Author Archive
Folk speech

Mexican Elderly Idiom

“The second one is, umm… More knows the devil, because he’s old, than to be a devil. Do you want me to tell you in Spanish? ‘Mas el diablo por viejo que por diablo.’ ”

 

And in what context would you say that? Like, what would you say that in reference to?

 

“Umm, that, uhh, we need to pay attention to the old people. That the old people is, is they know the way and we need to listen to them.”

 

Analysis: Another short and sweet proverb, this one celebrates old age in a very tongue-in-cheek sort of way. The proverb proclaims that the Devil knows more about being the Devil from simply living into old age than by being the Devil in the first place. In other words, this proverb would seem to reveal that, in rural Mexican culture, learned wisdom gleaned through experience is superior to natural-born intellect. This would suggest a deference to rural elders and a suspicion of up-and-comer types in the informant’s culture.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Mexican Slang – El Huevon Trabaja Doble

Do you have, umm… like a saying, or a riddle, from when you were growing up?

 

“One of the popular ones there that came, comes to mind right now is, uhh… Whenever you use, somebody entrances you to do something, uhh… umm… almost of any kind, any kind of task, and uhh… you just, uhh, careful, you’re careless, you just want to finish something like right away, you just say, uhh, you just do it, you know, really fast, kinda shoddy, so… they send you back to do that kind of thing again, they say, ‘El huevon trabaja doble.’

 

Which is, uhh, pretty much like, lazy people have to do double the amount of work, because they don’t do it carefully in the first place.

 

So it’s an old saying that everybody knows this, it was applied so frequently when I was growing up, and you know, so, it was in a way it was a message for you to do things right the first time.”

 

So it’s kind of like the English saying ‘measure twice, cut once’?

 

“There you go! Very, very similar to that.”

 

Analysis: This is a very straightforward proverb relating to laziness. It essentially proclaims that laziness doesn’t pay dividends, as the lazy man will inevitably need to do more work anyway to make up for being lazy. Proverbs like this, and their equivalents in English, are very common in more rural areas like that which the informant hails from, and it seemed very well-known to the informant years later, implying its frequent use. It is also worth noting that the Spanish word ‘Huevon’ is a very derogatory term for someone who is so lazy that they are incapable of holding their testes above the ground.

Folk Beliefs

Popular Belief in Ghosts in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Do you maybe have, like, a ghost story that you were taught?

 

“Actually, yeah, it’s uhh… they, they always said that there was, there were two nights every single year, don’t remember when or how, but there were certain specific time of the year, the, you were forbidden to leave your house between, after 11:00 p.m. on those two nights of the year, otherwise you would encounter, uhh… not really ancestors there, but some other people, especially those who wanted to do, like… like… you know, just, you know, bad stuff. And uhh… people who could not rest in peace, and they would come those specific nights. Of course nobody every left their houses, you know, during those two nights, ever, you know cuz you were so respectful of that tradition. And as far as I remember, nobody saw anything, although it’s maybe because nobody went out. [laughs]

 

Uhh, but, uhh, I dunno why, I don’t know why those things came, uhh… I don’t remember when that thing was like, like, followed, but uhh, there were two specific nights one right after the other, those two nights, you just were totally grounded.

 

Do you remember who told you that story? Or was it something that just everybody knew?

 

“Everybody in the community knew that one. Oh! Also related to that same thing is that they said that, uhh, you were lucky enough to, to, to be… uhh… outdoors between like 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., not after 11:00 p.m. because everybody else was so afraid of encountering something unnatural, they, ummm… they said between 10:00 and 11:00 was okay but you were lucky enough, you would see flames on the ground. Appearing like, just like, magic, and uh, you, uhh, you have to make sure, you have to make certain of where that flame was coming from, or where was the specific spot, because uhh, the next night, you wouldn’t come out, like I said, but on the third night, you were supposed to go there with some friends, dig, and supposedly you were going to find gold there.

 

I never knew anybody just, you know, striking rich by doing that, but that was part of the legend as well.
Where did it come from? It came from our grandparents, actually. And my dad tolds me that his dad swears that he saw some of those flames, but he was so afraid to go and dig because he would find something else instead of money, so… [laughs]

 

Not sure that was an old tale, you know, from some drunk people or something like that, very convincing, but, it became part of the community there, yeah.”

 

And what was the name of this community, again?

 

“This is Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.”

 

Analysis: Like many ghost stories, the informant expresses disbelief in the ghost elements in the story in abstract, but seems to believe at least partially in the reality of the experience that he relates. The story seems to imply that there is a certain time of the year where social function is not permissible because people are remembering the dead who cannot rest. This motif of restless spirits is incredibly common in ghost stories around the world, despite the very Catholic culture of Mexico. What is unique to this story, however, is the promise of gold if one happens to find oneself outside and getting very close to the forbidden hour, which would suggest that a degree of risk-taking is honorable and respected in this rural Mexican culture.

Customs
Folk speech

Naming Pets in Rural Mexico

“Actually, when we had little chicks, too, we didn’t like, like, you name your pets here, like ‘little Peter,’ or ‘Johnny,’ or ‘puppy,’ whatever you want to call them. There, we didn’t name our pets, you know. We just name them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. [laughs]

 

Not to feel bad when it was like time to slaughter them… ‘cause we grew pets for eating, you know? It was, it wasn’t like we were just playing with them, it was actual food on the line! [laughs]

 

Was that a common practice, did everyone name their pets something like that?

 

More or less, something like that. Very, very like, crazy names, like you know, like May, July, June, those. [laughs] Because they were going to slaughter them that month. [laughs]

 

There was a little rooster named father’s day [laughs] because they knew they were going to do that, ‘where’s father’s day, where’s father’s day,’ ‘donde esta dia del papa,’ you know, in Español, ‘oh you know he’s there, he’s there, and this and that,’ and sure enough, you know, time came and… cut some necks there. That was crazy.”

 

Analysis: This is a fairly straightforward but interesting and widespread folk practice in rural Mexico. Whereas pets are normally seen as members of a family in the United States, pets were instead viewed primarily as food sources in rural Mexico. As such, the cultural norms surrounding the animals are substantially different from what an American may expect. Naming animals after the date that they will presumably be slaughtered is a very efficient way of keeping the age of a pet on hand. It is worth nothing that the informant’s repeated use of the term “crazy” may be revelatory of a culture shift upon moving to the United States and owning two pets.

Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Sex Taboo in Rural Mexico

“I have some… some things about my culture and my village, and umm… we were a 9 girls at home. So… sex was umm… nobody can talk about sex. And then, uhh… My mom… how mothers protect their daughters, not to be pregnant and not to be with boys before marriage, she always said to us, ‘don’t touch your body. Because if you touch your breasts, it will damage. So just be careful not to touch it, and also when you take a shower, don’t wash your private parts, because they can get sick.’

 

So that way, we don’t touch our private parts. So… It was a taboo, nobody wants to speak about that.”

 

And was that a common thing, did everybody tell their daughters that?

 

“I think so, I think so. I think it was like that. So no girls got pregnant. No girls got uhh… got a sex before after marriage. So, sometimes, we think if you give a kiss to a boy, to your boyfriend, you will get pregnant. So not even wants to kiss a boys. It… It was kind of a… umm… we grow up, all the girls in our village, and nobody talk about sex. We all just tried to avoid that, and if somebody wants to tell us about sex, our parents, my mother and our parents, said, ‘Run from there! Because this is no good, God doesn’t wants that.’

 

So… Everybody behaved really well with that! [laughs]”

 

Analysis: Taboos are very interesting folk beliefs, and that is very much the case even here. What is interesting to note, however, is the notion of value applied to the body of a woman and its ties to physical purity. In other words, the less a woman had experienced in the realm of sexuality, the more valuable she was assumedly perceived to be. Given the parent-to-child transmission of the norm and the reliance on God, this taboo on sex and understanding the female body could very well be a cultural norm and rudimentary form of birth control passed down from generation to generation in order to preserve the honor and finances of families. It is also worth noting that, using the informant’s family as a hypothetical typical family, the size of the family after marriage is much larger than most families in the United States, implying that more effective birth control may not be available, thus necessitating the narrative.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

‘Animas’ Ghosts in Rural Mexico

“People talk so much about ‘animas,’ like means ‘spirits,’ about the point when they die, they come back.

 

So… My grandma always was telling us, ‘Oh, I feel like, umm… A ghost, an anima, that comes with me every night. I feel it here, walking. I saw her walking.’ My grandma said it was a… a… woman.

 

So, sometimes, at home, when we were at home, we hear womans, old womans, walking to us, too. Because we believe what my grandma says, and we were thinking ‘Oh, it’s true what my grandma said. There’s someone walking at night near to us!’

 

And also when we were not sleep before 11:00 p.m., we were, umm… we were in our bed, six girls in the same room, and suddenly outside we started hearing a horse. Ehh… We can hear the, it looks like a humongous horse, it comes from outside the window, and we hear the noises, and we hear that the… chew… horse, very strong about the horse. And so many people in our village talk about that. And we said, ‘oh my god, that is a scary!’ So we don’t open doors and we went to sleep very fast, because we were afraid to this man on the horse.

 

And then also, about the, umm… The money. We hear that where is there flame on the floor, there is some money, too. So some people starts… scraping the dirt in this place, so some people, what they found was, uhh… bones from some skeleton or from some other people, so… they said if you see this, this flame, it can be a dead man or a, or a… golden pot.

 

So it was, uhh… it was kind of… strange? But it, it was like that.”

 

Analysis: Much like her husband’s ghost story, the informant’s ghost story is notable for its apparently-widespread belief in an otherwise deeply religious culture that would normally reject the existence of such spirits. And yet, the presence of ghosts is considered a normal enough occurrence that they may enter and live inside of houses without too much hubbub. Also worth noting is the expansion on the flaming ground concept from the informant’s husband’s story. Evidently, flaming ground that signifies good or bad luck is a common belief. Additionally, the chance to discover a long-lost skeleton may be related to the ghosts of people that the informant claimed to have run into first-hand, as it would appear that being buried far away from anything in particular may trigger a spirit’s restlessness from improper burial, a taboo in Judeo-Christian culture.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and the Cold Night

I understand that you like to tell “Mullah” stories. Could you share one with me?

“Mullah is a traditional character they attribute a lot of stories to him… and you know, they’re, they’re, usually as funny stories, but then on the other hand has quite a bit of meaning to every story.

This story goes like this, uhh… Mullah and his friend they were getting together, it was at night. So they were kinda challenging each other if, uhh… anybody can stay out there in the cold, it was really cold, night. And uhh, be able to survive until the morning.

Mullah says ‘well, I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna try that.’

So he stays out there, in real cold, but he endures, you know, and he had some experience, he endures the cold night. So in the morning they get , they get together, and he explains to his friends that he really, uhh… survived the cold, you know, last night.

They said, ‘nuh uh, it’s impossible.’ Uhh… you know, ‘You couldn’t have survived. You must have had some help. Maybe you had some fire? You made some fire?’

He says, ‘No! There was nothing! uhh… it’s just endurance, and I endured the uhh…’ uhh… I… I was supposed to say it in Farsi!” [laughs]

That’s okay! You can finish in English and tell the Farsi version [later]. (And MB did tell the full story in Farsi, but transcribing the entire story in phonetics would take an immense amount of time. I skip ahead here to the English explanation.)

“The English goes like this, uhh, Mullah and his friends, they were uhh, together, and they were getting together one cold night.

So they started challenging each other who can uhh… stay out there in that cold weather and uhh, survive until morning. And if anybody can do it, you know, they buy him lunch.

Mullah says, ‘Oh, I’m gonna try that!’ So he goes out there in the cold, and uhh, really cold night, and it was suffering all night and everything, but he, because of his experience, he endures the cold.

So in the morning they get together, Mullah says ‘You know, I managed to stay out there in the cold.’

But his friend says ‘Well, that’s impossible, nobody can do that. You must have had some fire keeping you warm all night.’

He says, ‘No, there was no fire. But on second thought, I could see a light several miles away. All night.’

His friends say, ‘Well, that’s it! That light kept you warm all night!’

Then Mullah says, ‘Okay, you folks won, and I lost, so I prepare you lunch tomorrow. I’ll make you some, uhh, soup… for lunch.’

They all say, ‘Great!’

They come to his house, wait an hour, nothing happens, two hours, they wait two hours, no sign of lunch. So they ask Mullah, says ‘Well, what’s happening?’

Mullah says, ‘Still cooking!’

They say, ‘Well wait a minute! How long is it gonna be cooking! Let’s go out there and, uhh, see what’s going on!’ So they go out there and see a big pot of soup with a candle underneath.

They say, his friends say, ‘Well, Mullah, this is stupid. This candle is not going to heat up that big pot and make your soup.’

Mullah says, ‘Well, if that light several miles away could keep me warm all night, this candle should be able to also cook your lunch.’

His friends realize that they, you know, made a mistake, and uhh, says, ‘Okay, we’ll buy you lunch, Mullah, you won.’ End of story.”

Note: For a published version of this story, see Houman Farzad, Classic Tales of Mulla Nasreddin (

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture. They are often used for humor and for imparting wisdom to older children, but are commonly told at all stages of life. There are countless encounters attributed to Mullah Nasreddin, and many have been documented in published works. For another version of this story, see:
MB is especially fond of this Mullah story, and was animated while telling it. MB made a habit of telling Mullah stories to his grandchildren after family dinners in order to get them to laugh and to understand more adult concepts like happy marriages, compromises, good friendships, and general wisdom.

Folk speech
Proverbs

The Cat that Got Burned

Do you have any sayings that you would like to share?

“Oh my god, my… my father-in-law always… one time told us that, uhh… something, when something bad happens to you, you get so scared, when you see anything, and then he told us whole… uhh… saying, that when the little cat got burned, just to see anywhere some ashes, he’s run away. He gets all scared. [laughs] Is one of them.”

 

Analysis: This is a short and straightforward proverb that’s supposed to be humorous. It lambasts the tendency of people, in this case represented by a small cat, to be overly cautious and afraid of something that they may have a negative association with, like fire. It seems that the informant’s culture really values wisdom learned through experience and risk-taking, as the proverb would appear to criticize those who are too cautious to the point of paranoia or excessive fear.

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