Author Archive
Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fountain Run

My informant is a student USC and a member of the Greek community.  I asked him if he had any initiation stories or customs on the row or in his fraternity.  He chose to tell me about the Senior Fountain Run closely approaching.

Informant: The Senior Fountain Run happens every year at USC and it’s literally the entire Senior class running around the campus at night, drunk, and jumping in every fountain.

Me:  Why do you think this became a tradition?

Informant: I couldn’t tell you the real reason but its kind of one of those things I have always wanted to and the University lets us do it right before we leave. I mean we have like 20 fountains around campus that I walk by everyday, how could I not want to jump in?

Me: Ya makes sense, especially during these hot Spring days.  What are you looking forward to most, aside from finally jumping in those fountains of course.

Informant: Being drunk while I do it, haha, but I guess just seeing everyone that I haven’t seen in a long time, like friends from the dorms freshman year that I may not see anymore.  Probably gonna be a really nostalgic moment.

The fountain run tradition is one that has been long standing at USC and for good reason.  There is a non-spoken agreement between the students and staff that they can break the rules just this once to do something they have always wanted.  Its almost a gratuitous gesture by the University by thanking them and effectively saying, “you are about to leave, so we’ll bend the rules.”  The tradition certainly says a lot about the importance of the fountains to the students as well.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pinning

Just the other day one of my best friends had “pinned” his girlfriend of three years and so I sat him down to talk about the act of pinning and what it meant to him.  He is a student at USC and a senior.

Me: Please explain, “pinning” to me.

Informant: It’s a tradition at USC and I think all across the nation in Greek life but not sure about that.  It’s really just a way for me to express my love and appreciation for [name] as we get close to graduation.

Me: Right, but what actually happens during the ceremony?

Informant: The girls do a whole bunch of ritual shit on their side that I don’t know about, but the guys all get dressed up in suits and each take a rose to the girl getting pinned.  Also the couple involved both have two of their best friends give speeches that are usually funny.  After that the guy gives his fraternity pin to the girl, which is suppose to signify him giving up his dedication to the fraternity and giving it to her. Then the girls do some of their sorority songs and whatever and everyone goes to the 90.

Me: Does this happen often?

Informant: Not at all I have only seen three in my fraternity since I have been here.

Me: So this is a big event that everyone shows up to?

Informant: Ya pretty much, its during Monday Night Dinner, which is the most popular meal of the week so most of the house shows up.

Me: How many people would you say?

Informant: I’d say like 60 people from each house.

This long-standing custom between couples on the Row shows how strong the brotherhood and sisterhood becomes throughout the years.  I found it amazing that so many people would show up to support this “pinning” when they probably aren’t even that close to the couple.   This custom also shows the importance placed on the guy’s allegiance to his fraternity, because it seems to be an equal trade for the allegiance to his girlfriend.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Malibu Cave

This is another collection from a Greek friend who offered to tell me about a ritual involved in their initiation week. I asked what his favorite one was and here is what he had to say.

Informant: Every semester we initiate a new group of pledges and we have a whole bunch of traditions and shit that go on during the last week but my favorite is the Malibu Cave.  It always happens the first week of pledge semester and the morning before they finish before the sun rises.  We take the pledges out to Malibu and hike them through the hills until we come to this cave that looks out over this amazing view.  It’s like a valley sorta that goes all the way down to the ocean.  Usually when we get there the clouds are at our level and they clear as the sun comes out.  It’s really sick.  Then we sit around and listen to music and the pledges reflect on the semester.

Me: What kind of reflection do you mean?

Informant: Umm pledging isn’t exactly the easiest thing and there are lots of memories and close relationships formed throughout the process so I guess we just talk about the semester, I don’t know you’d have to be there.

Me: Why this cave? Does it mean something to your fraternity?

Informant: Fuck if I know, it’s a sick cave and someone probably just heard of it a long time ago and decided to take the pledges there.  And it does now, it like sorta symbolizes the end of pledging because that’s where they first started the semester and now they came full circle.

After hearing this recount of this fraternity tradition I realized just how much the pledge semester brings a group of guys together, who previously had not known each other.  My informant didn’t know why or how this cave became a customary tradition for initiation but it clearly became very symbolic and meaningful for the members over time.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kentucky Derby Party

This informant is an old classmate of mine, who has know moved on to working in Los Angeles.  I started off asking this informant if he had any folk stories or family traditions that were interesting and he told me about the annual Kentucky Derby Party that his Grandpa throws.  At first I was hesitant that it really qualified as a custom or holiday/festival but it turned out to be deeply rooted in his family’s history.

Informant: I have to first start by telling you about Papa [this is what he called his grandpa.]  His family grew up in Kentucky but moved to Arcadia when he was born. His father was a horse trainer, and Papa spent a large portion of his childhood at Santa Anita Park.  So fast-forward to when Papa was applying to college.  He was training alongside his dad at this point and won a huge race that ultimately gave him the means to attend USC and the ROTC program.  So the horse races have been super important in his life and many generations before him.  Now every single year he takes all his grandkids to opening day at Santa Anita and every single Kentucky Derby he has a big bash at his house that has been an annual thing since before I was born.

Me: Sounds cool, tell me more about the actual party.

Informant: The party is super traditional to Kentucky, like its set up like Churchill Downs.  Mint Juleps are always served at the door, which is like this minty whiskey drink that Papa takes a lot of pride in even though the ingredients are really simple.  Everyone dresses really nice and there is always someone taking bets.

Me: What about when the actual race goes on?

Informant: Its weird that the big race is only like two minutes, but the party goes on all day.  Everyone just stands around the TV and cheers, most people don’t know anything about the horses but Papa always has some very strong opinions, based on tips from his trainer friends.

Me: Haha ya, never got the hype behind horse racing because of how short the races are.  Would you say this family tradition has rubbed off on you in any way?

Informant: Oh 100%.  I used to take our yearly trips to the races for granted but now I love them.  It gives me some quality time with Papa and I have grown to love the sport, especially picking winning horses when the walk around the paddock before the race.

The horse races, and more specifically the Kentucky Derby, have clearly become very meaningful for my informant and his family.  What probably started as a way to earn a living or a hobby generations ago has now materialized into an annual gathering of friends and family.  The family custom, not only displays their love for horses and competition, but also their dedication to family.  The informant said most attendants had no idea which horse to root for or bet on but still came because it gave them a chance to honor something important to their elder and reconnect with family members.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Business Proverb

My informant is a senior in the Marshall School of Business.  He emphasizes in finance and spent his last summer as an investment banking summer analyst at Morgan Stanley.  I knew bankers had lots of stereotypes and figured he would have some interesting occupational folklore.  He gave me this proverb:

It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

He went on to explain that his boss had given him this piece of advice during his first week on the job.  It wasn’t necessarily meant for his internship because that was mostly about learning and questions were welcomed and encouraged, but it was more for his future career.  I interpreted it similarly to “Never be afraid to fail.”  This proverb attests to the go-getter, competitive mindset of investment bankers.

Customs
Game
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Schlaugen

This informant is a member of a USC fraternity and I asked him to share some of their traditions or stories he might have.  Among others, here is a year-end senior tradition he shared with me. It’s called Senior Schlaugen and here is our dialogue.

Me: Tell about this Senior Schlaugen, and what does the name mean?

Informant: Haha, I have no idea where the name came from but since the game is all about drinking and –schlaugen sounds German, maybe that’s why?  Anyways it’s a tradition the seniors do every year, where we try to drink as much as possible for the last month of school.  So for this year it goes from April 15th to Graduation on May 15th.  Basically we form teams of three and you get points every night someone on your team goes out, also there are weekly team challenges, like finish a 30 rack in a library.  Its really fucking with me right now, I have been out six nights in a row, I gotta fuckin win.

Me: Is there a prize?

Informant: Uh, ya winning team gets little gimmick trophies, but its more about the pride.

Me: So this competition means a lot to you?

Informant: Well ya, nothing I do in school now is gonna change what I do post grad as long as I don’t fail any classes.  Couldn’t really give less of a shit about my classes right now.

Me: Well, you’re about a week in do you think you’ll burn out before graduation?  Any surprises after just a week?

Informant: Haha, no way ill burn out I fuckin live for this.  But ya even though this game is all about getting fucked up and partying, it really does serve a purpose that I am just now realizing.

Me: What’s that?

Informant: Well its just brought me closer to all the guys that I may or may not ever see again, and really forced us to make the best out of the last month.  You get extra points if your whole team drinks together in one night so we are all always in the same place.

For starters, this tradition at the informant’s fraternity is a blaring example of the drinking culture at USC, and the Greek community more specifically.  However, although it seemed completely centered around partying on the surface, what my informant said at the end really shed light on why the tradition has stayed around for years.  The game brought all the seniors closer, students who may never see each other again and definitely will never all in the same room again.  Some people say fraternities are all about partying, but by looking further into their traditions, you can see the important role brotherhood plays as well.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Running of the Bitches

This informant is a member of a USC fraternity and I asked him to share some of their traditions or stories he might have.  One I found interesting was about an annual tradition that occurs when the Sororities give out their bids to the new members.

Every year in the Fall sororities have this event where they give bids to the new freshman and they all run from campus to their new houses.  I honestly have no idea why they do it that way but its fuckin awesome for us because we just get to sit back and scope all the new hot girls.  Every semester we all sit in front of the house really drunk and get super rowdy.  The whole time we all judge who got the best pledge class and try to pick out the hottest chicks.

I might add that my informant was drinking a beer while I listened to his story, which is further a testament to the drinking culture amongst fraternities.  I thought this was an interesting story because it shed light on some interesting dynamics between fraternities and sororities.  Frat kids seem to be blatantly disrespecting women, most of them young freshman, which an outsider might find offensive.  However, the sorority girls obviously want to show off their new pledge class to the Greek community and have continued to do so for years.  This shows how the college culture of acceptable cross-gender relations is different from the outside world.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Rally Cap

This informant is my roommate, who grew up in Laguna Hills.  He played baseball up until high school, when he quit to play lacrosse.

Baseball has a ton of superstitions and lots of players do weird shit, like never wash their socks if they are on a winning streak or something, but the “Rally Cap” is known by all players.  It doesn’t matter if you are in Little League or the Majors but if your team is losing and you need a good inning everyone wears their hats upside-down, which is suppose to make your team play better or hit homeruns or something.

I know from my few years in Little League that the rally cap is a very prominent folk belief in baseball regardless of how effective it really is.  While neither my informant nor myself know how it originated, I can guess that it stuck into the baseball culture because of the “hat’s” importance to the sport.  Many people refer to hats as “baseball caps,” regardless of the embroidering on them and hats really aren’t worn in any other sport, making them unique to baseball.  From this perspective it sort of makes sense that a folk belief like this stuck for good.  Altering an item of clothing that embodies baseball seems natural, especially when a hats appearance is so easy to change by flipping it.

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lacrosse Flow

This informant is my roommate who plays on USC’s lacrosse team.  I asked him if there was any folk superstitions or traditions widely accepted amongst the sport or team and this is what he told me.

There’s totally two huge beliefs in lax [the “x” looks like a cross, making it la-“cross,” but it is still pronounced like “lax” in “relax”].  Players always try to have the longest “flow” and the most eye-black on their face.  Flow refers to the length of someone’s hair and it gained its popularity when a player made a Youtube video about his “flow” making him a better player.  I’m not really sure where the eye-black trend started, but lax was first played by the Native Americans against rival tribes, so maybe players think the eye black makes them look more like warriors.  Obviously these are just superstitions but they everyone acknowledges their importance so it has become a part of the game.

Obviously these are two folk superstitions that have become popular belief in the sport of lacrosse, even though players know they aren’t true.  I’m not entirely true what these beliefs say about the sport itself or the players who participate but I think my informant touched on an important topic regarding the sport’s origin.  He said lacrosse was played as a game amongst rival tribes, almost like battle.  In some cultures, such as the Norse, hair length was tied to manliness, so maybe the eye-black and flow became popular because it symbolizes masculinity.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Stockings

Story

This informant is a friend of mine from back home who happened to be in town for a visit a few weeks.  I started by asking him if he had any family traditions that may have been in the family for a while.  After a bit of thinking he mentioned his Christmas stockings that his grandma had made for him and his brother, which I then realized I had seen before.  He said dating back far in the past (he didn’t know the origin) the grandmothers on his mother’s side of the family have always sewed the Christmas stockings.  Each stocking is sewed with items chosen by each respective grandmother for specific reason.  Some items represent past events and some hopeful mementos for the future.  He happened to be born in Germany when his parents lived there for a short three years early in their marriage, so there is a Beer stein on his stocking.  There is also a tennis racket, basketball, and soccer ball signifying his (hopefully) future success in sports.  Each stocking is about 18-20 inches tall and all red with a white top.  He said the stocking has become somewhat of a family superstition and they believe it has influence on the child’s future when it’s sewed.

 

Analysis: After listening to my informant’s story it was clear to me the significance of Christmas and religion in their family’s life and history.  It wasn’t clear whether or not the stockings were initially intended to be “fortune telling” (for lack of a better word) because my informant didn’t know how the tradition started, but it was interesting to me that such an important superstition ended up in the hands of a matriarch in such a patriarchal society.

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