In the second episode of the series, professor Legasov is at a local bar drinking and the bartender unscrews the cap on a bottle of vodka and takes a upturned glass from the bar. Legasov points to one of the glasses that are FACE DOWN on the bar. A couple (possibly a husband and wife) noticed this and the wife asks if he is superstitious.

In the podcast it is said that he asks for the upside down glass because it wasn't contaminated with nuclear materials, but since the wife doesn't know that why is she concluding that he is superstitious, does a particular position of a glass has something to do with superstitions?

  • It might not be a particular superstition. I just looked up Russian drinking superstition and can't see anything like that here. However if someone does something very particular like that, refusing to only be served from a glass that was upside down, I might just think they have a "bit of OCD" or "a mild superstition" about something.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 16, 2021 at 0:02
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    @iandotkelly When you wear that diamond-mod badge you should set a good example. Not answer with "I guess?? I dunno, here's my 2 cents" answers in the comment section.
    – pipe
    Mar 16, 2021 at 10:33
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    There is a Slavic folk superstition that leaving spoons upturned on the table amounts to inviting the devil to dine with these spoons. I am not sure whether it fits in the context of the series (which I haven't watched).
    – svavil
    Mar 16, 2021 at 13:13
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    @pipe I can see your point. I tried to do some research on Russian superstition. If I had found something positive I would have definitely answered. I didn't feel very confident in answering. Sorry if attempting to contribute what I had (not) discovered and some of my thinking at that point bothered you.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 16, 2021 at 13:18

3 Answers 3


In the next episode, the couple in the scene you're referring to...

turn out to be KGB agents. They're there to spy on Legasov. So her inquiry is most likely meant to see if he'll reveal the real reason for not wanting an upward-facing glass (that has likely been contaminated), or she's simply probing him with generic banter to see how he reacts and what all he says/reveals.

  • 1
    I've removed my answer as I forgot about the spoiler mentioned in this answer, which does indeed invalidate my answer.
    – Flater
    Mar 16, 2021 at 12:20
  • Honestly @Flater I think your answer is just as convincing. Would the KGB agents be aware that was what he was doing or just ensuring he wasn't talking out of turn. While this theory certainly should be aired, its just as likely that the woman thought Legasov was being 'just odd'.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 16, 2021 at 19:12
  • @iandotkelly do you actually think if we asked the writers they would say "It's not because of (see spoiler), it's because the lady is genuinly interested in Legasov's behavior as a fellow citizen, or old Slavic folk superstitions about upturned spoons and cups in which demons are allowed to enter"? It's like a bunch of people who weren't aware of the twist ending to "The Sixth Sense" asking why Bruce Willis' character can see and speak to dead people the entire film. Without the spoiler, the question can't even be discussed, even after, this speculation about superstitions is irrelevant/silly Mar 17, 2021 at 18:07
  • I'm not saying you are wrong. I'm saying it's entirely possible it wasn't for that reason and that Flater shouldn't feel his wasn't a valid answer. The writers may have had many reasons. They may have just wanted us to notice that the couple were spending time around Legasov at the hotel. They may have wanted to highlight themes of "superstition versus science" in play here.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 17, 2021 at 20:47

edit I'm unsure if this answer is correct or GlenRunciter's answer. I guess it hinges on how genuine the woman's reaction is, which I can't quite remember that accurately.

It's not a matter of the direction of a glass being a known superstition. It's a matter of Legasov's behavior being weird, and her assuming that he must engage in this behavior because of some superstition she doesn't know about.

Look at it from the point of view of the woman:

A man at the bar asks for a drink. The bartender makes the drink in a glass that is perfectly in order. The man stops the bartender, points at another, equally perfectly in order glass and asks to be served in that glass. Why would this man want to drink from one glass and not the other? There's nothing wrong with either of them.

To the woman who doesn't understand the contamination, there is no rational reason for Legasov to favor one glass over the other - the glasses are equally suitable to drink from.

Therefore, since there's no rational reason (in her mind), she assumes the reason must then be irrational, which is effectively what a superstition is.

  • 2
    To me it seemed more like convenient opportunity for her to test if he would keep his mouth shut.
    – user694733
    Mar 16, 2021 at 10:26
  • I think the problem/confusion as to which answer is correct is that OP clearly didn't know the spoiler alluded to in my answer (neither had anyone mentioned it here before I wrote my answer). That's just a calculated guess, but OP's question is written exactly like someone who didn't catch the reveal of the spoiler in the following episode (or maybe he/she hasn't made it that far in the series yet) because it's easy to miss. So from OP's perspective, OP is thinking "why is this random citizen asking legasov about superstition" hence my answer which sheds light on the situation Mar 17, 2021 at 13:14
  • I slightly disagree - she doesn't ask "what was wrong with the first glass", neither does the bartender who could be offended by suggestion that the first glass was somehow dirty, instead asks directly " are you superstitious?" This suggests that they both understand, even if don't agree (or find it outright silly) this request, just like you could understand why someone refuses to take 6.66$ change, rent room 13 or would change path to not cross a black cat's path - you know (even if don't believe in) those susperstions
    – Yasskier
    Mar 17, 2021 at 21:53
  • @Yasskier Why do you assume that no person ever jumps to a conclusion prematurely, or that them not asking a specific question inherently means that they must already know the answer? Superstition is arguably the most likely explanation (barring any contamination since you clearly haven't heard of anything like that from the news), so it's well reasonable for someone to jump to that conclusion. Your examples of $6.66 change or room 13 are built on prior knowledge about superstitions involving 666 or 13. But not knowing about that doesn't somehow force a person to ask an explicit question.
    – Flater
    Mar 18, 2021 at 1:33
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    @Yasskier: In other words, just because the hotel receptionist happily moves your booking from room 13 to room 15 doesn't mean they know about triskaidekaphobia. Maybe they're just happy to help. Or maybe they think of another reason why you might ask to swap rooms, and don't bother to explicitly verify their thought since it doesn't really matter anyway - you'll want to swap rooms regardless.
    – Flater
    Mar 18, 2021 at 1:48

There is one superstition involving the glasses: If the glass is kept bottom-down, the evil spirit might sneak in and then hurt the next person that will be drinking from this glass. The same could happen if you'd left your drink alone for too long - hence, the glasses should be kept bottom-up and drank quickly when full.

This superstition has actually roots in hygiene: if the glass rests for a longer period in a regular position, it might be full of various contaminations (especially in the dirty environment) - viruses and bacteria from the air (or in this case the radioactive dust). Also, in the pubs glasses that just has been washed are kept bottom-up to let them dry faster - this means that such glasses have indeed been cleaned, not just wiped by a dirty rag.

I really doubt that the KGB agent knew themselves about how serious the situation is - hence they just half-jokingly ask about Legasov's superstition. Judging by the bartender's reaction, he is accustomed to such requests.

  • 1
    True about the superstition part. re: the last paragraph SPOILER ALERT, LOOK AWAY: The head of the KGB was at the same meeting where Legasov made it clear he was willing to raise noise and was ordered to go inspect the site. A person couldn't be any more on the KGB radar. The agents didn't need to know how serious the situation was; their orders were to watch and test this guy, and scoot him away if he looked like he'd make trouble.
    – Jason
    Mar 17, 2021 at 23:59

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