Russian Whistling Superstition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California for school. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the superstitions she observed while growing up:

Melanie: “You can’t whistle indoors because it’s considered bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why is that?”

Melanie: “I’m not entirely sure, but I was always yelled at if I whistled while I was inside. There wasn’t any kind of remedy if I did whistle inside, but I was warned not to do it again.”

Here, Melanie describes a superstition that she does not entirely understand. This inexplicable quality underlies many superstitious beliefs; most practitioners do not understand why they observe specific superstitions, but they do so nevertheless just “to be safe.”

In the transcript, Melanie also notes the absence of a conversion ritual. There was no compensatory gesture that Melanie could use if she did whistle inside; instead, she just had to endure whatever bad luck she brought upon herself.