Author Archive
Customs

Automobile Seating Arrangement Ritual – American

Determining where someone sits in a vehicle can be complicated. There are only so many seats in any given vehicle. The driver of the vehicle is usually known ahead of time. This is usually the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle belongs to someone not there or nobody cares who drives then the person driving will be the first person to shout “driver.” The front passenger seat is usually the most coveted position because it is usually always up for grabs. This seat goes to whoever yells “shotgun” first. The worst place to sit is in the middle of the back seat. This is called sitting “bitch.” If you don’t care where in the back you sit as long as it’s not “bitch” then you have to shout “no-bitch.” Sitting “no-bitch” is either behind the driver or behind the passenger. Usually nobody cares where in the back they sit as long as it’s not bitch.

The rule used to be that you can call out a seat as soon as everybody is out of the building. At first it didn’t matter, but then people kept calling “shotgun” like at the beginning of a party or something and it was like cheating. Eventually it changed to where you can’t call it out until the car is within view of everyone and everyone is out of the building. It won’t count if you do it when you can’t see the car or if everyone that’s gonna be in the car isn’t there. If you call a seat it only counts for the current point A to point B. If you gotta make multiple stops where people get out of the car, like a gas station, then seats are up for grabs whenever anyone gets out of the car.

Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a very big deal in Cleveland. Because he often travels with several friends at a time, nobody wants to have to be squeezed in the back. If they do end up in the back, they prefer not to be stuck in the middle. Even if a person does not care where they sit they try very hard to avoid sitting “bitch.” Sitting “bitch” is seen as shameful and embarrassing. People that constantly sit “bitch” are usually made fun of constantly. Bryan says that an exception to this is if the person sitting bitch is smaller than everyone else and volunteers because they do not take up as much space. Often girls sit “bitch” simply because the guys tend to be larger. In these cases they are not made fun of and usually people are grateful for their “sacrifice” and show them the respect they deserve.

If multiple people call “shotgun” at the same time they usually have a Rock, Paper, Scissors best-of-three match to determine the true victor. Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a way to see who is on their toes, or paying attention the most. I think it is a way to define a sort of hierarchy when in transit from place to place. This hierarchy is constantly redefined but there will always be those who seem to succeed at calling “shotgun” more frequently and those who call it less frequently. It is not uncommon for the person sitting “bitch” to call “shotgun” at the first opportunity in order to regain their dignity in the eyes of their peers. It is a way of temporarily structuring peer groups that allows members to temporarily possess positions of power as well as positions of degradation.

Here is a humorous sketch of shotgun calling:

Shotgun Song on YouTube

Folk speech

Folk Speech – American

When communicating with her best friend and other friends in her clique, Nateka speaks as fast as she possibly can. Her friends are able to understand everything she says and she in turn is able to understand everything they say.

I asked Nateka why she and her friends speak so rapidly with each other and then return to a normal tempo when speaking with everyone else. She says that it developed over time. At first they spoke quickly only to interrupt each mid-speech but over time they just kept talking faster and faster until they were speaking so fast that no one outside of their group understood what they were saying.

Another contributing factor, according to Nateka, was television and especially the rise of “Valley” talk. “Valley” girls tend to speak quickly. Nateka said that her friends were already speaking quickly by the time they were exiting Elementary School and all throughout Middle School during the mid to late 90s. Seeing other girls speaking rapidly on television helped prolong her habit of speaking quickly and also increased the speed of her words when conversing with her close friends.

She says that everyone had their “thing” in school and speaking rapidly was the “thing” that belonged to her and her group of friends. I think it was a defining characteristic that helped them establish a sort of group identity. Upon hearing her speak rapidly to me, as she does among her friends, I had no idea what she said until I slowly replayed the dialogue in my head. It is certainly not something I would be able to manage on a regular basis. For her and her group of friends it is completely normal and, according to Nateka, they prefer that people don’t understand what they are talking about.

An example of Nateka’s mode of speech can be seen in the television series Blossom. Jenna Von Oy’s character Six Le Meure is the best friend of the main character Blossom. Six is extremely quirky and almost always speaks extremely fast. She speaks so fast, in fact, that Blossom has to constantly grab her by the shoulders and tell her to slow down, at which point Six usually tries to speak slowly but ends up increasing speed until she is speaking quickly again. This is very much the way Nateka and her friends speak to each other, except they all speak quickly unlike Blossom who speaks at a fairly normal speed when conversing with Six.

Here is an clip of Six from the television show Blossom:

Six on YouTube

Game
Humor

Prank – American

When you are drinking you should never fall asleep with your shoes on. If you do then you are fair game for anything.

Corey told me that this tradition is common all across the campus of University of Findlay. Anytime there are parties and people have a little too much to drink and fall asleep with their shoes on they get messed with. He tells me that nothing is off-limits when it comes to dishing out a punishment to the offender. A common punishment is drawing on the person’s face with a magic marker. Usually this is done with an erasable marker but permanent markers are often used. Another common punishment is to spray shaving cream all over the person’s body. If the person is fully clothed when they fall asleep they may be stripped down to their underwear. Another, more interesting, punishment involves multiple individuals who have fallen asleep in shoes. These individuals are often positioned in compromising positions. All of these pranks can involve photography as a means of recording whatever sort of punishment gets dished out.

One of the more extreme examples Corey told me of involved a guy who had drank too much and passed out underneath a table with his shoes on. A partygoer happened to have a taser in her possession and was more than happy to lend it to one of Corey’s friends who proceeded to tase the sleeping individual in the leg multiple times. The offender was so intoxicated that he never actually woke up. He only moved his leg a little each time he was tased, other than that he remained sleeping and motionless. The incident was filmed and shown to the individual the next day. He was angry at first but upon learning that he neglected to remove his shoes he became more understanding and even appeared to be more angry at himself than the guy that tased him in the leg.

Corey says that this practice is continued in order to teach people not to drink more than they can responsibly handle. If someone plans on going to sleep they will have the wherewithal to remove their shoes first to avoid being disturbed. If, on the other hand, that person is too drunk to function and simply passes out anything can happen. Getting screwed with, while sleeping with shoes on, usually causes a person to drink more responsibly next time. Corey told me the first time he heard of this rule was at the very first college party he ever went to. The first time he witnessed someone getting messed with while sleeping with shoes was the very same night. The offender in this instance was given a shaving cream beard, mustache, and eyebrows. I also believe it is a way of warning college students against drinking too heavily. It is a way for them to experience a direct consequence of heavy drinking that is not nearly as severe as other possible consequences that can arise from drinking too heavily. This is a way to prevent that.

Folk Beliefs

Superstition – South Korean

When Andrew was a young child he was left handed. He would use his left hand to do everything from eat to draw and write. His mother frowned on him using his left hand every single time she observed it. When he would try to hold his fork with his left hand she would slap him on the back of the hand and scold him. When she caught him holding crayons in his left hand she would slap them out of his hand and tell him to pick them up again using his right hand. This continued all the way to kindergarten. Once Andrew began writing frequently he was caught holding his pencil in his left hand frequently. He was scolded and punished for this behavior every time he was caught.

Over time Andrew had to slowly learn how to use his right hand because of getting hit every time he got caught using his left hand. He eventually became proficient in writing with his right hand and subsequently lost the ability to use his left hand very well. He is now completely right handed and it is all because his mother did not want him to grow up using his left hand.

Andrew told me that being punished for using his left hand was one of his earliest childhood memories. His mother believed that being left handed was connected with evil. The left hand taboo can also be seen in Middle Eastern societies. In Iraq, I learned that the left hand is used in place of toilet paper when going to the facilities. In Iraqi culture it is an insult to wave at someone with your left hand or even shake hands with the left instead of the right. This notion of the left hand being bad is prevalent in Korean culture.

Andrew says that he does not have a single relative, living or dead, who is left handed. Whether or not some of them may have been converted, like he was, is a fairly strong possibility, according to Andrew. Andrew’s mother projected her cultural beliefs about what is “normal” onto Andrew.  Even in American society the left hand is still considered “different.” It is not discriminated against the way it is in Korea, but it is still viewed in a somewhat suspicious light. I believe that the belief that the left hand is connected with evil or at least some negative connotation still exists today and although it is not often discussed it still remains a belief that many people hold in the back of their heads.

Game

Folk Game – American

In grade school there is one thing that all students usually have on their person: a pencil. These pencils come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and densities. Ira used to play a game called Pencil Breaks in grade school. The goal of the game was to break the pencil of your opponent completely in half using your own pencil. The pencil had to be broken completely in half. If it was simply splintered and not broken all the way in half the game continued.

The players take turns striking each other’s pencils until a victor is crowned or they call it quits, usually in order to make it to the next class. If a player misses the opposing pencil completely the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. If a player hits the opponent’s hands or fingers instead of the pencil, the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. Ira says there are a variety of techniques but the most important thing is not to snap your own pencil in half while attempting to torque it back far enough to do sufficient damage to your opponent’s pencil.

The best players are the ones that were patient as opposed to rash. Ira said that new players tended to think they needed tremendously powerful strikes and usually snapped their own pencils in half. He also noticed that the strongest pencils were those that were made in China. The pencils made in America were more flexible and ready to break. The Chinese pencils were more solid tended to break less frequently. Ira recalls how he would inspect a challenger’s pencil and when he saw it was made in China he knew he was in for a challenge. When he noticed they were made in America he would be much more extravagant in his strikes and generally less technical.

Some players had the same pencil that they had one multiple battles with. These pencils were dented up combat veterans that were ready to face and defeat any challenger. When one of these veteran pencils finally suffered a killing blow they would later be ritually retired and sometimes even buried.

Ira said the first time he played Pencil Breaks was in 6th grade. He remembers that it quickly became popular and eventually it was outlawed by the school administration, which quickly led to a rise in popularity for the game during that time. Some kids were so good that they would use regular pencils to battle mechanical pencils and still win. Ira says the game is a way to facilitate friendly competition between and amongst groups. It gives the kids a quick way to have fun under the watchful eyes of their teacher. By using an item as common as a pencil they were able to remain undetected for quite some time.

I think the use of pencils was a brilliant idea because it would be hard for someone to be suspicious of children with pencils, considering how common it was for student to have pencils. It can also be seen as a way of exerting power as well as gain stature among other peers. If the game is viewed from a Freudian perspective the pencils then become phallic symbols. By destroying your opponent’s pencil with your own you are saying that your manhood is superior to his.

Proverbs

Proverb – Jamaican

“Chip noh fly far from de block”

“Chip not fly far from the block”

“The chip does not fly far from the block”

Phyllis learned this proverb from her parents when she was growing up in Jamaica. She often heard it in reference to “bad” kids who had “bad” parents. She also heard it used by her mother when she did not want her to be friends with certain kids that she did not approve of by virtue of their parents actions.

She heard it said not only from her parents but also from other adults. Phyllis says that the proverb is talking about the cement used to build structures in some parts of her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. If a piece of the cement that is part of the structure breaks off it is similar to the block it fell from. “Fly far” can be interpreted to mean “is similar to.” The block itself is composed of many similar chips and they all share similar characteristics.

The chips are symbolic of offspring. She says that children are similar to their parents, in not only appearance but also behavior, much in the same way chips of a cement block are similar to the block they fall from. A similar proverb that I have heard is “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” This proverb also highlights how parts of a whole, whether it is apples from an apple tree or chips from a cement block, are similar to the whole from which it came.

Phyllis says that the proverb is very important because parents influence their children and guide them to adulthood. If parents act in a manner unbecoming of adults with a child then it is the children that are damaged as a result. They can receive negative influences from their parents. She stressed the fact that children emulate their parents as they grow and some parents set a very bad example for children to follow.

I think the proverb is useful, but also that it should not be taken too explicitly. It is not always their parents. It could be the case that a child grows up doing the complete opposite of his or her parents out of rebellion. I think it runs the risk of generalizing too much. If not considered to explicitly apply to all situations, I believe it does help inform people of possible modes of behavior someone might have, especially when numerous instances of similarities in the actions of parent and child are observed.

Proverbs

Proverb – Jamaican

“Cow no know de use a im tail till fly tek ee”

“Cow no know the use of his tail until fly take it”

“The cow does not know the use of his tail until the fly takes it”

Dorothy said she heard this proverb from her father when she was a little girl. It is very much connected to her agricultural upbringing. The proverb refers to a cow taking for granted the utility of its tail. Over time, she says, the tail can become infested with flies and eventually damaged to the point of uselessness. It is at this point that the cow will know the usefulness of having a tail. Without a tail the cow cannot repel insects, something the cow took for granted before.

She says they proverb speaks about people in general not taking for granted having all of their body parts fully functional. A person may have bad hygiene practices and not think anything about it. Over time they may develop and illness or infection and end up losing the use of a body part as a result of bad hygiene or just lack of appreciating having a functional body. At this point the person will regret not appreciating having a functional body. She says that people should be grateful for having all of their limbs and being in decent health.

This proverb is similar to “You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” The difference is that it is more focused on the body, while the latter is applicable to broader situations. The cow really has no idea how useful having a tail is. I think that if I lost a limb or digit I would be in for a serious surprise, much like the cow. I think the proverb helps teach people to appreciate the little things more than they do. Things that we assume are automatic and will always be there can suddenly disappear. When I hear the proverb I cannot help but notice that the cow is completely helpless in defending himself from the fly infestation. Metaphorically that is similar to saying we are helpless in preventing a proportional fate from befalling us. When I look at it like that I feel compelled to appreciate everything out of fear of being unable to defend myself as opposed to actual appreciation of my body. It seems somewhat depressing and I do not think that is the actual intention of the proverb.

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Folk Medicine – American

When you have had a long night of drinking and wake up with a massive hangover and feel like crap the only cure is to have a drink of whatever kicked your ass the night before.

According to Bryan the remedy to any hangover is basically to drink whatever caused the hangover in the first place. If, for example, a person spent the night doing tequila shots then the only way to feel any better is to have a tequila shot when you wake up in the morning. Bryan swears by this remedy and says it has worked for him several times in the past.

The first time he learned about this hangover cure was shortly after he started drinking. His first hangover was pretty rough and his older brother told him to drink whatever he had the night before. Bryan says that he did not feel better immediately but after a few hours he started to feel better. On subsequent experiences with the remedy he says he began feeling better sooner and sooner.

I have encountered many hangover remedies including: hot toddy, bloody Mary, tap water, hamburgers. Bryan has tried almost all of these and has had the most success with drinking whatever he had the night before. The only pitfall he admitted to running into using this remedy is when he drinks so much that he has no idea what he actually drank the night before. In these cases he says that it just does not work. He believes himself to be a bad guesser and when he has to guess what he drank the night before because he forgot he says he usually gets it wrong and the remedy does not work.

I think the remedy works on a psychological level in that it makes one feel better about the chances of getting over a hangover more quickly. On a physical level, I am not so sure it provides anything beneficial to an already injured body. That does not mean that it is not effective. An illness is more than physical. Although modern western medicine treats every illness with some sort of cure to the body, the mind itself also contributes to wellness and recovery from illness. If more benefit can be gained from being in a better psychological state of mind as opposed to being more hydrated or medicated then it might be better to think drinking the cause of your hangover for breakfast will cure you.

Customs
Gestures

Video Game Celebration – American

When playing the popular XBOX game Halo, after a person kills their opponent he or she should go over to the corpse of his opponent and repeatedly crouch above him. This is known as “corpse humping.”

Nicholas told me that this is done frequently when playing Halo online. It is a sign of disrespect to one’s enemy. He says it is done by him and his friends as a way of celebrating their kill and not so much to disrespect someone. Sometimes people get highly offended when they see that their corpse is being humped. This can lead to shouting matches, nasty texts, or revenge killings (within the game of course).

The act of corpse humping is also sometimes referred to as tea bagging, which is when a person puts his testicles into the open mouth of another person, much like dipping a tea bag into a cup of hot water. The corpse humping mimics that act and that is the reason so many people take offense to it. I asked Nicholas when the first time he learned about corpse humping was and he told me it was the first time he played an online deathmatch in Halo. After being killed, the person that killed him humped his corpse for an extended period of time while taunting Nicholas via text about how he was being teabagged. Nicholas fought fire with fire by killing and teabagging his assailant.

He later started doing it as a way of celebrating an especially challenging duel, but his opponents still frequently take offense to having their corpses humped. I think corpse humping is a way to assert dominance over one’s opponent. When a person’s corpse is being humped they are completely helpless. They have to wait a certain amount of time for their character to re-spawn (reappear). During this time they are humiliated and helpless. By frequently humping corpses one is making a statement about his superiority and challenging others to take him on.

Here is an example of teabagging in Halo:
Halo 3: The Bag Boy (Machinima)

Game

Folk Game – American

The game Flips is played with any kind of coin. Typically it is played with quarters. The matches usually take place during lunchtime and matches are quick so that the winner can go buy snacks with his winnings and still have time to eat them. To play the game you and your opponent must have identical coins. If you have a quarter your opponent must also have a quarter, for example. One person flips their coin. The other person has to flip their coin and get it to land on the same side as the coin that their opponent previously flipped. If I flip a quarter and it comes up heads then you have to flip your quarter and have it come up heads to win. If the opponent matches the side the coin lands on then he gets both quarters. If they do not match the person that flipped first gets both quarters. If you match it you win. If you don’t match it you lose.

Ira says that this game was first introduced to him during his freshman year of high school. It was very easy for him to learn and he played it almost every day. It was a good way for him to make snack money. He told me that his strategy was to play with quarters first and if he started losing he would switch to smaller currency, such as nickels or dimes, until he became profitable again, at which point he would switch back to quarters.

Part of the appeal of this game came from the fact that it was not expensive to play and when you lose it is only pocket change that you are losing. This game was convenient for high school kids since most of them did not make much money at the time. They were able to accumulate change from simply looking around there houses or saving up change from small purchases. Ira told me that he thought the game was a great way to kill time during the lunch break. It was a fun way to spend time with friends and meet new people at very little expense.

I think the game is a good way to create and strengthen friendships but as a consequence it seems that it could eventually lead to a gambling habit. Ira told me he played every day. It might not have affected him, but I think gambling daily can contribute significantly to a future gambling habit.

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