Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Crew Versus Cast

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “One actress friend of mine was in a play where she had to kill a canary in the second act. So for the first act they had a live canary in a cage and then at intermission the canary was supposed to be switched for a stuffed canary which was then killed during the course of the action. And one night, I don’t know what she had done to the crew but they were feeling evil and they left the live canary onstage to see what she would do. And of course she couldn’t kill the live canary, that would be mean. So she put it under a bowl in the kitchen portion of the set and left it on the drain board in the kitchen. Uh, which would have worked fine except for the rest of the act this bowl sort of went ‘THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’ as the canary tried to get out from under the bowl.

There were also the people who, she had a quick change* that involved running out of one side of the stage, dropping her skirt, climbing out a window, running around the back of the theatre and changing various articles of clothing that were placed along the route as she went. And the last step in this quick change was to step into her shoes and pull up the full skirt that was on the ground right inside the door that she then made her next entrance from. And one night they nailed the hem of her skirt to the floor so that she couldn’t get in the door. So she played the whole rest of the scene from the doorway.”

Analysis:

My informant’s story reflects an aspect of theater culture that has been built on stories such as this and stereotypes of cast and crew members.  Cast members are those who are the performers such as actors or actresses and appear on stage.  Crew members are in charge of production side of theater such as scenic design or working as a stage hand.  There is a negative stereotype in theater that perpetuates the idea that cast members are high-maintenance and crew members are mean.  This of course is not true, and every interaction with an actor or crew member will be unique to what kind of person he or she is.  Generally these two sides of theater production work peacefully and collaboratively, as they are united with the common goal to put on a good story for the audience.  However the exchange of stories such as this help build a stereotype in each others’s mind that the other is difficult, or in this case that crew members like to play mean jokes on actresses.  This can lead to dangerous assumptions and conflict if problems in the production occur.

This is because working on a theater production can often be stressful due to time constraints or budget restraints, and people tend to look for someone else to blame the problem on, which is an unfortunate aspect of human behavior. For example when a show is having problems, it is easier to say that it is the fault of a difficult actress or crew member than to get down to the real problem.  And when someone puts the blame on a cast or crew member, the story is generally believed because in theater we have accepted these stereotypes without realizing we are generalizing people.

There are moments when these stereotypes seem to hold true, such as my informant’s story about the crew members.  In addition to that, I once worked on a television program where the musician was upset that the set was gold and not pink.  However, these occurrences are rare. But the stereotype that cast members are high-maintaince and crew members are mean is an aspect of theater culture that affects the way people interact with one another.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Quick change: a term used in theater to describe a point in the play’s production where the actor must quickly change his clothes backstage before emerging back onstage.  Stand hands, also known as the backstage crew, often help the actor put on their costume to insure the speed and effectiveness of the quick change.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Old age
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Theater Occupational Stereotype: Old Actress Versus Young Actress

Interview Extraction

Informant: “And then the last story is supposedly from Tallulah Bankhead who was in a play with a fairly snippy young actress who was basically telling her that she was old and irrelevant and that the world belonged to the young. At to which Mrs. Bankhead replied: ‘Honey, I can out act you and not even be on the stage.’ And the next night, in one of the scenes there was a party scene and prior to Mrs. Bankhead’s exit she was blocked* to put down a champagne glass on an end table as she exited. And she put her glass down and she set her glass so that it was like this, slightly more than half off the table and then she made her exit. And over the course of the scene the audience became aware miraculously balancing glass on the edge of the table and everyone was wondering when it would fall, and murmurs and rustlings were going through the audience. And then at the end of the scene when the stage crew struck* the glass they discovered a little piece of toupee tape under one edge of it to keep it from falling over.”

Analysis:

My informant’s story reflects an unfortunate custom that is prevalent in Hollywood, which is that the entertainment industry discriminates against people of an older age.  An aspect of the entertainment industry is escapism, and there is a desire to create a beautiful world in their films in which the audience can escape into and forget the troubles in their lives momentarily.  In the entertainment industry’s desire to do this, there has been too much emphasis put on young beauty and the sensuality that comes with it.  Therefore in this drive to create sensuality in films, older actors often have a harder time getting casted for production roles.  This has created a stereotype that older actors are not as important as their younger colleagues.

My informant heard this story from one of his colleagues at USC.  The popularity of this story suggests that the audience of this tale is revolting against the idea that only young actors are good actors.  This change in values of the entertainment industry can be seen in the currently popularity of actress Betty White who is 90 years old.  People today do not respond as well to the idea of a sensual Hollywood than they had in the past, which is part of a shift in cultural values that rejects the notion that beauty is only skin deep.  Thus the custom of shunning older actors is an idea that is currently changing, which reflects a more accepting Hollywood when it comes to age.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Blocked: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that an action has been planned.  When an actor moves on stage, their actions have been rehearsed prior to the performance and planned or ‘blocked’ in rehearsal.

*Stuck: The past tense of a term used in theater which means that a prop or object is being removed from stage.  At the end of every performance or during intermission, stage hands remove or ‘strike’ props or furniture that has been left on stage in preparation for the next performance.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Earth cycle
Foodways
Initiations
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Manton, California Tradition: The Pig Roast

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So the infamous family get together… so every year at the time of the fourth of July, the Forward family would hold a reunion back up at our cabin that is near Lassen in Manton, California. And that is an area that was homesteaded by our great-great-grandfather, who actually was at West Point when the Civil War broke out. And he decided that he couldn’t choose between the North and the South, so he packed up the wagon and headed out to California to avoid the whole Civil War.  Any event, they settled in Oregon originally, and then they moved down to Northern California where Manton now is. And they eventually built a lumber company there, a saw mill. So uh, in any event that is where the family homestead is and we would go back every July 4th to the family homestead, and my grandfather and his brother, my uncle, would hold a big barbecue. And the way they would barbecue was that the meal was typically on Sunday, or whatever, but the day before you would dig a big pit and you would buy tri-tip and you would put it in burlap sacks. You would season the meat, put it in burlap sacks and wet it, and you built this pit. And the day before you would get some firewood, it had to be oak to get the right coals, and you would fill that pit with the coals and then would dig out the coals, throw in the meat that is in the wet burlap sacks and wrapped in the pit, and then you would throw dirt over those, and then throw the coals over that. So it is kind of like the Hawaiian pig roasts, they way they burry the pig. And then that cooks all night long and through the next morning. So part of the fun was digging the pit and keeping the fire going. And the men would stay up all night, until usually 1:00 in the morning when they would put the meat in. And they would drinking whiskey and tell stories.  There were no women allowed, this was just a guys thing. So then, we would dig up the meat the next day that had been cooking for 8 hours and we had this beautiful tri-tip that had slow cooked for 8 hours in the earth. And then we would add some more seasoning, and that was the main meal for our big family reunion party every year. And the family reunion was always done at the cabin near the lower pond. We actually had built a little picnic area just for that one party, every year. The other fun thing we used to do is there is no refrigeration but there is a creek that runs right by the picnic area, so instead of having to bring ice or anything, the creek was cold enough with the water coming off Mt. Lassen. We put all the food that had to be cooled in the creek, so the kids would have to build a little rock dam, a little pool so that the stuff wouldn’t wash down the stream. And we put watermelon in there, and put all the beer and pop bottles there, all the stuff the water wouldn’t hurt. And that was their kind of fun thing that was the kid’s responsibility every year.”

Analysis:

“The Pig Roast” as it is called serves as a way for the family to reunite every year.  The 4th of July was chosen for the reunion date for two reasons. One, getting to celebrate Independence day with family is a fun way for the family to reflect proudly on their American heritage.  Another reason why the date was chosen was because it is a time of year that is easier for family members to travel back to Manton, because the children are out of school for the summer and July is not a busy month for farmers, and ranchers, which is the occupation of many family members.  The pig roast is always held on Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, because Sunday is traditionally a day of rest and family time.

The special method of how the pig is cooked is also part of the reunion’s ritual.  The pig is generally slaughtered from the family’s farm, and then it is prepared in a special method that has been repeated since the first Manton pig roast.  The fact that only the men in the family are allowed to prepare the pig represents a strong patriarchal value in the family, which still holds true today.  When a boy in the family is finally allowed to stay up late with the men and drink whiskey and share stories, this important event represents that the family has accepted the boy as a man.  This initiation into adulthood is also the men’s way of saying to the boy that they are ready to give him more responsibilities as an adult.

The fact that every group in the family, the men, children, and women, all have a specific responsibilities for the preparation for the pig roast is tied to the family’s history of being primarily farmers and ranchers.  Working on a farm or ranch requires a lot of hard work and responsibility so everyone has to do there part, including the children.

The Manton pig roast represents American traditions and values in that there is a strong emphasis on family, hard work, and independence, which is reflected in the origin story of the family homestead.  This is because the idea that their great-great grandfather was a pioneer in the West represents the idea that in America if you work hard and have the determination to do so you can accomplish great things.  This story is often used to inspire these ideas of success and independence in the family today.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

 

Childhood
Legends
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”

Analysis:

“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Theater Occupational Superstition: Don’t Whistle in the Theater!

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “Ok, so you want to hear the story about why you don’t whistle in the theatre? One reason is that supposedly the first riggers* in the theatre were sailors. And sailors received their orders via whistles, which supposedly carried better than voices in the wind. And so you didn’t want to be backstage randomly whistling ‘Two Gentlemen from Veronia’ and have the scenery come crashing down on your head because you were whistling the cue* for the sailors who were doing the rigging.

The other supposed origin of that superstition is, in the days of gas lit theatre there were a couple of stage hands who’s job it was to wander around and relight any gas jets that had gone out because other whys you would get sort of a large pocket of unburned gas that would eventually get to another gas jet and you would have a big fireball and the theatre would blow up and… that was bad. So they were listening for a particular whistling sound that supposedly this gas jet that wasn’t lit would make and you didn’t want to distract them from their fairly important work.”

Analysis:

This superstition was not one that I was aware of prior to my informant mentioning this belief in one of his class lectures.  The belief is that it is bad luck to whistle in the theater, and doing so will doom the production you are working on.  There are no known ways to cut the curse.  The superstition of whistling in the theater is similar to the superstition that walking under a ladder is bad luck.  Both superstitions serve as a way to teach safety, because if someone were to break those beliefs they would get hurt.  Something could fall off a ladder and hit them on the head or a piece of scenery could fall on top of them.  You are more likely to get told to stop whistling in the theater because you are distracting the production crew than you are to be told to stop whistling because it is bad luck.  Working in theater can be very dangerous if you are not aware of your surroundings because crew members are constantly moving heavy equipment.  Distracting people from their job not only serves as a danger to yourself, but to others as well.  In that sense, whistling in the theater becomes homeopathic magic because it really will bring your production bad luck due to the destruction and distraction it can cause.

However it is unclear which one of the two stories is the true origin of the superstition.  There is a possibility that the true origin of the whistling superstition came from the first story my informant mentioned, because that theory is more well known to people in the theater than the gas-jet theory.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

*Riggers: is term that describes someone in charge of moving or lifting heavy objects using a pulley system.  The term comes from sailing speech, in which a rigger is someone who uses ropes to hoist the sails on a ship.  This is exactly what a rigger in theater does, but instead of hoisting sails they are hoisting scenic pieces.

*Cue: is a term used in theater that means a signal to do something.  A signal or cue indicates that it is time to move a part of the set or play a certain song for the production.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection

Theater Occupational Superstition: Macbeth (Version II)

Interview Extraction:

Interviewer: (continued from a pervious question) “So it’s considered bad luck to whistle in the theatre, right?”

Informant: “If you are whistling backstage it is considered back luck. I don’t know what you do to cure that, it’s not like ‘The Scottish Play’ where you have to go outside, twirl around three times and spit into the wind or something. I never entirely understood that one…”

Interviewer: “And that ‘cure’ changes every theatre your at, doesn’t it?”

Informant: “It seems to be, the cure for that seems to vary a lot with who ever you talk to. I don’t know where that superstition came from.”

Interviewer: “And is it true that that they think Shakespeare actually took real witchcraft and put it in his play?”

Informant: “Uh, well… I don’t know. However. In the production that Orson Welles did for The Public Theatre, supposedly he hired real voodoo witch doctors to play the witches. Hints, Voodoo Macbeth. And at the beginning of the play, the witch doctors arrived and they requisitioned a goat. Which was provided to them. And they then proceeded to go into the basement of the theatre for three days and at the end of that time they emerged with their drums to use in the production. Presumably they also requisitioned some lumber with which to make the sides of those drums, I don’t know… Anyway. When the production opened one of the New York Times critics was particularly vicious and did not like the play. And the cast and the crew were sort of moping around because they had gotten this really horrid review and the compliment of witch doctors supposedly went to Orson Welles and said ‘this man made you all so sad, is he a bad man?’ And Orson Welles supposedly said yes. And then three days later the critic got sick and died. You may draw your own conclusions from that! But yes, supposedly the theory was that voodoo was done.”

Analysis:

The Macbeth superstition is among the most common superstitions that people working in theater follow.  The legend of Macbeth is that it is bad luck to say ‘Macbeth’ in the theater.  To prevent unlucky things from happening such as the set falling over, people are encouraged to say ‘The Scottish Play’.  If you do make the mistake of saying ‘Macbeth’, you have to cut the curse by performing some kind of protection ritual.  This ritual changes based on who you talk to due to the fact that it is such widespread legend and many people have different ideas about the curse.  The first time I heard about the legend was in Boston, when I broke the rule of not saying ‘Macbeth’ in the theater, and the people I was with made me run around the theater three times to cure the curse.  The next time I heard about ‘The Scottish Play’ legend was in Los Angeles, where the cure for the curse was to spin around three times and spit over your shoulder.  It is hard to say if the cure changes based on your location because people in theater often travel for work, so the ideas on the legend would be mixed.  There are many different origin stories behind the legend of Macbeth, and the story my informant mentions is only one possibility of why people in theater are attracted to this superstition.

The production of Voodoo Macbeth was a real production that occurred in 1936 under the Federal Theater Project, and the New York Times critic that gave the production a bad review really did die three days after he published his review.  Whiter or not the cause of death was related to Voodoo Macbeth remains to be determined.  His cause of death could have been influenced by homeopathic magic, in which his anxiety over the threat of the witchdoctors caused him to die or the cause could have been from contagious magic, in which the witchdoctors actually performed a spell.  This depends on your view of witchcraft.  Or perhaps his death was unrelated to the theater production, and the timing of his passing was just a coincidence.  The fact that this really happened gives the legend more power in the imaginations of those who tell the story.

Real instances such as this are what makes ‘The Scottish Play’ superstition such a popular belief in theater culture.  Another reason why this superstition is so popular along with other theater superstitions is that believing in them is fun.  People are attracted to theater because it is about storytelling.  Therefore when people in theater participate in these kind of customs, they are doing so because it is an extension of working in an occupation that is full of play.

My informant was born in 1961, Connecticut.  He has more than 30 years of experience in theater and has worked on over hundreds of productions.  He continues to work on theater productions today, and serves as the associate professor of theater practice and technical direction at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Folk speech

Hungarian Expressions: How to Curse with Style

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The problem with the Hungarian language is that you cannot learn it. It is something you are born with. I can never figure out, I speak it, but I can never figure out how it is put together. Like, for instance- oh this is going to sound bad. You are saying, ‘the wind is blowing’. Now you say, ‘blow the wind’, ok? The word blow is ‘fúj’. So it is ‘fúj a víz. The water is flowing.’ My mother used to say to me ‘fújd ki az orrod.’ Which means, ‘blow out your nose!’

My father used to say some other things that weren’t too nice. He would get a delivery- he was a handbag maker, he would get a delivery or material or something and he would open the package and say, ‘this is not what I ordered’. But he would get mad; he would say ‘akkor kapsz csapott az arcába!’ which means, ‘may you get slapped in the face!’ And the other one is when he really got mad he would say, ‘May hell eat it, or eat you! Pokol lehel megenni, vagy megenni!‘ Now there are others, but they really are not translatable.”

Analysis:

In my research I was not able to confirm if the two expressions are commonly used.  My informant’s father was known to have a bad temper, therefore it was of no surprise to me to hear that his father used to use profanity against the delivery man.  My informant teased that  the Hungarian language contains many swearing expressions, and a common joke is that in Hungarian you can swear for 5 minutes and not use the same word twice.  However, I do not think that the use of profanity in the Hungarian language is any different than the use of profanity in other languages in that there is a time and place for it’s usage.  I found that the expressions in my research were much more vulgar than the ones my informant told me, but as my informant later expressed to me he was not comfortable saying such vulgar things to a young lady.  Prior to this interview, I had never heard my informant use either phrase or speak Hungarian unless I asked him to.

My informant was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1928 Paris, France.  He later immigrated to California in 1947, having spent much of War World II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.  He holds multiple citizenships in both the United States and France.  He now lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and has three children and five grandchildren.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Basketball Superstition: Rolaids and Army Socks

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So growing up I played basketball, and my dad was a basketball coach. And basketball was the most important thing in my life. I played basketball- I was like Jack across the street, I played basketball every day. Every year, every day I would be out shooting hoops and what not. I was pretty good, I was a good shooter. But shooters are very superstitious and there was a certain amount of you get hot, and you don’t get hot, right? Where your shooting is off, so you have good nights and you have bad nights. Well, part of that is psychological.  So my dad, my dad who was the coach, he had a really nervous stomach. And so he would buy not rolls, but boxes of Rolaids. These white tablets, and he kept them in this brown cardboard box with no writing on it. So the players would notice that Coach Paul had these, so he got the idea that he would tell his players that these were shooting pills that would help you shoot the ball better. And so, it became a big joke, but he used to hand them out before the game to everyone and they were the quote “magical” pills. And everyone knew that they probably weren’t, but we all felt like it was good luck to eat one of Coach Paul’s Rolaids before the game to help our shooting. So I became very superstitious, I always had to have a Rolaid before every game. And my socks, my Pete Maravich socks. Pete Maravich was a great basketball player who died very young. His dad was also a basketball coach, and he wore these grey old army socks. And he was a great player, and he wore these baggy old army socks that he was always wiping his hands on. And uh, so I bought some and I had some baggy grey army socks and I used to wear them because Pete wore them.”

Analysis:

As an athlete, there is a tremendous pressure to do well.  While the outcome of the game is largely from the collective or individual effort of the players, there is a psychological necessity to create familiarity and order in your sport so that your mind remains calm and focused during the game.  To create a sense of peace, athletes have come up with many different rituals to perform before the event so that their mind becomes free of anxiety and focused on what they need to do.  This can be a number of things that vary on the sport or individual, such as taking time to stretch by yourself before running a race or picturing yourself doing well during the game.  This kind of homeopathic thinking is also very common in basketball.

The superstitions my informant mentioned are ones that are unique to him, though I have heard of similar rituals in my research such as basketball players having a lucky pair of shoes they always wear for a game.  The Rolaid superstition serves as two functions. One, it is a unique tradition that the Arcata High School basketball team shared during the time my informant played that created a sense of community with the players by having this ritual.  This sense of community is important with playing in a sport that relies on the collective effort of a team.  The second function is that the Rolaids are part of a homeopathic magic that helps the players get into the mind-set that they will succeed.  Having a winning attitude is an integral part of performing well in any sport.

The other superstition involving the Pete Maravich socks is also a form of homeopathic magic.  The informant believed that by wearing the same kind of socks Pete Maravich wore, he would be able to perform as well as Pete Maravich.  Thus creating the same kind of winning attitude that the Rolaid ritual gave to the players.  While my informant no longer plays on a basketball team, he has taken his sock superstition with him into his professional life.  He once mentioned to me that he has a favorite pair of socks he likes to wear for important business presentations.  In this sense he is using the ritual he learned as a basketball player to create a winning attitude in business, which is also integral to successful proposals or negotiations.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

French Idioms: It’s All About Food (Or Is It?)

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So French sayings… there are some sayings that I’ve told you before, one of them would be, ‘Ok the deal is done. You say, the carrots are cooked.’ The original version is “Les carrottes sont cuites.”

Interviewer: “And where did you first hear that?”

Informant: “Well, I was growing up.  Ok, now I am drinking out of a bottle. And this is the last drop, and I would say normally, ‘hey, the bottle is empty.’ But now I can say, ‘La fin des haricots’. ‘It’s the end of the beans!'”

Interviewer: “So ‘the end of the beans’ is a drinking saying?”

Informant: “No, it’s just something that you say. There is no more beans.  It’s kind of interchangeable with the other one that says the carrots are cooked. It’s done, it’s finished. It’s ready to eat in one case, and in the other case you have to go and get more.”

Analysis: 

An important aspect of French culture is French cuisine, and this love for food can even be seen in French expressions.  The first expression, “Les carrottes sont cuites” or in English “the carrots are cooked” is an idiom expressing that the event is over, or as my informant put it “the deal is done.”  This expression came from the idea that you would cook your carrots with your meat.  For this reason, the cooked carrots were associated with death. Therefore, “les carrottes sont cuites”  is a colloquial expression used ironically in a serious situation.  It means that something has gone disastrous, or that “it is all over”.  This expression can be used when the situation is very serious, but the person using the expression is trying to make light of the situation.  Such as a business deal that has gone bad.  I have also heard my informant use this expression humorously after we opened Christmas presents together.  He looked at all the discarded wrapping paper on the ground and exclaimed, “Les carrottes sont cuites!” 

The other expression mentioned, “la fin des haricots”, is interchangeable with the previous expression because both are referring to something that is over in a tragic way. This expression is fairly new in French language, as opposed to the pervious expression.  It refers to the idea that if you are eating the beans you are eating the last of your stored food. Thus, it’s all over!  I had never heard my informant use this expression perviously to the interview.

My informant was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1928 Paris, France.  He later immigrated to California in 1947, having spent much of War World II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.  He holds multiple citizenships in both the United States and France.  He now lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and has three children and five grandchildren.

Customs
Foodways
Material

German Recipe: Curry Wurst

German Curry Wurst Recipe:

Ingredients: 

Ketchup, 10 tablespoons

Water, 5 tablespoons

Salt, ½ teaspoon

Pepper, 1 teaspoon

Paprika Powder, 1/2 tablespoon

Cayenne Pepper, to taste

Chili Sauce, 1 1/4 tablespoons

Curry Powder, 1 tablespoons

Sugar, 1 tablespoon

Bratwurst sausages

Instructions:

First, cook your sausages on either a grill or pan if you don’t have a grill.  Once the sausages are done cooking, set them aside.  In a saucepan add ketchup, stir in 4-5 tablespoons of water and boil while stirring. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili, curry powder and a little sugar if necessary. Serve hot!

(Warning: SPICY!)

Analysis:

When I first traveled to Germany, I really wanted to try some local cuisine.  My informant suggested that I try curry wurst, because the fast food dish is very popular and she thought I would like it.  I had curry wurst for the first time at a small open air market in Berlin.  There were all kinds of condiments you could add to the curry wurst such as mayonnaise and hot sauce.  The curry wurst was also sold with potatoes, french fries, and white bread rolls which you would use to dip in the extra sauce.  My informant told me that Berliners normally get white bread rolls with their curry wurst, and I wanted to do ‘the local thing’ so I got a bread roll to go with my snack.  To me, doing things as they locals do them when I travel is my way of trying to get an understanding for the culture.  I hoped that in trying many different types of  German food, I could get an understanding of what kinds of foods Germans like.  Are they the kind of culture that likes spicy, savory, or sweet foods?  German food seems to be a good combination of all those food tastes, like the sweet taste of apple strudel, the savory flavor of potato dumplings, and the spicy kick of curry wurst.  I ended up loving the food so much that I asked the informant’s mother for a curry wurst recipe that I could take back to America with me.  I think the recipe is very close to what I had at the market in Berlin, but of course nothing can compare to the real thing.

The invention of curry wurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer, who created the sauce in 1949 when she obtained ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder from British soldiers in Berlin.  Her recipe soon became very popular and her stand was selling as much as 10,000 servings per week. Heuwer patented the recipe as ‘Chillup’ in 1951 and started her own restaurant.  Today curry wurst stands can be see all over the major cities of Germany, and they are a popular form of fast food for tourists and Germans.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

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