Author Archive
Childhood
Customs
general

Bath Time – Japan

My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.

“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”

I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:

“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”

I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father  taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.

However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.

general

Hand Gesture – Korea

My informant was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She explained to me how when she first moved, she was very confused by some of the cultural differences including hand gestures.

In America, we wave people over with our palms facing up. A similar motion that is common in western culture to beckon someone over is curling the index finger. However, in Korea both of these are considered extremely rude and degrading. They typically use the same hand motions to gesture over dogs.

Respect is a huge attribute in Asian culture. It is deeply rooted in family and demonstrated formally through gestures and language. Therefore, using the “American wave” on a human is equivalent to treating or calling them an animal. Koreans will signal people over by having their palm face down, and using a little “digging” or small swimming motion with their hand. Another way to describe it would be having your palm face down and waving it up and down vertically. If you tried calling a cab in Korea using the Western style wave, you would undeniably be rejected and ignored.

At first, my informant thought that Americans were “kind of arrogant and snobby.” She didn’t realize that there would be a significantly different meaning in something as trivial as gesturing someone over. She eventually caught on that people were not intentionally trying to be rude, and that it was just part of western culture to call people over using the palm facing up.

This made me really think about how important it is to be culturally aware, especially while traveling. There are so many little differences that may seem insignificant, but is actually really important to recognize. It helps us better understand our global peers and can prevent us from accidentally offending others.

Customs
general

Jewish Funeral

My informant is African-American and is from Boca Raton, Florida. Her family practices Judaism, so she explained to me a part of their funeral ritual:

“We do this thing called Shiva. Basically it’s like you sit in your house and people bring you food. It happens for seven days, so it’s like a week of mourning. People come by whenever and they bring all sorts of food as a way to say sorry. It includes friends and family. It’s like, if you’re Jewish you just know that they’re going to have a Shiva, so you should stop by and bring them food. Usually there’s a lot of people there because once someone passes away usually the mourning house will get a lot of visitors. It’s kind of like a.. not like a social like you go there to socialize. But you go there and you’re eating a little and chatting. You could stop by and there’s no one there.”

As we’ve learned in class, death is a rite of passage. It is a transitional process where the deceased moves from the living world to the world of the dead. According to my informant it sounded like shivas are not entirely somber and grim, but have some light-heartedness to it as well. From other funeral rituals I’ve heard of, it seems like the gathering of people is the most shared attribute regardless of whether or not it is to mourn together or reminisce and celebrate the life of the deceased.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Paschal Greeting – Greek Orthodox

“Because I’m Greek Orthodox, we have a service the night before Easter. What we do is, the priest turns off all the lights in the church and then we have candles. And we say ‘Christ has risen and truly he has risen’ in like eight different languages. ‘Khristos Anesti. Alithos Anesti. Christ has risen. Truly he has risen.’* and all these different forms of languages for about an hour and a half. It’s just a symbolized of I think inclusivity. We just wear our church clothes. Like my mom always says, ‘Dress as though you’re going to God’s house.’ Everyone is in more ‘happier’ colors since it’s Easter”

My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. She is deeply connected to her church and still practices her religion faithfully. I thought it was interesting to hear how her family celebrates Easter because I personally am Presbyterian, which is a branch of Christianity. We only celebrate Palm Sunday and Good Friday prior to Easter. I have never heard of a celebration being held the night before Easter. This service is referred to as the Paschal Greeting in Greek Orthodox custom. I really liked the idea of chanting “Christ has risen and truly he has risen” in multiple languages as a representation of inclusivity. However, I will admit having to do that for an hour and half seems extremely tedious. My informant on the other hand seemed enthusiastic about the ritual, proving her patience and loyalty to God.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Treasured Daughters – India

“A general idea shared by Indians is that daughters are the most important in the family. Like they bring prosperity and wealth for families, so they are sacred. So for me as a daughter, I’m not supposed to touch anyone’s feet. Another thing for daughters is blessing new things like when we bought a new house, my parents are super Indian and did prayers. But I was the first one to walk into the house because I bring good luck.”

 

I was surprised to learn that daughters of Indian households are so valued.  Although my informant said her family practices and observes a lot of traditional Indian customs, she could not find an explanation for why Indian daughters are so treasured. They are treated like goddesses because they are considered as the Goddess Lakshmi—goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. Despite this elevated status, sons are still preferred over daughters. When daughters get married, they get passed along to a new household; however, when sons get married, they don’t leave and remain in the same household.

Sons are probably valued more because they have the title of breadwinner, while daughters are meant to marry and be sent off. These are all clearly religious and socio-economic factors that influence the attitudes toward sons and daughters. To my informant’s family, the belief that having her walk into a new house first will bring good luck is rooted in religious belief. However, to others it may seem like a simple superstition. This made me realize how subjective the process of defining superstitions are, and that religion and superstition can be tied closely hand-in-hand; however, no matter how similar the two ideas may seem, they are still fundamentally two different types of beliefs.

general

Toes Nursery Rhyme – Iran

My informant is Persian, but was born and raised in America. Her mother used to sing a Persian nursery rhyme that was very similar to the American version of “This Little Piggy.” For those unaware of “This Little Piggy”, it involves pointing to each toe with a corresponding line in the song. My informant did not know the original lyrics in Farsi to the nursery rhyme, but she gave me her own translation of the song:

*Point to pinky toe*

The first toe is a bird that tries to drink water out of a pond and it falls into the water.

*Point to ring toe*

The next toe says let’s go steal something.

*Point to middle toe*

And the next one says what shall we go steal.

*Point to long toe*

And the other says gold jewelry.

*Point to big toe*

And the next one says I have a big head.

 

My informant said that the song in Farsi had a lot of words that rhymed. This is a common attribute of nursery rhymes since it makes it easier for children to remember and sing. This Persian song and “This Little Piggy” both utilize the physical body in singing the song; this physical attribute is also another common component of nursery rhymes. Typically the parent is the one to point to the child’s foot while singing the song, and at the end they tickle the child’s foot. I think that this action creates a bond between the parent and child as the child is anxiously waiting for the moment to come.

general

Tarof – Iran

“Tarof is a term we use to describe the form of etiquette or I guess concept that we have in our culture. For example, when someone comes over to your house, the host just keeps offering them food, and then more food and more food. Something my mom always says is ‘Ghaabell nadaare’. It’s a really common phrase that people use. I guess it basically means ‘you can have it.’ My mom was just telling me that when you go into stores, like the lady will just say ‘Oh it’s all yours, you don’t have to pay.’ But since it’s in their culture, the person shopping obviously knows that they still have to pay. It’s just part of our culture to kind of just say that out of courtesy. Also when you go out to dinner with multiple families, the two males of each household will basically fight over who pays for the check. It can be offensive to someone if they let the person pay without first offering to pay for it themselves. Tarof is just a form of civility.”

 

I think the ideals behind tarof are commonly shared among all Asian cultures. In Korean culture, it is very common at dinner for the male figures at dinner to fight over the check. It’s interesting how this culture works because it’s heavily based on understanding the real underlying meaning or implications of what the speaker is saying. For example, if the store keeper from my friend’s story had told me “you can have it”, I would not have understood that it was simply her way of being polite. She did not literally mean I could take the item. It would have required an understanding of tarof to recognize what she was really implying.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wedding – India

My informant is half Indian and Caucasian. She shared with me some of the rituals and customs that were practiced at her cousin’s wedding:

“For my cousin’s wedding, me and my sister were bridesmaids. It was at the beach last year in April. I wore a hot pink saree (traditional Indian clothing). It’s like a crop top that is all gold embroidery and jewels on it. Honestly I’m obsessed with all the outfits. Like that’s the one thing about Indian culture I’m so obsessed with. Everyone at the wedding wears Indian outfits, so seeing all the colors against the ocean was absolutely beautiful.

 

When my cousin had the wedding she had this thing called a mandap. And what that is, is they have them all decorated and it’s basically just the alter. Like the Indian alter where people get married is always decorated with a bunch of flowers.”

 

Isn’t there something that you guys do with henna tattoos too?

 

“Yes—there’s a ceremony. Everyone does it. Like the most people is all the women in the bride’s side of the family and like also her bridesmaid, so I did it and my mom did it. It’s also a really long ceremony.

 

The Indian ceremonies are really long— when they’re getting married can go on for 2 hours. It’s cause the Indian wedding is very ‘ritualistic’. You know how in Western ceremonies they’re like ok say you’re vows, blah, blah, blah, then you’re done? For Indians, they’ll do things like each of you touch a flower and that symbolizes one thing. Then they’ll put a little dot on them and that symbolizes…it’s just everything the priest does has an underlying meaning. They also bring up people, like my mom will go up there and bless them. Everyone is incorporated in it. It’s crazy because I swear I’ve known these people since I was born, but I don’t know their names because it’s a big extended family. So sometimes we’ll go to weddings and I don’t even know some of these people’s name”

 

Do you think you’ll have an Indian style wedding?

 

“For Indian weddings, a lot goes into it. So for me and my sister, first of all, we don’t even practice any Indian religion. We’re only half—not even full Indian. So to spend all that time and money into something that I’m not really 100% invested in, doesn’t make sense to me. Cause I was raised Christian, I would have a more Western style ceremony. But I still love the culture so it would be fun to still incorporate some Indian aspects into my wedding reception like the outfits.”

 

Weddings are a very sacred ceremony that unites two individuals as one. Because it is such a unique and monumental experience, it is understandable for people to feel pressured into spending an absurd amount of time and money for the occasion. However, there is absolutely no comparison when it comes to Indian weddings. They are by far the most lavish and extravagant events I have ever heard of. It is clear that marriage holds a great deal of importance in Indian culture. It is not just a critical life milestone, but an essential religious practice in Hindu religion. This explains why weddings do not stray, but strongly adhere to ancient customs and traditions. In addition, Indian weddings are not just about bonding the couple. Everyone in the family is incorporated into the ceremony to signify that a bond has also been created between the two families.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Raksha Bandhan – India

My informant is half Indian and Caucasian. She considers herself not “very Indian” but explained to me one Indian festival that her family used to celebrate every year:

“So in India we have a holiday called Raksha bandhan where it’s basically just celebrating the brother and sister bond. Or basically any male or female bond—it can be cousins too in a family. What basically happens is the sister or girl cousin ties like a little bracelet—a little hand-made bracelet—on the brother or the male cousin. That’s like a little show of love. And then in return the brother or the male cousin gives a gift or money to the sister or girl cousin. So we always loved celebrating it because my cousin gets like a little crappy bracelet but me and my sister get cash in return. It’s a great holiday.”

 

Hahah that’s amazing. When you guys do this, is there a certain date that you do it to celebrate or is it just whenever?

 

“There is a certain day. I’m not really sure, but I’m pretty sure it’s sometime in August”

 

Do you guys celebrate every year?

 

“We usually do it every year.”

 

And do you guys still do it?

 

“Uhm we still do it. But I don’t have any brothers so we always do it with my cousins. But honestly this year we didn’t do it cause I think they’re tired of getting ripped off hahah. And there’s more girls in our family than guys, so it’s kind of sad cause they’re giving so much money away to all the girls in the family. The guys literally just… it’s not even a….it’s thread. Like what you would use thread—that’s how thin the bracelet is. We just tie it on them. But it was really cute cause my guy cousins, I have one that is older than us but two that are 7 and 10. They were just… you can just tell on their face that they were so confused like ‘What? This is a rip off’.”

 

After some research, I found that Raksha Bandhan is a festival that celebrates the bond between a brother or sister or any brother-sister type of relationship. According to the Hindu calendar, the festival is recognized on the full moon in the month of Shravan, which is August. The bracelet—called Rakhi— that is tied onto the boy’s wrist symbolizes the girl’s sisterly love for them. The boy is supposed to offer them gifts in return along with a vow promising them protection. This festival seems to stem from the idea that women are spiritually superior and require physical protection whereas men are physically superior and need spiritual protection.

general

Eye Contact – Korea

“In Korea, you don’t lock eye contact. It’s extremely rude, especially to elders–you should look down. Older people would be extremely offended. That’s a huge deal in Korea. But in America it’s rude if you don’t make eye contact or it can come off as passive. When I first came to America, the teacher noticed my lack of eye contact and told me to makes sure to make eye contact is part of key communication. Literally my English teacher asked me ‘Are you shy? You should be more confident and try to be yourself. You really have to present yourself. Your attitude has to be looking straight in the eye and being confident and expressing yourself.’ I told her in a respectful way that in Korea to respect your teacher, you never look them in the eye.”

While speaking, my informant made sure to really emphasize how rude it is to make eye contact with superiors–even if they’re only a year older. Koreans place a heavy emphasis on displaying respect towards elders. Therefore, by locking eyes you are implying that you are of equal status. There is a whole science behind the implications of using eye contact in East Asia. However, for Koreans it is just a cultural practice/etiquette that they learn naturally from each other.

[geolocation]