Sweeping broom over the feet of a single woman

The panel above the main school entrance said, “Italy week”. The School of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Mons in Belgium, organised thematic weeks about different countries. There were workshops, debates, and masterclasses to learn about the culture, and there were also food fairs where students could taste typical food.

Pablo and Chiara were very excited. He was Spanish and he was studying Italian. He was very keen on learning new cultural facts and tasting amazing dishes. Chiara was Italian, from Turin, and she was very happy to share everything about her country with Pablo. They were both doing their Erasmus in Mons and they were part of the same group of friends.

They arrived at the classroom where the first workshop was taking place. “I’m so excited about Italian week! I have checked the planning and all the activities seem fun”, said Pablo. “Yes, me too! I’m curious to see what they will share about Italian culture and which are going to be the dishes they will prepare”, said Chiara. They joined their friends, who were sitting in the front of the class.

Marie, the French teacher, arrived and welcomed everyone, “Welcome to Italian week! As you know, we have many activities planned so you can discover and enjoy Italian culture. Today we have a workshop about superstitions. Clara, our Italian teacher, will present it”. All the students applauded. Pablo and Chiara looked at each other and smiled, it was their favourite teacher, so they knew it was going to be a great workshop.

Clara said, “Ciao, everyone. I’m very happy to present this first workshop. Today we are going to discover some Italian superstitions. I’m going to show you two pictures that are related. You will have to guess what they represent and maybe try to explain the meaning. Are you ready?” All the students replied, “Yes!” at the same time.

Clara continued, “Okay, here are the first two photos, a hat and a bed. What do you think it is?” All the students started speaking with the person next to them, discussing what it could be. Pablo asked Chiara, “So, tell me, what is the expression?”. Chiara replied, “If I tell you, it’s not fun, but I can tell you that it is related to your luck.” “Okay, I will try to guess it”, said Pablo.

After some minutes, one of the students raised his hand and said, “I got it! The superstition means to put a hat on a bed!” Clara said, “Yes, correct! In Italian, we say ‘Mettere il cappello sul letto’. Can any Italian say what the meaning is?”. Chiara quickly raised her hand, “Yes, it means that you will have bad luck, so you have to avoid it”. Clara said, “Yes, it means that. Well done!” “Okay, let’s go to the second superstition. Here you have a broom and a woman’s feet. What can it be?”

Pablo raised his hand and said, “I know this one! It’s sweeping a broom over the feet of a single woman”. Clara said, “Yes, you are right. How do you know that?” Pablo replied, “It’s a superstition that we also have in Spain. I didn’t know that it also existed in Italy”. Clara added, “Yes, and it’s very popular. What is the meaning of this superstition in Spain?” Pablo answered, “According to the tradition, passing a broom over an unmarried woman’s feet means that they won’t marry”.

Mila, a Hungarian student, said, “That is weird. Why can’t you marry if that happens?” Clara replied, “That’s a very good question. This superstition dates from long ago. A woman who touched her own feet while sweeping was considered a poor housekeeper in the past”. Pablo added, “I didn’t know that, but it is an old idea. Women don’t have to be housekeepers. It is not their job”. Chiara added, “I agree with you. It is a superstition that doesn’t make sense nowadays. Societies have evolved and the role of women in society is better than before. Also, it is not compulsory to get married; you can decide if you want to or not. We have to continue educating people so they don’t believe every superstition they hear as times have changed and we have a lot of information nowadays!”

Clara, who had been listening to them, said, “This is an interesting topic of discussion. We have to make a new workshop during this Italian week to analyse the meaning and ideas behind every superstition”. Chiara said, “Yes, it would be very interesting”.

Clara continued, “I also think these workshops are very good for learning more about other cultures, apart from the Italian one. I had no idea that some superstitions were the same in some countries. Now I know that, if I go to Spain, I will have to pay attention to someone with a broom”. All the students laughed.

They continued guessing superstitions and explaining their meaning. They discovered that many were also popular in other countries apart from Spain, such as looking at the eyes of a black cat or walking under a ladder. It made students start different conversations and discover new facts about Italy and other countries’ cultures. At the end of the course, they thanked Clara for the workshop.

“What an interesting workshop; I have really enjoyed it!” said Pablo. “Me too! I think we will discover more things that we have in common”, said Chiara. “For sure! Now, I’m a little bit hungry. I saw on the plan that there will be a fair of Italian food in the canteen, do you want to go?” asked Pablo. “Of course! I miss Italian food. I hope they have tiramisu. It’s my favourite dessert!” replied Chiara. Both friends laughed. They went to the canteen where they enjoyed a delicious Italian meal.



There isn’t a clear origin of this expression. It dates from the middle ages and some sources indicate that a woman who touched her own feet while sweeping was considered a poor housekeeper in the past, and if she was a bad housekeeper, she wasn’t good enough to get married.

Other sources explain that the origin may come from the era of witches. Popular iconography always represents them with a broom. Those women considered as ‘Witches’ were those that weren’t married and it wasn’t well seen in societies. Their value depended on their marriage and being single was a defeat. Nowadays, although many societies still put pressure on women to get married, not all of them do so. However, this superstition is very popular.

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