When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.
But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.
There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.
Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.
The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.
Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.
The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.
So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed ‘per scaramanzia’.
But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?
You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.
Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.
There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’
From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.
Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.