Spanish Old Wives’ Tales (And Their Veracity)

I’m on a bit of a blogging break, ever since my laptop decided to go belly up on me without any prior warning. The audacity of it all! Really, we shared so much: that time when I vacuumed a key up and had to search desperately in the bag for the L, when I thought it would explode from overwork and lack of proper heating (silly me, I take the term “laptop” quite seriously), and endless amounts of blog writing, commenting, and recipe searching. RIP, dearest one.

The other day I read an article about Spanish mother sayings and the truth behind them. I was gleefully happy to read that some of my most-hated sayings have no basis in reality. I do hate being told that walking around barefoot will suddenly cause the air around me to create a virus and shove it into my nasal cavities, but I realize and will happily admit that it’s not you, it’s me. Nonetheless, I have adopted the timeworn Spanish custom of wearing slippers absolutely everywhere. Nowadays you couldn’t pry mine off my callused, blistered runner’s feet. Here are some of my favorite tidbits from the article.

Dry your hair well before going to bed or you’ll get a cold.

See also: Do not go outside with wet hair unless you have a death wish.

I love this one, because, as all of us who once took Psych 101 in college know, correlation is not the same as causation. People, please. How could wet hair possibly create a virus? Of course, it could be a potential factor in weakening our immune systems, thus giving a virus that already exists easier access to our bodies. But, you know, it might be easier to assume that wet hair = the certainty of a good resfriado.

Ask for the soda to be room temperature unless you want angina.

Oh yes, angina! What’s that again? It’s chest pain or discomfort that usually accompanies stress or activity. Who woulda thought that a cold Coca-Cola could cause this? Well, it can’t. Again, we’re all different (hooray for diversity!), but it’s only one factor, and it must be accompanied by the presence of a bacteria or virus.

If it itches or annoys you, that means it’s healing.

Way back in the dark ages of blogging (2010), I went to Almuñécar with Mario and got sun poisoning. What fun! Who knew my whole body could itch? And at the same time! I had been to the Caribbean, to Florida in August, to Mexico … but it was in Spain that the sun finally got me, once and for all. Mario’s mother informed me that if it was itching, that meant it was healing. Turns out she’s right! I kind of figured she was anyway, but it’s true that as blood cells flock to the site of a wound or lesion, they release histamine, causing the itching.

Drink the juice before all the vitamins leave.

This is the craziest one of all for me. I’ve actually never heard a real person (let alone mother) say such a thing, but I laugh just the same. Some people really believe that you must drink freshly-squeezed juice fast so that you’ll get all the vitamins! You actually have to cook produce with vitamin C to a high temperature to lose a substantial amount. You can drink your juice right after squeezing it, or six hours after. It will make no difference to poor old Vitamin C. This is where I start singing the epic mid-200s anthem, Graduation (Friends Forever).

What is the craziest old wives’ tale you’ve heard (in Spain or elsewhere)? Which one annoys you most?

21 thoughts on “Spanish Old Wives’ Tales (And Their Veracity)

  1. My Mexican grandma always (and still does) scolded me if I didn’t dry my hair before going to bed or leaving the house. When I studied abroad, I was also lectured by my host mom. She told me to get back into the bathroom and dry it all the way. :p

    A friend of mine had a yeast infection and her boyfriend and his mom both told her it was because she was cold in that area. Probably the craziest ones I’ve heard!

    1. Ha when I had a urinary tract infection here my boyfriend also said it was because I let that area get too cold at some point… and the woman I spoke with at the herbolario said the same thing!

  2. One of my students here in Spain just told me that if you have a hickey, you should rub garlic on it to make it go away quicker. When he told me that in class I burst out laughing. My class also told me that in your don’t cover your neck, a.k.a. wear a scarf, you’re guaranteed to catch a cold.

  3. I’ve definitely heard the juice thing before. When my boyfriend’s mum used to make me orange juice it was basically a race to drink it as fast as possible, no lolling about or sipping it in a calm manner.

    I used to hate being told to wear slippers, now I wear them constantly (and take them travelling). I guess the things we hate begin to grow on us.

  4. My favourite one was from my suegra – when there’s a lightning storm, you have to unplug every appliance in the house (including fridge and cooker) and wait it out, or else you’ll get electrocuted. But she leaves all the lights on claiming only the sockets are targets for attack. I bite my tongue rather than question the logic.

    1. the “lighting storm” is old…i may have heard it when i was a child…i think that logic may come from the fact that in times of old lots of machines still had not the earth connection so a lighting might “enter” your house through the electricity cables and burn the fridge, the telly or the washing machine for example….this is the only logic i find :)

  5. En España, la tradición popular llama genéricamente resfriado a cualquier enfermedad de las vías respiratorias (gripe, faringitis, amigdalítis…), es decir, cualquier enfermedad en la que aparezcan tos y dolores de garganta es un resfriado para tu madre y tu abuela.

    De este modo, la idea de resguardarse de los cambios bruscos de temperatura no es descabellada, porque si hay una enfermedad de esa familia que puede aparecer por cambios bruscos de temperatura: la amigdalitis. Yo mismo he padecido episodios clarísimamente provocados por cambios bruscos de temperatura, tanto por frio como por calor.

    Lo de los pies, aparte es que nos parece muy anti-higiénico. Se que hay culturas donde los zapatos se quedan a la puerta de la casa, pero no es el caso de la nuestra.

    Lo de los zumos, es por la oxidación se supone.

      1. Mi intención era explicar origen tradicional de algunos mitos populares, si tu lo que quieres es rebatirlos con estudios científicos, pues obviamente tu ganarás a las creencias de nuestros mayores.

        1. I thought you might like to see the original, that’s all. Also, yes, I like science. I do have Spanish family, you know, so I do I have some background. Believe me, this is my only outlet, because no way in hell would I undertake an argument with my mother in law haha.

  6. My Filipino parents are somewhat superstitious and some of the things they made us do were really strange. For example, if someone leaves your house while you’re eating, you have to spin everything on the table at least once. If not, the person that left will get into an accident.

  7. My mom says the one of the vitamin, and I’m sure I’ll use it with my kids too, hahaha.
    On the other hand, I think the fact of wearing slippers is because the floor is too cold (in winter) and usually dirty…. I hate being barefoot, the feeling of dirt getting stuck to my feet freaks me out! so it works for me.

  8. the “dry your hair” is totally true as i tend to go to the bed with my hair wet many times not using a hairdryer, something i really dislike…and i may sneeze sometime after it… Varilarguero masterfully says it’s got to do with the fact that we call resfriado any thing related to a change of the temperature, from being warm and normal, say, from having wet hair, to a cooler temperature (wet hair and sleeping with it for example).

    not wearing slippers/being barefoot is another way of getting a cold again because of the change of the temperature, in Spain most floors are made of ceramic tiles, enough said! anyway i prefer to wear socks instead of slippers, in fact socks make you feel more comfortable than wearing slippers with no socks, what a thing!

    a famous tale that comes from my mum is “don’t open the fridge going barefoot as you will receive an electrical shock”…this mayn’t be true as fridges have got the earth connection as any other machine.

    such tales come mainly from mums and grandmothers, not from wives i think.

  9. oh sorry, i thought that you meant that the tales are old whether a woman is old or young….this is something that actually confuses a lot of Spaniards when an adjetive is before two nouns, for example the famous NFL or National Football League, i mean, to this day i don’t really know whether it is the league that is national or it is the football that is national…it may look silly from your point of view, but believe me that from a Spanish point of view it may be confused.

    anyway, i do not desire to argue, just my thought of it, and the blogpost is interesting.

    as for other tales, a long time ago i was told that if a pregnant woman doesn’t eat for example watermelon after deeply craving for it, then the baby will have a big head as the watermelon is big and round…perhaps the person was just laughing at me or playing a joke…but the whole thing is that a pregnant woman must eat what she craves for so the birth ends up going well.

  10. I completely disconnect whenever someone starts talking about catching a cold because they weren’t properly “abrigado” because I just can’t take it any more. That, and the other day, my suegra had a hissy when she saw that I was leaving the house in a tank top to go running (it wasn’t even that cold out) – “pero vas a salir asi?!” She has also asked me to numerous times to please wear slippers at home, even in the summer when it’s over 100 degrees out. I feel your pain.

  11. I ALWAYS go to bed with wet hair, usually 6 out of 7 days of the week (I get lazy Friday nights). I just can’t be bothered to dry my hair, it takes too long and I have thick, wavy hair so it just makes my hair frizzy. I do get colds occasionally when other people are sick around me, not because of wet hair! If the wet hair thing were true, I’d be always sick.

    And no, you can’t get a cold from bare feet! I tend to wear socks/slippers because I can’t stand having cold feet but this one is just another old wives’ tale.

    The itching thing is probably true. Due to my pale skin, I have suffered numerous sunburns (worst ones were also in Spain). When the skin starts to peel, it drives me crazy by how much it itches but the peeling means the skin is healing, as gross as it looks.

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