Friday, April 8, 2011

Swedish Superstitions: Where are my keys?

                                              (photo from weheartit)

I grew up in a family that was pretty slack in the 'spiritual/religion/superstition' department. I still remember that traumatic day in 1st grade when I opened my umbrella up inside the classroom and my classmates shrieked in horror. My teacher helped terrified-me close the umbrella. Then she gently explained that some people believe that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck. I wondered if this was true or not – but didn't get an answer that satisfied me at the time.

When I first moved to Sweden I shared an apartment with a friend. Every once and awhile she would knock on my door and say 'Hey, you forgot your keys on the table.” And she would hand me my keys.

For the longest time I thought this was related to my embarrassing habit of never being able to find my keys when I needed them. I was often late for things because I was running around going 'Where are my keys? Where are my keys?' I was sure my roommate was just being preemptively helpful.

But no.

It turns out leaving your keys on a table in Sweden is bad luck.

Which is tricky for me because I leave my keys on a table pretty frequently.

According to my sources, the myth behind the superstition is a really interesting one.

Back in the day, prostitutes would indicate to potential clients their working status by putting their keys on the table in a hotel or bar. Parents didn't want to tell their daughters 'Don't put your keys on the table, people might think you are a hooker.' So instead they told them 'Don't put your keys on the table, it's bad luck.

I don't know if this story is true. But I think it is really interesting folklore.

And I wonder if there are any other Swedish superstitions I've violated since I've moved here.


  1. Great post. I did not know so many people were superstitious in secular Europe.

  2. I NEVER put my keys on the table :) Ever. Nope. Just in case :)

  3. Never heard of this, but I guess it's a good thing I keep my keys in my purse! However my Swedish husband leaves his keys all over the damn place. Wonder what that means?

  4. Nah, not true. As most of those things, it's much simpler, if you put your keys on the table you're likely to forget them and perhaps lock yorself out (not as easy if you out them in your bag or pocket). Not opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck here too, and simply because you're likely to knosk stuff down or poke someone with it. As usual, the simplest explanations are the most likely ones.

  5. @Anonymous...
    How can you be so sure thats not true? Wikipedia says:
    "Att inte lägga nycklar på bordet har av radioprogrammet Folkminnen visats härröra från bruket på vissa hotell, där damer som erbjuder sexuella tjänster visar detta med att de har egen rumsnyckel, som de lägger på bordet bredvid sig."

  6. @piltdown man - thanks! I am also intrigued by these contradictions

    @Trillingsnoten - better safe than sorry I guess!

    @antropologa - my DH was none the wiser on this superstition

    @anon1 - Don't worry, I'm not out leaving my keys on random tables - only the ones in my apartment. My roommate hated it when I left them on the table in our hallway, right by the door. Which seemed a logical place, for me, since you pass it on your way out.

    Occam's razor could be applied here, as you stated, but I'm not sure that 'leaving your keys on the table' would in general be considered a bad thing on it's own. Doors don't usually automatically lock behind you.

    @ anon2 - thanks, I was just about to consult Mr. Google on this one.

    Basically I just love folkmyths like this - true or not - it seems to be an explanation people use - and I like it!

  7. Things you need to know to survive comfortably and safely in Sweden:

    If you see a black cat it's the devil in disguise. Spit three times over your left shoulder to protect yourself.

    Put your shoes under your bed with the toes pointing outward to stop the mare from riding you at night.

    If an owl appears near your house, someone in the family will die.

    If you suspect that trolls have switched your child for one of their own, you can fool them by doing something silly, like boiling porridge in an egg shell. If they are near they will tell you how silly you are. Then take the child and make the movements to dispose of it in some way, like hoisting it into the oven. Trolls like human children better, but they don't want their own to die so they will swap them back again.

    If magpies plays in your garden, you will get a visitor.

    Epileptic attacs can be cured by scribing a cross on the chest of the ill person, who shall then drink three droplets of blood from the cross and have a smoldering coal inserted in his shirt.

    Freckles can be removed by washing yourself with rainwater from a crevice in a rock on a moonlit night.

    Don't walk towards lights that you see in the forest at night. It might well be a lantern man trying to lure you out on a quagmire where you will drown.

    If you are out dancing and suspect that the fiddler has been bewitched by näcken (a water spirit), don̈́'t hesitate to cut his strings. Else you may not be able to stop dancing until your entire body has been worn down against the dance floor.

    Spitting at the lure makes the fish bite.

  8. Haha, I tended to get around that one by being really technical, ie. "that's not a table, it's a sideboard" "that's a bench" "that's a counter" etc. And leave my keys all over the place :)

  9. @Mazui - haha, I'll have to try that with my LO next time I feel like he's been replaced by a troll (which is usually when he's missed a nap). And from now on my shoes will always be pointing outwards. But as for the owls I've been watching out for them since Twin Peaks.

    @T-anna - thanks for the strategic tip, now I need to learn more Swedish words for blocks of wood with legs built for putting things on!

  10. What I read the custom for hookers to signal by puting their keys on the tabel is only confirmed from Marsellie (sp?), the major port in southern France. But the Swedish superstition seems to have spread from the Gothenburg area (Sweden main port city) about the same time that was common in Marsellie. So while it is not sure it the origin, it is likely.

  11. Hi, any idea why (a girl, I suppose) shouldn't wear in yellow for a date in Sweden?