If you buy flowers to thank a host in Russia, think twice about the color and number lest you offend. Yellow represents infidelity, while Russians give an even dozen--common in the U.S.--only to the dead.
Trip planning involves researching where to stay, eat, and sightsee, but it can also be eye-opening to read up on local superstitions to glean deeper cultural knowledge about a destination and avert some potentially embarrassing gaffes.
Every culture has its quirks, and customs steeped in local history and traditions continue to be passed down through generations. While noticing teens skipping around to avoid certain manhole covers in Sweden or Spaniards making wishes while popping grapes into their mouths strikes us outsiders as odd, locals don't think twice.
Some weird superstitions have become more widely adopted, turning sites into tourist attractions. Long lines of folks wait for a chance to kiss Ireland's Blarney Stone or stick their thumbs into a column at Istanbul's Hagia Sophia for its supposed healing powers.
While the habits vary from one country to the next, we all want to improve our luck--especially in love.
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions The courtyard in Verona where Shakespeare’s star-crossed heroine Juliet Capulet supposedly resided has become a shrine to true love. Visitors grab the right breast of the bronze statue of Juliet for luck in love. It’s also popular to write messages to Juliet and use gum to stick them to the walls. Too popular, actually—concerns about defacement of the historic city center prompted the introduction of a fine in late 2012; that love note could now cost you as much as $600. Photo: Paul Thompson Images / Alamy
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions Russian culture is rife with superstitions, and reading up pre-trip can be wise. Whistling in a home is verboten, as it is believed to bring bad luck (and is considered rude). When gifting someone flowers, make sure it is an odd number of stems—no dozen roses—because even numbers of flowers honor the deceased. Further, yellow flowers symbolize infidelity and are considered a relationship curse. Photo: Mircea Costina / Alamy
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions Former president Carlos Menem, often blamed for the country’s debilitating economic crash in 2001, is considered a living curse. Many Argentines avoid saying his name and instead will substitute the alias “Mendez” into their conversation. If someone were to say “Menem,” women will typically touch their left breast and men their left testicle to ward off the bad luck. In 2011, the press even photographed one man shaking Menem’s hand while his left hand touched near his pants zipper. Photo: Tim Graham / Alamy
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions Holy incense from Tokyo’s oldest temple is believed to carry healing powers; those who are aching and ailing will take some to rub on areas of trouble. The Japanese temple also hosts an annual superstitious, centuries-old contest called Naki Sumo that serves as a prayer for a baby’s health. Two opposing sumo wrestlers in a ring hold babies born in the prior year and try to make the other’s baby cry. Photo: Crystite licenced / Alamy
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions At Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most awe-inspiring sites, the Intihuatana Stone is aligned with astronomy and the sun’s patterns. Shamanic legends say certain sensitive people can peek into the spirit world when they rub their forehead against the stone—whose name translates poetically to “Hitching Post of the Sun.” Photo: Danita Delimont / Alamy
See More of the World's Weirdest Superstitions Perhaps it’s no wonder that grapes are considered good luck in a country that yields some of the world’s best vintages. People often make a wish when eating them, and at midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is a widespread custom to eat 12—representing good luck for each month of the upcoming year. Some Spaniards also superstitiously toss a bucket of water out the window to symbolize cleansing at the start of a new year. Photo: Mircea Costina / Alamy
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