13 French superstitions

Superstitions of France

Everyone has their superstitions. Some are popular across the world, while others seem to have developed uniquely in a particular country.

You don’t want to upset the French on your travels to France .. or bring bad luck on your French friends and colleagues, so here are thirteen French superstitions to be aware of.

1. Bread

You know how seriously the French take their bread! To avoid bad luck, never place a baguette or a loaf of bread on a table upside down. If you do, this indicates you are inviting famine into the household. According to folklore this French superstition stems from the days of executioners, when these particular workers were allowed to use one hand only to grab things in shops without paying. So, bakers would leave a loaf of bread upside down for them.

If you want to know which French bread is which, check out our list of popular French breads.  And make sure you read our guide on buying French bread like a local.

2. Ironing Underpants

It would be great if all ironing was considered bad luck. We could save hours of time and get on with life. Sadly, that is not the case as this superstition is quite specific. French wives should never iron their husband’s underpants while wearing a belt – it will lead to him suffering kidney pain. Really? Who is ironing their husband’s underpants?

3. It’s A Girl!

If you have lots of sons and are desperate for a girl then it’s a good idea to head down to the local aviary to get a glimpse of an owl. According to a French superstition, if a woman sees an owl during her pregnancy, she is guaranteed to have a girl.

4. Dinner Parties

The French love getting together for good food and wine. But if you are hosting a dinner party, make sure you manage guest numbers carefully. Having thirteen people around the table is supposed to bring bad luck. This French superstition is believed to have come from the Last Supper, where Judas Iscariot, one of the thirteen diners, was a traitor.

5. Lighting Cigarettes

Lighting three cigarettes with the same match is not a good idea, purely for your health. So the last thing you want is to encourage bad luck as well.

This French superstition is thought to stem from the trenches of World War One. Lighting one cigarette with a match alerts a sniper. Lighting a second lets the sniper know how far away the target is. The third person who has their ciggie lit is easily shot, or so the tale goes. You have been warned.

6. Cats

There are many superstitions about cats in France. If you believe in luck and wouldn’t mind some good fortune, never cross a French stream holding a cat. And if a black cat crosses your path at night then prepare for some bad fortune coming your way. Black cats were believed to be incarnations of the Devil.

Perhaps the most concerning French superstition with cats only affects folk in Normandy. If you see a tortoiseshell cat, this foretells your death in an accident.

7. Left is Best

I can’t see how stepping in dog doo-doo can ever be a good thing, but many French believe that stepping in dog poo with your left foot brings you a slice of good luck. However if it’s the right, you’re doomed. I wouldn’t be too excited about either foot.  But if I’m going to have stinky shoes I’d rather they be accompanied by good fortune.

8. New House

With all this bad luck around, how do we get some good fortune into our lives. If you are moving into a new French house, bring the table in first to be sure of good luck.

9. Polka Dots

To fill the coming year with good blessings, women should wear a polka dot dress on New Years day.

10. Knives

If you value your friendship with a French buddy, never offer them a knife as a gift. This gesture means you want to cut your relationship with them.

If you’re desperate to present your ami (or amie) with a famous Laguiole blade or a Swiss Army knife, there is a way. You must counteract this by first accepting a coin from them as “payment”. You can then continue to be friends.


French sailors have proved to be a feisty bunch over the years. If you do get near one and are in need of a change of fortune, then try and get your hands on his beret and give the little bobble at the top a gentle rub. It might be advisable to warn him first though.

12. Candles

Candles are involved in a few superstitions in France. Firstly, if you light a prayer candle in a church always do it from a match or a lighter and never from another candle. If you do, then your wishes and good will will be transferred to whoever the first candle was lit for.

Secondly, when it comes to smoking, never light a cigarette from a candle.  An old wives tale says this will result in the death of a sailor, or he will at least lose his job.

13. Lucky Horse Shoe

Hanging a horse shoe over your doorway can bring you luck in France, as long as you know how. In some countries it has to be in a U shape in order to keep the luck inside. But in France, to bring you luck it must be turned the other way, so that the luck pours down over you. Bonne chance!

2 thoughts on “13 French superstitions

  1. Judy Morris says:

    Merci !
    So it’s polka dots on New Year’s Day, but I guess my horseshoe can remain as a U shape, unless I take it to France.
    Très intéressant.
    P.S. Did you come across any tortoiseshell cats in Normandy? 😀

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