9 Strange but Very Real Superstitions in Argentina
Argentine superstitions & How to avoid bad luck
Argentines are passionate. They’re passionate about futbol, about their food and about their loved ones. And oddly, I find Argentinians to be equally zealous in their superstitions as they are about their dulce de leche. Are you a red head or squeamish about the word testicle? If so, sorry, don’t shoot the messenger. If not, then read on the learn the best of the best of Argentine superstitions so you can avoid the mufa.
1. The early birthday jinx
Birthdays in Argentina begin at midnight the day of and not a second before. If you truly love your Argentine friend, don’t you dare wish them a happy birthday before the clock strikes midnight. An early birthday wish is equal to a jinx on your life. If you die the day before your birthday, obviously it’s because Maria was stupid enough to say Feliz Cumple a day too early. Stupid Maria!
My main beef with this superstition is the serious impracticality of it all. If your birthday is on a Monday, it makes logical sense to celebrate the Saturday night before! Waiting until the following weekend is foolish, everyone will have forgotten your birthday by then. You’ll look desperate for attention, still celebrating your big day a whole week after the fact. Celebrating on the closest weekend makes the most sense, but what do I know? I’m just an American with a death wish.
The only work around is to hold your party the night before your birthday. Guests will arrive and give you a beso on the cheek, ceremoniously announcing “but I’m not going to say happy birthday yet!” This will quickly get old, but you will smile and thank them. At midnight on the dot, the candles are lit and everyone will finally wish you a “Feliz Cumpleaños”.
2. El Negro de la suerte
Seeing a black person brings good luck. I read this and thought, well that surely can’t be true. So I asked one of my friends here if he’d had any experiences with this, being an African-American expat. After boarding a city bus, three men pointed at him and yelled “El negro de la suerte!” “Lucky black man!!”
3. Unlucky Redheads
Where black people bring buena suerte, red heads bring back luck. Political correctness has no home in Argentine superstition.
Mufa is Argentine slang for bad luck or jinx. If someone is mufa, they bring bad luck. A red head is mufa, or yeta (another word for bad luck).
5. Tocate el izquierdo
If you pass a red head on the street, there is a way to protect yourself and counteract the mufa. If you’re a man, touch your left testicle. If you’re a woman, your left breast. This is similar to “knock on wood” in theory, so if you have a table nearby and would rather not touch your left huevo in public, then “toca madera” instead.
This Burger King ad featuring the persecuted red heads of Argentina mentions mufa, the red head curse and tocando el izquiero. It’s one superstition packed ad! It was not well received.
6. Menem: he who shall not be named
Mendez, Charly, El Turco, El Cotur, El Riojano… all of these nicknames are fine. But don’t let the name of one of Argentina’s most eccentric presidents leave your mouth. The rumors of his curse started early in his presidency, when two men he appointed to political office subsequently died violently of a heart attack and plane crash. Menem attended the 1990 World Cup and when the goalie, Nery Pumpido, wouldn’t shake his hand, he tapped his knee instead. It wasn’t long before Pumpido shattered his kneecap, leaving him sidelined.
Protect yourself and don’t utter his name. Stick to one of his many, many nicknames, and if you happen to slip up and say the name of he who must not be named or even worse, you see him in the street, you know what to do. Touch your left you know what or be haunted by the mufa.
READ NEXT: ARGENTINE SLANG: THE PERFECT VOCABULARY LIST
7. Lobizón: The 7th Son Werewolf Curse
It used to be more common to have up to seven children, so I imagine this legend/superstition used to be a more common occurrence than it is today. Legend has it, mostly among the rural populations of the interior, that if a family has seven children, all sons, then the seventh son is doomed to become a ravenous werewolf, the lobizón.
Legend has it that the morning following a full moon you can find their bed drenched in the blood of their victims. Having seven boys began to carry a heavy stigma, so much so that the government decided to intervene. To battle the rural fears, the president would officially become the 7th son’s godparent, making it an honor rather than a stigma to be the 7th boy. This tradition continues today, like this family that wants President Macri to the godfather to their seventh son.
8. Wine & Watermelon: A Deadly Combination
I remember the reaction the first time I poured myself a glass of Malbec while eating a bowl of watermelon. It was a hot summer day, I wanted the watermelon and sure, I’d have liked a chilled rosé instead but it’s Argentina, there’s always a bottle of red on the table. The ensuing protests would have made you think I was pouring gasoline into my glass instead of wine.
In Argentina, people believe that if you drink red wine and eat watermelon together, you will die. The logic is that the combination of the two will turn the fruit into stone in your belly. Well, me and a few fellow borrachos conducted a scientifically sound experiment on that hot, summer day, and I can promise you that no watermelon turned to stone. Drink responsibly.
9. End of the month Gnoccis
On the 29th of every month, there’s one thing on every dinner plate across Argentina: gnoccis. Some of those plates may even have a few coins underneath. Restaurants everywhere offer them as the day’s special, while Italian grandmothers are at home boiling the potatoes. But why?
This tradition has strong roots that trace all the way back to the 8th century. A young doctor, now a canonized saint, Pantaleón often crossed Italy on pilgrimage. He would treat the ill and help the poor along the way. On one of these pilgrimages, he asked a rather humble family if they would set a place for him at their table. In return they would receive a year of abundant fishing and harvest. This happened on the 29th (if we can trust the memory of an 8th century calendar...).
Placing money under your plate of gnocchis represents your own wishes for a prosperous month ahead. Another more likely but less romantic theory is that gnoccis in themselves are a very humble meal with low cost ingredients. The 29th of each month is a time when many families find their pocketbooks empty, waiting for the next months paycheck. Regardless of whether it’s due to a benevolent saint or suffering pocketbooks, I’ll never complain about a tradition that puts a cheesy plate of gnoccis on my table.
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