Scribbler in Seville

Cures and scares from the abuelas

My daughter had chicken pox recently, quite badly, and was covered in horrid itchy red spots for days. One of the treatments I’d read about – book, website, parents’  forum, can’t remember where – was a camomile bath, using an infusion made with teabags – easy peasy. It seemed to help a bit, but the poor thing was miserable again soon afterwards.

One morning while she was ill, my husband was chatting to his friends in the bar where he has breakfast (as they do here in Andalucia) about her sufferings, and one of the (older, female) clients was horrofied that we’d given her a bath. She told him that bathing a child with varicella could kill them – the infection will get inside their body – “se mete dentro la enfermedad y su puede morir“.

Where does she think the spots came from in the first place? A pox-devil with an evil magic wand? My husband’s aunt backed up this theory (as did a friend’s husband), adding another priceless piece of antiquated nonsense that women having their period shouldn’t have a bath or it will make them go blind – something about regla and ciega. Boy am I’m glad I wasn’t around for that one.

 These extraordinary pseudo-medical assertions brought a smile to my face for the first time in days of constant toddler whinging, so I thought I’d find some more nutty superstitions to share.

When a baby is 40 days old (it’s never a month here, or 2 weeks – 40 days! 15 days! Why?), you should trim its nails for the first time (surprisingly sharp, they really can cut you) and then throw down a well for good luck. Not sure how much the owner would like teeny-tiny razor blades appearing in his drinking water.

My friend Lucy told me her her suegra (mother-in-law) was horrified that she didn’t wear a faja (girdle) after giving birth. I think mine knew better than to suggest that to me after I bore her grandchildren.

Lucy also heard another theory, that your pregnancy antojos (cravings) can give your children related birthmarks: eat too many strawberries, and your baby will bear a fruity-shaped mancha.

Lesley’s suegra puts the end of a cucumber on her forehead to ward off migranes.

If you live in Spain, you will inevitably have been regaled about all the uses of olive oil, other than cooking: it is the best thing for cradle cap (newborn baby’s dry scalp), stretch marks, constipation, and a host of other problems.

I’d love to hear any more crazy Spanish cures or typically melodramatic (“it will kill you”) medical theories.

5 thoughts on “Cures and scares from the abuelas

  1. La Tortuga Viajera

    My goodness, I can’t wait until my husband and I have kids here. I’m sure my suegra has a slew of entertaining health tips just waiting for me. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard of many strange health tips here in Madrid. In my experience, the confusion always arises around a severe misunderstanding about how one acquires a cold. I don’t know what science book they learn this stuff from here, but I’d like to get my hands on it….

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Tortuga, not sure how the education system was 50-odd years ago, esp down here in Andalucia. Maybe some kids did learn useful stuff in those days, though I doubt it, and in any case most of these superstitions (like recipes) have always been passed down through the women of the family, and word of mouth and tradition have always held a lot more weight than books here in Spain. Which is why all their theories are so totally batty, with no basis whatsoever in medical knowledge.

  2. kit cox

    I think my favorite is the “cold causes colds” one: if you go barefoot in your house in the summer, you´re going to coger un resfrio. Don´t worry about germs though. Classic.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Yes, Kit, my friend Lucy (of the fruit-shaped birthmarks) also mentioned that when I asked for people’s experiences. This is what she said about her suegra: “she is CONVINCED that getting a bit cold will give you a cold. Drives me fecking insane. It’s a VIRUS!!!!!!! It’s not related to the air temperature!!!!!!”

  3. mudhooks

    When I was a kid, when someone in the neighbourhood’s kids had chicken pox someone held a “Chicken Pox party” and everyone would take their kids over in hopes that all of them would have it at the same time.

    As it happened, after my mother remarried, a kid in the neighbourhood got it and Mom held the party. My stepdad “had had it when he was a kid” but he was sure that his kids, my new brother and sister, hadn’t had it. I had a BAD case of it when I was three, so it was mainly for my brother and sister to get it.

    My brother and sister didn’t get it. My stepdad did… BADLY!

    My dad was always so sure about certain things… Like the fact that “his kids knew about Santa” so my mom “should have a talk with Anneke” (me). Mom told me. I told my brother and sister who “did NOT know about Santa” and Mom had three traumatized children on our first Christmas together…

    Regarding old wives’ tales… We had a housekeeper who, when I was 15, came to me frantic and in torrents of tears. She was pregnant and had “seen a snake”! Apparently she was told that if you see a snake when you are pregnant your baby will turn into one. I (at 15!!!) had to explain that there was no way that looking at a snake would turn your baby into a snake or anything resembling a snake… just wasn’t possible. About a year and a half later I had to explain the fact of life to her when she became pregnant again and didn’t know how it had happened. Seriously…

    She also had the firm belief that unless you cut off the two ends of a cucumber and rubbed the two ends together (the cut off ends, mind you), the cucumber would be poisonous. It took some convincing that taking the ends off and rubbing them together would have no effect on the other part of the cucumber and that cucumbers aren’t poisonous whatever you did.

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