When you flip the fish say “neighbor”

Informant Background: The informant is originally from Hong Kong. She now lives permanently in the United States but travels back once a year to visit her relatives in Hong Kong. She speaks both Cantonese and English. Her family practices many of the Chinese traditions, folk-beliefs, and superstitions. She celebrates many of the Chinese holidays through cooking of special “holiday food.”


A lot of Hong Kong people used to be fishermen back in the day. So you know when you eat a whole fish on a plate, you have the flip the fish when you finish one side to eat the other…So…when you flip you are supposed to say “neighbor” or “other boat” because the fish is like your own boat and it is bad luck if you flip it you know ‘cause it’s like you’re flipping your own boat. That is why you put the curse on someone else’s boat so your boat is safe and the bad luck will go to other people.

This was taught to the individual by her mother as a common table-side manner. According to the informant, this is still a common table side manner among many fisherman and people who operate at sea. She said it still practiced in her family as well.


I think this practice or folk belief is similar to how people “knock on wood” to feel better about what they said even though it will not create change. It shows the effect on belief as an idea where it does not have to be proven but it is done so the individual can “feel better.”

This folk belief is also similar to the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” Similar to how whistling while you are at sea is bad because it will create strong wind; in this case the magic is in the action of flipping the fish where it would be similar to a boat flipping at sea.

This superstition reflects how folklore can be geographically and culturally tied to its context. In this case the tie is occupation. This belief would exist in different form if the people in Hong Kong used to be farmer or miner. It also shows how belief is contextual. If one is not eating near the ocean or on a boat, the fear would be much less in comparison to eating and flipping the fish on a boat in the middle of the ocean.