USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bad omen’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
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Life cycle
Protection

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.

 

Piece:

Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Black Crows and Traffic Jams

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


 Original Script

Informant: “If a black crow has crossed the street, don’t. You have to wait until someone else does, ’cause… then you’ll die. So like if you see, umm-”

Me: “Well then what if they see it too? Then you’re never going to cross the street!”

Informant: “Literally in Ethiopia, people will stop driving. Like no one would go. If you come to a road where no one has crossed yet, that means something suspicious has gone down, and they’ll just wait for a foreigner to cross, so that everyone else can continue about their business. It’s like an actual thing, if a… like a a black, I think it’s just crows, yeah. They hate crows. If a black crow is in the middle of the road, then no one should walk on that road, ’cause the next person to walk on that road, something terrible is going to happen to them. It’s going to be awful.”

Me: “Wait. So let’s say you saw a crow and you stopped, and I was like driving up and I didn’t see the crow-”

Informant: “If  you didn’t see the crow, you’re good. But if I know there’s a crow there…”

Me: “Oh, so like other people, if they see you stopped, if they didn’t see the crow they’ll keep going?”

Informant: “If  you’re really, really superstitious, if people are stopped, you’ll wait too! You know, just in case.”

Me: “I can imagine lot of traffic jams because of one bird!”

Informant: “Oh yeah! Those stupid birds, they stop a lot of things!”

Me: “What does the crow represent?”

Informant: “Death.” (laughs)

Me: “Death?”

Informant: “But I don’t know what else it represents!”

Me: “Yeah it’s interesting! ‘Cause with Native Americans, it’s like a trickster.”

Informant: “Yeah… My mom is not down for the black crows. My grandpa will literally stop the car. He’ll just not go. He’s like ‘I can’t! I can’t!’ Like anywhere he was he would just stop. I don’t know what the-”

Me: “Do you stop?”

Informant: “No!” (laughs)

Me: “Like what about here? There’s crows, like, everywhere!”

Informant: “I mean, it’s not often here that crows stop on the middle of the highway, like before I go.”

Me: “What if it just flies over then?”

Informant: “No, if a crow has landed… That’s a big deal. You see a crow land, don’t walk in that direction, like just leave that crow alone! Like, that whole area is off limits. Like I don’t know what it is, but they don’t like crows.”

Me: “But, so you have a thing against them too now? Because of this culture thing?”

Informant: “No I’m… I don’t care about crows. But my mom, like, will not-”

Me: “Are there ravens whee you are?”

Informant: “Probably. I don’t know. But there are definitely crows.”

Me: “So like, would it be ravens too? Because they’re black birds.”

Informant: “I mean, I’m sure no one is real, like, specific about it if you see a strange black bird stopped. I’m sure that’s just enough, but I’ve only heard it with crows.”

Background & Analysis

The informant learned this omen from both her mom and her grandpa. Her grandpa lived in Ethiopia all his life, and when she would visit him, every time he saw a crow while driving, he would stop.

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

As I listened to this superstition, I could definitely see why people would think it a bad omen if a crow, which is the color of death, landed in the middle of a road out of nowhere. This type of superstition can also be easily perpetuated, if one were to just link some bad or unfortunate event with the crossing of a road that a crow had just landed on. It’s interesting to see this flip side belief about the crow, since for Native Americans, the crow is often seen as good luck, or at the very least, a trickster along with the raven.

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