Author Archive
Folk Beliefs

Teeth Falling Out in a Dream Means Deceit

My informant told me about a time when he was younger, maybe thirteen, and he had a dream about his teeth falling out. In the dream, his teeth began to feel loose and when he touched them they started to all fall out. He remembers being mortified and having a great sense of anxiety; the dream felt very real. When he woke up, he told his grandma, who lived with him. She got angry at him and told him the dream meant he had been telling lies; this was common knowledge in China. He tried to tell her he hadn’t been, but she wouldn’t believe him. His parents didn’t think much of the dream, though, and didn’t think their son had been telling lies.

He said he remembers the incident because the dream felt very real and it had disturbed him. He’d also been very upset to have his grandma angry at him when he felt he hadn’t done anything wrong. I could even see him become uncomfortable as he remembered the event.

I think it’s interesting to see that while his grandma put a lot of stock in this folk belief, his parents, the next generation, did not. This could reflect a changing attitude in the world and show how more recent generations are more apt to side with science and logic rather than trust old folk beliefs and superstitions. I also think it’s interesting to see that losing teeth became symbolic of telling lies, as if the lies had been so caustic that when they exited the mouth, they caused the teeth to fall out. Or maybe losing teeth in the dream was almost like a punishment for lying. I’ve heard the more modern belief that losing teeth in a dream represents a lack of confidence or feeling of insecurity. Because we use teeth to forcefully chew our food, they represent power, and seeing them fall out could reflect a sense that we have lost power in our lives. Another interpretation I’ve heard of the dream is that it indicates a family member will die, though I don’t know how that necessarily relates to teeth falling out, except maybe because people lose their teeth when they grow old and approach death.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Persian Tale- Man of Baghdad

This is a tale my informant heard from her mom, who is Persian. The story goes that a man living in Baghdad was very poor and so asked God to help him. That night, he dreamt of treasure that was at a certain place in Egypt. When he arrived, though, he was arrested because the police thought he was a thief for some reason. They beat him nearly to death. Later, when the police chief asked him why he’d come there, he said he dreamt that he’d find treasure if he did. The man just told him that he was a fool then. He continued that he’d often dreamt of finding treasure in a certain place in Baghdad but never pursued it because it was just a dream. It turned out that the spot the man had described in Baghdad was actually the house of the first guy. So, he returned home and found the treasure there.

My informant likes this story because of the reversal of fortune, which is unexpected but satisfying because as an audience, we want to see the man succeed after he is brought so low by the world. She also likes it because it emphasizes hope and trusting the universe to give you what you need. The man follows his dream and eventually succeeds, even though the police chief calls him foolish for this. Maybe sometimes you need to be foolish to just do what you think is right or what you think will get you what you want, though.

The tale speaks to a lot of different themes. For one, that we will generally get what we need in life, but it won’t simply be given to us. The man asks God for treasure, but he has to travel to Egypt to find out it was under his own house the whole time. He had to undergo a journey, as well as suffering (being beaten) to get the reward. The story also seems to say that dreams are meaningful. While we might not really believe this, it seems very human to want to, so this story serves as wish fulfillment in that way. The police chief gives the realist view that trusting dreams is foolish, but it pays off for the main character because we like the idea that a dream can guide us to something good.

Folk speech

“Girl with the look”

The informant is a friend from high school. He originally created the expression “girl with the look” on one of the first days of senior year when he saw a girl he was very attracted to. He didn’t know her name so he just called her the girl with the look. The expression quickly became a kind of inside joke within our friend group and rather than ask each other who we were interested in at school, we might ask who each other’s girl with the look was. The expression expanded out a little and other people at our school started using it, too. Another variant is “girl with a look” meaning simply a girl you’re attracted to, whereas “girl with the look” implies infatuation at first sight almost. For girls and gay guys, “guy with the look” also became a thing, though it was never used as much.

My informant liked the expression because it was a way to refer to someone without using a name, which kept it kind of secret and exclusive to those that knew what was being talked about. It kept the discussion within the friend group and also bonded us together by having our own phrase. I like it for the same reasons. Because it started out in one group, it created a sense of community and exclusivity within the group. And even though it’s a new piece of folklore, it did grow to have multiplicity and variation.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Buddhist Proverb- “All lust is grief”

This is a Buddhist proverb and my informant doesn’t remember where he heard it. It means all lust leads to sorrow. My informant likes it because it reminds us that our spiritual well-being is often more important to our happiness than our physical world; he takes lust to mean want in general rather than only sexual want. Buddhism says that attachment is what leads to suffering, so detaching oneself from desires in the physical world will lead one away from suffering.

Humans are often said to feel a sadness after an orgasm, perhaps because it is a let down; the ecstasy is just suddenly gone. The French call it le petite mort, meaning little death. In this way, lust does directly lead to grief. On a larger scale, though, all sexual and romantic attachment usually leads to grief due to human drama and the breaking apart of relationships. And on a scale larger than that, all human wants, which the word lust could be used to represent, lead to grief because having our desires in the physical world fulfilled doesn’t bring us lasting happiness. We get what we want and then that’s it; there will be a void again afterwards. Beyond that, everything is ephemeral, so it may not even be important that we got what we wanted, be it reaching a goal or acquiring a physical object. Buddhism recognizes this and communicates it via this concise proverb.

Humor

Hand to face prank

Something she learned as a kid, my informant remembers this piece of folklore from middle school. The way it works is someone says that if your hand is bigger than your face, you have cancer. Then, when you put your hand up to your face to check, they push your hand into your face. It’s painful and annoying and it makes my informant remember why she hated things like that when she was younger, tricks kids would make up to hurt others. Because the kid the prank is pulled on fails to realize they’re being tricked, it becomes almost acceptable to hurt them. The pain comes as a result of the person’s failure to realize it’s a trick. This is why many people accept it when they get hurt from a prank like this, versus if someone randomly just hit you in the face, in which case you might less readily let it go. My informant remembered being a kid and not differentiating between the two cases, though. When a peer did this to her, her response was to kick him in the leg. The prank is something she hasn’t forgotten because it serves as a reminder of that human desire to hurt others and be in positions of power over them, where it becomes acceptable to hurt them. My informant dislikes that quality of humanity but finds it interesting that it exists and that things children do often reflect it.

The prank also acts as a kind of initiation into the group of people who know it. Once it’s been done to you, like a college hazing ritual for example, you want to do it to the person who doesn’t know about to get revenge upon whoever did it to you. And once the prank’s been done to you once, it can’t be repeated unless you forget how it works. This makes it not seem as bad, since even if it hurts you, it also teaches you what it is so you feel like you gained some knowledge from the experience. Humans learn from pain, and this is an example of that. The prank’s existence also shows how children like to push limits to see what’s socially acceptable. Mature adults would be less likely to perform this prank because it is against social codes to malevolently trick someone like that.

Humor

Mood ring joke

The joke goes, “I just lost my mood ring. I don’t even know I feel about it.”

My informant heard it from his best friend and likes it because it reminds of that relationship, which he said is one based on humor. Their dynamic is always fun and things like puns and non sequiturs form a big part of it because they are often absurd and so a departure from the stressful real world. This joke is absurd, too. It’s funny because it implies that without a ring that is supposed to tell you your mood, you don’t know what your mood is or what your feelings are. It plays on the fact that mood rings don’t actually work and to know our feelings, we can simply ask ourselves how we feel. The joke makes the reverse seem true.

I think jokes like that, where we assert something absurd or untrue, are funny especially to the current generation because they’re a very self-aware form of humor (fits in with postmodernism). They don’t sound like typical jokes of the past, which are often very transparently jokes, but instead are just statements that we only know to be jokes because they are so untrue or absurd.

Game

Kids’ game- fingers

My informant remembers this game from being a kid, primarily in elementary school. The game begins with both players holding out their hands, each hand with only one finger extended, the rest curled into the hand. The players take turns choosing one of the opposing person’s hand to tap with one of their hands. When a hand is tapped, that player must extend an additional numbers of fingers on the hand equal to the number of the hand it was tapped with. So if a player has two fingers extended on his hand and taps the opponent’s hand, which has one finger extended, the opponent must extend two more fingers, leaving his hand with three extended. When a hand reaches exactly five fingers, it’s put away. If it goes over five (ex. it has three fingers and is tapped by a hand with three), the difference between the number it should have and five is how many it ends up with (from the example, it would now have one finger). The objective of the game is get both of your opponent’s hands to be put away. Also, when one of your hands has been put put away, if you have an even number of fingers on the other hand, you can “split.” That means you use your turn to tap your fists together and redistribute the number of fingers on one of your hands between the two evenly.

The reason my informant likes this game and remembers it fondly is because its making fun out of nothing; it doesn’t require any materials besides your hands. And it’s strategic and logical; by thinking it through, you can decide the best move and win by being smarter or more skilled than your opponent. My informant likes games of strategy like that and remembers that after being taught the fingers game at a very young game by peers, he realized his interest in strategy as well as his competitive urge. He eventually moved on to chess, which is still a big part of his life.

The game, to me, is interesting because it represents kids experimenting with things like logic and strategy at an early age. It makes problem solving fun; you have to think a lot to know how to win but then you’re rewarded with respect from your peers if you do.

Folk Beliefs

Four leaf clovers are good luck

The classic belief about four leaf clovers is that they bring good luck. My informant doesn’t remember where he heard it except that it seemed to be common knowledge from an early age. He never believed it, but when he was fifteen, he found three in one day, later framing them to remember it. The next day, though, he won a martial arts tournament, beating a few people he consider to be more skilled than he was. After that, he told me he always kind of believed that four leaf clovers could bring good luck, even if there was no physical reason they should.

I’ve heard that Eve was said to have taken a four leaf clover with her after she was exiled from the Garden of Eden. That’s said to be a reason they bring luck. I’ve also heard that the four leaves represent faith, hope, and love, and luck. The best reason I can think of for why people associate them with luck is simply their rarity. I’ve been told they’re only supposed to occur once for every ten thousand clovers. Humans often attribute some kind of larger significant to events just because they’re rarer, so it makes sense that we think four leaf clovers are lucky. It is a way of trying to find order in a chaotic world basically. There are billions of people in the world and most of those people will travel to many different places over the course of their lives, lives which last many years. So it makes sense that some people will run into four leaf clovers at some point, but humans still think it’s a very special thing to find one. Therefore, we say they bring good luck.

Humor

Knock knock boo who joke

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Boo.” “Boo who?”
“Don’t cry; it’s only a knock knock joke.”

A friend taught my informant this joke in elementary school. Like many knock knock jokes, it relies on using words with multiple meanings to give an unexpected punchline. And like some knock knock jokes, its annoying to the one hearing the joke, here because its suggested that they cry very easily (which could mean they are weak or oversensitive). My informant remembers disliking the joke for this reason, which is that it seems to trick the listener by taking their words to mean something they did not intend. My informant thinks it’s interesting because of this, though: because it shows that for some reason, there’s something people like about annoying others. They like pushing their buttons just to see what the reaction will be.

This is especially true in children I think, who want to see how people will react when they do something they suspect will annoy the person. Such a joke is also a form of teasing, which can make you feel above a person in a way. A child might want to feel that if they are insecure or just testing out social boundaries. Teasing, or jokes like this, can also be friendly, though, and used as a bonding event between people. Even though it’s at someone’s expense, it shows that the people involved are comfortable with each other and don’t mind making fun of one another.

Customs
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday ear pulling in Italy

My informant grew up in Italy, where there was a tradition that on someone’s birthday, his friends would pull on his ears once for each year he was old. He speculated that this could be because of a belief that the ears are associated with memory and so pulling them might make one better remember life as it passed them by. The other possible explanation he offered was that because earlobes grow as a person grows, this ritual of pulling them might be to wish a person a longer life.

It was never actually a tradition he particularly liked because he found it physically uncomfortable, but it reminds him of the time he spent in Italy growing up before coming to America. It also makes him remember the friends he had there as a kid and the birthday parties he used to have with them.

Personally, I would readily accept either of his suggestions for the meaning of this ritual. Otherwise, it could just be a thing children made up to annoy each other; it reminds me of the punch for each year birthday tradition in America. Maybe it’s used then as a painful/bothersome initiation into the next year of your life. Once you get past it, you come out better for having gone through the experience. I like his explanations better, though.

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