Author Archive
Humor
Legends
Narrative

Rat Chihuahua

“Somebody goes to Mexico on vacation, right, and they buy the cheapest Chihuahua in the world, and they’re so excited, they’re like ‘wow this is a pure bred Chihuahua let me buy it’ and they’re gonna buy it and bring it home to whatever Suburban town they’re from. And they have the thing and they’re like it looks weird but whatever, and then one day, grim turn, they find that it’s like attacking their child in the night and they take it to the vet and he’s like ‘this is a shaved rat’ and it’s a terrifying huge city rat brought into your home and now you have rabies and like whatever else the rat has.”

Informant Analysis: “It was always somebody’s cousin or somebody’s second cousin or something went to Mexico. We just accepted it completely because we were little kids who, when we imagined Mexico, it’s just a place that isn’t here and of course a scary thing like that could come from there. And I thought it was true until I read this book “scary stories to read in the dark” and the story was there and I was like oh, that’s it, it’s just a story.”

Analysis: This urban legend serves as a way to somehow relate to or understand a place that otherwise seems exotic to the informant. The legend uses something familiar–a chihuahua–and makes it something scary as a result of being bought in Mexico. The legend not only makes Mexico seem like a dangerous or untrustworthy place based on the transaction, but it also makes the family who was fooled by the trick seem a bit stupid for having believed that a rat was a dog. The informant also points to the fact that the story was somehow always personal because it “actually” happened to a relative or a relative of a relative, and this “five degrees of separation” idea is the case with many urban legends, so they can seem more plausible or realistic when in fact somebody random probably just made them up. That could be why the informant believed the story for so long past childhood.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Bags

“So in my family instead of wrapping Christmas presents in wrapping paper or newspaper, we put them in cloth bags that we reuse every year, and we save all the old tags so every Christmas you can look back and have a reminder of the presents from the years before that have been put in that same bag”

The informant says this ritual was initially a way for her family to be more environmentally friendly, but as the years have gone on it becomes a fun game every Christmas morning to guess what was in the bag the year before based on the note. The informant’s parents always write personal notes with each gift, so there’s a dual sense of excitement and fun in opening a new gift while communally trying to guess what the gift was there the year before.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

AIDS Needles

“Whenever I went swimming, if I stepped on something in the water, I thought it was an HIV infected needle. And all of my logic would be like ‘no, it doesn’t exist in the air that long, it’s really hard to do that…all this stuff. But all my friends would talk about it, how these needles were everywhere and they were gonna get us if we weren’t careful”

Informant Analysis: “The AIDS needles thing scared the crap out of me, and the idea still kind of does, which is insane, because like, I’m old enough now to know that one, that is impossible, that’s not how transmission occurs, and two, even if you get infected somehow, it is nothing like a death sentence the way it was back then. But I’m still enough of a child of the 80’s that it resonates with me”

Analysis: The fact that this urban legend had such an effect on the informant is a good indication of the culture in which he grew up. When he was growing up, AIDS was much more publicized and controversial, so this particular belief would have had more of a foothold in society, especially among kids. Even though he understands it better now, and knows it can’t be real, it still resonates with him. These kinds of “threatening” Urban legends and superstitions, when told and reinforced in childhood, seem to have a particular hold on those they are told to, even as adults. The element of this particular legend that makes it seem real is the reality of the disease, something that overshadowed much of the informant’s childhood politically and socially. Growing up now, we know about AIDS, but we aren’t seeing it on the news everyday and we are not being given as much misinformation as they were speculating about at the time. This urban legend seems to have taken advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the disease at the time, so people would more readily believe and fear the elusive “needles.”

Folk Beliefs

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

The informant said that he heard this growing up, and so of course he developed this fear about having a dream that he was dead. He probably did at some point, whether he remembers or not, but regardless he thought this was a fact for much of his childhood. I found this belief strange, but the more I thought about it I realized in most of the nightmares I can remember I was trying to escape death or run away from something, but I had never actually died in a dream (that I can remember). This belief shows the interest we have in dreams as a society. We often try to interpret them or analyze them to get answers, so it makes sense that they would also indicate our demise.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

White Spots for Lies

“You know those white spots under your nails? My mom told me that I would get one of those for every lie I told.”

The informant was told this constantly by her mother, and it was obviously a way for her mom to scare her into always being honest. She said she also felt a sense of guilt because she had some white spots under her nails (actually due to a calcium deficiency) so she felt like she may have lied without knowing it. Obviously when she got older she realized this wasn’t true, but she says that everytime she looks down at her nails she’s reminded of it, so in a way her mother is always there to remind her to be honest. This reminder, even when she is old enough to know the original statement isn’t true, shows the insight her mom must have had in telling her this and instilling this semi-fear into her at a young age. Many parents say things like this, like my mom always said my nose would grow if I lied, so it makes sense that every parent comes up with their own version of it to instill honest values in their kids.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

“When you set the table, you can’t put the chopsticks upright in the bowl because it looks like incense, which people burn at funerals, so it’s bad luck”

“When you set the table, you can’t put the chopsticks upright in the bowl because it looks like incense, which people burn at funerals, so it’s bad luck”

I think this superstition also is a way to honor and respect the dead. Positioning the chopsticks in such a way is bad luck, but it is also an affront to the serious nature of funerals, where the incense is burned. The informant can’t remember when she was evert taught this, it’s just something she’s always known. This belief would also create an easy situation where outsiders can be recognized, because they would not know this custom by heart like native Chinese people do.

Legends
Narrative

Old Man List House

“My older sisters would always tell me about this, this house in our town, a few blocks away. When they wanted to scare me they would talk about how this big businessman had lived in this nice mansion, but he had fallen on some hard times so he lost all his money. It didn’t take long before he went crazy and everyone was scared to go by his house because he would just sit on his porch and yell at anyone that walked by. They always told me about his red tie that he wore, even though he had lost his job he always wore the tie. I was so freaked out, I mean I was only seven or eight. But it gets scarier. They would put on their spooky voices and turn off the lights to tell me about how one night, he just lost it and killed his whole family, and left them in the dining room and disappeared, and they were still looking for him today, some people thought he was somehow still living in the house, either alive or as some kind of spirit. So because my sisters had told me this story, and it kind of circulated around our town, we would always walk by the house and dare each other to go into the abandoned house or get as close to it as possible or something like that.”

Informant Analysis: “Well when I grew up, came to understand that it was just a scary story, and I was actually watching TV one night and, saw that they had finally caught this criminal named John List, who had been on the run for years. As they described his crime, which was killing his whole family and leaving them in sleeping bags in the living room before disappearing, I got this horrible feeling that he was the old scary man from my town. Realizing that the story was based on something real (I’m sure my sisters added some false details) actually scared me more than the original story. He had haunted me for my whole childhood, and here he was on the TV.”

Analysis: This is another example of an urban legend that seems to extend far beyond childhood. The informant’s sisters were obviously trying to scare him by telling him about the scary house, and it’s unclear whether they knew the real story or not. This legend becomes a challenge for the informant and his friends, a way to prove themselves by going into the dark, abandoned house. The experience of seeing this mythical, almost ghostlike figure come to life as an actual criminal must have been jarring, as these urban legends and ghost stories usually remain abstract, so the danger is not immediate.

Folk Beliefs

“If you sprinkle salt on a birds tail it won’t be able to fly”

“If you sprinkle salt on a birds tail it won’t be able to fly”

Informant Analysis: “My friends and I heard this from someone at school or something like that, and we kept trying to prove it wrong,as if, as if that was even possible. We would spend hours when we were really little waiting for a bird, salt in our hands, waiting for a bird to be still long enough to try to test out our theory. We wanted to be able to do it and then kind of, I guess, corral the bird into a cage so we could keep it as a pet, because it couldn’t get away.”

Analysis: It’s interesting how the informant took this folk belief and proceeded to investigate it with his friends. Most of the other beliefs I collected are prohibitive, and with this one it was something that had to be proved, at least it seemed that way to the informant at the time. In that way this belief became active, something that the informant could participate in, even if he was never successful. I think as kids, they wanted to be able to control something, and by enacting this belief successfully they could somehow gain some authority over something less powerful than them.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Good things come to those who wait”

“Good things come to those who wait”

Informant Analysis: “My parents actually didn’t tell me this one, our teachers at school would tell us all the time, like, probably before snack time or something to calm us down because we were impatient kids, but I remember it even though that was a long time ago. I don’t really follow it as a motto or anything because I think you usually have to put some effort in if you want something to happen, but I guess patience is important as well”

Analysis: This proverb, which I would say is pretty well known in America, seems to promote passivity, which goes against the usual future and action oriented American proverbs like “actions speak louder than words” and “he who hesitates is lost.” The idea behind this proverb relies on our ideas of “fate” or “luck” in which patience, or inaction, somehow magically leads to some kind of success, whether that be personal or professional. It is probably best used, and more effective, when told to children, as the informant describes. It gives them reason to slow down or wait because they are guaranteed a reward in the end. Past childhood, it may not be the best method to ensure success because not everything is based on luck, and without some kind of effort or work one won’t get far.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Hidden Razor Blades

“The idea was that Satanists, or people like them, were slipping needles into apples, or like, razorblades into apples, and poisoning candy, and whenever I got a pixie stick, my parents would make me pour it out, like if I got one for Halloween they would make me pour it out, saying ‘no, they could have put drugs in that, you can’t have that.’ And then if, ah, like, one year, and this was the only year they did it but the urgent treatment center was doing an X-ray where you could bring your kids’ candy in and they would X-ray it and be like ‘okay, no needles here ma’am, no razorblades in your apples’ My parents still believe this, even now.”

This urban legend affected many of the informant’s Halloweens, as his parents would “screen” his candy before he could have it. It also becomes part of the Halloween ritual in a way, because the “checkpoint” has to happen before the informant can have the candy. This urban legend was so widespread that the Urgent Care Center in his area actually allowed people to use an X-ray machine! This translation from legend to real life fear shows how pervasive urban legends can be. This fear also reveals who people were most afraid of at the time (the informant grew up in the eighties). Satanists were apparently the biggest threat, those who seemed most evil and likely to do something like this to innocent kids. Though the informant left this belief behind, it seems that his parents have not.

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