While riding a crowded bus in a Southwestern city, Natalie and Jon notice a Latino couple holding an adorable baby. Natalie smiles at them and admires the child, saying, "Que chula" (how beautiful). Instead of looking pleased, the parents seem disturbed. They leave their seats, wend their way through the bus and hand the baby to Natalie, requesting that she touch him.
What went wrong?
In Spanish, the father told Natalie that unless she touched the child, her compliment might bring the evil eye to harm their baby. Natalie obliged. She later learned that some Latinos believe that praise arouses envy, making the child vulnerable to danger. If the admirer touches the youngster, the threat disappears.
This evil eye concept is widespread, as Peter discovered while visiting friends in Egypt. While looking through the family's photo album, Peter commented on the good looks of one of the children. He horrified his hosts. Later, he discovered that admiring the physical attributes of a child, even in a photo, was potentially harmful. Acceptable comments include "What an angel!" or "What a little prince!"
Belief in the evil eye has many facets, another being that certain objects offer protection. Often these amulets look like a hand or a blue eye. Shoppers will find these talismans for sale in Southern California stores catering to customers from the Middle East.