Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Healing Coin

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Medicine)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California.  Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent.  Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    In Arabic culture, if you get a bump or a cyst or anything that creates a bump on your arm, one thing you can do is to get a large coin, put it on the bump and wrap up your wrist (or wherever the bump is) really tight.  And this makes the bump go away.

Informant Comments:  The informant’s father told his older brother to use this folk medicine to get rid of a bump he had on his wrist.  After a day or so, the bump did, in fact, go away.  The informant does not know if this folk medicine will always work, but based on what he has seen, it seems to work most of the time.  Either way, he believes trying this remedy could not hurt.

Analysis:  This folk belief (medicine) is common among Middle Eastern cultures.  The act of placing a coin on a bump or cyst and tying it tightly may be construed as having an implied focus on the power of the coin to heal (possibly by some sort of magical aspect).  On the contrary, the coin is of little essential importance; any flat hard object would suffice.  It is, in fact, the constant pressure which helps the bump or cyst disappear.  Not always, but most of the time, cysts will pop and bumps will become less inflated when pressure is applied to them.  It seems that people had realized the correlation between placing pressure on a bump and having that bump go away; thus, they came to the plausible conclusion that they should place a large coin on the bump before tying it in order to increase pressure even more.  This folk medicine is rooted in this rational progression.  Whether it always works or not, it is a method of healing developed through logical thought and passed on from generation to generation.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Noble Thief

Form of Folklore:  Narrative (Marchen)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six.  Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture.  Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the dining room of the informant’s house.

Item:    There once was a thief who wanted to repent for his sins and stop being a thief so he went to the nearest church to ask for God’s forgiveness.  The priest at the church told him that he should simply try to be a good person.  The thief asks, “How will I know if God has forgiven me?”  The priest points to a tree in the yard of the church and says, “When the fruit from that apricot tree grows, God has forgiven you.”  So the thief leaves and doesn’t steal from anyone even though he is really poor and is in need.  He keeps coming to check if any fruit has grown on the tree, but every time he checks, there’s no fruit.  Finally, he’s so desperate that he knocks on the door of a middle aged woman to ask for some help and shelter (so that he doesn’t steal again).  The woman say, “Well, I live here alone with my three children and we don’t have much but you are welcome to stay.”  Later, that night the children are begging there mother to give them food and she tells them that food is cooking on the stove and will be ready soon.  The thief sees that the woman seems to be boiling some sort of soup.  The children asked if the food is ready and the woman simply says, “Soon, soon”.  The children are running around and playing with each other as they wait for the food to be ready.  They play so hard that they get exhausted and fall asleep.  The thief approaches the woman and tells her that she is a horrible woman for not feeding her children before they fell asleep.  The woman, with tears on her face, says, “Sir, come see, I have no food.  All I have is a stone boiling in this pot.  I lie to my children that there will be food soon so that they may fall asleep with the prospect of being fed.”  The thief is startled and deeply saddened by this news, so much so that he leaves in the middle of the night and steals food for the woman and her children.  He leaves the food at their house and leaves.  On his journey from the house, he passes by the apricot tree in the church yard and to his surprise sees that there is fruit on the apricot tree.

Informant Comments:  The informant loves this story and told it to her children as her father had told it to her.  She likes the fact that doing the right thing is not a matter of black and white.  The story implies that the thief is forgiven for his sins when he actually steals.  The informant does not believe that this actually happened but has seen acts similar to the thief’s in her personal experience.  She believes if more people heard this story and understood it, then people would look out for one another and try to do the right thing more often.

Analysis:  The idea of receiving God’s forgiveness and Christianity are apparent in this marchen but seem to lead the listener to the true moral of the story; this being that the intentions behind actions are of far greater importance than the actions themselves.  When the thief would steal for himself, he was not forgiven; when he would do nothing at all, he was not forgiven; only when he stole in order to help others less fortunate was he finally forgiven.  Regardless of how religious or non-religious one is, this story offers the listeners a comfort in knowing that when they do something that is not typically considered “right” bur for the “right” reasons, they are being moral, even if their direct actions are not so moral.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Trust, but Verify

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

 Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Russian Transliteration – Doveryai, no proveryai.

English Translation – Trust, but verify.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his grandmother.  He believes it is something people should live by.  Trusting people is an important part of life but if people trust everyone blindly, they could get hurt very quickly and frequently.  This is why people should verify the actions of the people they are trusting to see if that person is worthy of the trust given him.  Verifying is simply security.

Analysis:  This proverb was originated by Russian leader Vladimir Lenin.  The problem with this proverb is that it is based on the idea that trust can exist when one is verifying the actions of the person they claim to trust.  The fact that one is verifying the actions of another is proof of a lack of trust.  This proverb make more sense if it was “Tolerate, but verify”.  The tolerance would imply civility and verifying would be a pleasant way of checking up on those who are being tolerated.  Trust implies far more than tolerance; verification cannot coexist with trust.

Annotation:  This proverb was famously used by President Ronald Reagan when he met Russia’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the INF Treaty.  A transcript with the proverb being used can be found in this archive:  http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1987/120887c.htm

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Opa”

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Russian Transliteration – Ne skazi “opa”, poka ne pereprygnesh.
English Translation – Don’t say “hop”, until you jumped over.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his grandmother.  He believes it means people should not say they are going to do something until they do it.  He, now, lives in accordance with this proverb.  The informant does not say he has done anything until he does it (even then, he will still remain quit).  The informant believes saying “hop” is not even needed; the important part is jumping over, then it’s up to the individual to say “hop” if he wants to.

Analysis:  This proverb basically means that one should not brag about something they have not done yet, until they do it.  It is a warning to those who tend to say they are going to do something so much that they never get around to doing it.  Until someone does something, he should not brag about doing it because since he is already bragging about the doing the act the necessity to actually do it tends to dissipate.  As a result people will say that they are doing many things when in reality they are doing none of them (from lack of necessity).  This proverb is used as a warning against such a result.


Folk speech
Proverbs

Go Slowly

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:   Russian Transliteration – Tsikha yedzish, dalshu budzish.
English Translation – Go slowly, go far.

Informant Comments:  The informant heard this proverb from his father.  He believes that it is true most of the time.  In his experience, those who took their time to do something right would usually achieve more that those who would rush through a task.  He, however, believes that going too slow and not finishing in a timely manner is almost as bad as finishing with a poor product.  The proverb, therefore, holds partial truth for the informant.

Analysis:  This proverb is similar to one in English:  “Slow and steady wins the race.”  Patience is the fundamental virtue in this folklore.  The person who has the patience to go slowly will be successful (i.e. go far) in life.  The proverb does hold a lot of truth, but like the informer, I would say that go slowly is not always the primary virtue.  Sometimes, being prompt and being meticulous when doing something is more important than taking the time to do it.  Nevertheless, the proverb offers great encouragement to those who are going slowly by offering them the prospect of going far; it also helps those who are rushed, reconsider their ways and slow down their pace.

Humor

A Tale of Two Onions

Form of Folklore:  Humor

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England.  Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    So this is a story about… about love really, that you’ll wanna hear. It’s a story about these two onions; a man onion and a woman onion who’ve just come out of college and they’re ready to take on the world and see all that it has to offer and they meet and fall in love, they start dating you know and it’s all going extremely well and… one day after they’ve been dating a few months, they decide…they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna take the plunge, their gonna tie the knot and get married.  So they have all their family over and a beautiful ceremony and it’s the perfect day these two… onions could have imagined.  And they have a fantastic honeymoon laid out for them, they make love for the first time and it’s beautiful and magical experience.  And uh something happens that night… and nine months later a little bundle of joy… a little baby cocktail onion… is born.  And the parents are of course ecstatic… but like all parents they’re completely unprepared for the strain that this puts on their relationship.  And the financial trouble is the worst; the mother, she gotta take on a part time job ta earn more money and the father’s gotta take on more shifts down at the docks, where he works…. And unfortunately the little baby onion isn’t as well looked after as he might be.  And he’s got his parents spunk and… zeal for life so this… rambunctious little thing… one day he… wanders out of the house, rolls into the street, gets flattened by a truck.  He gets rushed to the hospital.  A team of surgeons fight all night to save his life.  The mother onion, she’s gotta be sedated, she’s just out of it, she can’t even handle the stress.  The father onion is rolling up and down outside the emergency room wearing a groove in the ghastly hospital carpet that they have there.  Finally, towards dawn, after hours of worrying, the surgeon bursts through the doors… he’s a radish… and teas his surgical mask from his face and whips the sweat away, stands panting next to the emergency room door.  The father onion rolls up to him earnestly “What?  What’s going on with my son?  What? Tell me!”  And the surgeon says, “well…. he’ll live….. but he’s gonna be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

Informant Comments:  The informant has never been able to tell this joke with out laughing at least part of the way.  The response he usually gets from those who hear this joke is anger or frustration in the form of curse words; the informant loves to see this response.  He believes the story of the struggles of the two onions is more humorous than the actual punch line.  The purpose of the joke is to have the listener go through the different life altering events of two vegetables and their child only to find out that the child is going to be a vegetable after his accident (which he clearly already is).

Analysis:  Unlike most jokes, the punch line of this joke is not what makes it funny.  From personal experience, I can say that hearing the joke a second time (while knowing the punch line) makes the joke much more humorous.  This is mainly because the listener can appreciate the irony of the ending throughout the entire telling of the tale of the two onions and their son.  The joke makes the listener accept the idea that the onions of the story are like people and thus have lives similar to human’s.  In the end, when the cocktail onion is deemed a vegetable, as in brain death, the listeners are torn from the originally accepted personification of the onions and into reality, where onions are vegetables no matter what.  This joke can annoy many listeners who wanted to go along with the fictitious world where the onions behave like humans; particularly, when it was all done for a weak punch line.

Humor

Iced Tea

Form of Folklore:  Humor

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California.  Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent.  Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    A man walks into a cafe and asks the person working there if he has iced tea.  The person says, “No we don’t” and the guys says “Ok” and leaves.  The next day, he comes back and asks the same thing:  “Do you have any iced tea?”  The person says, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t”; the guy leaves.  Comes back the third day, comes back the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, does it over and over… until the seventh day, the cafe worker finally decides:  I should get some iced tea for him, so he makes some iced tea.  And when the guy shows up and says, “Do you have any iced tea?”  He says, “Yes I do!”  He says, “Ok, warm some up for me.”

Informant Comments:  After telling this joke, the informant immediately tried to redeem this joke by saying that it is funnier in Arabic.  He thinks it is a light joke that is based on the few times when customers are being difficult, but no one event in particular.  Even though most people do not laugh at the joke, the informer thinks it is fun to tell, simply to see people’s reactions.

Analysis:  Irony and repetition play a big part in this joke.  The customer repeatedly appears every day of an entire week until the cafe worker finally decides (on the seventh day) to get the customer what he believes is what the customer wants.  Once the seventh day comes, the customer asks for iced tea again and is told there is iced tea, but to the worker’s disappointment the customer asks him to heat it; thus, making hot tea, which was always available.  This irony is the actual punch line and is the reason why the worker would get frustrated with the difficult customer and would even roll their eyes at him.  It is clear that people identify with the worker more than the customer because the reactions of the people being told the joke is similar to the worker’s reaction to the customer’s request to heat up the iced tea.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

Door to Life or Death

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Riddle)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England.  Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    So there’s the riddle of two doors and two guards; one door leads to life, one door leads to death, one guard will always tell the truth and one guard will always lie.  And the two guards are not attached to the doors; the truth teller is not, for example, attached to the door of life, nor is the liar attached to the door of death.  It could be in front of either one.  Your objective is to find out which one… your objective, should you choose to accept it… is to find out which door leads to life, by asking one guard one question.

The answer to the riddle is:  you ask whichever guard you wish, “what will the other guard say is the right door?”  If the guard you ask happens to be the truth teller, he will truthfully tell you that the other guard will point to the wrong door.  And if you ask the liar, “what will the truth teller say?” the liar will lie about what the truth teller will say and will point to the wrong door.  So either way, if you ask “what will the other guard say is the right door?” the guard you’re talking to will point at the wrong door.  And you go through the other one.

Informant Comments:  The informant was introduced to this riddle when he was in the sixth grade.  He believes it is an interesting riddle which helps students develop strong analytic skills starting from a very young age.  Personally, the informant enjoys riddles like this one, mainly because he likes to enhance his own way of thinking.

Analysis:  This riddle is mainly used to challenge those who attempt to solve it.  Having to figure out which question, when addressed to either the liar or the truth tell, would eliminate the importance of which guard you are talking to, forces those who are introduced to this folklore to use logical reasoning and laws of negation in order to identify the door to life.  Though they may not be aware of it, people are strengthening their reasoning skills by hearing this riddle and trying to solve it.  As a pleasant addition to the riddle, the informant added some humor by referencing a famous line from the Mission Impossible films.  By pausing to say, “your mission, should you choose to accept it”, the informant gave the riddle a lightened humorous feel.  This offered a nice balance to the performance of this folklore; the riddle was challenging and yet entertaining at the same time.

Folk speech
Riddle

Kingdom Race

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Riddle)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California.  Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent.  Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants

Item:    A king of a land has two sons and he’s slowly dying.  He tells his sons that one of them will inherit the thrown but to do so they’re gonna have a competition; they’re gonna race each other.  He gives them both horses and tells them, “The last horse to show up to the finish line will get to inherit the throne.”  So the two brothers… they get on the horses and they both start racing as fast as they can, and they both want the throne.  How is this possible?

The answer is that they got on the other person’s horse and they raced.  So whoever showed up first (whoever was riding that horse) would actually be the winner… because their horse showed up next.

Informant Comments:  The informant’s father told him this riddle.  He believes it is most likely rooted in some sort of truth; the thought being that there could have been a king who asked his sons to race for the thrown, but most likely did not say that the looser of the race would be the winner of the kingdom.  Whether the riddle is based in truth or not, the informant believes this riddle is an entertaining folklore to help pleasantly pass time with friends and family.

Analysis:  This riddle, unlike most, is built from a mini-narrative.  The beginning presents a problem:  the king is dying and the next king must be determined.  The solution to this problem is a horse race, but it is left to the listener to determine how it is possible for the two sons to want the thrown and yet try to have the horse they are on finish first (when the owner of the last horse will be the next king).  Having this riddle presented in a possibly real scenario makes the listener feel as though they may be faced with a riddle similar to this one in real life.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Moderation is Always Best

Form of Folklore:  Folk Speech (Proverb)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when he and his family moved to the United States, at the age of forty two.  In his youth, he had been exposed to folklore founded in Armenian, Russian, and Greek culture.  Even though he now lives in America, he is surrounded by a tight net community composed of people who speak Armenian or Russian and come from a background similar to his own.  As a result, most of the folklore he knows is mainly based on his cultural upbringing.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house in the presence of his wife and mother-in-law.

Item:    Greek Proverb – Παν μέτρον άριστον.

Greek Transliteration – Pan metron ariston.

English Translation – Moderation is always best.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this proverb from his father, who spoke Greek fluently.  He believes this is a great proverb to live one’s life by.  Even in regards to wealth, success and happiness, moderation is best.  The informant believes that a balance is needed in life in order for that life to be well-rounded.

Analysis:  This proverb comes from one of the Seven Sages of Greece:  Cleobulus of Lindos.  Though this proverb was initially a quote from this tyrant, it has been passed down to many people who come from the Mediterranean and has become an important folklore.  It is something I personally live my life by.  Moderation is truly the best for a person, in the sense that it helps one fully develop while also offering that person moments of respite and joy.  The idea of moderation being the goal has been around since the time of Ancient Greece.  Excess is seen as something that can consume a person while moderation gives control to a person.  Control and development were considered two of the greatest virtues of the Greeks, therefore, moderation was considered the best course.

 

Annotation:  This proverb may be found in original Greek and in English:  “Ausonius, with an English translation” by W. Heinemann (page 316-317).

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