Apparently, It’s Not Messi That’s Winning The World Cup
I don’t know if “cábala” translates, but I’ll try to explain
I was at dinner the other day, listening to my friends share their cábalas when watching the Argentinean football matches, and I couldn’t help wondering if this is as common in other places as it is here.
Google didn’t offer a good translation but in Argentina, we use the word cábala to refer to a ritual or item you turn to for luck. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard of a lot of cábalas around the World Cup. For some, it’s wearing the same t-shirt without washing it (even though we have summer-like weather, and the matches have been pretty intense, they put on the same t-shirt sentencing everyone around them to quite a stench). For others, it’s watching the match with the same four people, and for my brother’s wife, it’s watching it with different people each time. I have a friend who will only eat a specific meal because she didn’t the first time and the team lost but she has had it for every other game and they have won.
When I started asking around I got an endless supply of them: wearing mismatched socks (they don’t need to be the same ones for every game, they clarify, just as long as they don’t match), baking two cakes, shouting a made-up word when the other team gets close to the goal, lining up olives and eating an olive every ten minutes (and running to get more when there’s additional time because it’s cábala).
I am not making this up, I couldn’t if I tried. It’s no joke. One of the main newspapers in the country published an article explaining why we have cábalas and sharing some random ones like a man who crosses his legs in the direction his team needs to score. Ask anyone on the street and chances are they have one or multiple cábalas for this World Cup. It is an intrinsic aspect of how the matches are experienced here.
Looking at it from the outside, it’s quite funny to think that any individual action from a human watching the match from the other side of the world (often with a little delay) can in any way affect the results of the game. And I’m sure they understand this on some rational level, and yet… It’s the same t-shirt, mismatched socks, with the same people or different people, sitting in the same seat, eating the same meal, or the olives every ten minutes, because cábala.
Google didn’t offer a good translation and I don’t know if it’s because there isn’t one or I simply haven’t found it yet. I’ve written about my interest in untranslatable words before, and how I’ve come to believe these words say a lot about the culture they’re from. After all, language shapes the way we see the world and how we communicate in it. It makes sense to me that cábalas are a thing here. Though some may deny it, we are quite superstitious. While many claim black cats are just black cats, few will walk under a ladder, and everyone knocks on wood after saying something that might tempt fate in any way.
I don’t have a cábala, do I?
After having a good laugh hearing the different cábalas my friends have for this World Cup, I tried to think if I had any. After all, I grew up here too. My brain may work in English now, but it grew up in Spanish too. I’m not as engaged with the World Cup this year, but cábalas also apply to everyday life.
I think there was a necklace I used for interviews, but I grew out of that, and I can’t remember if I wore it to every single one. It might just have been a favorite necklace at the time. I used to eat Rocklets (the local version of M&M's) before some university exams, but it was something I did in the classes I shared with one friend and it was more about having that ritual with her than believing it influenced the results. So I kept searching, opening the doors, and peering into the windows of memory lane looking for a cábala, and guess what? I found one!
Cábalas become important when you are facing a lot of uncertainty, or something you feel you have no control over, something that you fear or stress about. Given how prone I am to fear, I’m surprised I don’t have more of them, but there is one thing that I love and fear in equal parts and that’s flying. I love to travel but am, was, am a nervous flier, and for the last few years I have always set out with the same t-shirt. It wasn’t always my travel t-shirt, just a t-shirt I loved. It was pale pink when I bought it, and it’s almost white now, from having used it and washed it so many times. I don’t remember when I picked it to be my flight t-shirt, one day it just was. One day it was the one I’ve always used and must use now. It’s faded and shapeless, and the rational part of my brain thinks it’s maybe time to retire it, but it’s stupidly hard. On my last flight, I didn’t wear it, but it was 100% folded in my backpack, just in case, because cábala.
Does the word or concept translate? Do you have any cábalas to share?