Author Archives: Jordan Gear

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

The apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree. This one I remember my dad always saying this to me when I did stupid stuff. It means that if you do something…how should I explain this… it’s like you do something but…I would say, like, if your parents maybe do something and you did the same thing it’s like you’re very similar because, like, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because the apple belongs to the tree.


This folk metaphor seems to be universal. Stina heard this from her parents growing up just as I heard it from my parents growing up [her in the United States]. The saying suggests that children tend to do the same things, or, in Stina’s case, make the same mistakes as their parents.


A common example of this that I have often heard (interestingly enough) has to do with women who cheat on their husbands or partners. I have frequently heard of a mother who was known for being unfaithful in a relationship, and then her daughter who follows in her footsteps and is unfaithful herself. The saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, always followed this scenario.


The above example assumes that the saying carries negative connotations, which is not entirely true. When I was younger and would get good grades in school, my dad would often say that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” in trying to say that he used to get good grades too and that my intelligence comes from him since he is the tree from which I, the apple, fell.

Killing Spiders Brings the Rain

So, if you kill a spider, it will rain the next day. But I don’t think it really works because I’ve killed a lot of spiders, and it haven’t really been raining the next day. I learned it when I was little from my… I think it was my parents, but I’ve known it for…well it feels like forever.


Stina is from Sweden and she says that this is a common belief in Swedish culture. She does not, however, find it to be true. She said that she’s killed many spiders and it has never really rained the next day. She said that the one time that it did rain, rain was already in the forecast for the next day and that she just happened to kill a spider the day before.


This belief about killing spiders differs from my own. I have always been conscious about not killing spiders for a number of reasons: spiders trap flies I their web and so they are valuable to have around; I also have had a number of experiences where I killed a spider and, that night, I had horrible dreams that I was being attacked by giant spiders. Since those dreams [some years ago] I’ve only killed one spider. I am not particularly arachnophobia, so I have no real issues with spiders. I would never kill a spider unless it was physically harming me.


Based on my experience, my version of Stina’s story would read, “If you kill a spider you will have nightmares that night”. 

If at first you don’t succeed…

If At first you don’t succeed…


The common proverb reads, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”. This proverb suggests that failing should not mean defeat—if you do not succeed the first time, a second [and maybe even third and fourth] attempt should be made. It speaks to perseverance and determination. Failure is just a lesson. One can learn from the lesson and turn failure into success. Never accept defeat after only one attempt. If the Wright brothers had given up after their first attempt, we may have never learned to fly.


Haley, my informant, is an olympic diver whose success really embodies this proverb. Diving is a sport that is all about making mistake, learning from your mistakes, and, most importantly, never being afraid to do a dive again after it has gone awry. Haley dives from the 10 meter platform–an event that includes a great deal of risk. Is she does a dive incorrectly she could face hospitalization. However, even when she has landed flat on her stomach or on her back from 33 feet in the air, she never gave up. She never accepted defeat even when she felt that the water was beating her and she wasn’t quite grasping the correct technique.



Although the traditional proverb reads, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”, I am citing the first episode—“Lessons”—of the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which she twists the proverb to fit her current situation. While fighting phantom-like projections of dead people from her past, Buffy realizes that she must get to a door that the three phantoms are conveniently blocking. When she tries to fight her way through them the first time she fails and is beaten back. The second time, she leaps over them as they charge at her and she makes it to the door. As she does this she utters, “if at first you don’t succeed, cheat!”


Even though she failed the first time to make it past the phantoms she did not give up. She tried a second time and was successful. Her success embodies what the original proverb promotes: don’t give up. However, rather than taking the more difficult route—fighting her way through again—she decides to avert this struggle once more by “cheating” and jumping over them.

Female Circumcision in Cameroon

Male circumcision is obviously practiced all over the world and is legal. Female circumcision is a little more controversial, and in the village that I am from, females were previously circumcised—but this circumcision is not as bad as the ones that are usually heard about. This one is just cutting of a small tip of the clitoris, similar to the foreskin in a male, and this happens after the birth of your first child—no matter the sex—and why this was made was because proper women are not supposed to make sounds when they pee. It is seen as a very unfitting thing to do, and women feel empowerment because they are circumcised and they are part of a childbearing society, so women who go through the majority of their lives without ever having a child actually get circumcised so they are not looked down upon because it is like a rite of passage—once you have your first child you have really become a woman, meaning you have been circumcised so it is a really big deal. But this practice doesn’t happen anymore.


It is interesting to me that she cites this tradition as not very controversial. When I think of female circumcision I think of mutilation. There is no reason why a female needs to go through the process of circumcision. It does not improve hygiene in any way; it only robs them of a source of sexual pleasure. Humans are special creatures in that sex is not just a means of reproduction but also a source of great pleasure that is a large and important part of life. To strip someone of this ability is to reduce them to an animalistic state in which bearing children is their only sexual purpose.


This tradition also speaks to the idea of womanhood and the process by which one achieves it. In this village, it seems that having children gives one that stamp of approval. Coco did say that the practice of female circumcision in her village no longer exists, but the emphasis on motherhood still remains—an emphasis that seems very outdated (at least in American society). Gone are the days in in which women are confined to a domestic prison—their only duty to rear children, tend to the hearth and home, and pamper the husband. Women are no longer getting married and having children at 18. They have been emancipated in a sense. However, the women in this African village seem to be stuck in that domesticity.

Her aching knees will bring the rain

Whenever one of my grandmother’s or one of my grandmother’s sisters’ knees would hurt, we would always say that it was gonna rain the next day.


The interesting thing about this story is that every time her knees did hurt it actually did rain the next day. Sergio says that he can’t remember a time when her knees would hurt and the weather would be clear the next day.


Another friend of mine, Katya, who is a swimmer and had surgery on her left knee, once told me that when it is about to rain her knees also begin to hurt. She says that during her surgery they had to put a screw in and that the metal may have something do with her ability to also predict the rain. Perhaps the change in magnetism affects the metal in her knee somehow. I asked Sergio whether or not his grandmother’s sister ever had surgery on her knees, and he told me that she never has had surgery but that she does suffer from moderate arthritis.


Sergio also says that his father doesn’t trust his mother’s sisters’ knees because they haven’t always predicted the weather as accurately as Sergio remembers. Before Sergio was born, his father said that on various occasions her knees would hurt but nothing would happen after. Thus, he came to distrust her “powers” of foresight.



Pico y Pala

Ok, so we have another saying in Spanish that is, when you’re trying to, like, go out with a girl—or a guy, it doesn’t matter—and that girl doesn’t wanna go out with you, the thing that we do is called “pico y pala” which refers to pickaxe and shovel, and it just means that you have to, like, break down the rock before you move it. That’s basically what the saying says.



This saying basically says that dating someone you like may not always come so easily—you may have to “break down the rock” or work hard to crack the proverbial shell to win the heart of a particular woman or man of interest (especially if she/he plays hard to get, you will have to toil to get what you want). Sergio had to break down the rock a lot when he was younger, as many girls were either very shy or pretended like they didn’t like him.


Sergio says he learned this phrase at a very young age from his father—perhaps around eleven or twelve years old—which shows a big difference between American and European culture when it comes to dating and sex. Most American parents shelter their children from sexual/dating related content as it is considered more adult.


I have never heard of an American equivalent to “pico y pala” but I have heard about women playing hard to get and having to work to win her heart. My parents never spoke to me about such things when I was eleven or twelve. I learned most things about dating and sex on my own or from friends.

Red Underwear for Good Luck

Ok, so during New Years Eve we do this thing, before coming into the New Year, that everyone has to wear red underwear. And the reason why we do that is because it’s supposed to bring you good luck coming into the New Year for some reason, I don’t know. I learn about this tradition when I was about four or five? Well, mainly because my whole family does it, and, to this day, every time I, like, celebrate new years in Spain every single one in my family is still wearing red underwear during new years eve.


There are many different new year rituals that people around the world perform: some people drink champagne because it symbolizes wealth and the possibility of attaining it that year; some people carry a suitcase around with the hope that they will travel extensively the next year; some people run a mile just before the clock strikes twelve to ensure good health in the new year.


Sergio’s family tradition in Spain is rather interesting. After hearing him recount this tradition, I wondered about two things in particular: why underwear, and why the color red?


The color red normally symbolizes passion, love, lust. The fact that he and his family ascribe the color red to general luck is very interesting. I asked him if he meant “luck in love”, but he said no, “just overall luck”. I have always known luck to be associated with the color green.


When I asked Sergio why the underwear was important, he didn’t know. “I just learned it from my family, and we’ve been doing it forever.” We discussed it and came to the following conclusion: because underwear is the innermost layer of clothing and, thus, is closest to your body, it would have the greatest effect. This, of course, is pure speculation but does offer a decent hypothesis.


I find this tradition interesting but a bit strange. The color red throws me off. If I were to desire luck in love in the New Year then perhaps I would wear red underwear (especially since underwear covers the genitals—key players in sex). My family has the tradition of throwing money out of the house to bring wealth in the New Year. Unlike Sergio, I do not continue this practice. When I lived with my parents I occasionally partook in the tradition. Now that I am at college I no longer choose to continue the practice as I don’t find that it really works.

German / Austrian Funeral Tradition

Grandchildren carrying the coffin

There’s also a German / Austrian tradition that when… at a funeral and a church ceremony where you often um…where, like, almost every time, the grandchildren carry out the coffin in which their grandfather or their grandmother is in. And uh… yeah and they carry it out into the hearse.


Not every German and Austrian family partakes in this tradition, but in the town of Karlsruhe, Germany it is very common. At the death of her grandfather, Sophia recalls that she and her two older brother and almost a dozen of her cousins carried their grandfather in his coffin from the church to the hearse to be transported to the burial site.


This tradition differs from that of Americans who have such a fear of death that they barely participate in the ceremony. Unlike in Mexico where there is a whole day dedicated to celebrating the dead, or in Ireland where there is a whole section of humor dedicated to death, America makes every attempt to avoid confronting it. We only do so when we must—when our loved ones pass away.


Death is so dreaded In America that people can’t even joke about it. Humor often arises from that which is repressed—hence the plethora of sex jokes in the US, a country that stigmatizes sex. Yet, people can’t even joke about death in the States. It is beyond repression, beyond denial.


The German / Austrian tradition reminds me of some Native American rituals in which the community was very hands at funerals. Whereas the Native Americans understood that death is simply part of life, Americans engage in this disavowal of reality and deny its existence until it meets them head on. I personally think that this tradition Sophia speaks of really imparts to the children at a young age that death is a path we all must take and that we must accept this as soon as possible. In addition, I feel that these children, looking back on the funeral, would be glad to have participated in the final ritual of their grandparents’ lives.




Toasting to Good Sex

In Germany it is a tradition that when you toast you have to look the other person in the eye, otherwise you will have seven years of bad sex. And I learned that probably when I was around fourteen or fifteen—maybe a little earlier—and uh…it’s a German tradition. I realized that no one does it here in the states.


Sophia and her family hail from Karlsruhe, Germany. They have always been very open about the topic of sex—a topic that is still taboo here in the states. This folk superstition, according to Sophia, Is widely known in Germany—especially among children. The fact that children are aware of sexual folklore says a lot about German culture and how it has progressed since the times of the brothers Grimm when all of the sexual content was edited out of their work when intended for younger audiences.


In the United States parents work very hard to “preserve the innocence” of their children. This includes: “protecting” them from exposure to drug use, violence, profanity, and, most importantly, sex. Although sex is a natural part of life that everyone discovers at one point or another growing up, talking about sex with youngsters is not socially acceptable. Yet, how can parents continue to deny the existence of sex in a culture inundated with sexual images?


Children often learn about sex on their own long before their parents are willing to acknowledge it—but not Sophia’s and other European parents. In Germany, and most of western Europe, sex does not carry the social stigma that it does here in the US. From a young age Sophia engaged in conversations about sex with her parents—something that rarely occurs in the US. Why do you think schools here require sexual education classes? It’s because teachers have to compensate for the lack of conversation at home.


Furthermore, this folk superstition moves beyond the idea of sex and brings in a conversation about the quality of sex. Not only did Sophia know about sex at a young age, she also learned that sex alone is not enough. “Good” sex is always preferable to “bad” sex. Implicit in this folk superstition is the notion that people should strive for amazing sex, which in turn encourages them to practice sex regularly to achieve a certain mastery that would beget quality sex.

A twist on the traditional American birthday

Ok… so we have a tradition in the family that—probably in the summer… at least the extended family on my mom’s side—we get together in the summer and we celebrate our birthday. It’s never really anyone’s actual birthday we just celebrate everyone’s birthday on one day because of convenience and it gives us an excuse to get together. Also it’s kind of hard for all of us to get together during the year because we’re all gettin’ older now and we all have stuff to do and we could never get together on birthdays so we just created one big family birthday. We all give gifts to each other—usually small with, like, cards or something. One year my cousin got me a uh… a pair of uh…  really cool earrings… like black and gold ones—really cool! I still wear them today actually. Um… but yeah it was just something we’ve always done, something we’ll keep on doing until the older cousins get married and move away. It had nothing to do in particular with sports or anything. It just was because none of us really had time given that one of our cousins moved to San Diego and lives two hours away, and getting together on actual birthdays is way more inconvenient so… we just get together on family birthday.


The traditional American birthday is celebrated on the day of the person’s birth (typically for the entire day). Gifts are presented to the person who gains a year of age on that day. Birthdays are some of the few times when it is perfectly and socially acceptable to shamelessly desire to be the center of attention.


Haley’s family alters the traditional American birthday celebration in multiple ways: unlike the traditional birthday, her family does not celebrate on the official day of birth. An acknowledgement of the arrival of said day takes place, but no one plans to do anything special. Gifts are not presented at this time, and, thus, this family tradition strays even further from the traditional American birthday. Finally, the “family birthday” for Haley’s family is not about one particular person but rather about all. The traditional focus on one individual finds no place in this family event. In contrast, the day Is more about community and the gathering of a busy family spread out over the state of California.