Author Archive
general

Your Boob is Showing aka Somebody’s Thinking of You

An oicotype of the folk belief that “Somebody’s thinking of you” when the clasp and pendant of your necklace touch, the phrase which is usually said/signified by a person who isn’t wearing the necklace.

As told verbatim by informant:

“Yeah, people have that thing where the clasp of your necklace and the pendant touch each other and they say ‘Somebody’s thinking of you.’ ‘Your boob is showing, someone’s thinking of you’—my mom always tells me that. I always think I have a nip-slip or something. (laughing) She says it in front of people too. It’s more like now when I see it I think ‘Who’s thinking of me?’ It’s like ‘Who would’ve done that?’ She def brings it up. She says it to get my attention more I guess. Like when I tell my friends ‘Hey, your boob is showing’ they don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think I tend to say that so that they’ll look down themselves to find out someone’s thinking of them.”

This little dite is a legitimate folk belief to my informant. The forwardness of her mother’s version is humorous to say the least. Of course this belief/dite is something my informant knows to be subjective to girls and from the reference to “boobs” probably has its origin among pubescent girls. Naturally, this is a time when having someone think of you, especially romantically, comes into the forefront of young girl’s minds. In this case though, the sheer fact that my informant’s mother has her special signifying dite always reminds my informant of her. Since she’s picked up saying this dite, she consciously allows the person who’s “being thought of” the simple pleasure of finding out that someone’s thinking of them for themselves. To my informant, it’s a real thing, and even at age 20 she enjoys thinking about who might have her on their mind.

Folk speech
general

“Solamente son pajitas que le caen in la leche.”

The folk metaphor described verbatim by informant:

“When there’s something I’m bothered by, my Puerto Rican mother says to me ‘Solamente son pajitas que le caen en la leche’: they’re just little flecks that fly in the milk. You can see them but they’re just not important.

I agree with that philosophy to try and not allow the small things to bother you, you should save your pain and suffering for the big things that are going to come no matter what.”

My informant says that her mother has being telling her this proverb her whole life and that she has since said it to her own children in its original Spanish form. Her mother is from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico where as the oldest of 13 children she worked, cooked, and took care of her family on a farm for many years. She since has jumped from the United States, San Juan, Puerto Rico (where my informant grew up), the Dominican Republic, and back to the United States again. In the words of my informant, her mother was a strong woman who had a hard life. She says the proverb because it’s true and important to her and because it reminds her of her mother. It’s a metaphor that is applicable to anyone, as stress over little things is a not uncommon. The philosophy of not letting “flecks” ruin your “milk” is great, and is nowadays seemingly lost within the unnecessarily high-stress life of post-modernity. Everyone has little problems or “flecks” that fly in their “milk.” It’s a part of life. Save your pain for something bigger.

Folk Beliefs
general

Duendes

Duendes in this context are described as both little people or little children that are in people’s houses who can be mischievous take your things or want to play. They are creatures that my informant knew of in both Mexico and here in the United States.

My informant talked about duendes as both good and bad and then went on to discuss why she thinks Mexicans tell kids scary stories.

Her description of duendes verbatim:

“People they say those they call the duendes they say they’re little bit people some people said they’re little people and other people said they are kids. I hear two versions. I heard a story from my friend a long time ago because we talking about them and they say they scare you but they say they are play people, they like to play with you. They say they are mischievous? Something like this and they say they like to play, and they like to hide the things for you. Then another person say they are bad when you do something or when you are angry with them they are bad they do bad things to you. Also when I was a girl I had a neighbor and she was an old lady very very old. She was very very old. She has uh big house. She was living alone at that time, she was living alone in the house and she never come out. She’s always sitting in right inside it or behind the window. And she has the window with a gate, with the metal thing that always covered the window. I like to to go next to the house, but we stay outside by the street and we talking with her, she’s behind the window. And she always says she has duendes in her house. She would always say that ‘I have duendes in my house. And they play with me they come to be with me.’ And we we think it’s something bad or something scary and I remember I asked her all the time do you feel scary when they come and she say ‘Oh no, it’s not scary because they are good with me, they play and they come to be with me’ and I ask her ‘Really?’ And she say ‘Oh, yes, they are good.’ But I have friends that say they are bad and they do bad things but I never had that experience.

People in Mexico it’s very popular to scary the kids with uh scary stories. I think it’s something in Mexico we have. Now we don’t do that with my daughter. But we always use the scary stories to tell the boys or the girls. We tell because we expecting that if we say something then they are going to be good or they are going to be better. I think that’s why. Especially in Mexico. Especially Mexicans do. They scaring their children with scary stories because they hope if we tell about the scary stories we are going to be better or we are going to respect our mothers our father our brothers our family. I think that’s why people say that.”

There’s a lot to be said for duendes. I grew up hearing about them myself (I grew up in San Diego) and they were, as I knew it, creatures that took people’s things from them. I never believed in them but I didn’t know them to be scary either. I was also told scary stories by my friend’s parents who were Mexican about magical little people/creatures which scared the living hell out of me. That being said, I know first hand about Mexicans telling children scary stories. My informants theory that it’s to keep them in good behavior and establish respect for family, as most scary stories told to children probably serve that purpose. Duendes are interesting here because she knew them to be both good and bad. Either way, they are playful, and it’s interesting that they are sometimes seen as children rather than little people or creatures of some kind. My informant didn’t not believe in duendes, she just said she never had any personal experience with them, which makes them somewhat of a spectacle. With her neighbor’s description the duendes almost resembled ghosts in their likeness to children, since the name duende clearly distinguishes it from being human. It’s understandable that these entities seen as “bad” or “mischievous” would resemble children too because they can be impish without necessarily appearing threatening or dangerous.

Eberhart, George M. “Duende.” Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002. 150. Google Books. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Mexican Refranes (Proverbs)

Here is a series of Mexican proverbs that my informant told me she uses or hears every day as she told me verbatim:

“If you are with bad people, like when somebody tells you a refrán. That means something to make you think about the things you doing.”

“Dime con quién andas y dire quién eres.” (Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are)

“If you have bad company, if you have bad friends people can tell you hey you don’t do that because you have a bad friends but you say im not doing anything bad and then people say ‘Dime con quién andas’ ok? tell me who you’re with and I tell you who you are. ‘y dire quién eres’ people are going to think you are the same you have with bad people, but you are not bad. But people are going to think you are the same. ‘Dime con quién andas y dire quién eres.’ Tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who you are.”

“Quién con lobos anda, aullar aprende.” (Those who walk with wolves learn to howl)

“You are still with bad people and then you are not bad, you are a good girl but the other person are a bad person. No no bad only they are younger they… you are with a people but you are not bad and then we say ‘Quién con lobos anda, aullar aprende.’ Those who walk with wolves learn to howl. You learn to do the same.”

These two are similar in that they are about who you surround yourself with, in the second case, “wolves.” They’re about how you should be careful because we are easily influenced by others, and perceived in terms of people we choose to be with, even if you are good. Wolves are dangerous vicious animals that run in packs, so this is a warning not to get involved with bad people, who can turn you and make you “howl,” or be bad like them.

“Hacer bien, sin mirar a quién.” (Be good without looking at who)

“‘Hacer bien, sin mirar a quién.’ Be good no matter who are. Be good with a person no matter how a person is. That’s one we use more. Be good no matter. Be good without looking at who.”

This refran is about being good to everyone, no matter who they are, how they may seem. Treating others well is very important to my informant and she believes strongly that you shouldn’t judge others.

“Dime de que presumes y te diré de que careces.” (Tell me what you’re showing off and I’ll tell you what you lack)

“This is a nice one. You know especially we in Mexico, maybe you know people like this. People who, how how you use the word when you have friend and they said ‘Oh I have this Oh this cost me a lot money Oh this very expensive Oh mine’s is better oh blah blah blah.’ They always telling you they have the best or you know if I get if I have my dog oh yes I have dog and then I have a shoes oh I have a shoes or I have a new bed or some ‘I have this’ all the time I’m telling you what I have ok. They always telling you what they have. You know people like this. ‘Blah Blah blah.’ They are always trying to tell. And they they say ‘Dime de que presumes y te diré de que careces’ That means persons talk about they have they have when you realize what they have they have, really they don’t have nothing. That’s why. You telling me you have a lot a lot and maybe when I go to your house, you have nothing.”

Because my informant comes from very humble beginnings in León, Guanajuato, México, she can’t stand materialism and thinks that people who are obsessed with things and showing off are either fake, liars, or as the proverb suggests are lacking otherwise. This lack is likely a more metaphorical lack, like they have something perhaps emotionally or spiritually missing from their lives or are unhappy. This saying has probably become even more applicable since she moved to the United States, where image and things is a part of daily life and are even more in your face.

“No soy monedita de oro.” (I’m not a gold coin)

“If you have somebody… I don’t know if I say in the right way or no. Ok, you ah you like me, ah? Because if I say ‘I love you’ (Te quiero) that means I want you, and if I say you don’t want me, you don’t want me ah? This is when you have somebody and that person don’t like you and we say this most of the time, all of the time all the time because you know you find most of the persons they don’t like you. We answer ‘Oh good, I’m not gold coin.’ ‘No soy monedita de oro.’ If you are gold coin, everybody want you. If you are not gold, not everybody want you. Somebody can say ‘Oh I don’t like her,’ or somebody say ‘Well, I don’t like you.’ Well good, ‘No soy monedita de oro’ and everybody loves gold, so it’s good that they don’t all want you. Not everybody loves me. We use that every time, everyday, all situations. That’s the most popular in Mexico. ‘No soy monedita de oro.’”

I found this refran to be the most interesting because the connotation or the reason why she says it seems somewhat contradictory at first. I’m not a gold coin is considered a positive thing. It’s good that you aren’t gold because then everyone doesn’t like you, everyone doesn’t want you, love you. This tells me that self-esteem in Mexican culture has a different slant in that it truly comes from the self as opposed to from affirmation from others, and also in the sense that not being perfect is a good thing. This saying emphasizes uniqueness and the imperfection of humanity as good and safe. It’s not as important that everyone love you because not everyone is good and you shouldn’t want everyone to love you. That she ends telling me this particular refran, which she explains to be the most popular and commonly used one she knows from Mexico, it really highlights the motif that you need to be cautious with people. You don’t want everyone to like you. It’s almost a giant Freudian defense mechanism, because again, the other motif is that not all people are good, or good for you to be around, though you should treat everyone well (even if you don’t like them).

Customs
general

Dirty Jersey and Trophy Helmet: Sport Customs

A Rugby ritual and a Football tradition as told verbatim by informant:

“One of the team rituals we had playing rugby in college was that we wouldn’t wash our jerseys from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Um, and so, um, I I don’t know what the why it started but that’s how it was told to me and and uh some people believed it made you look like a rougher tougher team um it certainly made us smell worse. And you know I stuck to that tradition um and you know rugby of course can be a very dirty game and particularly if you play in the rain you’d get incredibly muddy and so you know your shirt you could hang outside if it was really full of mud and then it would dry and cake and you could beat your shirt and get the mud off it but still you had to put it on for the next game, so. I tried to instill a similar tradition uh you know when I played rugby in medical school but the, the other guys weren’t as interested in keeping the tradition. (wife interjects, they both laugh, and he repeats) Some of them did it. It bonds you as a team but also again it was for some players a form of intimidation. If you went out there with a clean jersey you looked like a rookie. But if you went out there with a dirty jersey you looked like you really knew how to play the game.

There was a tradition in football too where in um in football you wear a helmet and in the beginning of the season usually the helmet’s nice and clean, it’s been freshly painted. Well, during the season your goal was to collect as many marks on your helmet as you could uh because we use our helmet to hit people and so you wanted to get scratches and scuff marks and you wanted to get at least a color from every team you played against. It was like a collection of trophies from the other team so you wanted to get a color of every single team you were playing against. And that showed you were always hitting people, that you were a tough guy. And you never wanted the coach to re-paint your helmet during the season. In college it’s a little tougher to do because they wanted to re-paint your your helmet all the time. So literally you had to sometimes take your helmet and keep it with you against team rules so that they wouldn’t paint it. I did it in high school for sure and then I tried to do it as much as I could in college.”

While both customs hold little symbolic or abstract meaning, as the informant suggests the factors of team bonding and intimidation signified by the dirty jerseys and marked up helmets play a big role in physically brutal sports like rugby and football. These traditions provide solidarity while still playing the mental game inherent in any competition. Rugby and football also are particularly dangerous, difficult, and “macho” sports, thus jerseys and helmets function like war-paint in battle, as players animalize themselves in the face of their opponents.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Piano Box Burial: Family Legend

Family legend of the piano box burial as told verbatim by informant (C. stands for a name to be kept confidential):

“My Great Grandpa C., who before people were really morbidly obese, Grandpa C. was morbidly obese. It’s like nowadays you see people that are three and four-hundred pounds all the time. But supposedly Grandpa C. was about 300 pounds, 350 pounds. (wife interjects and he answers) Yeah he was only about 5 foot tall. And uh he also, I’m pretty sure, also had congestive heart failure which means his body retained water. So not only was he obese but he retained a lot of water and you know at the end of his life he really could only sit in a chair and he could hardly walk and his legs would get massively swollen because of his bad heart. And uh the legend is that you know when he finally died, of course, he died sitting in a chair cause he couldn’t walk and he couldn’t lie down because he would get too short of breath when he would try to lie flat, um and so they had to lift him up, you know a bunch of guys lifted him up and he was way too big for any kind of casket so they had to bury him in a piano box.

My father told me that story. Usually when he took us out to dinner, to an Italian Restaurant of course. (chuckles) It’s it’s a family legend, you know. ‘We’re gonna eat a lot of food tonight but you know don’t make it a habit to eat or you’re gonna end up like Grandpa C.’ (laughs)”

Despite the fact that this family legend has an element of humor, the warning is very real. Since the informant’s family is Italian, a culture known for its obsession with food, by telling the story of the family member so sick and so fat that he had to be buried in a box meant for a piano, the pleasure of eating becomes an affliction—something to be wary of. Of course, that the informants father told this to his 8 children before dinner-out is a clever way of controlling their intake, and thus the bill. However, coming from the informant, who is a surgeon, the story took on a slow, somber note as his understanding of the poor health his great grandfather was in likely made it much more vivid. So, his telling had a naturally health-conscious air to it.

Game
general
Kinesthetic
Musical

Kit Kat Bar Hand-Game

Kit Kat Bar Hand-Game

^^^KIT KAT BAR HAND-GAME VIDEO LINK

Lyrics to the jingle:

Verse 1:
Gimme a break
Gimme a break
Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar

Verse 2:
The chocolate-y taste
Makes my day
Walkin down the street
Hear the people say

“I probably learned that in middle school with all the other hand game things, like waiting in line for recess or something. I originally played it cuz it wasted time, and even now if you’re like waiting around for something or there’s literally nothing else to do. Whoever did it the fastest was the coolest, you know. It became like a competition or whatever. (laughs) The boys probably thought we were so stupid. I mean, the first verse, isn’t that the real jingle? I dunno about the second verse, some girl probably made it up.”

My informant was laughing the entire time she showed me how to play this hand-game. We have two classes together that are back to back twice a week, and one day we got out very early in the first class and sat in the hallway with nothing to do, just waiting for our next class to start. Because we were together, the dumb games on her smartphone got boring quickly and we found ourselves talking about how we’d play hand-games in middle school and high school to pass the time. A hand-game that I knew about McDonald’s prompted her to teach me the Kit Kat Bar hand-game which I had never heard of. She then taught me and we tried to get faster and faster at it, and it prompted a lot of laughs and the time passed very quickly. Two college students, playing hand-games in our University hallway. Our teacher even passed by us and asked us what we were doing, but she thought it was funny and we clearly were having fun with it, singing about a chocolate candy bar and playing a game typically played by kids 10 years younger than us. That we did this reflects not just our absolute boredom, but the integration of consumer products into everyday lives. After so many years I still remembered the song to a number of hand games, many of which refer to food and restaurants, and my informant obviously remembered the jingle from the Kit Kat Bar commercial. It’s very American, and we probably will never forget these games, those that sucked us into the world of advertising and friendly competition, but also promoted camaraderie 10 years later. The power of boredom and nostalgia should not be underestimated.

general

“After a lot of laughing always comes some crying.”

A Persian saying described verbatim by informant:

“I can’t remember the Persian translation of it but in English its becomes like ‘After a lot of laughing always comes crying.’ They would say that to me when I was a kid. Say I was like laughing a lot at a joke cuz in the culture you’re supposed to be like very modest conservative, like kids are supposed to be quiet I had a really loud personality so if a kid was every misbehaving and being really hyper and laughing they’re like ‘Okay your laughing your laughing your laughing’ but soon like you’re gonna get smacked in the face and you’ll start crying cuz you’re being obnoxious. And that’s a thing they always say to little kids. My parents definitely said that to me, all the time. I would definitely say it to my cousins, I would say it to my cousins, but I would joke I wouldn’t actually like smack them but its like after a lot of laughing be prepared to experience the opposite of that.”

I find it interesting that my informant has turned this oppressive proverb into a joke she can share between her cousins, who are also first generation Iranian-American. The Persian culture from her description basically suppresses joy in the name of obedience and conservatism, which in her personal experience has been one of the biggest points of contention with her Iranian parents. The fact that this is a commonly said to children points to subjugation and authority which is core to the clan and family dominated culture. By turning the proverb on its head and saying it to her grown cousins in a joking manner she can softly criticize the strictness she struggles with.

Customs
general
Protection

Protection Ritual for Travel using the Qur’an

Protection custom for travel using the Qur’an described verbatim by informant:

“So every time I go on a trip, you have to walk outside someone has to bring a Qur’an and someone brings a glass of water and they say a certain prayer and they rush the Qur’an over you head in circles saying this prayer and then when you get in your car as your pulling out of your driveway to like go to the airport they throw that glass of water behind your car. It’s like protection, yeah. My parents do that every time, even though they’re not that religious. It’s like a religious thing. It’s like praying to Allah, it’s just like it’s a certain line of the Qur’an that my dad knows in Arabic and he just like does that around my head and I go. And every time I go on a trip, cuz my parents never travel, so it’s me that has to do it.”

My informant couldn’t remember the prayer since she cannot speak or read Arabic. She knows it to be a religious practice in terms of Islam, so the use of their holy book the Qur’an and a glass of water, which is often viewed as a purifying substance is not surprising. I am unfamiliar with Islamic practices, but the circling of the Qur’an around her head seems like a familiar ritual movement, like it’s a spotlight, calling upon Allah to watch over her, especially since the prayer is recited as this is done. I suppose the water may be purifying or may be like a sacrificial thing since it is thrown. This could make sense too because water is a precious substance all over the world. I’m the first to admit my knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam is limited, but I do believe there is some mention of Allah’s throne being over water in the Islam’s story of creation.

Folk speech
general

Jinn de

Jinn de (phonetically pronounced jenn deh) described verbatim by informant:

“A jinn de can be like a demon. Jahan is hell, jahanam is hell. A jin de can just be like a little shit. Like that’s literally it translates to like ‘Oh he’s being just a little jinn de’; ‘You’re being just a little shit’ like to a like little kid, ‘You’re being such a jinn de’ like you’re being such a devil, like a little devil.”

This nickname or folk metaphor relating misbehaved children to little devils or demons as my informant described jinn de to be. She says it’s said to children mostly when they’re acting out. Jinn has different manifestations in Arabic and Islamic cultures, one of which is like a genie, though I have only heard it spoken about in demonic terms. I don’t believe my informant think of the jinn de in a literal sense but more as a cultural label when a child is being bad.

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