Tag Archives: russia

Russian Superstition about Black Cats

Background: “I grew up in Lithuania, and in Lithuania, you have Poles and Lithuanians who are Catholic, Russians who are Russian Orthodox, and Jews. We were a Jewish family, and I was always told that Jews do not have superstitions. But all my friends were either Polish or Russians, and they had superstitions, and eventually, I felt like, ‘well, it’s safer to believe in it.’”

Black cat superstition:

“If you walk and a black cat crosses the road in front of you, you’re supposed to turn around over your left shoulder three times and spit over your left shoulder three times. And I would do that, just in case.

“There were four girls in my big apartment building who were the same age, and we would walk to school together. And if there was a black cat crossing the road in front of us, we would all start turning and spitting. In fact, that’s why I have this superstition. It didn’t come from my mother—my mother always said that we shouldn’t believe in that, even though she believed in cracked mirrors. But I started believing it because the other girls did it.

“I’m sure that belief is Russian because there is a Russian song about a black cat. It’s about a black cat who lives behind the corner, and everybody hates him because there is this saying that you would have bad luck if you meet a black cat. But the truth is that it’s only the black cat who constantly has bad luck. That’s what the song is about. And that was a very popular Russian song. It appeared in the 1970s, when I was a kid.”

Q. Why do you think that this superstition exists?

A. In some of the Russian fairytales, you have a witch, Baba Yaga, and she always has a black cat with her. So, it is an element from Russian fairytales. Perhaps that’s why, I don’t know.

Analysis: The custom of turning and spitting is interesting, especially because it must be done specifically over one’s left shoulder. The practice seems to be almost an attempt to reverse time, as if to undo the effects of the bad luck.

The informant mentions a song about a black cat (“Chernyj Kot”), which pokes fun at the superstition, laughingly conveying the message that people should not discriminate against black cats. (After all, cats cannot control the color of their fur!)

Transliterated lyrics to this song can be found here:

“Chernyj Kot.” Lyrics Time. www.lyricstime.com, 2002. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://www.lyricstime.com/aguzarova-zhanna-chernyj-kot-lyrics.html>.

Women Day

My informant told me of a holiday that his family celebrated. The following is a transcript of our interview:

 

“informant: Every year on March 8th, we celebrate Women Day. Its from Ukraine, where my family is from. Basically men get the important women in their lives (wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, etc) flowers. Like valentines day but you just honor women. Our family does more than flowers though; gifts to show our appreciation for women. It is pretty big over in Europe, like if you don’t celebrate it as a man you’re the biggest piece of shit. It is very important over there to celebrate women.”

 

My informant  reveres the holiday, and says honoring women is important to his family and their culture, claiming they are all brought up as “momma’s boys.”

 

This holiday empowers a underprivileged group (women do not share equal rights with men in many places). Thus, the outrage towards men who don’t celebrate it aimed towards their insensitivity and disregard for the female gender. This celebrates the female identity, reinforcing women’s identities.

 

An article on this can be found on wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women’s_Day

Russian Proverb about Driving Slowly

“Driving slower, you will advance further.”

Transliteration: “Tishe edesh – dalshe budesh.”

Q. What does this proverb mean?

A. The meaning is that if you do things slower, you will get further. It’s like saying, “Wait a minute, don’t hurry.” My brother would always say this, for instance, if I did a math problem and wanted to skip steps—if you do everything slower, part by part, you will do better in the end.

This proverb has an English analogue: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Yet, comparing these two versions, we can see that the American version has a much more competitive spirit than the Russian version, as it focuses upon winning. According to my informant, the Russian version refers to riding a horse; if one rides a horse too fast, the horse may become fatigued or sustain an injury. Thus, the Russian proverb focuses not upon winning, but rather upon not losing, not overtiring one’s horse.

Annotation: Writer Mikhail Zeldovich utilizes this proverb in an article concerning Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), commenting upon Russia’s slow, snail-paced progress of accession to the organization:

Zeldovich, Mikhail. “Slowly Going Nowhere: Russia’s Entry to the WTO Falters as Major Exporters Fight Shy of Membership.” The Russia Journal, 19 Nov. 2002. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://russiajournal.com/node/12071>.