Dodging the Draft and other Southern Italian Myths

(This post was originally published on this site in May, 2007)

Old Wives’ Tales.

We’ve all heard them. We’ve all repeated them. We might even believe a few of them.

Like, “Don’t play with fire or you’ll wet the bed,” which always scared me a little bit.

Or, “Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll stay that way,” which I believed until I was in my 20s!

Or even, “If you swallow gum, it will stay in your system for seven years,” which I am embarrassed to admit I believed until I researched this article!

Stop laughing.


The funny thing about Old Wives’ Tales, though, is that most of the time intelligent, logical-minded people (myself included, despite the above revelations) know they are not true.

This is sooo not the case for Southern Italians. In fact, to hear them, you’d be amazed how we have managed to dodge death all these years and how the American race hasn’t yet become extinct.

Therefore, since I have been fortunate enough to be bestowed with this knowledge, I feel I absolutely must, in good faith, pass this information on to you. Consider yourself warned!

Did you know you are risking DEATH if you…

– Walk around with wet hair? Oh yes, my friends, death could come a knockin’ – so keep your head dry (and covered, if possible) at all times. Peppe’s dad warned me once against this, but stubborn ole me, didn’t listen. A few hours later I had a bad headache. Hmmm ….

– Stay outside in the cold without a coat? Apparently you can get pneumonia which will inevitably lead to a quick demise. This includes, not only a coat and close-toed shoes (until summer arrives) but long-sleeves when there is wind and socks after dark. Proceed with caution and avoid that draft whenever possible!

– Sit in front of the air-conditioning? Well, maybe you won’t DIE from this, but you could catch a horrific sore throat! Apparently the cold air, when blown directly towards your face, is toxic. Who knew? So, once again – dodge that draft!

– Use the air conditioning? Who knew Americans were such risk-takers? People throughout the country put their lives at risk every day simply by turning on the air. Italians are much smarter about this. If you are hot, you must stay hot, or your body will react badly and incite a sudden death! I kid you not. My gym is not air conditioned for this very reason, and I have to get plum pissy at home before they turn on the AC in the summer. This, by the way, applies to all central heating units and ceiling fans. Another case of draft dodging? I think so!

– Sit by an open window when the wind is blowing? For reasons similar to the two above examples – I wouldn’t do it!

– Drink ice cold water? Ice water alone won’t cause death but will likely lead to a brutal sore throat. However, after working out or being in the heat, you could die an early death from consuming this ice-poison. Here’s an example: I went for a 45 minute jog the other day and returned home to a locked house. So, I visited Zia M.

Zia M: “Can I get your something “fresh” to drink?”

Me: “Sure! How about some water?”

Zia M: “Oh, no, you can’t have water. Maybe some nice pear juice instead? “Fresh” water will make you sick.”

Me: Thinking … uhh, can I have some stale water, but instead said, “No, I don’t like pear juice. Really, I’ll just have water.”

Zia M brings out the warmer-than-room-temp water, thus causing me to worry about the millions of Americans who drink cold water every day at their local gym. I did, however, feel a pang of guilt for insisting Zia M provide water after a workout. (Inevitably, forcing her to double-up on her daily Hail Marys since she quite possibly provided the venom that would lead to my swift, albeit foreseeable, death.)

So, to make her feel better I added …

“I have a little headache today … it must be because the weather is changing!”

She agreed and I had once again passed the “I’m-cool-enough-to-be-married-to-your-Godson-even-though-I’m-not-Italian” test!

In addition to the above warnings, you should know that you can “protect” yourself from a sore throat by wearing a scarf tied tightly around your neck, hence covering your throat, and once again, dodging the draft.

You can also prevent an array of undesirable ailments such as diarrhea, infertility, hemorrhoids and pneumonia by wearing slippers in the house. (Infertility?!?)

All laughter aside though, some things really can be fatal! I told Peppe about this post and about some of the information I discovered about Italian wives’ tales.

Me: “You know, Peppe, you CAN go swimming after you eat. You won’t get cramps!”

Peppe: “What? No, Cherrrrrye!”

Me: “Peppe, I just read it.”

Peppe: “No, baby, no … you can DIE from this!”

Me: (trying to conceal a laugh) “What?”

Peppe: “You can screw up your digestion system and you can really DIE!”

Well, I’m glad to know that! Just in time for summer, too.

So, blog readers, take heed! Tell your mothers. Tell your sisters. Tell your friends. It is up to us to let America know the risks lurking at every air duct and water fountain. Are you up for the challenge?

Happy Dodging!

30 Responses
  1. Judith in Umbria

    100%, so when I tell you that you will not get diarrhea or a heart attack from drinking iced drinks on hot days, you can believe me.

    You have hardly scratched the surface of what is held as absolute truth here. But we had our own in the US, too.

    1. Laurel Conran

      Thanks for these insights! After hosting 4 Italian exchange students, they taught me many of these “warnings” as you mentioned. However, I find many to be true!!!! What you say about the water and A/C is very true! mmmm…I think the Italians are on to something! baci!

  2. sognatrice

    My suocero was appalled the other day when I had on flip-floppy kind of shoes…until he had to peel off two layers of clothes (jacket and sweater) 😉

  3. Giulia

    Five out of ten right, for me.

    I was always told that if I swallowed my gum, it would stick to my bones and NEVER come out of my body. Have you ever been told that if you swallow a watermelon seed, a watermelon will grow inside of you? LMAO

  4. Cherrye

    WOW, Judith 100% – I’m glad to know I’m safe on those hot days!

    Sognatice – I know – it is HOT here and people are still wearing long sleeves!

    Guila – I’ve never heard that about the watermelons! Ha! Sounds like something my grandma woulda told us!

  5. Nadine

    That was fun. I scored 90%. I laughed throughout this post. Thanks for the laugh.

    Here’s an old wives tale for you: Don’t put your shoes on the table or the bed…it meant someone is going to die.

  6. Giulia

    Oh, oh, have you ever heard of the one, not to put the foot of your bed facing towards the doorway? Something about death with that one too.

  7. Cherrye

    Oh Goodness, Nadine. I don’t think I put shoes on the table or bed…but I’ll have to be more careful…going to check on your blog!

    J-VERY FUNNY! LOL…I’m in trouble!

    Guila-The bed thing I think comes from Feng Shui and, while I dont believe you will DIE (ha ha) from it, I did make Peppe put all the beds in the B&B without the “feet” facing the door! Guilty!

  8. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    LOL. I heard many of these from my West Indian parents esp. regarding digestion and the whole catching a draft thing.

    Giulia I remember the watermelon one from when I was a kid. My mom was a nurse and told me it wasn’t true. Phew. 🙂

  9. Enza

    i found your blog through Bleeding Espresso and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Being the daughter of a Sicilian, I have heard every one of those wives’ tales and then some. Going barefooted is definitely the way to die early! Thanks for bringing back some memories and making me laugh!

  10. cheeky

    This was a fantastic post. I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole read.
    My grandfather had a thing about “catching a draft”, argh we used to roll our eyes, and plead as we were nearly suffocating in either the car or the house. My grandfather was Hungarian, not even Italian!
    I’d be plum pissy too about turning the air con on. I mean really, sheesharoo! BTW I like that expression, tee hee!

  11. Erin

    I can’t believe there aren’t dead bodies and sick people everywhere with all those warnings! That was so funny! It makes you wonder if some people just were not given their dose of common sense…

  12. susan d

    That was funny. Found your blog connected to Poppy Fields who popped up on ??? You know how it goes, you start linking to people through their comments on other’s blogs.
    Got 90%.
    But I do know for a fact you can diseases (which ones??) from sitting directly on toilet seats. That’s why they invented those rotating toilet seat covers in the airports.

  13. Cherrye

    NYC – you are lucky your mom told you the truth – my mom is the one who told me about not crossing my eyes! ha

    Enza! Welcome and thanks for coming over. I bet you have even more wive’s tales you could share.

    Cheeky – Feel free to use said expression whenever you feel, well, plum pissy!!

    Erin – I know, that is why I think we have to warn everyone else. Last night I went out with wet hair and Peppe’s cousin said, “She is going to get a headache!” I just smiled!

    Yours Truly – 80%? That is what I got, too…I was proud!

    Susan D – thanks for stopping by. That toilet seat thing is an ugly idea…yuck yuck yuck!!!

  14. proverbs31

    LOL! Oh Zia M would NOT like me!! We Texas gals LIKE our air conditioning and ice water, yes? In fact there are days when even sweet iced tea is not good enough and I MUST have a tall glass of extremely cold ice water to quench my thirst!
    However, having said that, it IS true that if you get over-heated, you should not GULP cold water. You should sip it slowly. So it’s not COMPLETELY crazy. IF you have heat exhaustion. 😉 (Google “heat exhaustion do not gulp water.”)

    I got 80% on the quiz! I should have gone with my first instinct on the other two. 🙂

  15. All of those are true here in Sicily! My husband’s family had a bird the first time they saw me go out in the cold (70 degree F) with wet hair. They cannot believe that I do not own a blow dryer….I was expecting to see one on Christmas Day. Thank God that didn’t happen.
    Everyone here is cold…they are out in coats and hats and scarves and such. Most of the time we don’t wear anything because it is not cold to us. Maybe it will be next year. Today we went to Ipercoop and I just had a on a short sleeve shirt. You should have seen teh looks i got!
    Great post!

    Oooh, you rebel you!

  16. amber

    It’s just as bad in Tuscany, my friend. My MIL supposedly got pnemonia from Air conditioning on a trip to Bologna. It couldn’t possibly have started from the cold/flu that she had and didn’t take care of! Of course not! It’s the cross breeze (corrente) for us here. If G-d fordbid there is more than one window open in the house we have to put on our winter coats! And I have to listen to them yell at me for not protecting my son!

    I always joke with them and say, don’t worry. We’re American and immune to (whatever it is that I am getting yelled at for at that moment.)

    Oh that is funny. I like your American immunity defense!

  17. I have to admit that I have always hated drafts. I never thought they would make me sick, but I “just don’t like air blowing on me”. So I guess I’ll fit right in.

    Funny, I never did, either. Not that I was scared, though! I promise.

  18. Debra

    What about getting “cold on your stomach”? If you eat a meal and don’t cover your stomach with several layers of sweaters before going out, it will halt your digestion and, of course, you will die!

    Oh noooo, I haven’t heard this one. I’ll be careful!

  19. Just after I moved to France, I acquired a terrible sinus infection and everyone kept scolding me for not wearing a scarf. And by everyone, I don’t just mean the French — every European in my French classes blamed my sickness on my lack of scarf. Also, whenever the wind blew my fellow students would scoot their chairs away from the window; never mind that the window was closed, or that it was 65 degrees outside. Some wives tales, I think, are Continental. Although I must admit that, having been here a while, I now tend to agree with them. And I never liked air conditioning or ice cubes much anyway …

    Ha, isn’t that funny how they can rub off on you. I wrote a post a few months ago about how I’m coming around to some of these, too! ha

    .-= JA Getzlaff´s last blog ..À DÉTESTER: Les Soldes =-.

  20. Pat

    Here we go again, this is like the expat mantra for you people…it must be that time of year again..anyway I understand this, my grandmother would chase me down the stairs to the door with a towel screaming that I would die from pneumonia in the cold with my wet head, true story…anyway, you people are very unfair to them. My grandmother’s aunt buried four children, all under seven years of age, including her only daughter, from pneumonia in the 1920’s, because their house was literally too cold. The kids caught pneumonia and died because there were no antibiotics at that time…my grandmother’s aunt died in her 40’s, and her sister always said that each child she buried took a decade off of her life in heartbreak…my great aunt and great uncle almost died as toddlers from pneumonia as well in the 1910’s…the doctor said the cause was the constant cold and damp of the house in winter…my great grandmother could afford to move, they did and the kids lived. Pneumonia could be a death sentence in those days. There’s a historical memory in those people and those places that deserves our respect.

    Oh, Pat, I don’t think you are being fair to “us people,” either. Many of the things Italians believe are very different from what medicine and science teach us as truths today. I am sure there are cases in the US that are similar to your great grandmother’s and people from that generation in the US would no doubt (have) agreed with the Italians. It is not a disrespect thing, more of a mystery to me why the new generation still believe it.

  21. I have to say I’m with the Italians on air-con and iced water. As a one-time professional singer, I don’t ever drink really cold water, as it makes my throat close up. (Also, it hurts my teeth, but that’s by the by!) I’m the girl who fishes ice cubes out of my drinks in restaurants – can’t bear the things unless they’re in a G&T, in which case all bets are off. 😉

    Air-con just seems to dry me out. My skin gets itchy and my throat gets, if not sore, definitely dry and parched. Of course, I haven’t yet done a summer here, so I’ll wait to see how I do without it in June hehehe.

    Oh it gets hot down here, trust me. Strangely enough, though, I have a hard time sleeping with the AC on now when I am in the US. Mah!

    .-= Katja´s last blog ..Hear no evil =-.

  22. My husband, Argentine of Southern Italian descent, swears that you cannot go swimming for 2 hours after eating. His mom made him and his brother wait 2 hours after they ate before swimming because you could die or stop digestion. I told him, I think your mom wanted a siesta! Two hours seems a bit extreme.

    Ha! So funny. My husband believes that one, too!

    .-= OrangePolkaDot´s last blog ..Barcelona Festivals: Sa Pobla in Gràcia =-.

  23. Patrice

    I can’t resist this one, since my house is like old wives’ tales gone wild. 1) A pregnant woman must never, EVER, reach her arms above her head. This will result in the child getting entangled in its umbilical cord, and it will be all mom’s fault. I’ve been fighting with my mother all these years about this one, until my third child decided to be completely wrapped in the dern thing. 2)Never put shoes on the table. This has nothing to do with hygiene. It is a sure sign of impending death or illness (maybe because of the microbes on the table?). 3) If a pregant woman has a craving, the child will have a birthmark on its body unless mom-to-be is indulged. Usually this mark is in the form of the thing desired, so be careful what you wish for. 4) The foot of the bed should never face the door of the room (because, of course, you will be going out feet first). I don’t play around with this one–all of our beds face away from the doors. I can’t help myself.

    Oh dear, I’ve never head the hands over your shoulders thing. Gulp.

  24. ciao

    I never make bath unless I wait almost two hours or I will sure die. Everyone in Italia knows it, look how many people make sea bath at 4 o’clock, it’s when the digestion of lunch is over! Before that time the sea is empty! I give you another one: NEVER NEVER EAT ORANGES OR CLEMENTINE AT NIGHT BECAUSE THEY GIVE YOU ACID AND THEY MAKE YOU SICK!They are really good at every time of the day but not before you go to bed… I ate one clementina before sleep and soon after my stomach hurted a lot and I rushed to the bathroom and I leave the rest to your imagination…

  25. chris

    WAIT.i honestly believed the gum thing until right now, im 31,,,,are you serious? i just never researched this and always believed it.hahahaha MINCHIAAAAAAAAAAA! thanks ma!!!!!!

  26. Fran

    I found your article slightly offensive. Firstly I quite agree with Pat, there is a reason why certain people believe in certain things and that should be respected. Particularly as the reasons are usually linked to poverty and not great living conditions of the past.
    Secondly, although IT IS an exageration that one would die, some things ARE very true. Such as the cold water during the digestion process. Whilst it is true that if you have a small meal nothing bad happens if you go swimming, you must remember that ‘southern’ Italians rarely do ‘small’ meals. You will find several articles and research that tells you about how drinking cold water (for example) after having eaten meat, fish, poultry, cheese, slows down the digestive process. Food that has not yet been digested properly is pushed out of the stomach into the small intestine where it can no longer be processed as it should and therefore starts fermenting/putrefying thus causing bloating, diahorrea, upset stomach due to a number of toxic chemicals being produced.
    As you can see there is an element of truth there, and I’ve only just given you 1 example.
    Perhaps do you research better prior to ridiculising other cultures as no doubt each and every culture in the world has its ‘stupid beliefs’ but that doesn’t give us the right to publicly laugh at them.

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