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.
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:
“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.
PIN for later
This post was originally written in April 2015. It has been revised and updated in April 2018