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Joke- Grandmother and Grandson

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. His mother belongs to a congregation and tries to instill Jewish values on her children who have all had Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. He told me this joke and claimed his mother always told him it was a Jewish joke:

MR: “A grandmother is giving directions to her grandson who is an adult and is coming to visit her.

‘First, you need to come to the front door of the apartment,’ she says,

‘I’m in apartment 201. There’s a big panel at the front, so press number 201 with your elbow and I’ll buzz you in. Come inside the elevator and with your elbow, press the 2nd-floor button.’ She tells him, ‘When you get off, my door is there. Hit my doorbell with your elbow and I’ll let you in. OK?’[

Her grandson says, ‘Ok Grandma, but why am I hitting these buttons with my elbow?’

She says back ‘What…. you’re coming empty handed?!”

CI: Why do you think that your mother insists this is a Jewish joke?

MR: “I think is very Jewish. The grandmother character seems to be pretty common in all Jewish families, and I definitely relate that to my own family. My mother always says, ‘In a Jewish family, you never show up empty-handed. You just don’t.’”

This is particularly interesting to me because while I have never heard this joke it seems to be very Italian as well. Growing up with very Italian grandparents, they would always come with their hands full and bags of food and things no one was expecting. The very involved and giving, grandmother is a common archetype in Italian families as well.  The grandmother is a strong figure in a lot of cultures, but this particular story of the Jewish grandmother is the most similar to the Italian grandmother. I think this also shows Jewish hospitality/ views on gifts.


Italian Christmas Food

The informant is my father (referred to as FI) who is raised by two Italian parents and was raised in a very traditional Italian household. His parents have been married for 60 years and knew each other in their Italian towns since they were age 10. Every year for Christmas there is a huge celebration, and it has a lot to do with the days leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve there is a big feast. Below my father discusses what is traditionally eaten and made on Christmas Eve.


FI: “The meals and the foods eaten for Christmas are very important. In Italian culture food is everything. It is very important that on Christmas Eve you do not eat meat.  Italians avoid eating meat on Christmas Eve because it is apparently a way to prepare and purify for Christmas. So everyone eats fish. I think traditionally you’re just supposed to have fish, but we always had pasta with seafood. And then Christmas is even more food.  On Christmas Day, we have a huge dinner which is typically more of a lunch because it’s so early, but we eat pasta, roasts and then have panettone.  Panettone is very Italian and my parents would really only get it around Christmas time.”


Growing up with an Italian family, these traditions were definitely still carried down, but it is interesting because no other Italian traditions were really brought into my family- only the traditions surrounding food were carried on. Now I am vegan and do not eat, fish, eggs, dairy or meat and I remember when I became vegan 6 years ago, everyone in my Italian family was very upset and it was a big deal, especially around Christmas time because the question would always be “What are you going to eat?”


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Myth

The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She is discussing one of her favorite movies and a movie that is highly regarded in Spain, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and a conspiracy theory that was developed in Spain about the movie.


EP: “So in the movie, it’s all these women who are crazy and obsessed with all these men and they are having all these problems and throughout the whole movie gazpacho is a theme and ultimately the main character tries to kill a bunch of men with drug-laced gazpacho. The theory that a bunch of people came up with is that all the women are actually witches and the gazpacho kind of resembles one of their potions. It’s kind of a myth I guess but it’s like they are practicing witchcraft and making spells that kill men.”


This is so fascinating to me because after viewing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” I know that this is one of the world’s most campy films. It is often used among scholars as the example for describing the style of camp in films.  Witchcraft is a type of folklore that is already highly gendered and what I have noticed is nearly all witch movies are extremely campy.  Females who are somehow outside of the box society creates for them, often become categorized as witches. Campiness is the style of nearly all films centered around witches and this is due to the fact that camp perfectly captures the inherent sexism and absurdity of the idea that powerful females are witches. Camp is able to employ qualities of duality and idiosyncrasies that are open to a double interpretation. There is a certain language that camp uses and it allows patriarchal code and codes of oppression to be debunked. To understand camp, the viewer must have some outside knowledge of the pre-existing codes of oppression. So, therefore, in witch movies camp is heavily employed and shows women as extravagant and over the top characters. So the fact that many people in Spain believe “women on the verge,” the trademark movie for camp, is actually about witches makes a lot of sense and shows how people in Spain (and in society) perceive women portrayed a certain way as “witches.”



Carrying the Virgins

The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She described a special religious holiday that entails all the small towns in the area coming together to celebrate.


EP: “Every year in May everyone wakes up at like 6 A.M all of the small villages in the area hike up a huge mountain carrying the virgins of the town up to the top of the mountain. So basically it takes the whole village to get to the top of the mountain because they are carrying the virgins.”


CI: “The virgins meaning..?”


EP: “Oh the villages each carry large statues of Virgin Mary. And then we walk all the way up this huge mountain and then when they get to the top the virgins meet… I mean all the men holding up the statues do kind of like a dance with the Virgin Mary statues, like kind of introducing all of them. It’s like 3 seconds for each village. “


And then basically it’s like 8 AM and we just celebrate. So we put Spanish donuts in red wine and drink at like 8:30 and we eat a lot of octopus.


No one has ever really told me what it’s for or why we do that in May and what the significance is but it’s just something we’ve been doing forever.”


I find this particularly interesting because not only does it seem like a very sacred and difficult day, but it tells a lot about the culture. People start drinking early on in order to celebrate a very sacred religious holiday. I believe the feasting is a way of praising religion and it is also interesting that after all of these years, the informant does not really know what the event is for. Despite this festival returning every year, the significance has never been explained, meaning they probably don’t discuss the holiday’s meeting at the festival. Therefore, this seems more like a passed down tradition rather than a sacred holiday.


Days of the Week Riddle

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother  who apparently loves jokes and riddles. The informant grew up hearing this riddle and never being able to solve it and now tells this riddle all the time. His mother learned it when she was younger from her father when they lived in Cherry Hill, NJ.

This is the riddle:

Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.

A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

MR: “What makes this riddle successful is the misdirection in the instructions. The trickery comes from the word “days,” because your mind goes to the names of the days of the week. Once you know the trick the riddle is super obvious. I think it is funny we always tell this riddle to dinner party members if they haven’t joined us before or if I meet someone new.”


I think the context of this riddle is particularly interesting. This riddle seems to be a running joke within his family and whenever a new member joins the dinner table or party, the riddle is told. It is almost a rite of passage and way to prove yourself to the rest of the family or members of the party. Like the informant stated, once you know the answer, the riddle is painfully obvious and so people who know the answer are all in on the joke, while they wait for the answer. It is almost an initiation.

There’s No Seder Like our Seder Song

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish.  This is a song his Jewish grandmother has the family sing before the dinner service of Passover.

There’s No Seder Like our Seder

There’s no seder like our seder,

There’s no seder I know.

Everything about it is Halachic

nothing that the Torah won’t allow.

Listen how we read the whole Haggadah

It’s all in Hebrew

‘Cause we know how.

There’s no Seder like our seder,

We tell a tale that is swell:

Moses took the people out into the heat

They baked the matzoh

While on their feet

Now isn’t that a story

That just can’t be beat?

Let’s go on with the show!

MR: “We sing this song to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business,” and my grandma had them printed on a twice photocopied piece of paper that she stores in this big bin that only comes out of the closet during Passover. So we all sing this right before the meal of Passover.”

This song is very interesting because it is sung to the tune of a song that is obviously not Jewish which also means that while this is a family tradition this may not be a widespread Jewish cultural tradition. At least this song being sung to the tune of “There’s no Business like Show business,” means that this is not carried down for centuries and is a modern twist on perhaps a more historically grounded Jewish song. The act of singing before a meal is also interesting because it shows the meal is much more of a celebration than other events.

Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. This is the recipe his Jewish grandmother has passed down for Matzo Ball Soup. He said his grandmother was living in Florida before she passed, despite having lived most of her life in New Jersey in a primarily Jewish community. He says, Matzo Ball Soup is a Jewish dish served at Passover.

Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice

MR: “While the recipe is written down, my grandmother has it memorized and tells me the directions by heart. I can’t make it by heart, but I know the directions she has told me several times while I watch her in the kitchen.”

The informant then looks at the recipe to remind himself of the steps.

MR: She told me to put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, ginger, nutmeg, and parsley in a large bowl. And then add in the salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover and then place in the refrigerator overnight.

I remember her holding up a deep brown pan and saying to put the matzo balls in a pan with salted water in order to boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golf ball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”

I think this recipe is mainly interesting because it is recalled by heart by his grandmother. This shows how ingrained in the culture Matzo Ball Soup is. For his family and many Jewish families, Matzo Ball soup is a form of folklore in the sense that it is passed down through generations and verbally spoken and memorized. It is sacred in the sense that it commemorates a religious celebration (Passover).

Australian Proverb

The informant was my best friends mother (referred to as KM) who is Australian. She is from Brisbane Australia and has been living there for around 50 years now. She works as a talent manager and an accountant. She told me her mother used to tell her the following proverb.


KM: “The more you know, the less you need.”


I think this short proverb is very powerful and says a lot about Australian culture. I think a lot of people in western culture view knowledge as power and power also equates to material items and money. So this is kind of the opposite of that. Knowledge is power and therefore, it is the only thing you need. Through my time in Australia and my friends, I have over there I saw a lot of people living a minimalist styled life. Obviously, people live in excess over there as well, but I think this is a beautiful way to live by. When you know more you become more resourceful and are filled with less desire to constantly consume.






El Cucuy

The informant was my childhood babysitter (referred to as JC) who is from Mexico. She moved to the United States about 25 years ago and would frequently go back to Mexico, bringing me dolls and candies. Every year for Christmas she would make homemade tamales. When I was little and misbehaving she would always tell me  El Cucuy will get me. Recently I asked her to tell me more about El Cucuy.


JC: “Behave or El Cucuy will come and find you… We say that to the children to make them behave.El Cucuy is kind of a boogeyman. He gets children who have misbehaved to their parents and can show up to steal you in the night.  He hides in your closet or under your bed and will come to eat your spirit and take you. It is a way for the children to listen.”


Growing up and hearing this, I was never really scared because I think that folklore about things coming to get you or haunt you can only really work if it is a widespread tale that most people have talked about. As I didn’t grow up in Mexico, the only time I had to hear of El Cucuy was from my babysitter and so it seemed made up and unreasonable to me. However, I do think that if more people were talking about this I would have believed it and been more intimidated. I think culturally it is interesting because El Cucuy seems to be the equivalent to the boogeyman, which is also a way for parents to get their children to behave.


For another version of this story see “Boogeyman,” 2005 film by Stephen Kay.




The informant was a woman (referred to as Sarah) at the nail salon who was Vietnamese. She was telling me she was from Vietnam and moved to the United States when she was 13. She lived in Michigan and now is a nail artist in Los Angeles.  She told me about the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Tet.


Sarah: “Tet is the biggest holiday in Vietnam. Everybody celebrates. It is the Lunar New Year. We cook, special food in the days leading up to Tet and everyone is very busy. The preparations are very long. We have something called Mut, which is candy fruit. It is a snack and very sweet.


Then the first day of Tet is exciting. Children give greeting to elders- the grandmas you know? And then in exchange, the children get their lucky money. The whole holiday is about luck. We do not even sweep because that would sweep away good luck. The Vietnamese believe the very first visit to the family shows what fortune and luck the year will be. If good things come to your family on Tet, then the whole year will be lucky.”


I think Tet is particularly interesting because it is centered a lot on luck and there seem to be very specific traditions and superstitions that ensure you will have good luck. The worldview here would appear to be very future-oriented because the weeks leading up to Tet are focused on making sure everything is in place for a good fortune for the following year.