Author Archives: Svadharma Keerthi

Arab Belief: Soles of Shoes

“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”

The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.

Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

Three Dog Night

Transcribed Text:

“A three dog night, which as far as I can tell, means like, harsh, like probably cold night. Comes from dog sledders, when they were traversing the wilderness. A three dog night would be a night where you would have to like cuddle up with three of your dogs to be able to stay warm for the night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and he does not recall where he first heard this piece of folklore. It is a saying that is normally only used in extremely cold weathered countries where sled dogs and freezing temperatures are the norm. It has a literal meaning behind it, where in these extremely cold areas, people would huddle and sleep with their dogs in order to stay warm for the night. A three dog night is an especially freezing night, because a person doesn’t need one, or two of their dogs to stay warm, but needs three.

It is said that the band Three Dog Night is named after this saying, where one of the vocalist’s girlfriend heard the phrase being used in a documentary about Australian Aborigines. However, there has also been debate about the saying originating with the Inuits. This search unable to trace back to a single point indicates how the original source was lost and this saying has now become like many other pieces of folklore; with no one author.

Annotation: The Australian band Three Dog Night formed because the vocalists girlfriend heard this piece of folklore about indigenous Australians.

The Story of the Zodiac

Transcribed Text:

“The animals had a race to determine the order of the Zodiac. They had to cross a river. So the mouse used his brain instead of his brawn because he knew he couldn’t win with brawn. So he hitched a ride on the water ox because it’s the fastest swimmer. So the rat was able to jump off the ox and finish first. The ox finished second. Tiger was third. The rabbit jumped across and was fourth. The dragon came next. And then, I think, the snake like, hitched a ride on the horse and scared it. So then it was sixth. The horse came after the snake. And then, the sheep, the monkey, and the chicken, also made it across. And then the dog decided taking a bath was more important, so it finished eleventh. And then the last was the pig because it stopped half way to have a meal and rest.”

The informant heard about this piece of folklore from a taxi driver in Taipei, Taiwan when she was about 8 years old. This story is based off of the way that the current Chinese zodiac is formatted. She says that she believes that this story isn’t true but was made up for children to learn about the zodiac in Chinese culture. I think it’s a creation myth of the Chinese culture, as the zodiac is a very prominent part of the culture. It is obviously a myth as it is not fully a tale where it is obviously not real, but it is not a legend where things could have been necessarily true. I think that although it is not sacred to the informant, this story would be sacred to many Chinese people who put a lot of faith in the zodiac and therefore, would tell this story to future generations with a sense of revery.

Vietnamese Full Moon

Transcribed Text:

“A full moon is like good luck. Cuz like the way they see it, it lights up their night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. The informant says she learned this folk belief from her parents when she was younger and visiting Vietnam. She says that contrast to American belief that a full moon is bad, as it is often associated with werewolves, she says a full moon in Vietnam is good luck because in their perspective, a full moon lights up the night. She thinks it’s interesting how the two folk beliefs completely contrast each other in the two cultures with which she has grown up in. It is interesting how different folklore can be across regions, even when they are basing their beliefs on the same object; in this case, the moon. Many cultures have very different interpretations and beliefs about things such as the moon. Each culture bases their calendar on a different cycle or different concept. In Vietnamese culture, they base their calendar on the lunar cycle, which could be a large reason why the full moon is a very positive and big deal there, as they even have the Full Moon Festival in the fall, according to the informant. In contrast, Western culture focuses more on the solar cycle for the calendar, which could be why the moon isn’t represented in a positive way.


The Monk Joke

Transcribed Text:

“So there was a little boy who lived with his mom. The mom loved the little kid, they got along pretty well and uh…for the kid’s fifth birthday, she got him a brand new shiny red tricycle. He loved it, it was the best gift he had ever gotten. And um..she told him, ‘now you can ride that tricycle in the yard, and in the driveway, but don’t go out on the sidewalk with that, I want you staying in the house!’ (he gestures his hand at an imaginary child, mimicking the mother’s actions). And the kid goes ‘ok..’ and he spends the day riding it around all around the yard, and all around the yard, but he just really wants to go out onto the sidewalk. And he does. He goes out into the sidewalk and gets run over by a Great Dane and breaks his leg., they take him to the hospital and he gets a cast on the leg and he’s like ‘aww..’ and the mother says ‘I told you, don’t go out on the sidewalk.’ And as they come back from the hospital, they pass by a monastery. for monks. And they, they’re walking past the monastery, or hobbling in his case, and they uh, the monk outside says ‘please, stay with us tonight, and you will be completely healed.’ And they feel something is right about this, and they do stay. And the monk says, you can stay, you’ll be healed, but you can’t ask me about the noise you will hear in the middle of the night. ‘ok…’ and so they stay, and hear a strange noise in the middle of the noise. But when they wake up, he is completely healed. So they’re like ‘ok, fine by me! Completely healed!’ Years go by, he’s forgotten this by now and he turns ten. And his mom gets him a brand new shiny red bicycle. It’s awesome, best bike, like a shwinn cruiser, delightful bike. She says ‘you can ride it all around the house, all around the yard,all around the driveway and up and down the sidewalk as much as you want, but just don’t cross the street and don’t go into the street.’ And he’s like ‘ok’ and he spends the day riding all around the block and all up and down his driveway, but he just wants to go out into the street. So he goes out into the street and gets hit by a door of a smart car as it opens and breaks his leg. And so, they take him to the hospital and the mom goes ‘come on, I told you! Don’t do that!’ and he’s like ‘I knooow.’ And as they’re coming back from the hospital, they pass by the monastery again and the monk says the same thing. ‘If you stay here tonight, you will be completely healed, just do not ask about the noise.’ And they do, and he’s completely healed. But that noise, they just have to know. It’s a noise, a noise unlike anything you’ve ever heard..It’s-it’s indescribable what this noise is. But again, they pay it no mind,  because he was completely healed. Now, years and years and years go by from that, and it’s, it’s the kids twentieth birthday. He’s away from home now, but his mom gets him a brand new shiny red corvet. Now this is a big deal, this is a very big deal. She says ‘ you know what, you can go wherever you want with this. But just please, don’t race it.’ And, and he spends the whole next week now, he has a little bit more ability to hold back. He spends the whole next week driving around, he takes it out on the streets, he takes it out on the freeway, but he gets a chance to race it. A guy revs his engine next to him at a red light and he races it, and he gets in a crash. And somehow miraculously, just breaks his leg. He goes to the hospital, this time by himself. On his way back, he remembers the monk from that time, ten years ago, and he shows up and the monk is there, ten years older! He says ‘ you can stay here, you just can’t ask about the noise.’ And he does, he stays there, he’s completely healed, but he just has to know about the noise. And he goes up to the monk and he’s like ‘what is that noise?’ And the monk says ‘I’m sorry, I cannot tell you. That is a secret reserved only for monks, and you are not a monk, so you cannot know.’ And the kid is like ‘rghhhhh, I really need to know.’ He goes like a month, but it’s eating him up inside. He needs to know what this noise is. He’s been healed by it, three times, by this power, in-in this monastery. He just needs to know. So, he goes off to Tibet and goes through a year and a half of training and becomes a monk. Certified, with the robes, and everything. Now, he comes back to that monastery in his hometown and he says ‘sir I am now a monk, you have got to show me what that noise is.’ And the monk gestures, towards a green door. And the boy, now a man, approaches the door, it’s locked. So he goes back to the monk and says ‘the door is locked’ and the monk hands him a green key. So he goes up, takes the green key to the green door, unlocks it up, and there’s a tall green staircase heading up further into the monastery. So he opens the green door, goes up the green stairs, and at the top, there’s a black door. And it’s locked (said in a soft, wondering voice). So he goes down the green stairs, through the green door and to the monk and says the ‘black door, it’s locked!’ and the monk hands him a black key. So he goes through the green door, up the green stairs to the black door, unlocks it, opens it up, there’s a loooong black hallway, extremely long with LITTLE point of orange light at the end. He walks down the black hallway, he thinks he’s walking five minutes probably. Gets to the end and sees an orange door with a slight glow. And it’s locked. So he turns around, he goes all the way down the black hallway, through the black door, down the green stairs, through the green door and to the monk and says ‘the orange door, it’s-it’s locked.’ And he hands him an orange key, glowing with that same ethereal light (every time the man runs back to get a key, informant does gestures of running and opening doors and going down stairs). And he turns back around, he goes through the green door, up the green stairs, through the black door, DOWN the black hallway and opens (says the word very softly) the orange door and the room behind it is vast and glowing with orange lava POWER. And he walks to the other side, and there’s a trap door in the floor. And this trap door, it’s…the most beautiful sapphire blue. It’s crystalline and delightful…and it’s locked. So he goes back across the orange cavern, through the orange door, down the black hallway, through the black door, down the green stairs, through the green door to the monk and says ‘PLEASE. So many hallways! Give me the key to the sapphire trap door.’ And he hands him the key, and this key feels special. It is also made of sapphire. So he goes through the green door, up the green stairs, through the black door, down the black hallway, through the orange door, across the orange cavern (increases speed of recital as each door is crossed) and unlocks the sapphire trap door. Creeeeeeaks (makes a creaking noise) open, there’s a ladder leading down. And he crawls down the ladder and in this room, there’s this sort of atrium, with light filtering in from the windows. It feels VERY magical. And in the center of that room is a huuuuge trunk, about this big (gestures arms about 5-6 feet apart). It is wooden and old and it looks like it is carved by the ancient monks. The monks that even the current monks don’t remember. And he goes down and he inspects it, and uh, there’s no lock. So, he takes it, eeeeeeergh (creaking noise), opens it, and inside that trunk, is a crate. It’s about the size of the coffee table (about 4 feet in length, 3 feet in height) and that- that crate, he pries open the lid and inside that crate is a briefcase. Now this is like a modern briefcase, he’s a little weirded out at this point, but he can tell. From this briefcase, emanating the sound which he heard so many years ago. And he opens the briefcase and within the briefcase is a cigar box. And the noise is getting louder now and he opens the cigar box and within the cigar box is a match box, and the noise is as loud as it could possibly be. And he opens the match box and do you know what he found?


I can’t tell you, you’re not a monk.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. He says he first heard this joke when he was in elementary school from a friend. Once he heard the joke, he loved it so much that he started telling it himself with added emphasis and actions. He says that his friend told him that the informant performed it better than he could, and passed on the performance to the informant. The informant is therefore now the active bearer of this joke and performance. It is a joke that is frustratingly long, almost a narrative. It causes the audience to constantly keep listening, waiting for the punch line to appear so the joke can end and they can laugh. However, the joke drags out for a very long time, causing the audience to become more frustrated the longer that they cannot know the end of the joke. Therefore, as the joke does not resolve in any real way in the end, it is intended to leave the audience frustrated. The informant says that he performs the story with additional stages during the life (such as a bicycle and a car in high school, before the part where he turns 20) and with additional doors and keys depending on how long and frustrating he wants to make the joke. He says however, that he always has to have 3 stages of life minimum and 4 doors minimum when he tells it, or else the story cannot be told properly. He also says that every time he tells it, there are some fixed phrases that he uses and repeats throughout the story. This makes use of the oral formulaic theory, where he has beats and fixed phrases in his narrative to help him retell the story well and accurately.


Stealing Ham Urban Legend

Transcribed Text:

“My friend told me this story. He said his friend was working at this grocery store, and this very large, borderline obese African American woman is walking towards the exit, and her body seems especially lumpy? More so than it would be for a normal obese woman. And all of a sudden, out of her shirt, on to the ground, falls a ham. A big ol’ ham, like you’d have for Christmas dinner. And – and she looks around, and she goes “who threw that at me?” (said in a very sassy voice). And- and it was very obvious that it had just fallen out of her shirt, but she proceeds to play it off like someone just threw a ham at her. And she reacts, and I guess this would supposedly be an appropriate reaction for having a ham thrown at you, by saying “nuh uh. Ya bettta don’t” (said in a very sassy voice with left hand on hip and right hand waving with the index finger. Head bobbing right and left while phrase is said). And, and then she just walks out. And the ham is on the floor and the employees were just standing there, mouth agape”

The informant currently attends the University of Southern California as a student. He says that he heard this story from a friend in high school in New Jersey. It has become a friend of a friend story, and he has told many of his friends the story several times. He normally tells the story after he uses the phrase “nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” in some conversation, and the people who do not know the context of that phrase ask him about it. I first saw him use it when it came up in a conversation on facebook where somebody refused to go look for their wallet to pay for a ticket that was going to be sold out within a few hours. The informant replied to that comment with “Sarah just tried to pull the same shit. Nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” to which he received many questions as to what that meant. Ever since then, he has repeated the story many times, each time receiving laughter regardless of if the audience has heard it before or not.

It is obvious by the way the informant tells the story that he is an active bearer of this now legend. Every time he repeats the story, there are fixed phrases and beats to the narrative. He makes use of the oral formulaic theory also with the final phrase where he imitates the woman. The audience, regardless of if they themselves repeat the story or not, the phrase “nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” has become a phrase that many people have started repeating and using within this group of friends at least. This story is a very amusing narrative, but it is also a bit racist. When the informant was describing how to properly say the phrase, he said that one has to do it with a proper ghetto accent and sass. This plays on the stereotype of African Americans that exists in the USA today, where it is normal and almost expected of the group to talk with a certain accent. This piece of folklore is an urban legend that makes use of the oral formulaic theory in the method that it is performed and Blason Populaire with the content that it contains.





Cow Feces

The informant grew up in Tamilnadu, India and has participated in several festivals and holidays. She says that a large part of many festivals and holidays include cow feces. For example, cow feces is often mixed with water and then this mix is used to wash out the front porch of a house. A white powder, which is also ground up and made out of cow feces, is then used to create decorations (folk art) to make the front of the house look good. The informant says that cow feces is very clean and she believes that it causes cleanliness. In some rural areas, cow feces is even used to clean dishes. She says that cow urine is often sprayed around the house the day of a festival so that the cleaned house can be even cleaner. She says that cow feces is also used in many rural areas to build mud huts and many people sleep around and even on it. On a side note of animal feces, elephant feces is also believed to have medicinal properties and if one places a wound in fresh elephant feces, the injury is said to heal faster.

It is interesting to note the complete cultural difference there is between Western culture and Tamil culture. While Western culture is often disgusted by the idea of feces and aims to separate and distances itself as far as possible from feces, the Tamil culture embraces cow and elephant feces. It is believed that these animals have pure feces because they are vegetarian animals and therefore, their feces is not toxic like human feces are. It is so pure that Tamil people use it in everyday form, from cleaning dishes, to the daily art on the front porch, to the infrastructure of the house, to using it to clean on days of festivals and holidays.

Japanese President and Bill Clinton

Transcribed Text:

“When Bill Clinton was in office, the Japanese president wanted… invite him over and meet him. However, the Japanese president couldn’t speak a word of English at all, so he asked his advisers how to greet him when he sees him. His advisers tell him to say ‘how are you’ and when Bill Clinton replies, with ‘fine,’ he should say ‘me too.’ The Japanese president makes sure to learn these, and when he finally meets Bill Clinton, he goes up to him and says ‘who are you’ instead of ‘how are you’ because he did not understand what he was saying. Bill Clinton replies with ‘I’m Bill Clinton. I’m Hillary Clinton’s husband.’ The Japanese president then, without understanding him, replies ‘me too.'”

The informant is a housewife and and currently resides in Cupertino, California. She first learned about this joke when she was watching a Tamil version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The host told this joke on the show and ever since then, the informant has not stopped laughing when she thinks about the joke. She thinks that the joke is extremely funny because of the mistake that the Japanese president makes when he tries to speak English. She also says that she has heard that this joke has become viral on Japanese websites, where some are trying to get Japanese people to become more educated about the English language so that they won’t make mistakes like this.

It is interesting how this joke is told in a way to create humor, but is also used to teach about the importance of learning English in Japanese culture. While English is a mandatory language to learn for Japanese people in middle and high school, many people are still very illiterate in the language. It is interesting how the informant says that she heard that this joke was being sent around on Japanese websites to teach Japanese people to become more literate in a language that is very prominent in this world today. It shows how much importance many people put on the education in the language, especially in Japan.


Owls and Luck in Palestinian Culture

Transcribed Text:

“According to my mom, who’s Palestinian, the owl is bad luck in Arab culture. Like she doesn’t like images of owls, but I don’t think she actively, like avoids them.”

The informant is currently a student at the University of Southern California. She says that she first heard this folk belief from her mother when she was discussing Harry Potter with her mother about five years ago. Because of the prevalence of owls in the Harry Potter series, she thinks that her mother mentioned this folk belief of hers to the informant. The informant recalls that she found this particularly odd and that this belief stood out to her in her mind. She also says that when she asks her mom about owls, her mom doesn’t like images of them and doesn’t like them in general, but cannot provide a reason as to why. This is an example of how folk belief has persisted throughout time even when the meaning behind the belief has been lost. Even though the informant’s mother does not know why she is supposed to dislike owls, because she has grown up in a community where she has been taught to dislike owls, she does not like them.