Superstitions in Italy as seen by expats.

Superstitions in Italy

superstitions in italy and the evil eye

Wiki: “Sexual symbols distract the witch from the mental effort needed to bestow the evil eye.”

Here I am again with my partners in expat blogger debauchery, tackling the tricky topic of superstitions in Italy.  This isn’t a new topic for me—I’ve been fascinated with Italian superstitions ever since my first random encounter with them several years ago.  At one point, I was even Google’s golden boy on the subject, ranking #1, and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that their algorithms have about as much credible science as, well, superstitions.

But this will make for a fun group discussion, especially since: 1) today is Friday the 13th, and; 2) the Mondiale (World Cup) started this week, so fans all over Italy will be rubbing their cornicelli and grabbing their family jewels (or is it the other way around?) in order to ward off the dreaded malocchio.

Without further ado, let’s talk about a few superstitions in Italy.  And as we’ll see once again, the line between superstition and religion is often a blurry one in the Bel Paese.

Superstitions in Italy regarding numbers

It may surprise you to know that 13 is actually a LUCKY number in Italy, while 17 is considered unlucky.  Indeed, Friday the 17th is considered an unlucky day because it was on that day Philip the Fair gave the order to kill the Templars.

The number 17 is even considered unlucky for the way it’s written.  When 17 is written using the Roman numerals XVII, it can be rearranged to spell the Latin word VIXI meaning “I have lived,” presumably implying “I am now dead,” since it was found on many Roman tombstones.

However, even in Italy 13 people at the dinner table doesn’t bode well. (Remember what happened to the “13th guest” at the Last Supper?)

Speaking of lucky numbers, too bad we don’t have an expat in Naples among our brood.  I’d love to hear a full explanation of the book of smorfia napoletana, used for both dream interpretation and playing the lottery.  But at least I DO know that if you dream of the number 29, you MUST go buy a ticket right away.  O cazz’! (Or should I say, “O’ padre ‘e criature”?)

Let’s look at a few other numbers of interest, translated first into Italian, and then English:

6: Chella ca guarda n’terra;  Quella che guarda per terra;  She who looks down (in other words, the vagina)

13: Sant’ Antonio;  Sant’ Antonio;  Saint Anthony (whose birthday we celebrate today!)

14: O’mbriaco; L’ubriaco;  The drunk

16: O’ culo; Il culo;  The butt

17: A’ disgrazzie;  La sfortuna;  Bad luck

21: A’ femmena annura;  La femmina nuda;  The naked woman

28: E’ zizze;  Le tette;  The boobs

29: O’ padre ‘e criature;  Il padre delle creature/bambini;  The father of the creatures/children (in other words, the penis)

Have we noticed a disproportionate preference to sexual body parts?

48: O’ muorto che parla;  Il morto che parla;  The talking dead

71: L’ommo ‘e merda;  L’uomo di merda;  The shitty man (the man barely worth being called “a man;” in other words, someone who has squealed to the police.)

So if you dream of any of these things tonight, refer to the book and play the corresponding lottery numbers as soon as possible. Or not.

Sports (meaning ONLY soccer) Superstitions in Italy

Athletes in every sport and from every country enthusiastically embrace superstition, and Italian soccer players are certainly no exception.  No saint or supernatural force is too strange or embarrassing to invoke in the name of victory.  In Italy, perhaps the country most steeped in Catholicism, players and fans alike seem to believe that God wants them to win.

I’m not a religious person, but if I were, I think I would assume that God has bigger issues on his mind than the outcome of a silly game.  Grown men being paid ridiculous sums of money to dress up in their underwear and chase a ball around a field doesn’t strike me as a high priority for any deity.  Then again, I wasn’t indoctrinated into the Church of Calcio as a child growing up in the U.S., so it’s hard for me to fully grasp.

This player obviously forgot to wear his cornicello. (Photo: FIFA)

This player obviously forgot to wear his cornicello. (Photo: FIFA)

Perhaps the most famous of these believers is Giovanni Trapattoni, the former coach of the national team during the 2002 World Cup.  His sister was a nun, and before every match she would provide him with an ample supply of Holy Water, which he’d sprinkle on all of his players as they walked out onto the field.  He then used the remainder of the sacred liquid to wash his own hands.  Ridiculous and laughable?  Yes.  However, he’s considered the most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, so who are we to judge?

But he’s not the only Italian coach to perform such strange rituals during an international competition.   During the 2012 European Championships in Poland, Cesare Prandelli and his coaching staff trekked eleven kilometers from their hotel to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy near Krakow before every match.  This is the holy site which was twice visited by Pope John Paul II in 1997 and 2002.  In fact, as luck (or God) would have it, the Italians were victorious in both the quarter-final against England, and the semi-final against Germany.  However they lost badly to the Spanish team in the final, so maybe “somebody upstairs” was getting a little tired of being called upon for every frivolous favor.

The club team from Napoli had its own problems with religion/bad luck.  Someone had committed the sin of removing the photos of various saints (including their beloved San Gennaro) from the tunnel where the players entered the stadium.  Many giocatori would kiss the photos for good luck before running onto the field.  When the holy photos were removed, naturally, misfortune followed in the form of an extended losing streak.  The players quickly demanded that the pictures be replaced.  Which they were.  Regrettably, the bad luck persisted for an uncomfortably long period of time.  Those saints can be a huffy little bunch of rascals when scorned, it seems.

Let’s go back to the number 13 and see if we can pull all of this together.  This last episode actually comes from a Brazilian player/coach, but since the World Cup is in Brazil this time, I think it fits nicely with our theme.  And besides, he has an Italian-sounding name.

Mario Zagallo is known throughout the soccer world for his stanch faith in the number 13.  He was a great admirer of Saint Anthony, and since Saint Anthony’s Day is celebrated on the 13th of June (today!), any connection to the number 13 was sacred to Signore Zagallo.  He married on June 13th, lived on the 13th floor of his apartment building, guided Brazil through 13 World Cup victories, and apparently was aided in his post-op recovery from stomach cancer by visiting Saint Anthony’s shrine 13 times.  And yes, at 82 years-old, he’s still alive—although his “kicking” days are clearly over.

So now let’s all sit back and get ready for some great World Cup action.  The games have already started, but Italy hasn’t taken the field yet for its first match.  There’s still time for me to look for my lucky socks, which I’ve been careful NOT to wash since Gli Azzurri won the title in 2006 (not that I’m superstitious or anything).  Forza Italia!  Forza Azzurri!!

And of course, let me once again introduce you to our merry band of misfit expats.  Click on over to their blogs and see what they have to say about Superstitions in Italy.  Ciao!

minitalyMaria is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos. (Read her article here, “Becoming Bold and Italic.”)



misty-evans-surviving-italyM. Elizabeth Evans of “Surviving Italy” is an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?


georgetteGeorgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta.  She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe (and the world).  Check out her blog, Girl in Florence



ginaGina is 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy.  She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola.  When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy.



Rochelle Del Borrello

Rochelle is a writer, translator, blogger and journalist from Perth, Western Australia. She has a complex relationship with her adopted island home of Sicily, and still has much love for her native antipodean land, even if it is too far away from everywhere.  She blogs about all things ‘expat’ at Unwilling Expat and contributes regularly to the Times of Sicily which brings Sicily to the world.

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Living in the Caput Mundi and trying to decipher Italian culture for the English speaking world.

  • Raffaele says:

    Actually 13 in Italy is ambiguous as it could be good or bad omen depending from the situations. For example 13 at a table for lunch or dinner is definitely a “no no” situation as it recalls last dinner on earth of Jesus Christ with 12 apostles including Judas.

    Little note for the lady who loves cakes. Bad number omen in Japan is number 4 not 8. As official pronunce of 4 is “shi” that means also “death”, so japanese rather prefer alternate “yon” pronunce of it and avoid occurrencies of number four.


  • cbriantx says:

    This was a great write-up on the Italian superstitions. It was fun to read and reminisce on the things my grandmother used to say.

    • Rick says:

      Grazie! It’s a fascinating topic that I like to revisit once in a while. So full of history and folklore. And yes, my grandmother said many of these things, too!

  • […] Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. Rick’s latest post gives us the low down on superstitions in Italy. […]

  • Fascinating! I’d no idea about the number 17 being unlucky. In Japan, the number 8 brings doom, as it sounds like the word “death”. In Spain, where I live, Tuesdays are considered unlucky, and, according to a popular saying, you should never get married or embark on a journey on that day. Not that people are very superstitious in the area where I live, and they wouldn’t think twice about going on a trip on a Tuesday if the opportunity arose. it’s nothing like Rochelle’s experience in Sicily, thank God!

  • Your post is awesome Rick, I especially loved those numbers, the Italian language never ceases to amaze me. And for the world cup, I can’t even imagine the craziness that will happen in these coming weeks..

  • […] Rick Zullo of ‘Rick’s Rome‘ – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. Read his post about Italian supersticions here.  […]

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