MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- If you want to get a conversation going here, walk into a room with a piece of red thread stuck to your forehead.
Everyone will ask whether your hiccups have gone away.
Americans believe that putting a bag over one's head, or giving a good scare, will rid one of the hiccups. Nicaraguans say the red thread on the forehead is the best cure.
It is part of the folklore of this Central American country, a fertile place for an assortment of beliefs. Studying them can be amusing, but it also can help one reflect on how some beliefs common in the United States are odd, too.
Drinking acidic refreshments such as pineapple juice or tamarind punch when it is hot is a sure-fire way to lose one's voice or get sick, Nicaraguans say.
And if visitors are overstaying their welcome at your house, turn a broom upside down behind a door and sprinkle salt on it. That will get them out in a flash.
Sound silly? Well, many high-rises in the United States do not have 13th floors. Many Americans avoid cracks in the sidewalk and knock on wood.
When in Nicaragua, you should never open the refrigerator after you have been ironing. The local lore is that you will catch a vicious cold, get arthritis or just plain drop dead. The reasoning: Ironing heats the body, and the shock of the refrigerator's cold air invites calamity.
Ironing around here is a delicate pursuit. Those who iron act as if they are risking their lives. The same goes for other trades. You will never see a welder sweating from a day's work go out in the rain. He will wait until the rain stops, even if he has to spend the night in the workshop.
Also, people who catch colds often do not shave. The cold razor blade will only make it worse.
jTC For similar reasons, Nicaraguans do not often shower at night. Most people do not have hot water, and they believe that a cold shower after a hot day of work is not healthy.
Mario Tapia swears that if you cut some types of timber during a new moon, the wood will rot. Folk singer Carlos Mejia Godoy says his experience bears this out.
"This isn't superstition. This is a fact," he said, recounting how a -- farmer and he recently cut a thick reed for his marimba during the new moon. The wood crumbled.
Another rural belief: If you fail to bag a deer while hunting, your wife or companion is probably pregnant.
Speaking of pregnancy, expectant women have magical powers. the countryside, Nicaraguans say a pregnant woman can stop a rattlesnake in its tracks just with her glance.
And anyone is subject to the "evil eye," taken seriously in rural areas.
Some construction workers believe that if one of them sees his own image in a mirror while toiling, it could paralyze part of his face.
Then there is the mean circus trick. If you want to see a clown mess up a stunt or a trapeze artist slip, wear your underpants inside out. It hexes circus performers, some Nicaraguans say.