We all have our superstitions. Some refuse to walk under ladders. Others wear lucky charms or even lucky pants. And Italians dislike the number 17 so much that some hotels avoid having rooms with the number. So what’s the problem?
Unlike the UK and USA it’s not the number 13 that worries Italians (they actually quite like 13, but that’s another story!). For some Italians, especially in the south, superstitions around the number 17 originate from the fact that the numerals mimic a hanged man – the 1 represents the man, the 7 the gallows.
And if you translate the number into Roman numerals it has further deadly overtones. Written XVII, the characters can be rearranged to spell “VIXI”, a phrase that was often carved on Ancient Roman gravestones meaning “He lived.” Many Italians think this is tempting fate or, more accurately, tempting death to make the statement come true, and therefore a bad omen or bad luck.
Superstitions vary across the country and although not everyone would have a problem with the number 17, the national Airline Alitalia doesn’t have a row 17 on its planes, just in case. They also don’t appear to have a row 13 either so we’re all safe!
Similarly, when Renault brought its new R17 model to the Italian market in July 1971, it changed the name to R177 to respect the superstition!
And the Cesana Pariol bobsleigh track, the venue for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, has only recently named turn 17 after four-time Winter Olympic champion luger Paul Hildgartner. Previously the turn was just labeled “Senza Nome” or “Without Name”.
But after a small consumer survey (done by me!) it seems that theatres such as La Scala, La Fenice and Verona’s Arena are quite comfortable with seats numbered 17. Maybe opera-goers just aren’t superstitious?
So how do we ward off the bad omens?
Italians have a number of lucky charms, the best known of which is probably the corno, cornet, cornetto or cornicello amulet. Shaped like a little horn, or red pepper, the charm protects against the evil eye and is usually made from red coral, silver or gold.
The mano cornuta or horned hand represents the hand-gesture used by Italians to ward off evil spirits or bad luck. Again the charms tend to be made from silver and are often worn, particularly by some men, for protection.
Coral twig charms are more often warn by girls as are coccinella, or ladybirds. Both are seen as bringing good luck, especially in love. Red is also a very auspicious colour for Italians as it signifies protection from the supernatural. When the coral’s colour fades, however, the charm is no longer effective.
So, if you are at all susceptible to superstitions, make sure you protect yourself carefully today! And leave me a comment if you have any superstitions, lucky charms or a lucky pair of pants for those special occasions! In bocca al lupo tutti! Good luck everyone!
PS For anyone in Rome today (Friday 17th April 2015), the bad luck has already struck as a 24-hour strike is planned across ATAC buses, Roma Tpl local buses, trams, the metro and some light-rail services. The strikes will run from 8.30am to 17.00 and then from 20.00 to the end of the day. More information can be found on the transport website Muoversi a Roma