Italian Wives’ Tales

Italian Wives’ Tales
Italian Wives’ Tales

Every country has their Old Wives’ Tales and Italy is no exception. Anyone who is familiar with Italian culture knows that Italian Wives’ Tales are serious business.

After living in Italy for four years, and spending my summers here, I have come to learn each and every Italian Wives’ Tale-which by the way are sacred truths and can mean the difference between life and death in some cases. (Ok, not really-but ask any Italian and they’ll beg to differ). Apparently, us North Americans have been committing dangerous acts, such as standing under air conditioners, and swimming on a full stomach-coincidentally dodging death for centuries.

The funny thing about Old Wives’ Tales though, is that most of the time logical and rational people (myself included) know that they are not true. But Italians? Yes, they are logical and rational however, they’ll never underestimate the power of an ancient superstition. I’m passing this important information on to you, in case you find yourself in Italy one day-and want to avoid death. Consider yourself warned!

Never stand near an open window
The medical superstition ‘Colpo d’aria’ meaning ‘punch of air’ is considered very dangerous. The tiniest draught of air that is blown into your face is toxic and could cause anything from a stye to a sore throat or cold, and even paralysis. To protect yourself, always wear a scarf around your neck when standing near an open window or on a particular windy day.

Italian Wive's Tales

Never drink anything cold
Ice might as well not exist in Italy, and to be honest you’ll rarely (or most likely never) be offered a nice tall glass of anything-with ice in it. Apparently, when your body is warm and you drink something very cold, it is a shock to your system. This phenomenon is called ‘blocco di stomaco’ which will cause severe digestion problems-or possibly death.

Always satisfy a food craving when pregnant
Ever wonder where a birthmark comes from? According to Italians, they appear on a baby’s body when a pregnant mother refuses to give in to a food craving. If you want your baby to be born without a ‘voglia’ meaning craving, just eat everything in sight.

The Evil Eye (Malocchio)
The Evil Eye is one of the most ancient superstitions in Italy. Every region seems to have their own version of the Evil Eye, but some take it more seriously than others. Essentially, it is a curse that has been cast upon you by someone who is jealous or envious of you. The repercussions are drastic and can prevent you from anything from finding true love, to financial stability and health issues. To protect themselves from malocchio many Italians wear an evil eye or horn-shaped charm (the corno) as a necklace for protection.

Never take a bath or shower when you are sick
If it isn’t bad enough feeling under the weather, Italians swear by not taking a bath or shower when you are sick-which means you will feel horrible, and possibly smell horrible too. This superstition goes hand in hand with ‘colpo d’aria’ since walking around with wet hair is simply a recipe for disaster, and of course possible death.

The dangers of air-conditioning
This contraption blows dangerously cold air directly onto you and could therefore cause an extreme case of ‘colpo d’aria.’ Italians will die of heat exhaustion before they succumb to turning on the air conditioner, and even worse, pointing the cold air directly onto their bodies. Any North American visiting Italy, should mentally prepare themselves for the constant heat-and coincidentally, profuse perspiration.

Never go swimming immediately after you’ve eaten
Swimmers, beware. Refusing to wait the recommended 2-3 hour time-frame after eating could result in a severe case of ‘blocco di stomaco’.  The medical ramifications are disastrous and could possibly result in death-and apparently there have been documented cases that prove this. 

Never place a hat on a bed
Traditionally, when the sick were on their deathbeds a priest would come to receive their final confessions. The priest would remove his hat and place it on the bed so that he could put on his vestments. Thus, a hat’s temporary resting place is associated with eternal rest. Also, a bed should never face the door because it replicates the position of a coffin in a church.


36 thoughts on “Italian Wives’ Tales”

  • My mom is from Colombia and there are so many. I admit, I totally follow the one not to put your purse on the floor. I cringe if someone takes my purse and puts it on the floor! I can’t say I won’t shower while sick, but I may just give second thoughts to hats on the bed now LOL.

  • The Cubicle Chick 7 years ago

    Old Wives Tales often sound crazy but I think there is some truth to some of them although possibly exaggerated in many instances. My used to tell us about bathing and showering when ill. I think it’s true. – Yolonda

  • Oh wow, no more placing my hats on the bed or even showering when sick lol (ok I lie, I love my showers).

  • Inspiring Kitchen 7 years ago

    I had no idea Italians are very superstitious. What an interesting read.

  • I have heard of a few, and many I hadn’t, but I got a good chuckle at them all. Now I want to google some more wives tales!

  • Lori Felix 7 years ago

    I never knew that in Italy they don’t offer you ice. I would have a hard time with my beverages if I ever make it there because I love ice. Oh and I may have to rearrange my bedroom after reading that the bed shouldn’t face the door lol.

  • Ann Bacciaglia 7 years ago

    I could not handle no ice. I have to have a cold drink especially when it is so hot outside. These are great wives tales.

  • Kristen Dann 7 years ago

    Never drink anything cold!? I’m not sure I could do that. I’ve felt the chill you get when you drink something cold after being in the heat all day, but thankfully I haven’t died yet!

  • chubskulit 7 years ago

    Italy reminds me of the country I came from, we have superstitious beliefs like these as well. The hat on the bed is interesting.

  • Sara 7 years ago

    These are very interesting old wives tales. I do agree with the no swimming right after eating. My mom always told us that too! These old wives tales were great, thanks for sharing!

    • Are you Italian? I remember when we used to visit Italy in the summer. Whenever we ate at the beach my cousins would have to wait at least 2 hours before going into the water…and we just jumped right in, lol!

  • Rebecca Swenor 7 years ago

    This is indeed interesting information. Now I do know that when I was pregnant my Italian grandmother and great grandmother tried feeding me everything. Of course that was for everyone pregnant or not. lol Thanks for sharing the info.

    • My nonna actually got upset with me once because I wouldn’t eat (not even a taste) of something she had offered me. She was so concerned about the baby!!

  • WOW, I really enjoyed reading this after a long day. The one that struck me most is “This phenomenon is called ‘blocco di stomaco’ which will cause severe digestion problems-or possibly death.” WOW I am not an ice consumer and now I for sure am not. Also never heard on the hat on the bed one. So interesting!

  • Melissa Dixon 7 years ago

    This reminds me of my grandmother, she is Italian an instilled most of these in my brain since I was born. I would never put a hat on a bed and she always warned me about a fatooli, a curse I guess being put on my daughter by complimenting her too much. My husband thinks it’s crazy but grandma always knows best!

  • Tatanisha Pitts-Worhey 7 years ago

    The world is getting modern each passing day, it’s interesting how these tales seem to stick and still get passed down from generation to generation. I have an Italian friend and heard about the evil eye too, she cringes at the though of having a peacock feather for home decorations.

  • J-Man and MillerBug 7 years ago

    I love all these old wives tales. My husband lived in Italy for 4 years, as well. I remember him saying that they thought ice was a really terrible thing, like it was scary or something. In spite of the old wives tales, they have some amazing food!

  • Racquel Bregg 7 years ago

    One of my dear friends is Italian. I’ll have to ask if she knows any of these old wive’s tales or if her family lives by any of them. Her and her sister took a trip to Italy with their father 2 summers ago to visit their family there and had such an amazing time!

  • Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle 7 years ago

    I got SUCH a kick out of these! We have oddball, completely untrue sayings in the south, too. I think all cultures do, really.

    • Yes, they do! It’s interesting to actually learn the superstitions of each culture. Any particular ones that stand out from the south? A friend of mine just moved to Atlanta and might need to know them! lol!

  • Lisa 9 years ago

    Great blog. So I was tying to tell a pregnant person at work about #3 – do you know what it is called when you don’t follow through – is it spunatti?

  • Calissa Mc Cue 9 years ago

    okay so i am part Italian and was born in america and live most of my life in new york. i am also a mix of other European cultures but my family focuses a lot on our English and Italian cultures (i know English and Italian its weird than you throw in some Scottish and Irish). so when my grandmother was pregnant with my mom she desperately craved lobster and in my grandmothers day and age you didn’t just “go out to eat” it was too expensive. so no lobster for her. well when my mom was born BOOM there was a big ol’ lobster birthmark on her back. as much as i’m a pure blooded american i do believe in a lot of Italian wives tales. like giving a pregnant woman what ever she wants. but also things like never opening a door if someone knocks three times *shivers*

    • Lisa @bitesforbabies 9 years ago

      It’s funny you mention that because my mom said the same thing happened to her!! It’s weird because I find most of these to be so over the top, yet I’m superstitious myself about other things. For example, I never say anything bad out loud (i.e., someone getting sick, etc) because I am so afraid it’ll happen! AND, a few times I’ve said things they HAVE happened!!! I’m pinning it down to sheer coincidence ;-))))

  • LeighAnn 11 years ago

    So funny Lisa! My husband SLEEPS with a wool scarf around his neck when he’s sick :). I have also experienced hilarity with #7 when vacationing in Puglia with my in-laws a few summers ago. Thanks for the laughs!!
    PS the new website looks great 🙂

    • Really?! I hope you didn’t show him this post, lol! I’m glad you got a good laugh out of it…and thanks for checking out the new site!

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