“Sglazeet” is what the Russians call “giving the evil eye.” I totally believe in this, but it’s technically hocus pocus witchery; like ghosts. My husband tells me that it’s up to me whether I give anyone the power to jinx or cast this evil spell. Apparently, I do. If I could, I would spray a magic shield of protection around myself before I ever left the house.
A jealous person is someone who has the potential to sglazeet you, which is why Russians are so accustomed to answering “still alive” rather than “great” when someone asks them how they’re doing. We are brought up not to brag about future success, even better to sound pessimistic than to risk making someone jealous of you and tainting your good fortune.
So, the better you look, the more tempting you are to the rest of the world to be a victim of this evil eye. It’s a dangerous quandary; how do you look glamorous and fabulous and not get sglazeet at the same time? While I wait for the invention of a protective Teflon coating to stave off the powerful evil eye, I arm myself with the most powerful weapon I have: the bulafka, Russian for a safety pin.
As long as you are wearing a (secret) bulafka, you are OK to Go to that Russian nightclub where women subconsciously try to out-Chanel one another. As long as you have that safety pin, feel free to go to that dinner with the uncle who hates you and makes you nauseous each time you see him. As long as you bear the little silver nugget of defense, you can show off your adorable newborn baby to all the relatives.
I consider myself an agnostic Russian-Jew, but these Russian superstitions and customs are the closest I’ve come to a religion. These rituals were intertwined into my everyday life and I embraced them as cardinal social etiquette, not caring about the origin story nor having any actual alliance to any doctrine.
There are many other superstitions that have become entrenched as part of my natural behavior and I can’t imagine not having them in my life. I think about my narrow-mindedness towards extreme religion, including people who follow the religion with blind faith. But to their defense, they at least follow a holy book which narrates a story to explain their practices. Not me. My birthright is ridiculous Russian superstitions. Me, the journalist with the scientific mind, who thinks keeping kosher is extreme, will not leave the house without her bulfaka.
Here are some of the most orthodox rituals:
- I make my whole family sit in silence for a few seconds before long a long trips to make sure we make it back alive.
- Always knock three times and spit three times over my left shoulder if I say something good. How are you feeling? Great, knock on wood!
- You’re totally fucked if you break a mirror, especially in my family because my father once broke a small shaving mirror in the army and then got the notice a day later that his father died.
- Never ever, under any circumstances, show anything negative on yourself. Example, if you demonstrate where someone else has a wound or a scar, then you’ll get it there.
- If someone accidentally steps on your foot, you have to step back to avoid having a fight.
- You can’t step over someone if they’re lying on the floor (like a kid watching TV) because if you do, you’ll have the power to stop them from growing.
- You must not, can not, no way, celebrate your birthday before your actual birthday. If you do, you will surely die before your actual birthday.
- You can’t go back home if you forgot something – and if you must, you absolutely have to look at your reflection in the mirror.
- You can’t give knives as gifts. If you do, someone has to give you a dollar at least so they’re symbolically buying them from you.
- Single women who sit at a corner at a table will remain unmarried for seven years.
- Bad luck to whistle in the house, which never bothered me because I never learned to whistle. My husband, who is an excellent whistler is forbidden from doing so in the house, and is so mad about it, he made me write this line.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever drop this behavior; it is so second nature.
Recently, at a dinner party filled with dangerous sglazeet potential, my husband suddenly realized NONE OF US HAD A BULAFKA ON! He ran out to the nearest drug store and remedied the situation in minutes. But, it got me thinking that I really needed a more permanent solution.
Maybe I should drop all this evil eye business. Perhaps my husband is right and I should just focus on myself, shut out the eyes of others, and I’ll never be susceptible to it again. I should learn not to give it any power. I’m should work on that.
But just in case, I’m getting a bulafka tattoo.