Greeks… Have you ever been spat on by a Greek person? Maybe you were at a Greek christening and your child was spat on by a yiayia (grandmother). Maybe this yiayia spat under her breath while mumbling something like “Ftou ftou.” You may be thinking is she trying to give me coronavirus? I assure you this cute little lady is just complimenting your adorable toddler, not trying to inflict a deadly virus. What on earth does spitting have to do with complimenting someone?
With Greeks, it’s never a straight answer.
Spitting for luck isn’t as senseless or seemingly ridiculous as it might seem. During a traditional Greek Orthodox baptism, both the godparents of the child and the priest will ‘ftou’ the child 3 times to ward off the devil.
OK, I don’t mean spitting as such, but there is an old traditional custom in Greece where if someone makes an ‘ftou’ sound at you three times, accompanied by a flicking of the hand in your direction, then that person is paying you a compliment. Essentially, what this means is that you are worthy of jealousy. The spitting gesture is supposed to ward off the evil eye and jealous people who would wish you harm.
This is certainly a superstition, a very old superstition. Back in the old days, it was believed by Greeks that it was unhygienic to take a newborn baby out of the house for the first 40 days.
But there’s a little issue with this, rather a contradiction.
After the 40 days is up, the infant can be presented to the outside world. This is where the yiayia’s follow the century-long superstition and flick a few spits in the baby’s direction (or in worse cases, directly at the child) and mutter the dreaded words, “ftou ftou ftou”.
So, here’s the contradiction, isn’t it extremely unhygienic to spit at a newborn child?
It is, especially right now! But I’ll let you in on a little secret only us Greeks understand – it’s much better to get some germs spat at you than God forbid, contract the evil eye! Now that truly is a curse all Greeks spend their lifetime attempting to avoid.
In a nutshell, the evil eye is a curse that Greeks give to one another, usually by casting a horrific glare on the person, usually when they are unaware. Greeks believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury.
So next time you’re at a Greek event or holidaying in Greece and someone spits at you or mutters the words ‘ftou’, don’t worry, it’s not really an insult, it’s just some superstitious Greek wishing you good luck and protection from the evil eye!