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By Thomas F. O'Neill

Every semester I do a lesson on some silly things that many Americans believe in. But at the same time many people here in China believe in similar things - that seem to defy reality.

Here are a few examples:

Noah’s Ark

Upwards of 60% of Americans believe in the story of Noah’s Ark, word by word. Meaning that more than half of the people in the U.S. believes that a guy built an ark, put all of the world’s animals in it.

He then told the animals not to kill each other, fed them during the flood, and then put each animal in the specific climate in which they would prosper.


I grew up hearing stories about Bigfoot and many stories appeared on TV over the years as well. Bigfoot stories of sightings vary on some details though and on the type of "evidence." In 2008, two Georgia men claimed they had a body, and photos of the body. They also claimed to have DNA evidence of a Bigfoot.

A few days later, evidence surfaced that the DNA was that of an opossum and the body was really a frozen gorilla suit.


Many of my relatives are big believers in ghosts and they enjoy telling the ghost stories they heard growing up. However, your mommy and daddy might have told you there are no such things as ghosts.

But nearly half of Americans thinks otherwise.

The idea of ghosts as hopeful evidence of life after death goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, where it was commonly believed that death was merely a transition to some mysterious netherworld of another existence.

Aliens visiting Earth

I tell my students that most likely there are aliens on other planets due to the sheer vastness of our Universe. But I also believe that earth would be to far for them to travel too. And, on a sadder note if those aliens ever made it to the US Trump would have them deported.

With each passing year, the frequency of UFO sightings seems to keep increasing, as does the number of movies, television shows and video games featuring aliens.

In America, 77 percent of people "believe there are signs that aliens have visited Earth” even when science can prove otherwise.


Most people in America believe that mermaids are [not real] because they have never seen one.

On the other hand, there are people in America who do believe in Mermaids. They argue that most people have not seen giant squids but recently a giant squid was discovered and even filmed.

There have been reports going back for thousands of years of people seeing mermaids. I for one do not believe in Mermaids but if they do exist I would love to see one.

Fear of black cats

Many fears stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can't explain something, we make stuff up. The same goes for the fear of black cats especially during Halloween.

I discovered that here in China the Chinese also have a fear of black cats but for many different reasons than the fear that Americans have of them. Cats have been a companion animal for humans for thousands of years, and they played all sorts of roles for us humans. In ancient Egypt, cats were loved; today, Americans collectively keep more than 81 million cats as pets.

So why keep a black cat out of your path? Most likely, this fear arises from old beliefs in witches and their animal familiars, which were often said to take the form of domestic animals like cats.

Find a penny, pick it up …

Find a penny, pick it up --- and all day long, you'll have good luck. This little ditty may arise because finding money is lucky in and of itself. But it might also be a spin-off of another old rhyme, "See a pin, pick it up -- and all day long you'll have good luck -- see a pin, let it lay -- and your luck will pass away."

The fear of breaking a mirror...

The Chinese like many Americans believe that if you break a mirror you will have seven years of bad luck. I once saw a man cry over a broken mirror which seemed odd and strange to me at the time. But when you travel as much as I have over the years you come across many strange beliefs. Not walking under a ladder comes to mind and not stepping on a crack in a sidewalk is also something many Americans fear.

Superstitious fears seem to be part of the human psyche but it doesn’t necessarily have to rule our way of life. The more we examine our own beliefs and superstitions the more aware we become of our culture and the cultural beliefs of others. It becomes a learning experience and these silly beliefs can also become great topics for discussion especially in my classes here in China.

    Always with love from Suzhou, China
    Thomas F O’Neill
    WeChat - Thomas_F_ONeill
    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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