Author Archive
Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

There Was a King

“Ek thaa raja.  Ek thee rani.  Dono margaye.  Khatam kahaani.”

That is a folk story in Hindi which roughly translates to:

“There was a king.  There was a queen.  They both died.  End of story.”

CONTEXT:

“When I was young I always wanted to hear a bedtime story before bed, but on nights when my parents didn’t feel like reading me a real one they would tell me that terrible story instead and then leave before I could ask for another one.  I hated it growing up, but now I do the same thing all the time to my little sister whenever she asks me for a bedtime story.”

ANALYSIS:

What I especially like about this piece of folklore is how quickly it was passed down from the parents to the informant and then from the informant to the little sister.  It shows a very clear lineage of the folklore, which is what folklore’s all about.  There’s also a very unique and self-aware sense of humor to this piece that I find really charming and wish I saw in more pieces of folklore today.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Brazil vs. Portugal

“So my mother’s Brazilian, and in Brazil there’s this stigma against people from Portugal.  It’s kind of like how people in America view blonde people as being dumber than average, or maybe it’s more like how people in America see people from New Jersey as lesser people.  So like, in Brazil, there’s just this stereotype that people from Portugal are dim-witted or something.  Like, if someone does something stupid, Brazilians will say, ‘oh, how Portuguese of them’ which sounds really mean, but there is an heir of teasing behind it.  It’s not like Brazilians are bigots that actually have something agains Portugal, it’s just this kind of international teasing, but just with a little bit of truth behind it (laughs).”

ANALYSIS:

This is a really interesting cultural stereotype to make because while it is playful, it wouldn’t exist if people didn’t at one point in time, believe there was some truth behind it.  I would be really interested in seeing how this stereotype originated, and if it was still teasing back then or if it was really serious.  And seeing that it’s even still slightly serious today, I would think that it was serious back when it originated.  After all, I don’t think it would have stayed around for as long as it has without people believing it to at least some degree, like the informant does.

Myths
Narrative

The Headless Mule

“My mother’s Brazilian, so when I was growing up she would tell me the Brazilian folklore story of the headless mule.  The story goes that a sinful woman was cursed so that she was transformed into this headless mule that could spit fire out of its stump.  So every Thursday night the mule would run around in the dark spitting fire everywhere it went, and, if you happened to come across it, it could turn you into a headless mule, too.  But I think the contingency was that it could only turn you into a headless mule too if you had committed the same sin as the original headless mule, something like infidelity or something, I’m not sure.”

ANALYSIS:

This folk myth is super interesting because of how many different variations there are of it.  Nothing the informant said is inherently incorrect, it’s just that this is merely one version of the myth, and there are many others that are equally valid.  Additionally, the authenticity and the heritage behind this myth really fascinates me, as it’s a traditional Brazilian myth, and the informant is familiar with the myth because of his mother’s Brazilian background.  The myth connects the informant to his heritage, which is something I really appreciate in folklore.

For another version of this riddle, see the Volkswagen commercial titled “The Legend of the Headless Mule”.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Family Recipe

“My dad taught me this recipe, it’s not even an ethnic recipe, just a family recipe for this cool dipping sauce.  You combine paprika and garlic powder and a little water and then this other ingredient I’m forgetting, but it makes for this really good, kind of dry sauce that goes really well on a hamburger or something.  My dad said he picked it up from a diner he worked at, so I guess that means this recipe went from some unimportant condiment at a diner to a staple ingredient at all our family’s meals, which is pretty cool.  But I’m not sure he’s telling the truth about picking up the recipe from a diner, I feel like that doesn’t make enough sense for it to be true, because I’ve worked in restaurants before and no such recipe exchanging has happened around me, but nonetheless, now that sauce recipe is a staple of our family.”

ANALYSIS:

This origin story of a family recipe is super cool because it subverts two common tropes of family recipes: that they are long traditions passed down from the ancestors of the family, and that they are secrets.  Not only did this family recipe start in a diner that the father of the informant just happened to work at of all places, but the informant clearly has no regard for who hears the ingredients, and they are listed very clearly above.  Still, the recipe has quickly managed to become an important part of the family, so it makes me think that maybe this is the beginning of what will become a long family tradition with this family.

Folk Beliefs

Beware of Wheelchairs

“So there’s this superstition I have, and I don’t really know where I first picked up on it, but I still take it really seriously just because of how much sense it makes.  It’s basically a superstition that if you sit in a wheelchair when you aren’t physically in need of a wheelchair, you’re giving yourself bad luck and making a bad omen that you might, one day, actually need a wheelchair through some freak accident or something.  It’s basically just a general rule I follow, since I don’t need a wheelchair, I just won’t sit in one because there’s really no need and I just don’t want to risk it.”

ANALYSIS:

This superstition is really interesting because it has almost no logical standing but yet still exists pretty prominently it seems.  It’s not a superstition I would follow because, despite what the informant thinks, it really doesn’t make any sense, as there’s no way that sitting in a wheelchair once could possible correlate to you being wheelchair-bound in the future, but that’s the thing about superstitions: they don’t have to make sense, they just have to have a root in the believer’s mind and then they exist.

Customs

No Hair on Foreheads

“It’s a common superstition in India, and it used to be taken especially serious in my house, that people shouldn’t keep their hair on their forehead, like it should be kept combed back because if your hair covers your forehead it will bring you illness in the future.  My mom used to make me do it but when I started growing out my hair and refusing to cut it she let me just go with it even though I knew it was bothering her.  It isn’t a hardcore religious superstition, but it is followed more strictly than a lot of other superstitions.”

ANALYSIS:

There seems to be a sliding scale when it comes to how seriously certain Hindu customs are taken, and I find it extremely fascinating which ones land where they land on the scale.  From and outsider’s perspective, it seems a little arbitrary which ones are taken seriously and which ones aren’t, but I’d be extremely interested to find out if there’s anything connecting which customs are taken seriously and which customs are treated a little less seriously.

Customs

After a Cremation

“In India it’s a rule for anyone who follows the Hindu religion that if they attend a cremation, which is the burning of a dead body, they have to shower first thing when they get home because if they don’t it brings negative vibes into the house and brings misfortune basically.  This is actually a really strictly followed custom because even though my house is pretty liberal about these sorts of things we still follow it very strictly.”

ANALYSIS:

It’s interesting to see which customs in the Hindu religion are followed extremely strictly and which customs are followed relatively liberally and only upheld by the more orthodox families.  For example, while this custom is followed quite strictly, the custom of eating vegetarian on Tuesdays and the custom of married couples fasting on one day of the year are followed quite loosely.

Customs

Vegetarian Tuesday

“Indian families that eat non-vegetarian foods regularly change what they eat every Tuesday to eat only vegetarian foods in honor of the gods because if you eat meat on Tuesday it will bring bad luck.  My household followed this rule pretty strictly, and my mom still does, but because my dad got tired of it me and my siblings don’t really have to follow it anymore.”

ANALYSIS:

This is a great example of a ritual that many families follow because it is deeply rooted in religious tradition, but more and more families today choose not to follow for whatever reason.  This makes me wonder what the trend of families that follow this tradition looks like in terms of how many families stop practicing this tradition every year.

Customs

Fasting for Blessings

“So, In India, there’s this common ritual for married couples.  So, one day of the year, they fast in honor of their significant other so the gods bless them.  My parents did it until they were in their 40’s but then they just gave up on it.  For the most orthodox families they do it even if their ill and need to eat, but since my family isn’t like that it’s not that serious.  And it’s on a specific day of the year, but I don’t remember which one.”

ANALYSIS:

I find it interesting that different families take this custom to different degrees of seriousness.  It’s a very clear and straightforward ritual, that if you fast you will be blessed by the gods, but still some families take it more seriously than others.  It makes me wonder what percent of families take it seriously compared to the percent that don’t, and if there are any other factors that might help indicate which families will take it seriously and which won’t.

Legends
Narrative

Burnout

“So, my dad is super into muscle car culture.  I’m talking like after market cars, American muscle, noisy cars, the whole deal.  Back before I was born, my dad went to this autoshow with this muscle car he’d spent the last three years of his life fixing up, and he was super proud of it and was really excited to show it off.  It’s tradition when leaving a car show for people to do burnouts as they drive away, just because it’s rebellious or whatever.  So what happened was, my dad was lined up with about ten other cars all about to do simultaneous burnouts, but all of a sudden a cop rolled up behind them.  Nothing was illegal about the car show, but doing a burnout is illegal unless it’s on a closed road with police permission, which this wasn’t.  So, all the other cars stay put and don’t burnout because of the cop, and since the cop knows that burnouts are likely to be taking place, he lingers.  But because my dad was so excited about his car and couldn’t let anything stop him from showing it off, he brings the rev up, dumps the clutch, and smokes his tires right in front of the cop.  Since my dad’s not a felon, though, he just does the burnout, drives like 100 meters and then pulls over so the cop can pull him over.  So the cop rolls up to my dad with his lights flashing and approaches my dad.  So it turns out the cop is actually just super into car shows and really wanted to see what was going on at the show, so the cop doesn’t give my dad a ticket and actually applauds him for making such a bold move.  The only reason the cop pulled my dad over was just so all the other cars wouldn’t start doing burnouts too.  So after that my Dad became a local car show legend, and to this day his name lives in infamy among all car enthusiasts in the Boston area.”

ANALYSIS:

I found this legend extremely interesting because it’s impossible to tell how much of it is true and how much of it is fabricated.  Because the informant didn’t witness the event firsthand and has only heard the story from the father, it’s extremely plausible that the father embellished on the story to make himself look cooler.  And because of the inherent nature of local legends, there’s no way of knowing just how much of the story is true or not.  All we can do is take the story for what it is: a story.

[geolocation]