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Spilling salts, itching hands, burning ears and more – common proverbs, superstition and beliefs in Armenia and Azerbaijan

By Lala Jumayeva, Anna Pogosyan

While attending one of the Armenian -Azerbaijani dialogue program in Georgia in 2010, we (that is Anna Pogosyan and Lala Jumayeva) decided to write about common sayings and superstitious beliefs that are used in everyday life both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Actually we came up with this idea after a usual evening gossiping among girls (this was a routine action taking place every evening in the hotel lobby) when we found out how many sayings and beliefs of the same meaning we have in common. As we talked, one of the girls in response to someone’s success story knocked on wood saying “tfu-tfu-tfu”. This usually happens when someone mentions how well everything goes in his/her life and the person listening would knock on wood (it could be anything else made of wood- table, chair, door). It is widely believed in both of our cultures, that not doing so may cause bad luck for that person’s success (hoodoo). Knocking on wood will prevent that good fortune from leaving you. Well, this may sound senseless or even naive but people believe in this. We were so much into finding some other common sayings and beliefs that we spent half of the evening discussing and finding new ones. And we were surprised to find out that people in Armenia and Azerbaijan use the same proverbs and sayings and they believe in same superstitions. We also found out that it is common for older people both in Armenia and Azerbaijan to teach their children and grandchildren with proverbs and sayings, in order not only to educate but also to emphasize morals.

Now it has been almost two years since those fine evenings spent with good company talking about commonalities and differences, but we finally decided to go ahead with this idea about proverbs. Thus, below you will find the sayings and beliefs that have the same meaning in both countries, which once again reveal the fact of commonality between the two societies.

Common superstition beliefs:

  • Spilling salt

Spilling salt means bad luck or having a quarrel. In order to avoid the bad luck or to prevent quarrel, one has to throw but a pinch of salt that was spilled over the shoulder or (in Azerbaijan) to put something sweet (sugar, candy) on the spilled salt. 

  • Throwing water

When someone is leaving for travel, it is common to throw some weather as that person/s leaves- for instance a cup of water- outside the house in the direction of the person. This means good luck and safe journey.

  • Itching hand

When your hand itches, this can mean different things, depending on whether it is the left or the right hand. Right hand means that you will meet someone; you will give money away. Left hand means you will get money from someone.

  • Sewing a hole in a cloth

It is not good sign to sew a hole while wearing the actual clothes. In both countries in case you keep your clothes on while sewing them, take a peace of sewing thread in your mouth. It’s believed that using an iron needle may attract evil spirits thus during sewing you may hurt yourself. The thread in the mouth functions as a channel to leave the bad spirit out.

  • Gazing into the distance

When a person is gazing at somewhere (it could be any distance) for some time, people say “You may receive a guest”. This is explained by the past experience when people would look out of their windows and gates, gazing afar, looking for visitors.

  • Dropping of cutlery

If you or someone else accidentally drops a cutlery, a visitor will come. When it is a knife it will be a man, when it is a spoon or a fork, it will be a woman. Mind you thought, that this (the dropping of cutlery) should happen accidently, not on purpose.

  • Bread falls

When bread falls, someone of your friends, family or relatives is hungry.

  • Two people with the same name

If you sit in between two people with the same name, you can make a wish. It is commonly believed that your wish will come true.

  • Wearing clothes inside out 

If you wear clothes inside out, like blouse for instance, things that you planned will go wrong that day.

  • Choking (swallow the wrong way)

If you choke, and you need to take water, it means that you told a lie, or you stole something.

  • Itching nose 

When your nose is itching, someone is missing you.

  • Red cheeks, burning ears

When your cheeks and ears are red, somebody is at that moment speaking about you.

Proverbs:

  • The water is for a younger (if two people are waiting to drink a water the younger one should go first).
  • The road is for an elder (it means if two people are entering a room or crossing through a narrow place the elderly person should go first).
  • Do not dig a hole for somebody else; you yourself will fall into it.
  • Tell me who is your friend and I will tell who you are.
  • Better a good neighbor than a bad relative.
  • Take 100 measurements before you make one cut.
  • The more you know, the less you should talk.

Funny sayings:

  • Upon my head/eyes (when u agree with pleasure to do something)
  • My eyes don’t drink water from it (meaning I suspect something wrong in something)

This article is made possible by the support of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as a part of Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s Community Youth Peacebuilding Through New Media project. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of its authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Eurasia Partnership Foundation, FCO or the British Government.