Tag Archives: Airplanes

Rituals for Nervous Flyers: Getting on the plane with your right foot and touching the ground after kissing your hand

Text:

SP: “I always get on with my right foot, and I bend down and kiss the ground of the plane. I kiss my hand and put my hand down on the ground of the plane. Getting off, I kiss my hand and put my hand down to the floor.”

Context:

The informant is my grandmother. She is an 83-year-old woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who was born in New York City and currently lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey. SP is an extremely anxious flyer and has been for her entire life. She said that she has done these rituals since the first time she flew on an airplane when she was a young girl. Though she doesn’t remember specifically learning or coming up with these rituals, she remarked that the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, so she expects it was inspired by that. She said that when she does this ritual, specifically kissing the ground, people often stop or look at her. At this moment, she usually tells the flight attendant that she is a very nervous flyer.

Though my grandmother is the only person in my family who has a fear of flying, I was always encouraged by other family members, who make a ritual out of doing so, to step onto airplanes with my right foot.

Analysis:

It’s interesting to me how these rituals for flying on airplanes seem to be derived from other folklore or cultural practices. I imagine that the idea of it being good luck to get onto a plane with your right foot is connected to the phrase “starting off on the right foot,” which is an expression used to indicate that someone or something is starting in a positive way. Thus, this ritual can literally be seen as starting a flight off on the right foot. Moreover, my grandmother described how the Pope kisses the ground when he gets off a plane, which may have inspired her in this ritual. She may have seen him do this on television or in the newspaper. However, the act of kissing one’s hand and touching an object is a common gesture done during a blessing. For example, in Jewish culture, parents place their hands on their children’s heads when doing the blessings for sons and daughters. Moreover, on certain holidays, rabbis carry Torahs around the synagogue so that congregants can touch it with their prayer books. Sometimes people kiss their books after touching the Torah and some do it before, so this ritual can be seen as an individual blessing the Torah, blessing themselves through their contact with it, or both. Thus, my grandmother my grandmother kissing her hand and then touching the ground before flying can be interpreted as her blessing the plane so that she will have a safe flight.

I didn’t know about my grandmother’s ritual of kissing her hand and then touching the ground of an airplane upon boarding and exiting. Upon speaking to her about it, I realized that this may be a way to convey how she feels to the people around her. She said that she often uses flight attendants’ confusion at her performance of this ritual as an opportunity to tell them that she’s a nervous flyer. For this reason, I think that this ritual may serve a practical purpose as an emotional or spiritual one. Because she communicates her fear, the flight attendant may be more inclined to be caring or considerate to my grandmother, perhaps soothing her anxiety.

These good luck rituals are deeply comforting to my grandmother. She has never been in a plane accident, so she has no reason to believe that these rituals don’t work. Though my other relatives are not afraid of flying, I think they partake in the ritual of getting on the plane with your right foot similarly because it has never been disproven, so they have no reason not to. I also think that they do this out of an emotional impulse to feel close to my grandmother and to carry on her endearing idiosyncrasies. 

Main Piece: Red underwear

Background: The informant always wears red underwear when she knows she is entering a situation where danger could occur. She believes that the color red has protective powers and is ultra superstitious about wearing it, especially when flying. She is a very spiritual woman, but also particular about what type of folk beliefs she acquires. She does her research before hopping on a trend or swearing by a specific belief. This underwear belief, while sparked by Madona, has become a pillar in her travel experience.  

Context: “I first started wearing red underwear when Madonna became an expert in Kabbalah. She was very famous at the time and I thought it was quite ridiculous that she decided to suddenly become Jewish, I suppose, and pick the sect that she did. Remember those little red bracelets? I wish that I had had a company at that point manufacturing those because they were hot in the 90s. They taught me. Red protects you. Red protects your soul from being attacked by malicious characters. As a 20-year-old girl, I never liked to fly. I always felt so vulnerable so far up in the sky with people I didn’t even know in control of my life.  The pilot, the flight attendants. I thought to myself if I wear red and red underwear I’ll be protected. Red really isn’t my color, so I felt that underwear was the way to go. I didn’t have to match it with anything, just make sure I owned some undies to throw on before any flight”.  

Thoughts: This is a custom and belief that has been passed along to me, as her daughter. I also think that red is a guarding force and I feel the ritual is associated with my mom and that in itself provides a sense of safety. I love following in my mom’s footsteps with her beliefs because I trust her, so this custom is just another way for me to feel that she is by my side in perilous circumstances. I know that she is very particular about her folk beliefs and practices, so her opinion is highly valued. Her superstitions are worthwhile.

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

Context:
AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:

M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.
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Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.
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Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

La Llorona: A Hispanic Woman in White Tale

The Folklore:

E: What is the story that you wanted to tell me about?

A: What I’m about to tell you is the story of how a popular ghost phenomenon came to be.  So there was once this woman who had gotten so distraught at her husband’s infidelity that she drowned her children. Realizing what she had done, she began to be consumed by regret. Eventually the woman took her own life in the same manner in which she took her children’s.

E: There are a plethora of woman in white ghost stories worldwide, are there any qualities specific to La Llorona?

A: This is a woman in a white who hunts children. Children as seen as having a more keen sense for the supernatural. Also, if she’s got you as her target and you hear her sound far away that means she’s close. The same is applicable in the reversed case.

E: Typically in what context does the story get brought up?

A: Usually it’s brought up by children and family events or just in any social situation.

E: How did you first hear about this?

A: My cousins were actually the first people to tell me about this woman in white. Two of my cousins said as they were driving down a dark road one night when they were children out of the window they saw a woman very vividly, she was in a white dress standing on the side of the road. They asked their parents if they saw what the children had seen but they said that no idea what the children were even talking about.

Context:

This is the transcribed conversation I had with a friend of mine as we shared ghost stories from our cultures. My friend is of Latino origin. He grew up in Texas and was still very close to Mexican culture. 

Analysis:

This is an interesting twist on the woman in white story. Though her origin story has been seen before I don’t think I’ve heard of an instance in which the woman only hunted children. In addition I think the auditory component to the story adds symbolic meaning in the sense that danger can be anywhere. It’s a precautionary tale to instill within kids that yeah going out at night alone is maybe not the best idea.