Author Archive
Customs
Folk speech
general
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fountain of Mercy prayer

Main Piece: The Fountain of Mercy prayer takes place at 3 o’clock (either AM or PM), as this is considered a special hour where prayers will be more powerful. If you pray with your rosary at this time, it is said that all of your prayers will be answered. For each of the rosary beads, you pray that Jesus has mercy on a certain person, and it is common to list family and close friends. “However, towards the end you realize that you run out of people. There are about 20 beads on that thing – you’re gonna run out of names, so you start listing random people. Like, ‘have mercy for that one person I saw on the bus early last week,’ and ‘have mercy on the person at the checkout counter.’” The prayer is uniquely designed to force people to think about and pray for other people besides themselves: “It forces me to remember that other people outside of my direct orbit exist while I’m existing, too.”

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. OC originally heard the prayer from her mom and cousin; she has always remembered it because Paraguayan culture highly values family and taking care of others, which is what the Fountain of Mercy prayer reinforces. Personally, the informant cannot perform the prayer every day at 3 o’clock because of her busy college schedule, but whenever she has a free moment to clear her mind, she does an abbreviated version and simply asks God to forgive certain people as well as herself.

Personal thoughts: I think it’s interesting to see how the informant adapts the prayer to her modern life, which reflects the disparity between her everyday life and the lives of her relatives in still living in Paraguay. As a first generation pre-med student who also works part-time, OC is working under the pressure to prove herself in a fast-paced, future-oriented America that values material success such as wealth. This American mindset directly contradicts the day-by-day, mindful lifestyle of her Paraguayan family. For example, her mother, who is still deeply connected to Paraguay, makes it a habit to perform the prayer every single day at 3pm, while OC almost scoffed at the idea of giving a whole hour of her schedule to prayer and nothing else. Rather, religious mindfulness comes secondary to the demands of America’s demanding education system, begging the question of whether modernity and future-oriented thinking (two concepts that are expanding more and more each year) can truly exist in perfect harmony with devout religiosity.

Folk speech
Humor

Loony Bin

Main piece: In mental hospitals or treatment centers, patients will sometimes refer to their hospital or program as the “Loony Bin.”

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head out-of-state to college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. The informant remembers this slang specifically because when they first walked into their room at the hospital, their new roommate exclaimed, “Welcome to the Loony Bin!” Funnily enough, S and their new friends ended up naming their group chat “The Loony Bin” after discharging from the hospital. While S sees the humor in the phrase, they’re wary of it, because “it reinforces this idea that mentally ill people are crazy – or ‘loony’ – when in fact we’re just normal people trying to get our brains to work correctly.”

Personal thoughts: The informant’s point about the phrase “Loony Bin” brings up complex questions of whether a harmful word or phrase can ever truly be “reclaimed.” If someone who has never experienced mental health difficulties referred to a mental hospital as a “Loony Bin,” many patients of mental hospitals might feel ridiculed or offended. However, when a patient themself uses the term (like with S’s example), the connotation is different – that person is most likely saying “Loony Bin” in a fond or humorous or exasperated way, as the phrase itself sounds silly. It brings lightness and childishness to a dark, serious situation, which can often be a relief for many patients. Additionally, the casual, humorous phrasing of “Loony Bin” somewhat de-stigmatizes mental health treatment, as “mental hospital” sounds taboo to many. Even if S is right about the phrase reinforcing that patients are “crazy,” there can be strength in normalizing looniness. What is so bad about it? Wouldn’t a “loony” person feel life more intensely and freely despite the circumstances they’re in? These are all important things to consider when asking whether the reclaiming of a phrase would be more beneficial than harmful.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dumb southerners

Main piece: A common stereotype is that people from the Southeast are fat, uneducated, racist rednecks.

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head off to Boston for college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. S has heard this stereotype of Southerners their entire life, both from Georgians and non-Georgians alike. Interestingly, S even jokes about this stereotype having some truth to it: “When you go to school in the suburbs of Georgia and see people with confederate flag stickers on their cars, it’s hard not to label those around you as uneducated racists!” In all seriousness, S knows many people (including themself) who actively work hard to not become or buy into this stereotype. They want to prove people wrong and change the overall social climate of Georgia.

Personal thoughts: S and I will both maintain that this stereotype has tidbits of truth to it, but even more so than our personal experiences as Georgians, this conception of Southerners has solid historical basis – a quality that not every stereotype bears. To be obvious… the Civil War, in which the South was fighting to keep slavery alive and well. Some people may vaguely argue that the war was about “states’ rights,” but consider what rights Southern states were fighting to maintain – the right to own slaves. It would be naive to think that those age-old mentalities have simply disappeared, especially when almost every Georgian either knows somebody who owns a Confederate flag or owns one themself. One hundred years after slavery came the tumultuous yet impactful Civil Rights Movement, proving that racism never ended with slavery. Even today, lynchings and hate crimes occur way too often in the Southeast. So, while it is increasingly important for Southerners to educate ourselves on social/political issues, advocate for others and fight back against hate groups that give us a bad name, it is also equally important to recognize that these somewhat hurtful stereotypes derive from truth. Instead of getting defensive about them, we must acknowledge the South’s history of racism and subjugation, and prove with our actions that we are working to remedy that painful history.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

“One day at a time”

Main piece: “One day at a time”

Context: The informant (WB) is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Orem, Utah when he was 17 four years ago to receive addiction and mental health treatment. He ended up falling in love with the state and staying. WB’s father had Irish lineage and his mother was a first generation immigrant from Germany. Although he was raised Christian, he does not consider himself religious. Our conversation took place in our shared hotel room while smoking together on a family ski trip in Utah. The “one day at a time” saying is often used in addiction treatment, especially Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to deal with the concept of sobriety. Many addicts don’t want to think about staying sober for the rest of their lives, as that prospect seems dull and overwhelming, especially in early sobriety. However, if you want to use but tell yourself to just stay sober only for the next 24 hours, there’s a possibility you’ll get to use again afterwards. By the time 24 hours rolls around, it’s much easier to resist the temptation to use, either because you’re distracted from why you wanted to in the first place or you just decide it’s not worth it. “Eventually, you’ll look down and realize you have a couple of weeks, a couple of months, or a couple of years clean.” WB has always remembered this saying because it truly works, and it has been what’s kept him sober for the past 6 months.

Personal thoughts: The practice of mindfulness is a big part of mental health and addiction treatment. Often in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), patients are given many different grounding techniques to help stay present in the current moment or day and not catastrophize the future, exemplified by the above saying. Personally, I first learned about the power of mindfulness in group therapy, but that in of itself is troubling. Mindfulness skills should be promoted and taught to everyone, not just those seeking mental health treatment. Sure, “one day at a time” as a proverb exists beyond therapeutic applications and is thrown around occasionally, but how often does the average working American actually buy into that idea? Many of us are hyper-focused on planning our next move in life, whether that be college applications, career developments or potential new relationships, and that is partially because our society’s definition of “success” requires such forward thinking. However, unless we break free of this mindset, we will never truly be satisfied, as we will always just crave the next big thing. What will it take to break people out of this cycle? Will everyone need to live in the wilderness for months on end against their will to finally internalize “one day at a time”?

Initiations
Legends
Narrative

2 week trek

Main piece: If you turned 18 and wanted to sign out of your Wilderness Therapy program, the running conspiracy was that you had to walk from deep in the mountains all the way down to Main Base Camp in downtown Salt Lake City. That’s about a 2 week walk, but you weren’t allowed to hitchhike or receive any assistance or supplies, because a staff member would escort you to ensure you completed the whole walk independently.

Context: The informant (WB) is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Orem, Utah when he was 17 four years ago to receive addiction and mental health treatment. He ended up falling in love with the state and staying. WB’s father had Irish lineage and his mother was a first generation immigrant from Germany. Although he was raised Christian, he does not consider himself religious. Our conversation took place in our shared hotel room while smoking together on a family ski trip in Utah. The informant originally heard this rumor from the other boys in his Wilderness Therapy group (all of whom were minors or young adults) – it had been passed down from individuals with had been there longer to those who were newer to the program, who would then pass it onto the next batch of new kids. WB clarified that this urban legend did not end up actually being true, as when he reached the end of his stay in Wilderness, he got finally clarification from a staff member he was friendly with over whether this was true; it would’ve been “outlandish” if it were true. WB thinks this “treatment tale” came into existence because the majority of the boys in his group were there against their wills, and “when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but hiking and eating nothing but rice and beans, it’s more fun to buy into crazy stories like that rather than think about why your family sent you away.”

Personal thoughts: It’s important to note that the Wilderness Therapy program the informant attended involved spending months on end out in the wilderness, a lifestyle reminiscent of what many would consider “simpler times,” where the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology did not dictate life. Just as individuals of the past were prolific in their creation of myths and legends and tales when faced with bleak realities of mortality and suffering, WB and his group manufactured stories of their own to distract from the anguish and confusion they had to deal with without the escape of modern technology. In terms of the actual content of the tale, the outlandish idea of a difficult two week walk without help is reflective of the independence and perseverance the boys had to develop through months of hard living and involuntary treatment in the middle of nowhere. It makes sense that their form of “initiation” once you become a legal adult who is able to leave the program involves such a grueling task.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations

New York Baptism

Main Piece: A New York Baptism is either the first time you get badly splashed by a taxi in NYC or the first time mysterious droplets (which might not be water) from above trickle onto your forehead.

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. As stated in the main piece, OC has heard multiple different variations of the joke, both originating from New York City situations. She originally heard the iterations of the joke from her immediate family based in Brooklyn, NY and finds the sayings funny for their grudging celebration of uniquely New Yorker situations as well as their play on the concept of baptism, given that she grew up in a religious family but still remains skeptical of organized religion. She also has personally experienced a New York Baptism and delights in witnessing the bewildering baptisms of others.

Personal thoughts: The New York Baptism joke is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the poor conditions of an overpopulated and polluted city. Baptisms are generally seen as wonderful ceremonies where you are reborn into the purity of God’s forgiveness and light, so to place such “negative” experiences on par with a baptism seems discordant and ironic. However, the juxtaposition between the uncleanliness of the city and the purity of religious experiences makes us question what the difference really is between a baptism and dirty city water. Who’s to say that whatever splashed onto your forehead isn’t Holy Water? Are our religious ceremonies really that “pure” anyways, or are we just placing arbitrary concepts of dirty and clean onto a world that will always, in some way, be dirty? To come back to my original point, the joke takes the undesirable concepts of mysterious substances and inconsiderate taxi drivers and turns them onto their head. Although New York is crowded and dirty, those conditions are out of any individual New Yorker’s control, so why not embrace them? People will always call New York home with all the love and devotion in the world, which is why mysterious liquids are not seen as something to be disgusted with, but rather cherished like you would cherish an annoying but lovable family member.

Childhood
Folk speech
general

“Ich bin klein”

Main piece:

Ich bin klein

mein Herz ist rein

darf niemand drin wohnen

als Jesus allein.

 

Informant’s English translation:

 

I am small,

My heart is pure,

So no one will live in my heart but Jesus alone.

 

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. DB grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch our home in Atlanta. The informant heard this nursery rhyme from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother. She values it because it’s “such a simple yet sweet prayer that any child can understand.” DB remembers “Ich bin klein” as the one solitary moment she shared with her mother before bed; despite their busy life and large family, they were always able to regroup and return to each and God at the end of the day.   

Personal thoughts: Popular Christian prayers tend to involve long sentences or invoke complex biblical concepts, which can be especially confusing for children. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance – one line reads: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” An 8-year-old has no grasp on temptation or evilness. Although these kinds of prayers are touted to be family friendly, many times children will simply recite them word-for-word without actually being able to fully understand what they are saying. The beauty of the “Ich bin klein” prayer is that it begins by reinforcing the innocence and simplicity of child (“I am small / my heart is pure”), which are words a child can easily grasp, and ends with an affirmation that the child reciting the prayer loves Jesus (“So no one will live in my heart by Jesus alone”). Bam. Easy. No mumbo jumbo about debts and trespassing – just an affirmation of a child’s purity and love for Jesus.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Schuhplattler

Main piece: Schuhplattler is a traditional style of Bavarian folk dance that includes lots of leg movement, stomping, clapping and slapping. The male performers wear Lederhosen and the female performers wear Dirndls. Modern performances of Schuhplattler can be seen at Oktoberfest in Germany, where many in attendance of the wear Dirndls and Lederhosen – a very good look. Schuhplattler dancers may also play the accordion in their performances, which is a nice addition.  

Context: The informant (BB) grew up in Schlesien (Silesia), Germany and immigrated to the United States when she was 24 in August 1960. BB and her husband, who was from East Prussia (now considered a territory in Poland), started a family of 3 children in Orlando, Florida and ran a greenhouse business until their retirement. BB is a devout Christian with Lutheran roots. She is fluent in both German and English. Our conversation took place by the fireplace in my home in Atlanta. Interestingly, the informant never practiced, performed or watched Schuhplattler in her youth, since the Bavarian dance was more popular in the Southern part of Germany, and she grew up in the Northwest. However, when she immigrated to the U.S. and began attending the American-German society, many young German people were practicing Schuhplattler and putting on shows among their friends. So, she sent her three kids to Schuhplattler practice every weekend and accordion practice for 5 years (and they hated it). BB admires the dance because it was a tradition she wouldn’t have really been exposed to if she had stayed in Northwestern Germany.

Personal thoughts: There is definitely some irony in the fact that immigrating to a new country taught her more about her own country than living there, in some small ways. It goes to show the ways in which folk adapt traditions to new cultures, locations and time periods. Additionally, the Schuhplattler dance is a perfect reflection of the German people and their mindset – disciplined and refined, yet still lively and fun within those constraints. For external reference, see “Kolb, Alexandra. “The Migration and Globalization of Schuhplattler Dance: A Sociological Analysis.” Cultural Sociology, vol. 7, no. 1, 12 July 2012, pp. 39-55. ProQuest 5000. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.)

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Heiliger Abend

Main piece: In the informant’s family, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve rather than the normal American practice of opening presents Christmas morning. They call this Heiliger Abend, or Weihnachten, which translates to Holy Night. When a family’s children are young, all gifts from family members were exchanged during Heiliger Abend, while gifts from Santa (mainly gifts to the kids) are opened on Christmas morning. However, if the of the children grow up and therefore move away from the Santa myth, each present gets opened on Christmas Eve. During Heiliger Abend, pierogi and potato salad is served, and whole family gathers together to sing Christmas Carols (both in English and German).

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. She grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch in our home in Atlanta. DB said that the custom of Heiliger Abend originates from her German roots, but that she adapted the traditions to her modern, American family. DB has kept the tradition alive because, as a child, it took her a long time to realize that celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve was abnormal in the U.S – “it never occured to me that Christmas in the morning would be any fun anyway.” She feels very close to the rest of her family in Germany when she celebrates Heiliger Abend as well as her family in America, as the tradition feels intimate and unique. “As you get older, it isn’t even about the presents anymore – it’s about the experience.”   

Personal thoughts: DB does not perform some key traditional practices commonly associated with Heiliger Abend (i.e. placing a boot outside for Saint Nicholas on December 5th, attending a church service the morning of December 24th, ringing a bell to signal the arrival of presents), which perhaps speaks to the ways in which modernity causes individuals to shave down their traditions to make them more palatable or modern. However, DB has also added a tradition of her own that make her Heiliger Abend unique – Christmas Caroling, which is certainly not a simple or easy tradition to perform. Hence, maybe the informant is simply customizing traditions to her own liking rather than feeling forced to cut certain actions out; modernity can be used and viewed as a tool for evolution, rather than a weapon for deconstructing age-old traditions.

Customs
Game
general
Holidays
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

White Elephant

Main piece: In White Elephant, each family member buys a gift – some are perverted, some are not – and they all go into a random pile. Everyone picks a number that determines what order people pick their gifts in. The person with number one will be the first person to pick a gift, and the next person in line can choose whether to steal that gift or take their chances with a random pick from the pile. If somebody’s gift is stolen, they can choose another gift in the pile or steal from another player. This continues down the line, and everyone besides the first person will get a chance to choose a new gift or steal any previously-picked gifts when their turn comes, until the end.

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. BN believes that the game originated in the the Southeast, as she originally learned of the game through her mother’s family. She’s always remembered it because they play the game every Christmas without fail, and the outrageous or sometimes provocative gifts are always memorable. BN cites the time her grandmother received a vibrating hairbrush, an innuendo that was laughed at among the adults without fully exposing the younger family members to “adult things” – after all, it is just a hairbrush, and no one is willing to let the impressionable children in on the joke.  

Personal thoughts: Oftentimes, people put extensive money, time and consideration into the gifts they buy their loved ones; modern society has convinced us that monetary value is one of the sole factors of worth. White Elephant forces people out of their narrow mindsets for what constitutes a good gift for someone. Gifts should not always be about giving a valuable or sought-after item, and this simple game teaches individuals how to appreciate a gift they didn’t necessarily want or ask for. It is about presently enjoying your time with your family, laughing at the unexpected moments, and going into a situation free of expectations. Moreover, while innuendo is often used to cloak satire or criticism, BN’s family uses innuendo to poke fun at each other in a lighthearted way, in which everyone bonds by sharing the same embarrassment, a concept reminiscent of practical jokes at weddings.

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