Frumgirl 1: Exercise in Anthropology, Anyone?

Has anyone heard the superstition that if you put your handbag/purse on the floor, your money will “go away”?

When I was first told it, I thought it was on par with knocking on wood, (fairly common, even if I don’t know the origin,) and not walking under ladders (common sense,) but then I mentioned it to a classmate who asked me if it was an Orthodox thing. Yup, all my weird foibles and indecipherable comments must be Orthodox things, obviously. Clearly, financial repercussions for putting one’s purse on the floor was not a run of the mill superstition.

Personally, I find the random little superstitions embedded into standard American culture or fragments thereof to be infinitely amusing. They make me feel better about not stepping over people and only ever placing cups right side up for most of my life. Every time I come across a new little irrationality, I like to find out who will look at me like I’m an alien if I reference it around them and who will know exactly what I’m talking about. Chalk it up to learning the role.

So far, the people I have met who heard the purse-on-the-floor superstition from a parent or elderly relative are: Southern Baptist, Syrian (Sephardic) Jewish, and Colombian Catholic.

My first step to puzzling this one out was to contact my Portland friend, who will heretofore be known as Miss Priss (yes, she approved this nickname,) and who is my go-to for questions on Southern Baptism due to a plethora of Southern relatives and a flair for explaining things well. All credit for putting this puzzle together goes to her. After some thought, it seems that all three locations have heavy West African cultural influences. I will assume that if you put your handbag on floor in most West African locales, there is a good chance that your money will “go away.” mystery solved. Since I’m not about to conduct an in-depth study as to where else in the world there are heavy West African influences, I will simply shelve this knowledge until someone gasps when I put my bag down.

I’m pretty sure that other people have come across random and humorous superstitions, too. I find it gratifying that most are just as silly as the ones I grew up with, just different. If you’ve encountered any interesting ones, or grew up with any uncommon ones, please share!

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 12:24 AM  Comments (18)  

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yay! Glad to be of help! 🙂

    As for other superstitions, my community (in the South) is hung-up on “whammies”, which are a type of curse. You don’t explicitly say what you hope will go well, for fear of “putting the whammy” on it.

    For example, a young lady might say, “[My relationship] has been going really well–I think So-and-so is going to propose soon!” Her aunt or mother would chastise her, saying, “Don’t you say that aloud! You’ll put the whammy on it!”

    • Do you think whammies are at all connected to “knock on wood”?

      • I actually don’t know about that. I doubt that they’re from the same tradition/line of “reasoning”, though–as far as I know, preventing a curse or getting a curse off you is much more involved than simply knocking on wood!

        I feel like knock on wood is more commonly used when the good thing has already happened, and you want it to keep happening, whereas whammies will mess up things that you want to happen, but haven’t happened yet (if that makes any sense at all!).

  2. In Yeshiva we had the ones where for some reason if you open an umbrella inside or sit at the corner of the table you won’t get married for a long time.
    I’m still kind of careful about the umbrella. 🙂

    • The indoor umbrella one is good sense: sharp pointy things at slightly above human head height + limited above-head space + people of differing heights = NOT GOOD ODDS OF FULL EYE PRESERVATION!

      It stands to reason that eye debilitators and debilitatees do not receive ideal shidduch recommendations, no?

  3. Something about keys on the table. Caribbean.

  4. Keys on the table? Not bolting down anything in the Caribbean is crazy. The shul’s 1000 lbs generator was stolen. That will teach people to think twice about not bolting things down even when the weigh so much that six to eight men are needed to pick them up.

    • Perhaps they used a truck?

      • Not possible. The generator was at the side of the shul, behind a serious fence. A truck would have had to drive through a tree and the fence to pick up the generator.

      • Wow. Just wow.

  5. For a pregnant woman not to look at wierd animals in zoos.

  6. There’s quite a lot of interesting ones in the Japanese culture like :
    – hide your thumbs when you pass near a cimeteree or you’ll lose them
    – if you go sleeping ride after eating you’ll turn into a cow
    – if you cut your nails during the night you won’t see your parents again
    There might be other ones but I don’t know them all, I’m not Japanese after all !!!

    • Okay, now those make no sense whatsoever.

  7. Knocking on wood is a Druid custom (among others)- it is an attempt to thank the tree spirits for good fortune.

    • Huh! That’s good to know. I’ll lump it with maypole umbrellas and balloon popping at weddings in the “uknown and therefore unbanned pagan religious references” that escape the fire and brimstone ortho-ed address.

  8. My best friend is Libyan Muslim (I’m a conservative Jew) and she told me about the purse on the floor thing…we both thought that it was a Muslim superstition!!

  9. This is a Jewish superstition or halacha – evil spirits leave the body through fingernails and toenails, so they can not be disposed of in garbage cans (if one falls on the ground it is bad luck for a pregnant woman to step on it). You need to burn them or flush them down the toilet!

    • That’s true about the fingernails and it’s not one I take lightly. I’ve heard some crazy stories. Although I think one of my classmates told me that if you step on the fingernails then it kind of neutralizes the “Ruach”.


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