Knocked up abroad: Turkish superstitions on pregnancy and children

Being pregnant in a foreign country, even as a traveler, gives you a unique perspective into a culture, their beliefs and practices, and values. While I’ve been in Istanbul, I’ve found Turkish superstitions to apply to all aspects of life, pregnancy and children no exception. Over the past six months, I’ve heard a lot of interesting customs and beliefs, some of them wackier than others. Turks love babies and tend to be deferential towards pregnant women – I always get a seat on the train and am often offered help whether I need (or want) it or not.

As a foreigner with a non-Turkish husband, I’ll be exempt from many of these traditions, but enjoy learning about each of them.
The nazar – don’t leave home without it
If you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve undoubtedly seen the nazar boncuk, or evil eye, everywhere. The blue glass stone is put on doorways, cars, jewelry, and anywhere else it can be attached to. There is no religious significance and not many people still believe the old superstitions, but the tradition remains. Few Turkish parents would let their child out without a nazar pinned to their clothing for protection from evil spirits.

Beware of cold
Nearly every illness in Turkey will be attributed to cold drafts, and this means many Turks will not use air conditioning in summer, and bundle babies even on the hottest days. Cold floors are repeatedly the culprit, and women should avoid walking barefoot to avoid infertility, miscarriage, and just unpleasant gas. Mothers-to-be should wear slippers to avoid lectures from Turks. After birth, the mother should continue to stay warm while breastfeeding, as cold milk will result in a stomachache.

On food
My favorite Turkish custom has yet to happen for me, but it’s said that if a pregnant woman smells food, she must taste it. In theory, waiters might chase pregnant women down the street with a food sample to avoid bad luck. If you crave sweet things, you’ll have a boy; sour food means a girl. A lot of red meat will result in a boy, mainly vegetables, a girl. If a pregnant woman eats eggs, the baby will be naughty. Any particular food cravings may result in a birthmark on the baby in the shape of the food. I’ll keep you posted if I have a badly-behaved set of boy-and-girl twins with pickle-shaped birthmarks.

Be careful what you look at
According to Turkish custom, pregnant women should look at nothing but pretty things while expecting, for fear that the baby could take on unpleasant characteristics of an ugly, disabled, or dead person. Trips to the zoo are limited too, it’s bad luck to look at bears, monkeys, or camels. It is said that if you look at a person often, the baby will resemble them, so keep watching Mad Men if you want a handsome boy. For extra measure, once the baby is born, never call him cute or pretty, best to call it ugly so that the spirits won’t make it so.

Cutting the cord
When the baby is being delivered, fathers will choose a secret name and tell the doctor, who will whisper it into the baby’s ear as she is born. After birth, the umbilical cord has to be properly disposed of, and where it is buried will influence the child’s life. Bury it outside a mosque for a devout child, at a medical school for a future doctor (I’m guessing Harvard must have a lot of umbilical cords in the grounds). Circumcision practices are a whole other story, but they happen much later in life for boys and involve little sultan’s costumes.

Visiting the baby
Traditionally, new mothers didn’t leave the house for the first 40 days of the baby’s life, but this is rarely the case today in Turkish cities. Baby showers take place after the birth in the home of the new baby. New parents should provide small gifts for guests who visit the baby, such as chocolates or a sachet of herbs. In return, guests bring pieces of gold for the baby (also common at Turkish weddings) and drink a special drink, Lohusa Şerbeti, to welcome the newborn.

Sweat the small stuff
Most of us have heard that pregnant women should be careful coloring their hair (it’s really fine, just avoid getting color on your skin), but many Turks also believe that cutting the mother’s hair will cut the baby’s life short. Speaking of short, don’t measure the baby, lest he stay short-statured. Finally, they may be small, but don’t think you can just step over a baby: it’s bad luck for you as babies are considered to be angels.

Many thanks to my Turkish and expat friends at the Sublime Portal for their stories, input and advice!

Gadling readers, what beliefs are popular in your country or places you’ve traveled?

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Camera on Autopilot]

Want more Knocked Up Abroad? Check out the first few installments here, and stay tuned for more on travelling in the second and third trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country.

Mandalay Bay installs self-serve beer taps

Because there aren’t enough bars, clubs, restaurants, kiosks and servers catering to the dry mouths of Las Vegas patrons, the Mandalay Bay is joining the trend of hotels along the Strip installing self-serve beer taps throughout its hotel.

The pour-your-own-pint DraftMaster beer dispensing systems are already in 10 Las Vegas hotels. Why? Why should you have to wait for anything in Las Vegas, least of all a beer? Las Vegas is all about doing what you want, when you want, how you want it, so if you want a pint, why not pour it yourself?

According to the hotel, DraftMaster comes in two styles-fixed and mobile. The fixed table has four taps on the top connected to kegs underground, and the mobile unit features two taps on top with the kegs positioned in a compartment underneath the table. Each unit has the entire beer dispensing system built in, with cooling units and pressurized beer dispensing systems packaged underneath to keep the beer flowing at the perfect temperature, and the taps on top of each unit can rotate up to 320 degrees for flexible access.

Of course, each DraftMaster is controlled through an operating system behind the bar that allows the bartender to allocate the proper amount of beer to each table. In other words, if you think you’re tapping into this keg after a bender of a night out, think again… (that’s why they have a mini-bar in your hotel room).

ANA brings keg beer to 30,000 ft

Spend enough time in the friendly skies and you being to notice that things taste a bit different. Perhaps it’s the air pressure and humidity when 6 miles above sea level, or maybe the small child that’s crying and pooping all over your armrest, but something about airline food, drink and air just tastes weird.

As a result, when tidbits from terra firma are successfully emulated upstairs, people get excited. A recent thread on Flyertalk announcing that American Airlines was bringing Illy Issimo coffee to some flights had dozens of airline nerds reaching for hand lotion, and every time a new snack or beverage gets loaded into Gate Gourmet the servers at heave under the heavy load.

These improvements, however, aren’t without careful targeting. Many passengers, especially those flying in business and first class cabins are willing to make their choice in airline based on the catering, and one small change can mean a slew of ticket sales or losses. Perhaps that’s why All Nippon Airways (ANA) is bringing keg beer to some of its flights.

It’s genius, in a way, as many a beer-lover can tell you that draft beer tastes many times better than anything straight out of the can (perhaps because of the air pressure or small children.)

Unfortunately, most westerners won’t be able to try out the draft beer any time soon. Draft beer will only be available on select flights out of Japan, and even then, only on certain routes. Let’s hope that the trend will catch on soon and that draft beer will soon be on Delta Connection flights from Peoria to Chicago.

[Photo via Hyougushi on Flickr]