During one of my monthly visits to my hairdresser, we ended up conversing about cultural influences and traditions.
He’s a “southerner,” I’m from the Arabic culture, and my best friend, who was with me that day, is Italian.
There was woman in the salon who began talking to my best friend – well it was really more like flirting with him – and after she left, my hairdresser, Mr. Southerner, commented that it seemed as though she really liked Mr. Italian. I concurred and explained that wherever we go, he always seems to attract someone. Mr. Southerner said, “I can see why.”
I remarked, “God bless him,” referring to my best friend, and added that if my mom had been with us, she would’ve spit on him 3 times. That got inquiring minds interested and I was asked why she would’ve spit on him.
I explained that she would spit on him to chase away the devil, to ward off any “bad luck” from coming upon him and prevent any reversal of his good fortune, like a talisman.
From there, Mr. Italian went on to explain how in his culture when someone says “God bless you,” it’s in reference to sharing good fortune about someone. He gave the example of his mother bragging about her grandson’s (Mr. Italian’s nephew) musicianship. She kept saying, “God bless him” after each comment she made about him. “Your nephew is so talented, God bless him, and had such a great performance, God bless him, he continues to amaze us, God bless him.”
Mr. Southerner added that where he grew up in the south when someone said, “God bless you” it inferred a sympathetic expression. He gave examples such as, “Oh, dear. I’m so sorry you’re not well today. God bless you.” or, “Poor thing, she’s so homely. God bless her.” He joked that when someone said that to him he just knew something was wrong with him.
I said that’s better than being spat upon on by 12 adults in the living room because I was told I looked pretty in the dress I was wearing for Easter, and even worse when I had friends over and had to explain what the spitting was all about. (Not a great way to keep friends!)
As we laughed about how our cultures have influenced us, I mentioned the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It explains pretty much how I grew up, especially how my mom carried around a pair of tweezers in her housedress pocket and would pull it out at random to tweeze any unsightly hairs on my chin. (Love you, mom!)
Mr. Italian shared that his parents still cover their furniture with vinyl, the chandelier and lamps could light up a cathedral and candles of all the patron saints made their house look like a monastery. He then asked if we ever got into trouble for throwing bread to a sibling when setting the table. I cracked up and said that I thought that only took place in my house. He explained that throwing bread was considered a “sin” in their house because it was disrespectful to Jesus!
Someone overheard that and asked if we were allowed to throw the bottle of wine or if that was also disrespectful because it represents Jesus’ blood. I said we didn’t drink wine, we drank Arak (Levantine alcoholic spirit in the anise family) but didn’t throw it. Mr. Italian said he never threw a bottle of wine because they drank them before they got to the table and Mr. Southerner said that in his household they only drank sweetened ice tea, which they never threw.
Cultural traditions are fun and in some cases very important and though they may fade from generation to generation they certainly make for interesting conversation!