Author Archive
Legends
Narrative

The Ogopogo

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

The Ogopogo is a legendary creature, native to British Columbia in Canada.

“We have Ogopogo. Ogopogo is in, uh, um…the interior [of the province]. In Shuswap Lake, no? Is it Shuswap? ….Yeah.

And it’s been photographed and it’s like a big long snake, it’s similar to the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. And there’s rumors that there’s Ogopogo, who is exists similar to the Loch Ness monster underwater, a big huge snake, and it’s been photographed several times.

I don’t believe any of these urban legends, but they do exist. Whenever we went up to Lake Okanagan in the summertime, to go camping, that’s—everyone would talk about the fact that it had the Loch Ness—uh, the Ogopogo. I think it’s Okanagan Lake, actually. Not, yeah it’s Okanagan Lake.”

Analysis:

The Ogopogo does bear a striking resemblance to the Loch Ness monster; it was interesting that the informant’s descriptions often relied on explaining how the Ogopogo and the Loch Ness monster were similar. As far as this informant knew, the primary defining characteristic of the Ogopogo is its location in British Columbia. The informant was not too familiar with the legend, so I would be interested to hear more about the Ogopogo from an informant from that part of British Columbia, who would probably have heard more about the creature itself and how people engage with this legend.

 

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

UC Irvine Orientation Midnight Tours & Infinity Fountain

The informant is a new professional in post-secondary administration. He lives in New Zealand, but he is originally from Apple Valley, California and went to university at the University of California, Irvine, where he was involved in student affairs and studied computer science. His background is Italian and Polish, and he has 3 older siblings.

This piece describes a tradition passed along at UCI’s Orientation, where staff members take new students on unofficial midnight tours and introduce them to lesser known UCI traditions, including the Infinity Fountain.

“So at UCI we have something called Infinity Fountain, so it’s just this fountain that’s on campus and it’s the most recognizable one on campus and easiest to access cause it’s big enough for people to like, get into. And it’s called Infinity Fountain because when the water falls it looks like an infinity symbol. Um, so at our Orientation program, it’s called SPOP, and it’s a two day orientation program, so overnight, there’s usually something—so, the official program ends at like 10, but then everyone is all on the same hall for the night and so they hang out really late and there’s activities that are kind of traditions passed on. But this is one that kind of transcends that.

So after that, people usually don’t want to go to bed and so they’ll tell like ghosts stories or whatever but then there’s like a “Midnight Tour” so people just go out and the SPOP staffers will show the new students around about kind of lesser known things at UCI that you wouldn’t get on a normal campus tour. So we talk about Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden and, um, all these other types of things that are at UCI. And so one thing that a lot of people do, not everyone, but a lot of people get into Infinity Fountain, just cause getting into Infinity Fountain is something everyone at UCI should do because it’s really really fun. So what my SPOP staffer told me is that you need to start off at UCI like in Infinity Fountain, and then you also, like this is the first time you get in this is the start of your time at UCI, and then when you graduate you need to get into the fountain. And so I did that.

That’s what my staffer told me, so when I was a staffer for two years, I didn’t take all the groups on midnight tours because I was tired, but I took a couple of groups out and I took them to Infinity Fountain and told them to get in and told them, “This is the start of your time at UCI, now finish it also in the fountain as well.” So that’s something and I don’t know if it’s something all of UCI did, but that’s definitely something that someone told me and he probably told others.”

Analysis:

This is both an occupational tradition and a more general campus tradition. These midnight tours are not official parts of UCI’s Orientation, but it’s something that returning “staffers” teach to new staffers, as well as something that many staffers would have experienced at their own Orientation. “Midnight” implies a kind of taboo, as it’s at night, after the sun has gone down and the official university-endorsed programming is over. These kinds of tours must be given under the cover of darkness.

The midnight tours describe “unofficial” UCI locations. In telling new students about these places, staffers teach new students how to be “insiders” in the campus culture—the tours contain things that they would not be able to find online or in guidebooks or on a university sponsored campus tour. Locations such as Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden are the students’ names for these locations, not official names. As a result, they can only be learned from current students, which begins the transition from outsider to insider. The staffers further establish the new students as insiders when they enter Infinity Fountain. The actual process of entering the water at the start of their college experience bears an interesting resemblance to baptism.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Jack and the Beanstalk

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

This piece is one of many versions of Jack and the Beanstalk that the informant heard from his grandfather.

“My grandfather told a lot of stories, and he would always begin them like “Just over that hill,” and we lived in the Pacific Northwest so he would always point to this one hill. At least as a kid, that little suspension of disbelief, I suppose just like, you never knew where the story was going to go. He, he loves, you know spinning the same tale over and over again. He about, like 10 different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk. Some of them are like a funnier version of Jack and the Beanstalk, where the bean man is just a swindler, and he just has, like, a very dry sense of humor.”

What’s your favorite version of Jack and the Beanstalk that he’s told you?

“Okay. I think that the version that I always liked was somewhat like the original version, but Jack spent a lot more time up in the clouds, which I think is, you know like, any good story makes you want to search for more than just like the, the, the story that you possibly hear, so it’s the same sort of thing where Jack is, you know, outside and he sells his cow, um, for some magic beans, you know, part of the whole story that he would spin is that Jack had this whole personal relationship with the cow and like he would like, my grandfather would do this thing where Jack would have this whole dialogue with the cow and all the cow would say is “Moo” back. You could like, I don’t know, in the most root form, Jack really cared for this cow and was sad to see the cow go.

You know, it was this whole almost dramatic scene, and so he gets the beans, he goes up to the clouds, and Jack, being mischievous, goes into the house looking for, for gold because his mom’s so poor. Sorry, he’s not mischievous, that’s a different one. He’s going in there to look for food and, like, gold to help with his mom’s situation and he ends up hiding in the oven of the giant, and at first Jack like, then Jack like sees this whole thing play out between the giant being unhappy, and um…so he has five beans.

Sorry, I’m remembering this piece by piece, but um, so Jack like, he’s going to steal from the giant up in the clouds, and he’s about to like take a golden spinning wheel, and then he like has to duck into the oven, and then he sees how unhappy the relationship is, or not unhappy… That there’s something wrong with the relationship between the wife giant and the husband giant, and he like, has this like moment where he decides not to steal the wheel and he goes down the beanstalk again, and he has five beans so this was the first bean that he used.

So he goes back down, and he tells his mom that the beanstalk goes away, because it goes up and then it comes back down and goes back down into the earth. He tells his mom about all of this, like fortunes up in the clouds and the giants and everything. Somehow the word gets to the sultan of the area, and then the sultan wants to go up to the clouds. I can’t remember all the pieces, but Jack has this changing, well he gets duped and he gets his beans taken away, but he has one bean left. And so it’s kind of a moment where he could use that bean as the sultan wants to take gold from the giant, and so Jack can either use that bean to go up and take the gold for himself and go away or he can go up there to let the giant know that the sultan is coming. And so Jack decides to let the giant know that the sultan is coming to take it, and ultimately the bad guy falls off the clouds, and you know, Jack and his mom establish some kind of relationship with the giants.

And I just thought it was a sweet tale of, you know, what misunderstanding can be. And this idea of not treating people as objects, but as people. I don’t know, it was just an interesting story to hear as a kid, and I always liked that version. I don’t know the “original” version of Jack and the Beanstalk, to be absolutely honest.”

Analysis:

I found this piece particularly compelling not just because of the tale itself, but also because the informant’s grandfather told so many version of the same tale. This particular version has a very different message from many Jack and the Beanstalk stories, where the giants were deserving of empathy and Jack did not steal from him. This version is also tied to the Pacific Northwest for the informant, as his grandfather always told the story as if it happened just over that hill over there.

Knowing the informant, it does not surprise me that he likes this version best, as the message in this tale is very much in line with his own personal beliefs. Both the cow and the giants have more complex roles in this version, and the emphasis is on, as the informant says, seeing everyone as real people and not just objects.

For another version of this tale, see feature film Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), directed by Bryan Singer. 

Jack the Giant Slayer. Dir. Bryan Singer. Perf. Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci. New Line Cinema, Legendary Pictures, 2013. DVD.

 

Foodways
Material

Tomato Soup

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

In this piece, the informant describes how his family sees tomato soup—they have very particular thoughts on how it should be made and why.

“Both of my grandparents come from European places, and they’re very particular about their recipes and stuff. Like if you look at the way they care about their recipes, it’s just like equally the way that they would care about their folk tales. Like, we have the same borscht recipe that has been used since like my great grandparents. It’s passed down, you know, and it’s an old piece of paper and you can tell it’s been recopied over the years, but the most recent copy is in an old 1940s, it’s like an Eastern European cooking book that a bunch of the grandparent women, my family’s from North Dakota, so it was a bunch of North Dakotan Czech and German and Austrian, you know women and Russian and they all came together and they sat down at a typewriter and made, typed up all their family recipes from whatever cards or whatever.

So it’s kind of like, a little encyclopedia of like, a lot of family recipes, and my family’s borscht recipe, which is like a Russian soup, is in there. And it’s like, that’s like a very important thing to pass on, that recipe. And, you know, in like, I wish I had like a story I could say that they took from Europe, but that same preservation, like in a sense the recipe is its own like thing, and there’s a dill, like a dill tomato soup.

There’s like a little story about, like it’s like you know those grandparent sort of rant things about like “you don’t realize how important this is” but it like really changed, like, it’s like, they have this rant about tomato soup, and how like, how like Russia kind of invented tomato soup, and like how important, it’s like… Cause their version of tomato soup is um, there’s tomatoes, there’s dill, there’s sour cream, and like rice, and more like, substantial than just a regular soup.

And they kinda just like, this is like the original soup because you have grains for the soup that wouldn’t last because of mold and other stuff, you have tomatoes, which is like, were kinda hard to come by, so when you got those you just, cause it’s acidic and it’ll go bad, and like, they just talked, I don’t know, like, it’s just kinda a thing that they’re like, and you wouldn’t have tomato soup like this today, cause it’s just tomato soup in a modern sense. And this is another one of those recipes that they put into this book. I wish I had more of that rant off the top of my head.”

Analysis:

This piece brings up the question of ownership—when the grandparents talk about tomato soup, it’s to imply that Russian tomato soup is the “original” and most important tomato soup. The recipe itself is also interesting; though the informant did not remember the exact recipe, he remembered the specific reasons why ingredients were chosen, which gives the recipe much more context. To an outside listener, tomato, dill, and rice may seem like an arbitrary combination, but with the context that the tomatoes and grains would go bad unless made into soup, the reasons become clear. The way that the older women recorded these recipes for their descendants was also interesting, and it helped reinforce the importance that these recipes hold for them.

Folk speech
Humor

Barking Spiders

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

This piece refers to the informant’s grandfather’s habit of blaming barking spiders for his flatulence.

“My grandfather has a way or just, making his own like versions of the same dad jokes. I’ve never heard him do “pull my finger” but the few things that he always complains about is barking spiders. Or, that he stepped on a frog when he’s passing gas. I don’t know, I just always loved the idea of barking spiders, and just how farcical it was. Like he would fart and say, “Oh, fucking barking spiders.” Or, no, not fucking, he’d just complain about the barking spiders.”

Analysis:

This plays on the taboo nature of human bodily functions, where farting is thought of as gross and something that should only be done in private, so there needs to be something else to blame for the function. In this case, the fictional barking spiders. Someone present for performance of this saying would understand that barking is associated with dogs, and that spiders are silent, so the noise cannot have literally come from the barking spiders.

The informant also refers to “dad jokes,” which refer to crass jokes or really cringeworthy puns that are stereotypically associated with fathers. The “pull my finger” refers to another folk practice associated with farts, where someone asks another person to pull their finger, and when they do, the other person releases the fart. The informant’s description of barking spiders assumes that knowledge; it’s common folk knowledge for people of his demographic.

Humor

The Louvre Heist

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece is one of the informant’s favorite jokes.

“A bunch of art thieves are escaping from the Louvre, and they’ve stolen millions of dollars worth of art, and they’re in this van. So they’re chasing down Paris, you know the cops are right behind them, and news camera are watching them, the eyes of the world are glued to these art thieves. And then, they pull into a gas station, and suddenly stop. The police cars pull right up to them, and encircle them, and boom! They caught ‘em.

So the reporters descend on them like vultures on a corpse, and they’re like, “Why didn’t you just get away? You were, you were by far like, you were gonna make it home free, you were not going to get caught, et cetera. The lead ringleader just looks at the reporter and he says [the informant adopts a French accent], “Uh, ve didn’t have de monay for de gas to make de van go.””

Analysis:

This joke has a long, narrative build up compared to a relatively short punchline. While the joke could still be told effectively in a question and answer format, it is clear that the informant gets a lot of enjoyment from setting the stage and describing a more elaborate and vivid setup. The punchline plays on the slight alterations in English pronunciation by native French speakers as well as the play on words—“monay” with “Monet,” “de gas” with “Degas,” and “van go” with “Van Gogh.” The setting contextualizes the joke further, providing the foundation for the French and art references in the joke.

 

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Sidehill Gougers

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is a story her father used to tell her to explain the ridges in the sides of hills in England.

“So, when I was 15, I went to England with dad, and my girlfriend Laurie came with us. And when we were driving along through England, it was all these various hills, and they all had sort of…what looks like rings going around the hills. Um, and I said to dad, “What causes those rings?” And dad goes, “Sidehill gougers.”

And I went, “What?” And he said, “Sidehill gougers. Haven’t you ever heard of Sidehill gougers?” And I said, “No..?” And he said, “Oh, of course you have.” And I said no. “Oh, well I’ll just have to tell you all about Sidehill gougers, then. Okay, so, Sidehill gougers are this unusual animal that are born with one side of their legs shorter than the other side. And as a consequence, they can only go one direction up a hill. And they go around and around the hill and as they climb up the hill, they eat their way up and as they get older and older and older. And then they die right at the top and that’s how the hill starts to grow up.”

Of course, my father’s story was a little more elaborate and went on for a lot longer. And occasionally, most Sidehill gougers have shorter right legs than left legs and are always going around the same direction. Occasionally, though, there’s a Sidehill gouger that may be born with shorter left legs than right legs, and then he’s going the opposite direction from all the rest of them and he ends up bumping into them and causing a big havoc. But a Sidehill gouger’s life is going around, and that’s what makes the rings on the hills is these Sidehill gougers as they make their way up slowly up the mountain as they’re aging, they eat their way up and as they slowly climb their way to the top of the hill, the Sidehill gougers.

I said, “Well what happens when they get to the top?” “Well, that’s where they die, isn’t it?”

And then the generation of Sidehill gougers continues. And the predominant ones are right head leg—right leg short side gougers, and left—and I believed him. I believed this story.”

Do you know if he learned that from someone else or if he made it up?

“I don’t know where he learned it from. I’m probably sure that someone would have told him but he was very good at making up stories as well. And he always did like to…he was a bit theatrical, so of course when he told this story it was very elaborate and very long, and very intricate on the whole lifespan of Sidehill gougers and how they developed.

And of course because of the elaborateness of the story I’ve quite shortened it, um, I believed the whole story and was asking him questions, and he was giving me answers you know, “Oh, are they all born with short right legs?” “No, some of them are born with short left legs and they have to walk the other way, and they cause all kinds of havoc. But they end up dying out in the long run because there aren’t as many of them.” So it was a big long process.”

Analysis:

The Sidehill gouger interests me because as a folkloric creature, it has a fairly small impact on humans in their everyday lives. Unlike fairies or leprechauns or other such creatures, all the Sidehill gouger does is walk around hills in circles. As a result, it seems more as though they are used to explain unusual geographic features, in this particular case, the ridges on British hills. I would be interested in collecting different versions of this piece of folklore to see if they have a larger roles in other contexts.

Game

Red Rover

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is a popular children’s playground game that she played when she was younger.

“Well, Red Rover. You stand in a line, holding your arms together, and then you call someone over and they try to break through the line. “Red Rover Red Rover we call…Jennifer over.” And then Jennifer will come running through and try to choose the weakest spot between the arms that she thinks she can break through, and… if she breaks through, I don’t what, I don’t remember what happens if you break through. I think you get to go back. If you don’t break through, you have to join the line. You’re part of the row—you’re part of the line.”

What’s the goal of the game?

“To be the last man standing, to be the person who breaks through all the time. To be the strongest [laughs].”

Analysis:

This common children’s game may seem fairly innocuous, but I think that it sheds a lot of light on social hierarchies in North American societies. The goal of the game is to keep breaking through the wall of people standing before the player. Not only does this mean that the social currency gained from winning the game is given to the “strongest” player, but it also establishes that one should be looking to break through barriers; those who don’t become part of the conglomerate. This may reflect some of the social values found in capitalist societies.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Pyjamas

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This relates to a Christmas tradition where everyone in the family is given a pair of pyjamas on Christmas Eve, while the rest of the gifts are opened on Christmas Day.

“The pyjamas came from Kerry [informant’s sister-in-law]. That was started by Kerry, Kerry had that as a tradition in her family and she, uh, told me about that one and now we include it as a tradition with our family, um for you guys so we all got up on Christmas Day and we all had nice little new jammies to be worn for getting our photos taken in.”

So, what exactly happens with the Christmas pyjamas? Could you explain it as if to someone who had never heard of this?

“Well, what happens with the Christmas pyjamas is that, of course when you’re little, you’re all excited about having a present to open, and when you’re going to bed on Christmas Eve, you’re looking at, you know, the tree, and you know there are presents from your family and you know Santa’s coming, but we used to always let you guys open, or the kids, open one present on Christmas Eve. The thing was, is that they knew exactly what the present was going to be after the first couple of years cause it started to become, “Okay, yeah, know what this is now.”

But it was still the idea of having something special to open up on Christmas Eve and that was opening up the pyjamas and having that little ritual and it almost became… um, if it is to be not pyjamas, that would have been not good—it had to be pyjamas after a while, because that’s what one wanted, was just another new pair of pyjamas to put on in that evening. And that actual tradition got picked up by another family when they heard me telling them about that tradition and now they do it as well. And Anne and Brad [informant’s friends] do that with Robyn. And someone else I know started that tradition after I was telling them about it, but I started doing it because of Kerry.”

And why pyjamas?

“Why pyjamas. Well, so you’ve got something nice and new to sleep in that night, and then when you wake up in the morning and you’re doing all your unwrapping of presents and they’re taking pictures, you’ve got your nice new clean pyjammies. So you look cute!”

Analysis:

This tradition ties into the larger Christmas present tradition, and combines the “open on Christmas morning” scheme with the “open on Christmas Eve” scheme. I find the picture justification interesting as well; in a sense, it coordinates and moderates the children’s wardrobe. Additionally, allowing the children to open one present early might help take the edge off of the children’s excitement for presents, which would give parents a more quiet and peaceful night’s sleep, giving it a strategic element as well.

This was one of my favorite traditions when I was younger, and I intend to continue it.

Humor

The Unique Rabbit

The informant is a new professional in post-secondary administration. He lives in New Zealand, but he is originally from Apple Valley, California and went to university at the University of California, Irvine, where he was involved in student affairs and studied computer science. His background is Italian and Polish, and he has 3 older siblings.

This piece is a joke that the informant finds rather corny, but is his sister’s favorite.

“So my sister’s favorite joke is, um…I almost forgot it for a second [laughs]. How do you catch a unique rabbit?”

I don’t know. How do you catch a unique rabbit?

“Unique up on it!”

Okay. Is that it?

“No, there’s more. Uh, how do you catch a tame rabbit?”

I don’t know. How do you catch a tame rabbit?

“Tame way, unique up on it.”

[laughs] Okay, I get it. Very clever.

“I have another joke also. So how do you catch a common rabbit?”

I don’t know, you tell me.

“Common, tame way! Unique up on it.”

Do you know where your sister got the joke?

“Actually, I do. She was on a cross country road trip. So she got super Catholic in college, and so she went on a cross country road trip for, like, something, I don’t remember what. And she learned it from that from one of the other people who was on her bus with her.”

Analysis:

This joke is a very “American” joke in a lot of ways—it’s driven not just by the first punchline, but by how each added part of the joke builds on the original to a final punchline, the culmination of the rest of the joke. The humor is found in punchline rather than in the build up. As is common in Abrahamic cultures, the joke is told in three parts, with the third being the final destination.

The joke also relies on the recipient having a strong grasp of the English language, as each of the punchlines makes use of words that sound vaguely similar—“unique” and “you sneak,” “tame” and “same,” and “common” and “come on.” The first one in particular could be challenging for anyone who is not a native speaker of the language.

[geolocation]