Tag Archives: automobile ritual

Car Rituals dealing with Hazard Avoidance – Automobile Superstitions

Description of Informant

PV (52) is a pharmacist and businesswoman from St. Louis, Missouri. Raised in a Persian household, PV spent some of her early childhood between the US and Iran, prior to the revolution. For the last two decades, PV has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Context of Interview

The informant, PV, sits in her kitchen browsing Twitter, while her daughter, LK, snacks on french fries. The collector, BK, is PV’s son, and lives with her and LK.


BK: So tell me about these car games/superstitions.

PV: I think… my memory is… so there’s all these things, when I was a teenager, right? And we would be driving with friends, you started to pick up some of these, kind of, rituals that people had in their own— because, like, when you’re friends and you’re not driving in a car you never really, like, pick these things up. So it was more like when I turned 16 and we were driving, all of a sudden I noticed— we’d be driving and it would be a Friday night— and all of a sudden I remember a car went by and one of the headlights was out, and all of a sudden [my friend] went, “Perdiddle!” And I’m like, “What?” and she’s like, “Oh, don’t you guys do that?” and I’m like, “Don’t I do what?” *laughing* And we were like, so we were like, “Oh okay cool!” So whenever another car would go by that had a headlight out, then somebody would yell “Perdiddle!” So that became kind of a thing, right?

PV: And then there was this thing about if you go over a bridge… now that’s the part where I can’t remember. I think some people would tap the ceiling when you go over the bridge. I don’t know what that was about. But other people would lift their feet up [in the car] when they’d go over a bridge. Silly games, I guess.

BK: And LK you said you had something about…

LK: We’d just hold our breath. When we’d go through a tunnel. And see who could hold their breath through the whole thing. I don’t know really when it started but it’s— I feel like a lot of people know about it. Like whenever I’m with friends or whatever I’m always like, “Okay, ready? 1-2-3!” And we all hold our breath and like, everybody just does it and knows that it’s a thing, but we don’t, like, know how we all found out about it. Like, I felt that probably one time it happened and we all did it— like nobody was shocked when we all did it. It was like nobody was surprised.

PV: Oh, when I was with [my ex], they always honked when they went in the tunnel. 

BK: Honked… long? Or, was it just like a “beep!”

PV: Well, I will tell you. The idea was you were only supposed to honk when you went in the tunnel. Just a tap, I thought that’s all it was. But one time I got really mad because, we were in… believe it or not, of all things we were in, you know, like Monte Carlo? We’d gone from south of France, Monte Carlo, south of Italy, you know, like that area. And we were going through a tunnel. The whatchamacallit had been going on… the Tour de France. And we were in a tunnel and he’s going honk! honk! honk! honk! for the entire long tunnel. And his daughter starts crying cuz her ears are hurting and he doesn’t stop. He’s like “You’re supposed to honk in tunnels.” So like, his desire to do the honking in tunnel… was stronger. That ritual was stronger than his daughter crying.

Collector’s Reflection

Looking over each of these car games/activities, one may immediately suspect they are methods to keep yourself occupied on a long drive, especially pre-smartphone. However, upon inspection, a pattern becomes clear: hazard avoidance. Each of these games is performed in the presence of a potential hazard, and seems to be a superstitious ritual to protect oneself/the occupants of the vehicle.

Take the bridge and tunnel examples. Both present the threat of imminent collapse. Perhaps tapping the roof represents lifting the car over the bridge. If there’s water under the bridge, you may lift your feet to keep them from “getting wet”; otherwise, raising your feet may help you float above the bridge, or avoid adding excess weight so the structure stays standing. Holding one’s breath in a tunnel seems to be an act of prayer, akin to holding your breath in a high-stakes situation. Again, superstitious and intangible, but for good reason.

These car games can have more practical origins/applications too. Perdiddle (or padiddle as it’s sometimes known) can keep the driver and passenger aware of reckless drivers on the road. If a car approaches with one headlight, calling perdiddle ensures that your driver is aware of the potential risk. Such a threat posed by these single-headlight cars is their similar appearance to motorcycles in the dark. If the driver isn’t paying attention, they might get too close, not realizing the oncoming vehicle is much larger/wider than it seems.

Similarly, honking as you drive through a tunnel signals to oncoming traffic, much in the spirit of old trains. The auditory cue will allow any pedestrians or oncoming cars not yet in the vehicle’s line of sight to clear out, keeping everyone safe.

Superstition/Popular Belief – India

Driving Forward First

My informant told me about this one superstition that was very interesting. She said that whenever she would start the car she would drive forward first and then drive backwards. For example when she would back out of the garage she would drive forward just a little, and then start backing up. She has done this for many years, as long as I can remember. At first I thought it was very interesting and tedious but after interviewing her I understood why she did it.

She said that this superstition has been in her family for a while, her uncles and her dad always did this when she was young. As she started driving a car, she started doing this too because of superstition. The whole thing lies in doing everything forward first. My mom said in Hindu religion everything should be done first forward and then should be done backwards. This superstition would be a prime example.

I have seen a lot of my friend’s parents doing the same thing while I was in their cars when I was young. Unfortunately I do not hold to this superstition so therefore I don’t follow the drive forward first rule. I think that this rule is merely a superstition and cannot be let go because they have done it for a long time.

Especially in cars there are a lot of superstitions among the Indian community. Another example of this would be when my informant would touch the picture of a Hindu god she has every time she starts driving. This has to do with getting her blessings from the god before she drives so she does not get into a major accident. I sometimes do this ritual in a way because I believe in god and the power of god. This always makes me feel a little relieved and safe on the road.

Game/Saying – United States

Shotgun (riding shotgun)

Basically shotgun works like this, while in a group, if someone wants to sit in the front seat they would yell out shotgun. Whoever says it first gets to sit there. Those are the simple rules of shotgun. There are many minor rules that come into play while doing this. First of all, the driver and person calling shotgun should be able to see the car, or be in the vicinity of it so they can see it. Another main rule is that shotgun should be called loud enough so everyone in the group can here it.

I interviewed my really good friend about the origins of the shotgun rule and his knowledge about it. Since he has a car we rely on him heavily with our transportation (because we are car-less). He told me that the history of it started way back in the early century when people would sit next to the driver in stagecoaches. Those people would have real shot guns, hence the name Shotgun. He said that his friend told him back in 9th grade about this.

I have witnessed many shotguns before. Every time we go out as a group someone or the other will call shotgun. Most of the time there are mutual shotguns, in kindness. Recently though I introduced a new rule which I learned while I was back home in Seattle. This rule is that when someone calls shotgun, anyone can negate it by saying blitz and running to the seat. At first my friends thought I was making it up but soon enough I found a wikipedia article and proved it to them. Since then we have reinstated that rule and used to often. It gives it new life to the game.

Aadhar, my friend, also told me that this game is played in many places around the world. He said that his family friends in Canada and even Australia have heard of this game. He thinks that many English speaking countries have picked up on this.

Folk Speech – American

“Shotgun, no blitz.”

My informant first heard this phrase from his friend while they were getting into his friend’s car.  As my informant and I were walking to the car out of target, my informant ran to the car and shouted “Shotgun, no blitz.”  He first said “shotgun,” because shotgun refers to the front seat of the car near the driver.  Then my informant said “no blitz” which I did not understand.  My informant said that when you play flag football, a person can say no blitz which means that the opposing team can not rush a person or tackle them.  In the case with getting the front seat in the car, he said “Shotgun, no blitz” so that I could not rush in and grab the passenger side before he gets to it.

There are many variations of saying “Shotgun” to get the passenger seat of the car.  Some other rules for saying this is that a person can not say “shotgun” until they actually step outside and see the car.  The saying can also not be said inside of a building or a house.  Another rule is that if a person knows where he or she is going, then he or she automatically gets shotgun.  The term “shotgun” is coined from the fact that back in history, the people who sat in the passenger side held shotguns.  This saying is very popular now because it helps a person reserve their seat on the passenger side.

Automobile Seating Arrangement Ritual – American

Determining where someone sits in a vehicle can be complicated. There are only so many seats in any given vehicle. The driver of the vehicle is usually known ahead of time. This is usually the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle belongs to someone not there or nobody cares who drives then the person driving will be the first person to shout “driver.” The front passenger seat is usually the most coveted position because it is usually always up for grabs. This seat goes to whoever yells “shotgun” first. The worst place to sit is in the middle of the back seat. This is called sitting “bitch.” If you don’t care where in the back you sit as long as it’s not “bitch” then you have to shout “no-bitch.” Sitting “no-bitch” is either behind the driver or behind the passenger. Usually nobody cares where in the back they sit as long as it’s not bitch.

The rule used to be that you can call out a seat as soon as everybody is out of the building. At first it didn’t matter, but then people kept calling “shotgun” like at the beginning of a party or something and it was like cheating. Eventually it changed to where you can’t call it out until the car is within view of everyone and everyone is out of the building. It won’t count if you do it when you can’t see the car or if everyone that’s gonna be in the car isn’t there. If you call a seat it only counts for the current point A to point B. If you gotta make multiple stops where people get out of the car, like a gas station, then seats are up for grabs whenever anyone gets out of the car.

Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a very big deal in Cleveland. Because he often travels with several friends at a time, nobody wants to have to be squeezed in the back. If they do end up in the back, they prefer not to be stuck in the middle. Even if a person does not care where they sit they try very hard to avoid sitting “bitch.” Sitting “bitch” is seen as shameful and embarrassing. People that constantly sit “bitch” are usually made fun of constantly. Bryan says that an exception to this is if the person sitting bitch is smaller than everyone else and volunteers because they do not take up as much space. Often girls sit “bitch” simply because the guys tend to be larger. In these cases they are not made fun of and usually people are grateful for their “sacrifice” and show them the respect they deserve.

If multiple people call “shotgun” at the same time they usually have a Rock, Paper, Scissors best-of-three match to determine the true victor. Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a way to see who is on their toes, or paying attention the most. I think it is a way to define a sort of hierarchy when in transit from place to place. This hierarchy is constantly redefined but there will always be those who seem to succeed at calling “shotgun” more frequently and those who call it less frequently. It is not uncommon for the person sitting “bitch” to call “shotgun” at the first opportunity in order to regain their dignity in the eyes of their peers. It is a way of temporarily structuring peer groups that allows members to temporarily possess positions of power as well as positions of degradation.

Here is a humorous sketch of shotgun calling:

Shotgun Song on YouTube