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My French Life: Les Grigris and superstitions of France

The other day I was in the supermarket, queuing at the checkout with the usual chit-chat going on at the till while we all waited with varying degrees of patience. This is normal in France. The checkout staff in rural French supermarkets pretty much know everyone that comes in and they always have a catch up and a kiss over the counter. It wouldn’t matter if Gerard Depardieu was in the queue, late for an awards ceremony, or if the President had popped in for a bottle of milk – everyone must wait for this important social ritual.

Anyway, I was eavesdropping as usual and the woman in front of me who was pregnant said that she had seen a “hibou” (an owl) and therefore her bébé was going to be a girl! What?

I looked it up when I got home, and it’s an old French superstition. Seeing an owl when you’re pregnant foretells you will be give birth to a female child. This lady seemed pretty happy about the matter, supposedly if she hadn’t wanted a girl she might have been able to prevent it by carrying some sort of grigris (charm)!

It turns out that the French are a nation of superstitious people with some decidedly unusual beliefs.  They have the usual unlucky number 13, walking under ladders and black cat thing that most of us are aware of, but they also have some more decidedly odd superstitions and many believe that carrying a lucky charm such as a rabbit’s foot (yuck) will help to bring good luck.

These are some of the best superstitions I’ve been told about:

Singing at Halloween will create stormy weather.

Handing someone a loaf of bread upside down, or putting it on the table upside down brings bad luck, it’s supposed to invite hunger into the house.

You must never give a friend a knife as a gift, they have first give you a coin so that they “buy” it from you therefore saving your friendship from being “cut”.

It is bad luck to cross a stream carrying a cat, something I do all the time so I must be wary of this (not).

Apparently Nicolas Sarkozy had a four-leaved clover paperweight for luck in his office, I wonder if he left it behind for Francois when he left…

My personal favourite: treading in dog poo with your right foot brings bad luck, however treading in dog poo in France with your left foot brings good luck! An enterprising art and design shop in Paris did “crapitalise” on this weird superstition by setting up an online store selling “Lucky dog shit from Paris” but strangely enough, it wasn’t a best seller.

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