Author Archive
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Flying Dutchman

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 dance that the informant’s family performs at Polish weddings.

“So at Polish weddings, there’s a polka dance called the Flying Dutchman, and so it’s pretty traditional to always do it. And so, basically how it works is you get in groups of three and you all kind of line up and walk around in a circle. So, the groups of three all go in a circle and there’s basically two tempos of the song—one is slow and one is fast. So when it’s slow, you’re just in your group of three with all your arms linked going in a circle, really simple. And then once the tempo picks up, then you start doing kind of a do-si-do thing. So the one person in the middle is always going to be moving around really really quickly because they’ll go to the left and swing around to the person on the right and then go around to the person on the left, so they’re basically doing a figure eight around the two people on the outside.

The reason it’s called the Flying Dutchman is cause if you’re going fast enough, eventually they should start actually flying. So then it’ll go really fast for about, I don’t know, 30 seconds, and then it’ll slow back down again and everyone gets back into their group of three and goes around in the slow circle again. And then it picks up and you do it really really quick, and then it slows down and you slow down, and it picks up, and it slows down. So it’s a very very very fun wedding song. I’ve been to….five weddings now? For my cousins, no—four, because two cousins and my brother and sister, and at all four of them, they did the Flying Dutchman. It was fantastic.”

What does the Flying Dutchman mean to you?

“Mainly it’s fun, but I also think of weddings—Polish weddings. Cause I’ve been to weddings with other people and no one knows what it is, or they haven’t done it, so, like, at every wedding I go to I would want to do the Flying Dutchman, but not everyone does it cause it’s a Polish thing.”

Do you know anything about where this tradition came from? It’s okay if you don’t, I’m just curious.

“I have no idea.”

Analysis:

I find this dance most interesting because of how it requires three people to a group instead of two, especially as it’s performed primarily at weddings. The do-si-do portion of the dance almost seems like a depiction of an inability to choose between the two partners on either side of the dancer. The informant did not describe whether or not the bride and groom performed this dance in any particular way.

The name of the dance is also interesting—as it’s a Polish tradition, it was surprising that the name of the dance is the Flying Dutchman. As the informant did not know the origin of the tradition, he did not know why it has the name it does, or whether or not it also is performed by the Dutch.

Humor
Narrative

He Couldn’t Find the Punchline

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 is the informant’s favorite joke.

“This kid, he’s at an amusement park. And so, he really wants to go drink some Coca Cola. Alright? So he’s wandering through this amusement park and he’s looking for a booth of some sort where he can drink Coca Cola. So he goes up to this one booth and he’s like, “Excuse me, sir, do you have coke?” And the guys says, “I don’t have coke, is Pepsi okay?” And the kid says, “Of course not,” and he walks away because Pepsi is an inferior drink.

Um, so then, he goes over and he goes to another booth. And so he’s like okay, alright, maybe I can get a coke here. And the guy says, “I’m sorry, we’re fresh out of coke, but then you might want to check the booth right down the street.” So he goes, “Oh, son of a bitch” and he keeps walking. So he keeps going, he goes to this next booth, and that booth is also out of Coca Cola.

So the guy tells him, “You know, there’s a—you can go to the convenience store that’s down the street, and the convenience store should have something.” And so he exits the amusement park, goes down to the convenience store because he just really wants a Coca Cola, right? He just really wants it bad. So he goes down to the convenience store, and when he gets to the store front, there’s a sign on it. And the sign says, “Sorry, we’ve moved.” And gives him an address about three blocks north. Sorry, 30 blocks north. My bad.

Um, so he goes, “Well shit, that’s a lot of walking I’m going to do.” And then he starts walking because this guy isn’t very bright, clearly. So he keeps walking, and walking, and walking, and walking, and he’s going farther and farther and he’s getting really really tired and he’s getting thirstier and thirstier. And the guy appears to him on the street, and he’s got a little thing of water. And he says, “Would you like some water, sir?” And the kid goes, “No. I want that Coca Cola, damnit.”

And the hobo goes okay, and just lets him pass. So he keeps walking, and he’s gone about 10 blocks by this point, so he goes to the next roadblock. Which is this woman standing in front of him, and she tells him, “You’re looking really dehydrated. You need to drink some water.” And he says, “I don’t want water, I want Coca Cola, damnit.” And the woman refuses to let him go, so he ducks under her legs and he keeps going.

And then he keeps going down block after block after block and he’s on the 25th block. And then he’s basically dragging himself on the ground. He’s sweating, he’s tired, and he hears someone ask, “Do you want a drink?” And he says, “No, I want that Coca Cola, damnit.” So he keeps going, and he drags himself the last five blocks to the convenience store. And then the convenience store is closed.

And so he’s basically just up the river without a paddle. And then he sees—because at this point, he’s—he’s gone 30 blocks. He doesn’t care about the coke anymore. He cares about getting any form of liquid that has sugar in it into his body. So then he sees a stand that’s advertised as punch, right? And it’s only a dollar, so that’s actually a really big bargain. And the stand is far away on a hill, so he starts trudging towards it. And trudging towards it, and trudging towards it. And so, you know after a certain point he decides maybe I’ll take the bus.

So he gets on the bus and takes the bus down four blocks, until the bus driver refuses to let him off. And he goes, “Why are you refusing to let me off?” And the bus driver says, “Because you look really sick, and I’m going to take you to the hospital.” So the kid hits the bus driver right in the face, knocks him out, gets out of the bus, and he’s finally at this knoll that has the punch booth. Except he keeps walking around and walking in circles and walking in circles and he just can’t seem to find the punchline.

That’s the joke.

The point of that—let me contextualize, so the point of that joke is that you start of with the premise of a kid with the coke thing, and see how long you can keep going before they realize that this joke is going nowhere. And because you’re doing it for a school assignment, it’s perfect because you have to listen to the entirety of it.”

Analysis:

While the informant describes this piece as a joke, it is also reminiscent of a tale in several ways. As with Propp’s morphology of the folktale, the narrative surrounding the joke includes, among other elements, a lack/absence, a departure, a quest, and a scorned gift. The structure of this joke lends itself to this format well; the purpose of the joke is to string the listener along for as long as possible, so it becomes important for the performer to keep the audience engaged with the story that leads to the eventual “punchline.” Because this piece is quite long and performed orally, using a familiar narrative structure from folktales would help the performer remember what happens next, whether or not the performer is aware of this similarity.

Additionally, the punchline, or lack thereof, gives this joke a different intention. Instead of provoking laughter, the joke inspires more of a benign exasperation, an acknowledgement of a trick well played. It might even feel like a subtle prank. The informant seemed to relish the opportunity to string me along for as long as possible.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

He’s an Egg

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This expression is a somewhat crass way of calling a person dull.

“Can I tell you an expression that’s kind of dirty? Yes? Excellent. So, so the first boyfriend I had, my dad came over and met him, and I asked, “So what do you think?” And he said, “He’s kind of an egg,” but he said the word “egg” in Arabic, so I was like, “What? I’m so confused as to what you mean by that.” And he’s like, “You know, an egg.” And I said, “Go on, dad,” and he told me apparently, in Arabic, you call someone an egg to signify that they’re like a testical. They just kind of hang there. They’re more or less useless otherwise. Um, so that’s what my dad thought of my first ex-boyfriend. He called him a vanilla egg, because he was really white. It was really sad, he kinda just hung there like a testical, but it’s a common expression!”

When do people use it?

“When they’re trying to describe people that are really dull and really….basic bitches, basically. Someone who’s there, but you don’t necessarily need them to be there, you don’t kind of like them, they’re very average. They just kind of exist.”

And what’s the Arabic word for egg?

“Baydatan ( بيضة).”

Analysis:

I find it interesting that this expression indicates a dismissive view of male genitalia, where the testicals are viewed as dull or not particularly useful. It’s especially compelling when compared to how patriarchal western societies refer to testicals as the “goods,” the “family jewels,” and other terms that indicate value. This expression does highlight the reproductive value of testicals by referring to them as eggs.

Folk speech

Chest High Waders

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 describes one of his father’s, who was raised in Texas, “Southernisms”: folk sayings that invoke themes from the American South.

“Southernisms are a commonly accepted feature of dialect. So, my dad will occasionally say things like “You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink.” Or, my favorite and the one which has stuck with me my entire life is, “Well, better get my chest high waders on cause the bullshit is flowing deep in here.” So, and I’m not sure why that started happening, uh in my family, but I do know that it’s something my grandfather used to say. Um, so what’s likely is that it was transmitted through my father to me.

And I remember the, it’s always used whenever I—I make any assertion that my dad wants to challenge. And also, one time when literally when our stump pump stopped working and our drains overflowed during like a really heavy period of flooding, so our basement flooded. So there was my dad in his chest high waders. So I said, “Hey dad!” Because I was like five or six. “You’d better get your chest high waders on because the bullshit’s flowing deep in here!” And he laughed and then told me never to say the word “bullshit” again because it was a bad word.”

So aside from you making an assertion, are there other contexts where you would say this?

“Um, okay. Um, as a—as a, uh expression of almost sorrow or disappointment. For example, the 2016 presidential election, whenever Donald Trump opens his fat cheetoh mouth. That’s immortalized for the archives, that’s good to hear, uh, whenever Donald Trump opens his fat orange mouth and says something, my immediate reaction is, “Better get the chest high waders on cause the bullshit’s flowing deep in here.””

Analysis:

This piece expression definitely relies on an understanding of ranching practices, common to Texas, in order for the expression to be fully appreciated. The audience needs to know what chest high waders are normally used for in order for the expression to achieve maximum effect; while those unfamiliar with waders can infer from context, they miss the full context.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

I’m Still on Dial Up

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 compares the inability to think quickly to dial up Internet.

“I’m just not fully functional. I’m still booting up—I’m like on dial up speed, honestly. I guess there’s, like an example, you know. That reference to dial up. You know what I’m staying, though? You need to know what dial up is in order to, you know.”

Analysis:

This is an example of terminus post quem, as both dial up Internet and wifi needed to exist for this reference to make sense. In order for this metaphor to be successful, both the speaker and the listened would need to be aware of the different in speed from dial up to wifi. This ties the reference to the 21st century, and as time passes, it would seem likely that dial up would be referenced less and less.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

The Wolves Will Eat Your Butt

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece is something that the informant’s grandmother would tell her when she refused to put her clothes back on after a bath.

“So, when I was younger my family used to always tell me stories in order to get me to do what I was supposed to do. They knew that was kind of the only way to manage myself. So my grandmother, who was especially fond of the horror stories of what happened to naughty children, so um, my personal favorite was when I got out of the bath, I liked to run around naked. And she would tell me that if I didn’t put my underwear on, the wolves would eat my butt.

[laughs] And, when I didn’t believe her, she gave me examples of people with tiny butts and she would tell me why they had tiny butts and it would because the wolves had eaten them. So my cousin had a tiny butt because one day she had forgotten to put her underwear on after the bath, and um, they had come in and eaten her.”

Analysis:

While this is an entertaining anecdote, it is also indicative of what is and isn’t considered “proper” for girls to show. This interested me because of the specificity of the consequences of not putting on underwear—though the informant was naked she was not warned about what would happen if she failed to put on her shirt; the focus was on her underwear. Additionally, this warning only applies to women. The informant’s grandfather describes the buttocks of her female relatives, and not the males. The implication is also that small buttocks are not desirable.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Treat Your Mother with Respect

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece is an Egyptian proverb about the importance of respecting your mother. The informant recounts her and a friend’s experience with Yo Mama jokes (jokes that insult another person’s mother: ex. Yo Mama’s so fat she rolled over twice and ended up in Africa) and how that reminded her of an Egyptian proverb.

“In Egypt you also cannot make Yo Mama jokes. You will get beaten up. A friend who went there, who grew up here but he was Egyptian, and he went there one summer and he made Yo Mama jokes cause we were in middle school and that’s what we did; everyone’s an asshole in middle school. And um, I think he got punched in the face by his cousin for making that kind of joke.

No it’s just like, the biggest insult you can say to somebody is to insult their mother. It’s like, especially to guys cause it’s like their pride and joy, like “You always treat your mother with the deepest and fondest respect.” So, that was a big proverb. And culture shock when I came here in middle school and everyone was in the Yo Mama phase and I was like, “That is appalling.” But like, I don’t know. Like Yo Mama So Fat jokes, it was just very strange to me.”

Analysis:

While the proverb itself is fairly standard, demonstrated the cultural value of the mother figure in Egyptian culture, it was fascinating to see the conflict that arose when members from both cultures, such as the informant and her friend, participating in or witnessed jokes that directly opposed what they had learned from that proverb.

Narrative

James Bond’s Backup Crew

The informant is a graduating senior at the University of Southern California, studying Creative Writing and Social Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. She was born in Egypt and originally held Egyptian citizenship, but moved to the United States when she was quite young and is now an American citizen.

This piece relates to the informant’s father’s variation on James Bond stories.

“He also told me his version of James Bond stories, like to the best of his abilities. My dad’s not very good at remembering things. So, essentially, he made up a James Bond crew, um, including, what was his name? Moustafa Lookatmymuscles. [laughs] And he was basically this guy, who was um, he was the brute strength of the group, and he just lifted doors and opened things. And his last name was Lookatmymuscles, so. Aaaand, what else?

He [her father] was, he would just tell me and it started out with, “Little did you know about James Bond that he had a backup crew.” Cause we knew James Bond just fine. Um, and he would tell me about his muscles, and there was this brainy girl who like operated all the computers, and there was this other guy who rode horses, I think. And there was this other guy who was the guns, basically. Basically he was the physical gun. So, they all followed James Bond around and basically did his dirty work after he, like infiltrated things. And Moustafa Lookatmymuscles always opened doors cause his muscles were very useful for that. And he sounded a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Analysis:

James Bond’s backup crew interests me because it originates from authored literature rather a variation on existing folklore. What I find most notable about this piece is that the informant’s father brings in a female character and a character whose name suggests he may be from a similar ethnic background as the informant. This might allow the performers of this tale to feel more like an integral part of the James Bond narrative, which is known for featuring white men.

Childhood
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Treasure Hunt

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 relates to an Easter tradition he performs with his family, and, more recently, his flatmates.

“Well, it’s Easter today, so that’s kind of on my mind. And so for Easter, what me and my family do is… rather than doing, like, a normal Easter egg hunt where you just go outside and hide a bunch of Easter eggs and go and just try to find them, like haphazardly and they’re all in random places, we do kind of a scavenger hunt. Or no, not a scavenger hunt, like a… map and clues, in a way? So you get the first clue and then that gives you another clue and that gives you another clue, and at the end there’s a basket with the Easter chocolate and the Easter bunny and all that.

Um, and so we’ve done that, ever since I can remember with me and my brother and sisters. To my best memory, we just kind of—my brother and sisters both really like those kinds of clues, so they just did it one year for one of us, and it just kind of became a tradition. But I don’t know, my parents never did it, it was just the siblings. My parents didn’t give us clues and we didn’t give them clues. Like my parents gave us the baskets to put at the end of it, eventually, but they didn’t participate. So I think that it’s my brother and sisters that came up with it. I don’t know where they got it from, or if it was their idea.”

Are you continuing with this tradition now that you’re living away from your family?

“I’m trying to continue it, cause I really liked it and it’s like, kind of my Easter thing now, like, whenever I think of those types of clues I think of Easter. And, like, I like those those types of puzzles, like things that you need to solve. It’s kind of continued in my life outside of the holiday but I associate that with Easter. Like for example, today my flatmate gave me an Easter egg hunt, but it wasn’t the kind of hunt that I’m used to in that sense, like it was just the hide it everywhere and go get it, and that kind of triggered a bunch of memories for all the different hunts I did with my family, and I remembered that I want to do it again and bring that tradition and continue that tradition on.”

Analysis:

This tradition interests me for a couple of reasons. It contains both elements of the Easter egg hunt with chocolate prizes, including eggs and the symbolic Easter bunny, and a kind of riddling competition. The informant showed me some pictures of clues that were used over the years, and they range from plays on words to codes that need to be cracked to logic puzzles. Each clue, like a traditional riddle, had the answer hidden somewhere in the question, although as they were in text form rather than shared orally, the answers were often embedded in the text itself.

It’s also interesting that the parents were not involved in this tradition, as it is often parents that hide the eggs for children in Easter egg hunts. It reflects the general trend in the United States that riddles and riddling games are primarily thought of as activities for children, as the children wrote the clues for one another and the parents provided only the prize at the end. However, the informant is attempting to continue this tradition with his flatmates in New Zealand, who are all adults.

Legends
Narrative

Romulus and Remus

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 a legend regarding the founding of Rome that the informant learned while he was living there.

“So, these two twins named Romulus and Remus are born and then set adrift in a river and, which is common in these sorts of legends and such. So then they end up going into the forest and a wolf, a she-wolf, sees them and she decides that she’s going to raise them for some reason. And so they suckle at her teat, uh, is the actual language used, um, and they are essentially raised by wolves.

And then, so they grow up and they’re, they want to found a city. Right? And Romulus wants to found it on the Palatine Hill and Remus wants to found it on the Esquiline Hill, which are two completely separate hill in Rome. So what they decide to do is say, “Okay, let’s see how many birds fly over each hill, and the one with the most birds wins.” Mkay? So, basically they sit there all day with an auger. And birds start flying over these hills.

Eventually, a flock of 11 blackbirds fly over Remus’ hill. And Remus thinks that he’s won and that he’s gotten the right to build at Esquiline, or to build the city on the Esquiline. And Romulus is like, “Well, there’s still time in the day yet.” And at the last second, 12 blackbirds fly in over the Palatine Hill. So it’s decided that it be build on the Palatine Hill. And Remus is very upset about this.

So when Romulus starts doing the ceremonial task of plowing the boundaries with a plough, uh, Remus goes up to him and jumps over the line. He crosses the line, literally. And so, Romulus, incensed by this, because this is a really sacrilegious thing to do, Romulus basically beats him to death. And then Romulus becomes king of Rome.

Now, that’s what the Romans say. But then there’s also the Sienese version, which is that Remus just left in disgrace and went North and founded Siena, which they’re claiming so that they can say that they’re great. Because they were founded by Remus. So that’s that story.”

Analysis:

In this version of the legend, it matters very little that Remus and Romulus are set adrift at birth and raised by wolves. Aside from establishing their background, it plays no role in affecting the rest of the story. It may be that the informant is most interested in what happened after the brothers left to found the city than in what led to that point.

It’s also notable that the Sienese and the Romans tell this legend in different ways; though this legend typically refers to the birth of Rome, it makes sense that the Sienese would seek an origin story for their city as well. The informant was not aware of other Sienese legends about the birth of Siena, but it would be interesting to see how other legends might compare.

For another version of this legend, see the “Romulus and Remus” entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica online.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Romulus and Remus.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.

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