Don’t Sleep with an Onion in Your Armpit!

I can’t really remember what prompted the discussion, but in the past few days we have been talking a lot about superstitions, and last night there was a big discussion over dinner. I wish I had a notepad to jot down the details instead of relying on my memory, but I think I remember most of it…


It started a few nights ago when one of our Nepali neighbors (BG) was telling me that if you sleep with a sliced onion in your armpit you will wake up with a fever. That sounded like the most ridiculous thing to me, but he was very very adamant. “It’s true!” he declared, “I’ve never done it myself, but students use to do this all the time back home to get out of class and miss exams! If you told your parents or teachers you were sick they would still send you to class, but if they could feel that you had a fever you wouldn’t have to go. An onion worked every time! It got so bad the director of our school had to scold everyone at an assembly and tell people to stop using onions or they would be sent to class anyway!”

“You have got to be kidding me… how would an onion in your armpit give you a fever?” I asked. The room was divided… P and BG believed this to be true and our Irish neighbor and I thought it was rubbish. So we started googling around—some websites had amusing answers to the question, “If you put an onion under your armpit will it give you a fever?” including: “No, you’ll just have onion scented armpits” and “Well, I would say you are suffering from a high fever because you are delirious enough to put an onion under your armpit” but other sites with South Asian readership seemed to believe and support this phenomenon and declare it to be true. Someone even suggested on the website for the television show “MythBusters” that the hosts try to “bust” the onion myth because it was such a widely held belief across South Asia.

I still have my doubts, but I’m not about to test this by sleeping with an onion in my armpit, which I think would be smelly, uncomfortable and weird, so even though our friend insisted one of us try it to know for sure, I don’t think it’s going to happen… can any South Asians out there validate this? ;)

Another superstition: If you sleep with your hand on your chest (over your heart) it will give you a nightmare. This was another one our onion-armpit friend BG insisted on, and when I brought it up at our dinner gathering last night AS and ON also adamantly agreed that this was true. ON went as far as to say that whenever she wakes up suddenly of a nightmare she always finds her hand on her chest. BG insisted I try this out too… and I did try to fall asleep the other night with my hand on my chest. I had no nightmares to report the following morning, but who knows how long my hand was on my chest after I fell asleep and probably rolled over.

After that a whole treasure trove of superstitions came out—one that P always tells me is not to cut my fingernails at night (which is when I inevitably do it). ON said not to cut your hair on your birthday, but that it is best not to cut your hair during your whole birth month. Others said not to buy new things on Saturday (oops, that’s when I usually buy things!), or wear new clothes on Monday, or point at people (some sort of bad luck), or point at cucumbers when they are growing on the vine (else they will shrivel up and die), or jump over a broom.

A few departure related superstitions came up as well… P mentioned that if people are about to leave the house and someone sneezes right before you go, everyone has to stay a few extra minutes at the house before you leave. Another common one is that if you have two guests at your house then you can’t have them both leave on the same day if they are going to two different houses, because then you have people staying in three different locations (“3 bas”) that night and it is some sort of bad luck. To counter act this you can put a nail in another house to make it four different houses and this somehow breaks the bad luck. Whenever P’s family is around and people are leaving they always mention that last one.

Lastly, on the drive to the wedding over  the weekend the person who carpooled with us said her eye was twitching and she couldn’t get it to stop. P said, “Which eye? If a woman’s left eye starts to twitch it’s good luck, but if a man’s right eye starts to twitch it is bad luck.”

Certainly in America we have our own superstitions… hence I still feel a little uncomfortable when someone accidently opens an umbrella inside the house (or when Mamu went on her great American umbrella quest and opened up every umbrella she found during her 5 week stay to test the strength and durability to see if it would make a good gift. Ultimately she wasn’t so impressed with American umbrellas)… but one of my favorites is from growing up in the snow country—if you want to “encourage” a snow day (a day when school is cancelled due to heavy snow) you can wear your pajamas inside out and backwards, and if you want an extra added good luck for a snow day, you can run around the kitchen table three times in your inside-out-backward pjs.

Anyway… just filling you in on the latest conversations in “the household” ;)

13 responses to “Don’t Sleep with an Onion in Your Armpit!

  1. I totally agree with P and BG with the onion and hand in the chest thing LOL. I heard it all the time… :D

    The sneezing thing however is really not possible for me anymore – I used to sit if somebody sneezed earlier but with S sneezing like every 2 minutes with his allergies it became totally impractical. Not a true follower of superstitions but I have my qualms now and then.

  2. A common one I had to deal with was cat crossing the street was seen as bad luck. Every time a cat crossed the street when we were driving, my dad would hit the brakes and either wait for cars coming from the other direction to go past us or ask me to go out & walk past where the cat crossed the street which was weird because that meant I was getting all the bad luck. Sleeping with your head pointing north was another one that was a big no no.

  3. The only one I recognized was the nail clipping one, and I know that my husband also thinks you shouldn’t cut plants at night either. But then I went and asked him and he knew about the onion/armpit too! He said he’s read about it in books and his father has talked about it, but he doesn’t know anyone his age who tried it growing up. I asked for more examples of Pakistani superstitions but most of them were about riding yourself of nazar (the evil eye) i.e., burning red chilis, putting a black tikka on your face, various jewelry worn to ward of this evil eye. He did say that if you spill water, it means a thirsty person is nearby, and if you sneeze, someone is talking about you somewhere.

    What a great topic!

  4. Asked the brother-in-law about Pakistani superstitions and he had two more:

    Don’t use the scissors unless you’re cutting something (i.e. don’t play with scissors?) otherwise there will be a fight in your house (husband says a fight with your brother.)

    Don’t count your money or it will become less.

  5. There are a definitely a few superstitions about the evil eye in Nepal as well with similar ways of getting rid of it. The one regarding counting money is something I have experienced first hand when gambling so I am a believer!

  6. Just to test I asked my husband what happens if you sleep with an onion in your armpit. (half expecting him to think I was nuts) He just said “Supposedly you will get a fever.” Hmmm.

    Our Nepali housekeeper told me that if a baby tries to suck/eat her own feet, it is good luck.

  7. Tested the UL of sleeping with onions under the armpit.

    Its an urban legend that doesnt work. I was there for 6 hours and everything in the room started smelling of onions. I had to change the sheets, pillow covers and empty half a can of air freshener to make the smell go away. Other then ridiculously bad smelling armpits and cloths it didnt seem to have any other effects……..

  8. You’d think that the smell would make it a very poor way to play hooky – if you smell of onion, your parents will know that you aren’t really sick, you just have a onion-induced fever.

    When asked, Aditya said that he thought the outcome would be armpits smelling of onions. Guess he’s never heard of this one before.

  9. 4 some people it works, 4 some it doesnt. U just gotta try to find out :)

  10. Does the onion thing work i want to try it? ?? I dont know though? ?????

    • americanepali

      I hear it does, but I’ve never tried it myself. If you do give it a try you should report back to us!

  11. The onion gag really. DOes work I got a really high fever after doing so 40* haha x

  12. it sort of works but the effect is much better with garlic………though u end up with really smelly armpits!!!!!!!!

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