Dubai: Do you tend to turn around when you spot a black cat or avoid walking under ladders?
Cultural myths and superstitions surround most people and cultures, whether they believe in them and live their lives trying to fend off bad luck or taunt those who do.
With the UAE being a melting pot of various different cultures, each community has their specific traditions. Gulf News spoke to some of these people belonging to various groups to find out what some of the myths and superstitions they have been exposed to growing up.
Myth 1: Polka dots for luck!
Karen De Guzman is a Filipino living in Dubai. She vividly remembers some of the superstitions she was exposed to at a very young age. “Growing up in the Philippines, I learnt about many superstitions, traditions, common symbolisms, widely-held folk beliefs, traditions and myths,” she said.
Guzman (right) shared a couple of superstitions related to clothing. In the Philippines, wearing polka dots is believed to bring good fortune.
Interestingly, this is also observed in French culture. Commonly known to be fond of wearing stripes, the French like switching it up on New Year’s Day and believe that wearing polka dots will be good for the year ahead.
Guzman also shared that in Filipino culture, a bride shouldn’t try on the wedding dress before the big day.
However, she is critical of the superstitions she once believed in.
“Once I was mature enough, I just realised that some things are mere fantasies. Our educators also enlightened us about choosing what we believe,” she said.
It’s not only clothes but the position of one’s shoes can also reveal a lot, according to some cultures.
Myth 2: Stacked slippers means travel
Well, Egyptians believe that finding one’s slippers stacked on top of each other can mean that they are soon going to travel.
Lara El Aasar (right), a 22-year-old Egyptian videographer said that she learnt about such superstitions from her family, particularly her parents and cousins.
“At first, I don’t think I gave it much thought. When you’re younger and your parents tell you something, you just take it and believe it without thinking about it,” the Dubai resident said.
However, as she grew older, she said that she became more critical of the things she believes in.
Talking about why people hold onto such notions, Aasar said, “Maybe people are trying to be optimistic about something. Or maybe it just that people like stories and like the idea of believing in things.”
Sometimes, hygienic practices are also laced with superstitions.
Myth 3: Don’t make sushi when on monthly cycle
A number of superstitions from around the world surround the female menstrual cycle. While some cultures like the Japanese believe that menstruating women have distorted taste and therefore, shouldn’t make sushi, whereas apparently others like some parts of the Pakistani community believe that it’s harmful for women to shower when they are on their monthly cycle.
Marketing executive, Inaas Mughis (right) said that although the superstition is not practiced in her household, it is something she has repeatedly heard from members of the South Asian community.
It is also important to note that some of the superstitions surrounding menstruating women have a patriarchal connotation. “The shun-the-woman-while-she-menstruates, mentality still prevails,” Mughis said.
“My family and I have always been skeptical of such notions. However, unfortunately, it has shaped the way tons of people think, as well as affected their daily practices - as basic as showering,” she added.
Myth 4: Don’t get a haircut on Saturday
Not only showering, but people are also particular about getting haircuts. In India, as business analyst Sudeep Devpura (below) explains it, getting a haircut on a Saturday is disfavoured.
“I had learnt this from my parents and followed it when I was younger,” he said. However, as he grew older, he abandoned the practice of avoiding hair salons on Saturdays.
“As you grow older, you learn to question everything including such myths,” the Indian national said.
Pondering over where the superstition could have originated from, he said: “It is something that just travels as word of mouth. Instead of questioning and wasting time one just agrees and moves on, and it eventually becomes a widely believed concept.”
Digging further into his scepticism, Devpura suggested that the myth might have originated from a conspiracy by barbers to get a day off.
The 23-year-old also believes that progressively such superstitions are going to die down. “The faster the pace of life gets, lesser the time people have to believe in such myths that might require them to waste time and effort,” he said.
Myth 5: No cutting hair after dark
The Indian and the Iraqi cultures have something in common - holding superstitions about grooming one’s hair.
In Iraq, cutting your hair on a Saturday might be acceptable but getting one after sunset is frowned upon.
Dubai resident and Iraqi national, Raya Khalid (right), said that growing up, her parents and relatives would not let her get a haircut after dark.
“The older generation in my family including my mother and grandmother firmly believed that getting haircuts at night time would bring bad luck,” the 22-year-old said.
However, she has stopped incorporating such traditions in her life. “As I grew older, I soon started questioning my beliefs and it did not make sense to me. There’s no need to get paranoid about things that don’t really matter” she said.
Cultural anthropologist and an assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah, Eileen Walsh (right), explained why some people believe in myths and have superstitions, and where they might have originated from.
“They [the myths and superstitions] might have started from something that actually happened and then became distorted over generations,” she said.
She also said that originally, some superstitions might have had a practical function to the community that believes in it.
For example, Walsh said that there are some cultures that forbid women from having intimate relations with their partners for one year after having a baby but that was actually a survival technique for them.
Further research highlighted that these cultures were protein poor and abstaining from such relations after a child ensures better chances of survival, along with being an effective birth control system. However, Walsh added that not all superstitions have health benefits or clear origins.
“Having traditions and superstitions is part of most cultures from across the world,” Walsh noted. However, their prevalence depends on whether the particular community has chosen to carry them forward or not.
Nevertheless, she said: “The memory of them lingers both in practice and in living people’s memories, cultural forms, such as stories, songs and artwork.”