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> Superstitions of the Former Soviet Union, Lions, tigers, and SKVOZNYAK, oh my!
post Nov 13 2009, 10:39 AM
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This'll be a short one. So. I noticed a long time ago that folks 'round here will go to lengths to prevent a cross-breeze in a closed space such as a car or office or home. Anywhere there are windows or doors on two sides of the room, and somehow both openings on both sides get opened at once (so that air can move through the room in a stream), folks here will automatically get up and close one of the windows or doors. Even if the movement of air is barely perceptible.
And it's no joke: they will NOT be talked down.
I've experimented a bit with my colleagues and find that it's true universally, young and old (more strongly with older folks, but also among twenty- and thirty-somethings), male and female. So, discovering that this is a universal phobia, and confirming in short discussions with many folks that indeed they are closing these windows to prevent a draft, I finally had a prolonged conversation with two of my colleagues.
Both are former Soviet army men, thirty-something, and both were absolutely 100% convinced that air moving through an enclosed space WILL cause illness in the people exposed.
I challenged them a bit: I said, "how is a gentle breeze moving through the room between two open windows any more dangerous than a gentle breeze blowing by you while you're sitting under a tree outside?" and "don't you believe that viruses cause cold and flu, not air?" NO change in their level of certainty, not even the pause or slight body language hints that indicate that the person is doubting themselves for even a moment... absolute, complete, and (if I may say) somewhat condescending certainty! Just a touch, mind you; the barest hint of "ah, the poor American, yet another thing they don't understand" :-) I say this with love and humor, so please take the comment with a smile. I make the comment to enable you, the reader, to understand a bit what I experienced during this conversation.
Delving deeper into the phenomenon of this belief, I learned that there is a special name in Russian for this - it roughly translates as 'draft' - and the word sounds like 'skvoh-ZNYAK' - and it is truly believed that exposure to this will cause, either immediately or after a period of time, disease including possibly flu, cold, muscle pain/cramps, and nausea (these were listed for me; there may be others).
Indeed, there is also a specific way to label a disease you're suffering from IF IT CAME FROM a skvoh-ZNYAK exposure, and it sounds like this: 'meenyah proh-DOO-lah nah skvoh-ZNYAK-eh'. You Russian speakers know that proh-DOO-lah is the past tense form (the ending) and has within it the base word 'doot' ('blow', as in 'blow out a candle'). This is what one would say to another when explaining that you're suffering from a _______ that came as a result of your being exposed to a draft.
Here's the cool part: this superstition permeated (and still permeates apparently) every layer of society. Both guys reported that, during military college in their younger days, every morning had the same procedure surrounding avoidance of the skvoh-ZNYAK: the occupants of the barracks would awaken and of course immediately make ready and leave the barracks for a morning exercise (running, whatever) and, ONLY WHEN THE BARRACKS WERE COMPLETELY EMPTY OF EVERY LIVING SOUL, a couple of the young cadets who were charged with this duty would enter the barracks and throw open all the windows to create a skvoh-ZNYAK', and leave the place to air out.
During this period, no one was allowed to be in the barracks. No cleaner, no cadet, just empty. Then, before the return of the young soldier occupants, the cadets would come in and close the windows on ONE SIDE of the barracks (to eliminate the skvoh-ZNYAK... no cross-breeze is possible if windows on only one side of the barracks are open), and THEN the people were allowed to come in.
I relate this story as a point of interest: humans are the same world-wide, no matter what we think of each other. Is this fear of a draft so different from our strange avoidance of walking under ladders? Any theatre person will be annoyed by your telling them "good luck!" before a performance (so instead they say "break a leg!"), and actually some will remember that it wasn't but a couple of generations ago that our own folks feared drafts as well as carriers of disease. I remember my grandma talking about a draft with some form or level of apprehension, and even to this day we understand that the term itself implies that the particular movement of air is not desirable: one never leaps up and says, "thank goodness I just felt a draft!", does one?
There may be those who will say, "see there? They ARE 50 years behind us, they still believe like our great grandparents did that drafts carry disease!" - but here's a caution before you get too cocky: living in another culture, one quickly learns that there are ALWAYS correlations and, just when you're catching yourself thinking "oh I can't believe they do/say/believe/accept this thing", you just then notice something that THEY do better than your own culture does. Or in some way, at least, expose an example of one's own culture's superstitions or irrational behavior around something.
Well, that's about all for tonight. I wonder if this'll generate any responses?

Sleepless in Tashkent
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post Nov 13 2009, 10:46 AM
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Rolling Stone

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Hmmm, that is an interesting story. I know that my grandma is the same way about drafts AND wet hair. She comes from Yugoslavia...

I wonder what the Uzbek scientists and doctors would say about drafts? Have you had a chance to ask them about it?

Today is Friday the 13th, did you know that!? I think that's an incredible irrational fear that westerners have.

Our economies lose TONS of money every Friday the 13th because people will postpone things and do them on the next day, as opposed to doing them on this "unlucky" day.... weird!

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