Saturday, 24 July 2010

A lesson on gestures

I was driving on the motorway yesterday when I passed a nasty car crush. Automatically, without giving it much thought, I pulled on my ear lobe with my index and big fingers, made a noise that can be vaguely described as sucking through my teeth, and then bit on my index finger. I claim to be free of superstitions but some things are simply stuck with me from years of living in Azerbaijan. I see a black cat cross the road in front of me and I pretend to spit over my left shoulder before I go over that invisible line of bad luck. I see a nasty accident and I pull on my ear and suck on my teeth. To be completely honest, if nobody can hear me, I also add a little k-shh!-k-shhh! noise.

If you happen to visit Baku or live there, and see someone like maybe a good-looking Azeri girl like I am showing here holding her hand high up as if she is waving to you in a friendly fashion, I have to warn you this might not be the case. The difference is in the movement of the hand. If she waves at you, the hand will move from side to side, like you would expect. However, if she makes an angry face and pushes her hand straight out, as if to push you away, it means she is wishing you were dead. ‘Kul bashiva! ‘ is the expression that goes with the gesture and means literally ash on your head.

In the UK, the only gesture I ever need is a wave to the magpie bird. While adding ‘Good morning Mr. Magpie, how is your wife?’ But only if you see one! If you see two it brings good luck. If you see three it is for a girl, and four-for a boy. Don't ask.

OK, not entirely true. I might occasionally- very occasionally!- resort to using my middle finger whilst driving. I know it is very common, and not something a nice lady like me should be doing, and I am working on it. It is just that people forget all manners when they get behind that wheel!

Lastly, for today’s lesson, Azeris believe in evil eye. I told you this before, but it is worth mentioning again. When we believe someone is envious of something nice we own, like a new car or an engagement ring, we may whisper under our breath: 'Senin gozun menim gotume!' Which translates as may your evil eye go up my arse. Presumably, arse is a pretty safe place to store any evil eye that might be fired at us. Fortunately, there is no gesture that goes with it.


  1. Whenever I use salt, and I don't mean spill it, just use it, I sprinkle a little bit of it over my shoulder.
    In PerĂș, is very common to see newborns using a little red ribbon around their wrists. People say the ribbon protects the baby. Don't ask!

  2. Well, in Greece, to avoid giving the evil eye, we make the mock-spit sound towards something or someone we admire!

  3. You see for such a religious country as Lithuania, we have so many superstitions. You do not step over the little child as he will not grow (i did try this one with mine and they both are fine!), you do not show a mirror to a baby as he will not speak, obviously the black cat thing. My mum is the worst i know. As far as she is concerned, you cannot do anything as something bad will happen.
    Saying all this some things are just in me and i do them without thinking, because i just grew up seeing everyone else do it. xx

  4. What a busy gesturing life you lead, Scary.

  5. I hail from the Netherlands, which is peopled with rather down-to-earth, no-nonse folks. I cannot remember enjoying any fun superstitions in my childhood, so I feel rather deprived. I do remember hearing that you shouldn't walk under a ladder that leans up against a wall, and something about black cats, but I don't remember why.

    Later, living in Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia and your country's enemy Armenia, I heard of lots of interesting supersitions. In Africa, you might want to be a little careful with some of those...

  6. @An-Lu: Yes, we do the same actually. I think it might be a Russian one though that we, Azeries, borrowed. Not sure. Or maybe it is Azeri?

    @Miss Footloose: Africa! I can only imagine. would like to hear more!

    @Bill: I know, exhausting.

    @Jura: Yes, we dont step over anyone, really in az. But it means they will die, not just stay short. :))

    @Gabriela: we all have those, eh.

  7. This post is hilarious! There is gesture that goes with the arse thing:))) You actually scratch your buttock! You must have forgotten.

  8. @sofisticos: Ha, I remember the scratching your buttock one, but I did not think those were part of the same thing...One was "tyfu ne sglazit", and another one, when you know for a fact they are already putting some evil eye on you...:))) you have no choice but to send it up where the sun dont shine. :) complicated!

  9. @Miss Footloose: I'd also like to hear more about your experiences. Of the countries you've lived in, which would you say are more and less accepting of superstitions?

  10. Yep, I still spit over my left shoulder when a dark cat runs across my way. This is despite the fact that I actually OWN a BLACK cat! We are hopeless!

  11. true and funny. made my day :)