Ftou Ftou Ftou: Why Greeks might spit at you

What does ftou ftou mean in Greece? Why the Greeks spit - LifeBeyondBorders
What does ftou ftou mean in Greece? Why the Greeks spit - LifeBeyondBorders

I love the contradictions in my adopted country of Greece sometimes.  Here’s a great one related to superstitions and the ‘ftou ftou ftou’ – or Greeks spitting for luck:

Not all people, but a lot used to (and some still do) believe that it’s unhygienic to take a new born baby out of the house.  Therefore newborns can be kept inside for the first forty days of their lives.

Now for the contradiction:

After this time, the baby can be presented to the outside world.  People go “ahhh!” and if you’re a Greek Yaiyai (grandmother), they may follow the Greek superstition and think nothing of spitting at the newborn three times, to ward off the evil eye.

Greek YaiYai - or Granny. Why Greeks might spit at you, especially elderly Greeks - LifeBeyondBorders
Greek YaiYai – or Granny. Why Greeks might spit at you, especially elderly Greeks – LifeBeyondBorders  Photo © 777jew on Pixabay

OK, I don’t mean literally spitting, but there is a custom here in Greece whereby, if someone makes a ‘ftou’ sound at you three times, accompanied by a flicking of the hand in your direction, then that person is actually paying you a compliment.  It means you are worthy of jealousy, so by giving you a negative (the spitting gesture), it wards off jealousy and the evil eye.

Here’s my thought: You can keep a child inside the house because one’s afraid of germs, but it’s OK for a small amount of spittle to be directed at a small child – and that’s not unhygienic?

Like I say, I love this country, I really do.

And the Greek custom of spitting for luck isn’t as light and frivolous as one might think either…in the Greek Orthodox church during a baptism, both the priest and the Godparents of said child will ‘ftou’ the child three times to ward off the devil.

This leads me very nicely onto a taster from my novel Girl Gone Greek – about this very issue:


Book cover for Girl Gone Greek - why do Greeks spit at you? LifeBeyondBorders
Book cover for Girl Gone Greek – why do Greeks spit at you? LifeBeyondBorders

Yasu Rachel, mi leni Vasilika,”

came the voice. Vasiliki turned out to be the sister of my new boss and had bought a plate of spaghetti, a jar of honey, and milk!
I smiled gratefully and greeted Vasiliki by planting tentative kisses on both her cheeks. I’d read somewhere that that was the Greek way of greeting others. Vasiliki, in turn, held me at arms length, and proceeded to spitat me three times: ftou ftou ftou and attempt to wave it in my direction with a flick of her hand! Here in the village, at seven p.m. on my first night, I had no idea what this tradition meant and felt stunned that this kind woman, who had brought food, had just spat at me! I became aware that it must be some Greek custom as Vasiliki kept repeating “Oria, oria” and grinning at me whilst rubbing my arm.

I assume it’s not supposed to be insulting, however just the arm rub would have sufficed, thank you very much. And I’m not too sure how much spittle has inadvertently landed on my plate of food I wondered, but smiled back.


Are you tempted to buy a copy and learn more about the Greek culture of spitting, and others? Girl Gone Greek is available on Amazon UK and COM, also your regional Amazon site, in Kindle and paperback.

And yes, I really have been ‘spat’ on in my time living in Greece.  As I say, it’s a compliment apparently: you’re a good person and you will get back luck because of your ‘niceness’ so therefore they are passing a negative onto you to ward off jealousy.

Either way, spending time in Greece is a wonderful thing to do, to find out about it’s natural, oddities and eccentricities.  Here to can read more about what to do in Athens by reading An insider’s guide to visiting Athens, a great post about more customs in my Dos and Don’ts in Greece – Greek Customs and Etiquette from an Athens resident and why not take a look at my recommended Best Souvenirs to buy from Greece. That post has some great gifts to ward off the evil eye that accompanies the ‘ftou ftou ftou’ motion.
What cultural oddities are there in your country of residence, or where you’re visiting?  Do share in the comments.

Featured image Photos © werner22brigitte and Reissaamme – both on Pixabay.

PIN for later

Ftou Ftou Ftou – Why Greeks might spit at you – Life Beyond Borders Image © werner22brigitte on Pixabay

This post was originally written in April 2015.  It has been revised and updated in April 2018

8 COMMENTS

  1. It’s amazing isn’t it, how vastly different cultures can be!? It’s crazy how differently people can interpret things and also nice to experience it first hand. Thanks for sharing this story. Although I’ve been to Greece it was just for a short holiday on one of the islands so I didn’t really get to experience the culture. This was new for me. So exciting that you’re writing a book as well!!! Best of luck.

  2. Thanks for the support and feedback Savannah. Yes, cultural differences are funny at the best of times, scary at the worst.
    I’m excited to eventually get the edits of my book finished and out there! But I also enjoy sharing snippets with my followers too.

    Hope to see you in Greece again sometime soon!

  3. My English friend had a baby in Greece, she experienced a lot of grief from local women for taking her baby out as a newborn. And the birthing chair is a whole new topic!

  4. I can imagine this is shocking behavior (!) even if it would never occur to me to think of it that way when I was growing up in Greece.
    A cultural nuance: If they spit at you 3 times, it’s a good thing. If they spit only once, not so much 🙂
    Katia recently posted…State of transitionMy Profile

  5. LOL Rebecca! The difference in cultures fascinates me. Like little agreements among folks in certain lands. In some cultures, spitting is the ultimate form of disrespect. In others it wards off evil spirits LOL. In some cultures spitting is common but not encouraged, like in Fiji, where I saw No Spitting signs at the markets all the time. Thanks for the fun share!

    Ryan

    • Glad you enjoyed it Ryan. Yes, there are so many gestures that have different meanings in different parts of the world…it just goes to show how much cultural respect is needed.

LEAVE A REPLY

The following GDPR rules must be read and accepted:
This form collects your name, email and content so that we can keep track of the comments placed on the website. For more info check our Privacy Policy where you will get more info on where, how and why we store your data.

CommentLuv badge