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POSTCARD: ST. PETERSBURG : You Might Need More Than a Rabbit’s Foot to Survive

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The taxi screeched to a halt, lurching the passengers forward.

“What the hell?” one of us asked.

The driver did not speak English, but understood the question. He pointed toward a black cat that had darted across the road in front of him.

We laughed.

He laughed.

He, however, did not proceed. Instead, he pulled over to the side of the road and parked.

It was early in the morning. The drawbridges across the Neva River are raised at 1:30 a.m., and if you do not get to the island of your choice before then in this city of canals, you are stuck where you are for 4 1/2 hours.

Still, we waited. For what, we did not know. But then another car passed us, nullifying, we decided later, the jinx of the black cat and allowing us to continue the trip to our hotel.

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Some Russian superstitions are similar to ours in the United States. Some are not.

According to “St. Petersburg, the Rough Guide” by Rob Humphreys and Dan Richardson, “Russians consider it bad luck to kiss or shake hands across a threshold, or return home to pick up something that’s been forgotten. If you step on someone’s foot, they are duty-bound to do the same back to you. Before departing on a long journey, Russians gather all their luggage by the door and sit on it for a minute or two, to bring themselves luck for the journey.”

A woman from Atlanta who works for the Goodwill Games went outside her office one day last week for some fresh air and sat on a concrete wall. Almost immediately, two Russian women grabbed her by the arms and coaxed her back to her feet. A friend explained to her later that Russian women believe that sitting on a cold surface will make them infertile.

That explains the problem that confronted local organizers of the Goodwill Games when it was suggested to them by their partners from Turner Broadcasting System that they replace the wooden benches inside the track and field venue, Petrovsky Stadium, with ones made of aluminum.

The organizers eventually agreed, but not until Turner officials forwarded to them the annual birth rates in several U.S. cities where stadiums have aluminum benches. My sources within TBS insist this is a true story.

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