Author Archive
Folk speech
Humor

Model UN Pick-Up Lines

“Model UN pickup lines are used at Model UN conferences by high school students. In committees, which can range in size from five people to five hundred people… there’s a note passing system where different representatives of countries can pass each other notes. Ummm…  traditionally these notes are for informational purposes that relate to the speeches and resolution writing. Informally, people use these notes to try to pickup delegates, so, the thing about Model UN pick-up lines is they specifically are puns that relate to debate and parliamentary procedure and sometimes the countries that are being represented. Typical pickup lines…. ummm, okay, one of the most creative pickup lines is, ummm, okay, hmmm, “I motion to ally with Greece and invade Djibouti.” Another one is, ummm, “I’d like to see your position on the floor,” and it’s funny because you write position papers. [laughs] A less creative one is, “I’d like to moderate your caucus.” I think it’s less creative because it doesn’t make too much sense. You just have to say it in a certain way for it to sound like a pickup line. Ummm… so, this one I got was great when I was representing South Africa at a conference, and the line was, “I wish I was Lesotho so I could be inside you.” Lesotho is a tiny country inside of South Africa. It’s completely landlocked and surrounded by South Africa. Oh my gosh, there is this other one… “wanna bang my gavel?”

I learned these pickup lines from generations of Model UN students. The older students will teach the new delegates these lines. I’ve been to conferences at Brown University and the University of Chicago and heard or read, on notes, some of the same pickup lines at both. The lines are pretty standard for Model UN conferences because parliamentary procedure stays the same.

I think they’re funny because it makes the committee experience much more enjoyable. You’re getting bored and someone sends you a pickup line in a note and it really brightens your day.”

 

The informant told me about these pickup lines while reminiscing about her high school days. She was laughing a lot and generally seemed to have fond memories of these pickup lines, despite that fact that they are pretty cringe-worthy. She belonged to a very competitive model United Nations team while in high school, but her fondest memories seem to be of the sillier things that happened at the model UN conferences.

The informant said she enjoyed the pickup lines because they provided entertainment, as the committee sessions would drag on for hours. I think the purpose and enjoyment of the pickup lines goes a little deeper than that. The lines make a lot of sense within the context of where they are used. When you are away at a conference for three to four days, surrounded by teenagers ranging from 14-18 years old, pretending to be older diplomats debating world issues, there are a lot of different factors coming into play. For instance, you have all of these hormonal teenagers shoved into a room together. Also, a lot of the teenagers who attend these conferences are pretty nerdy, and the pickup lines seem to be a way of reclaiming their status as more typical or sexualized teenagers. Most model UN conferences have a delegate dance on the last night of the conference, and the dances are a place where the delegates get to let loose and act like typical teenagers. The nerdy pickup lines seem to help the students tee-up for this dance. Additionally, many teenagers have difficulty telling their crushes that they like them, but sending an anonymous pickup line note to a student from a school from another state or another county who you will likely never see again is a safe way to flirt.

Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Jewish Saying About Opinions

“You put three Jews in a room you get four opinions.”

 

I have heard this phrase, or a variation of the phrase, used many times before. Sometimes the number of Jews in the figurative room varies, and sometimes you can get many more opinions (for example, sometimes it’s two Jews in a room and three opinions; sometimes it’s four Jews in a room and six or seven opinions.)

The joke relies on the stereotype that Jews are very opinionated people and suggests that if you have a certain amount of Jewish people in one room, you will get even more opinions than people that are in the room. I’ve only ever heard this joke told by Jewish people. The telling of this joke seems to be a way for Jews to reclaim a stereotype. There are a lot of less-than-positive stereotypes about Jewish people, some of which Jews spend a lot of time and energy actively refuting. Thus, the telling of this joke seems to be a way for Jews to acknowledge this particular stereotype and make fun of it, as if to say that it is all right to hold this belief because it is somewhat grounded in truth.

Humor

Lawyer Joke

“If you wanted to have all of the answers before you got there, you should have gone to medical school.”

 

This occupational joke, often told by lawyers, is disparaging of doctors. It’s funny because usually one would think that doctors have a more difficult job than lawyers because they are dealing with life and death situations, but the joke implies that doctors learn everything they need to know at school. Supposedly, all of the diseases and conditions doctors will encounter are in their medical textbooks. While this is not entirely true, it is clearly a belief held by many lawyers who tell this joke. Those lawyers believe that their jobs are more difficult because they can often deal with situations that have never happened before or have never been documented before. Even if their cases are really just a variation of previous cases, they seem to believe that each situation is unique, whereas, in their opinion, an illness is always the same.

The informant is fond of this joke because she is a lawyer. I have heard her tell this joke multiple times, usually when she is talking about a difficult work-related situation. She seems to tell this joke to remind herself that having a difficult job comes with the territory and that not everything is so cut-and-dry.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Sailor Story

“My grandpa’s best friend, who is a sailor, always tells this story about a seagull. There’s this couple or this sailor out on the water and it’s a beautiful day and they’re sailing along. And the swell starts to pick up and it’s so rocky that his fake teeth fall into the water. And he can’t get it. And I guess they go back to the harbor, to the bay, and tie off the boat, and a seagull flies back over them and has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. And it’s the man’s teeth.”

 

The informant told me that her grandpa’s best friend is a sailor with a really corny sense of humor and she said she is pretty sure that he has fake teeth. She said that her grandpa also has fake teeth. Thus, the two of them really like retelling this story because it contains elements that they can relate to and identify with. However, the story seems to have a deeper meaning. Sailors can never be certain of how the sea will treat them and sailors can develop a rocky relationship with the sea. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing and other time’s things don’t go your way. In the story, the day starts out beautiful and the water is smooth, but then something changes and the water is suddenly rocky. The story seems to be saying that regardless of how the waters are, you need to maintain a good sense of humor about it. After all, the sailor is lucky to survive the rough conditions. Sure, he loses his teeth, but he makes it out alive, and despite the unfortunate fact that he is now toothless, he can get a good chuckle from seeing the seagull with his teeth.

Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Humor
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Happy Flaw” Game

“There’s something called your “happy flaw.” It’s a Gaelic thing. There’s a word for it in Gaelic and it loosely translates to “happy flaw.” It’s a game you play when babies are born. Sometimes you do it at the baby shower but you’re not really supposed to do it before the birth. You do it either at the birth or at a big gathering. You’re supposed to do it when you’ve met the baby. Modern people do it at baby showers, which sort of defeats the point.   

When the baby is born, they have a party. Um, it’s really soon after where everyone comes and everyone gets to interact with the baby for a second. At the end you all guess what the baby’s happy flaw is going to be. It’s a characteristic that is going to make the person successful but also make it unhappy. For example, mine is curiosity. I mean, everyone guesses something different, but that’s what my Gran guessed for me. And let me tell you, she is the champion of it. She maintains to this day that she was right. It’s a compliment but it also gets you into trouble. And, um, yea, so basically you all guess and it’s a matter of pride if people think you are right. It isn’t something you can actually win. It’s something you tease people about later in life because people like to tease the fuck out of you in Ireland.

I’ve been to them and I’ve done it. I’ve never been right so far. It’s a reason, like, for example, people can bring it up to remind you or remind everyone else that they’re right. My Gran will always say this phrase that means “curious until death and even then,” which is a Gaelic phrase. It’s sort of teasing. It means even if it kills you, you’re not going to change. It’s endearing but it’s also kind of offensive. It’s a little at everyone’s expense when you’re older because everyone will always be right and then bring it up.”

 

This game sounds like a wonderful idea and much more meaningful than many of the traditional American baby-related games that I have heard of or partaken in. The game clearly stems for the well-known Irish sense of humor; the point of the game is simultaneously kind and cruel. It also serves the purpose of helping family members and friends to form a connection with a child from the outset. By guessing a child’s happy flaw, you are forming a bond with the child and saying that you will watch the child grow up. The happy flaw is something that you can bring up in conversation with the child as he or she grows up. It’s a way to keep you close to a family member or a friend’s kid, even if you don’t get to see them that often.

I also found it interesting that the informant told me that modern, Americanized versions of this game are often played at baby showers, before the child is born. She was very dismissive of this variation of the game because it doesn’t make sense to her, since the point of the game is to interact with the baby before you choose a happy flaw. This variation shows how folk traditions can change as they are blended into other cultures (in this case, incorporating the rather American practice of a baby shower with the Irish happy flaw game) and the informant’s opinion of this variation shows how there can be resistance to such cultural conflations.

 

Customs

Gaelic Finger Tattoos

“Oh, so in Ireland, you get these dot tattoos on your fingers and every tattoo has a different meaning. Every finger is for a different thing. On your left ring finger, if you’ve had two marriages, you have two dots tattooed on your left ring finger. There’s another finger where you get a dot for each child you’ve had. There’s another finger where you get a dot for every big life experience or tragedy. I call them Gaelic meaning dots because that’s what my Gran calls them. My Gran, that’s my dad’s mom, told me about this. She’s from Ireland. I actually once thought about getting those tattoos. My Gran had them for a long time but had them removed because it was hard for her to get a job. You can still see them lightly because tattoo removal is a lot more advanced now.”

 

The informant’s story about her Gran getting these finger tattoos is particularly interesting because it shows how institutions and traditions can be in conflict with each other, and how one culture’s traditions can be in conflict with another culture’s view of what is acceptable. These finger dot tattoos obviously carry deep importance and the informant told me that she has considered getting them, despite the fact that she was not born in Ireland and never lived there (she identifies as American.) However, the informant’s Gran found it very difficult to get a job when she came to America because tattoos of any sort are usually considered to be trashy or unprofessional, and most Americans are probably not aware of this folk tradition. Thus, her Gran felt she had to adapt and change in order to assimilate and function in American society.

Customs
Protection

Slap in the Face

 

“In my Jewish family, and I’m sure in many other Jewish families, when the girl got her period, the mother would slap the girl across the face, very hard, and leave an imprint. I’m not sure what the reason was… something about warding off evil spirits, I think. To keep the devil away from you.”

 

When a girl begins to menstruate, she is able to get pregnant. This can be a great worry for many mothers who are trying to keep their children pure for marriage, or, at least, keep their children from becoming mothers before they are ready. The slap is supposed to be painful so that it warns you against becoming pregnant; the pain of the slap is symbolical of the pain of pregnancy and the difficulty of raising a child. Furthermore, being pregnant at a young age is like a slap in the face to your family. An unwed, pregnant girl would bring great shame to a traditional Jewish family. The sting of the slap, on one level, represents that sting of shame that the family would feel. The slap is supposed to leave an imprint for a while so that it serves as a lasting reminder not to get pregnant.

Judaism in its institutional form does not tend to deal with spirits or concepts such as the devil, so it is interesting that this Jewish folk practice invokes those ideas. This practice is an example of how folk traditions can deviate from a religion’s scripture or institutionalized forms.

Legends
Narrative

WWI Family Survival Story

“In World War I, Italy was overrun by Turks and, in this one area, there were thousands of Italian soldiers that were massacred by the Turks. There were three survivors out of thousands. The Turks piled the bodies in huge piles to burn, because what else were you going to do with the bodies? And my mother’s grandfather, so that’s my grandfather’s father, was one of the three survivors out of thousands. And he survived by hiding in the pile of bodies for a week. Or three days. Three days to a week. And then he got away before they torched the pile of bodies.”

 

The informant was very insistent that this story really happened and proceeded to look it up on the Internet for about fifteen or twenty minutes. However, he was unable to find an article corroborating the story. The informant told me that he heard it from his parents and he told it to his three sons. He also said that his mother’s grandfather received a medal or an honor for his bravery. The story incorporates elements of survival, strength, bravery, and honor. As a result, this family legend is important to the informant’s sense of family identity.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Hypnotizing Chickens

“You like grab a chicken, lay it on the ground, hold it, so the chicken lays with its head on the ground. Chickens don’t have binocular vision so they can only see with one eye at a time. So one eye is down and one eye is up. You hold the chicken calmly, not in a mean way, and it lays there calmly and you wave your hand down and over it… round and round, up and down, over the eye… it’s like snake charming. You release. And the chicken will just lie there for minutes. It’s totally mesmerized. Someone showed me how to do this on a farm in eastern Oregon. And then I showed my sons when we were children. We went to an apple farm and I captured a loose chicken. People just do it for fun.”

 

The more I asked the informant about this practice, the more insistent he was that it was magic, but then his wife jumped in and said that the practice was not magical and it just disorients the chicken. She said it must have to do with biology. The informant was still insistent that it was magic.

At first glance, this seems like just a fun activity or a way to pretend to have magical powers. On the other hand, it is easy to see how it could serve a practical purpose, or maybe once served a purpose in the past. After all, the “hypnosis” calms down the animals, which might help a farmer round up some loose chickens or calm down a bunch of chickens who are running around and giving him or her trouble.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

French Saying

“La douleur t’apprend à prier.”

Translation: Pain teaches you to pray.   

 

The informant told me that her mother uses French sayings all of the time, but she rarely remembers them specifically. She said this one stuck out to her. She comes from a family that is not specifically religious. She said that the phrase isn’t necessarily for very religious people, but that it means that in times of pain you turn to prayer. According to my informant, the phrase means that pain humbles you. I think it is interesting that her mother uses this phrase and that she remembered it since she does not come from a religious family. It implies a connectedness, spirituality, and a human need to reach out for help that is really applicable to a lot of people, regardless of whether they have specific religious affiliations.

 

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