when someone stole their bag. Today, though, this superstition is widespread, so even your room floor will be a terrible idea as a place to put your bag.
One of the interesting superstitions in Dubrovnik is that a house centipede will bring you money. This superstition is probably based on the fear that most people feel when they see it, even though, there is actually nothing to be afraid of. So, let me comfort you – if you don’t kill it, soon you will get some money. If you kill it… well… nothing. We really don’t kill them. Initial fear is quickly (in Croatian: strah) replaced with the happiness of becoming a money-magnet. So, we just let them be. It’s hard to catch them anyway.
Get in touch with your body
If you listen to your body you can simply avoid some unpleasant or unwanted situations. For example, if your nose suddenly starts itching, it means you will get into a fight with someone (usually it will be a person you are talking to, while maniacally scratching your nose).
Hiccup is not a good sign either. Not only that it is annoying, but it also means that someone is talking about you behind your back. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution to this problem, but at least now you know you are leading an amazingly interesting life worth talking about.
The next one is interesting and could be interpreted as good or bad, depending on one’s preferences. If you have a sty, it means that someone close to you will get pregnant. One could only assume how this one came to be. Maybe it has something to do with its shape and look, being so round and puffed-up, who knows?
Finally, I would like to tell you about two special superstitions that you can hear about in Dubrovnik only. So, if you’ve ever heard about how sitting at the corner of the table will leave you unmarried for your whole life, I have another one to add. On Dubrovnik’s main street, Stradun, there are two channels – one on each side. You should never, not in a million years, walk down those channels because it will destroy any possibility of happily ever after for you. If you are a gentleman, feel free to walk down the channel for as long as you wish, since this one doesn’t apply to you. Just be careful, it gets very slippery if wet.
And to conclude, if you ever come to Dubrovnik, be sure to check the Island of Lokrum. It is a beautiful place with thousands of rabbits and peacocks running around. Untouched nature, ruins of the old monastery, small Dead sea… I would definitely recommend you to visit it. Just be sure to come back by 8 pm. Since a curse was put on the island, it is forbidden to stay overnight.