Author Archive
Customs
general

Exchanging Senior Portraits – A High School Custom

Item:

Q: Did you take prom pictures?

T: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Oh! Exchanging pictures, that’s something people do, like prom pictures and senior pictures.

Q: Why do people exchange senior pictures?

T: Oh bro Ion’ know. I actually don’t know. Like… like… cause yenno people, like, write little notes on the back of it?

Q: Mhmm.

T: And it’s just, memories I guess.

Q: So did you learn about exchanging them when you started high school or what?

T: I didn’t even know!

Q: You didn’t know until you were a senior that people exchanged senior portraits?

T: I did but, like, I didn’t know, like, my freshman year.

Q: Oh, so, when did you figure out then?

T: Like…

Q: When I was a senior?

T: Ion’ know, probably. Most likely. I didn’t really talk to people.

 

Context:

This piece was collected from a high school student, denoted by ‘T’.  I inquired about any high school lore she knew about, and when she couldn’t think of any, we changed topics.  Later on in the conversation, she was prompted by my question about prom pictures to mention this custom.  Though she did not have much insight into the custom which she describes, I will provide further information on it in the following section.  The informant has attended the same school that I graduated from in Hawaii for all of high school and will be graduating this May.  As seen in the conversation above, she most likely learned the custom of exchanging senior portraits from when I approached graduation at the end of senior year and began preparing portraits to give to my teachers and friends.  The informant also mentions how she is especially aware of this custom now that it is her turn to partake in it; her peers have already begun taking casual pictures to use and she spoke to me about how she wants one of her friends to take her portraits as well.  The informant seems to primarily take this custom as just another one of those things high school seniors do before graduation, and as she said in the exchange, something you do “for the memories”.

 

Additional Personal Notes:

I can elaborate more on this custom, having participated in it myself when I graduated high school.  It should be noted that prom photos are exchanged as well between high school students, which may have reminded the informant about the exchange of senior portraits.  Photos from formal dances, including proms and winter formals, are generally exchanged amongst all grade levels; senior portraits, on the other hand, are exclusive to the graduating class.  They are commonly exchanged among graduating seniors and their closest friends (which may be other seniors or underclassmen), as well as their teachers and advisors, in the weeks leading up to graduation.  Oftentimes, the photo-givers would handwrite notes on the frames of portraits before giving them out, typically something along the lines of a thank you message or a good luck message.  I learned this custom from having upperclassmen friends who graduated before me; some of them gave me their portraits as well.  This custom is most commonly passed on through connections with graduating seniors, like if you received one as an underclassman for example.  In addition, some teachers would also display their collection of portraits from students in their classrooms, so students would be able to learn about this custom through that as well.

 

Analysis:

Having also participated in this custom when I graduated high school, my analysis of its significance has a personal bias because of the role it played for me during this time.  Since it is temporally exclusive to the weeks leading up to graduation and exclusive to members of the graduating class, I believe the custom of exchanging senior portraits is about reinforcing social relationships in a time of changing identity.  Although a student’s plans after high school may be solidified by this time, and she may spend her last few weeks enjoying time with her peers, there still remains a level of anxiety – particularly pertaining to her social relationships she has built throughout high school as a familiar environment is left behind for the uncertainty of life after graduation.   As such, exchanging senior portraits is a material way of reinforcing certain social relationships before they are tested, especially because they are selectively exchanged among friends.  Giving a friend your senior portrait is essentially communicating “I remember you” and “I want you to remember me”.  Furthermore, in the age of digital media, a tangible portrait literally holds more weight than merely texting each other photos.  In the case of exchanging with teacher or advisors, the senior portraits serve a similar purpose of reinforcing these social relationships because you would give them to your favorite and/or most influential teachers as a thank you and final goodbye.  As such, giving out senior portraits is, in fact, about the memories of the social relationships you built during high school and reinforcing them before you make the transition into adulthood.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Charge Books – A Navy Chief Initiation Tradition

Item:

T: The older chiefs will pass on the knowledge and the expertise to the new chiefs with the charge book, right? So then when you- before people in the old days, when you want to be chief you have to carry around a charge book to see all other chiefs to get the- collect the knowledge and experience from them.  But through the years, they use the charge books, they do all kinds of stuff with that charge book, yenno, they- they destroy the charge book, yenno, you’re supposed to protect that charge book, you cannot let the charge book go and some of the chiefs they’re destroying it and burning it so, it just doesn’t mean much anymore so they changed it new way, they changed it a lot, they put a lot of that restriction to them.  Some of the guys ruin it for other guys. So yeah.

T: So the new way is, inside your chief’s mess, depending on how big it is – some mess got really small number of people, some people got a big – but you list all the chiefs in your mess and you go to see each one of them.. to get the knowledge to pass down.  That’s what you’re supposed to do during the transition period.

Q: So you’re not considered an actual chief until you finish that process?

T: Well, that’s the tradition, but the new- I mean, the way, once you got selected for chief, you gonna become a chief either yes or no but, yenno, if you go through the transition, you go through the training, you become a chief.  If you don’t you decide not to do that, other chiefs they’re gonna call you an E7 not a chief.  So in the Navy, you call someone an E7, that’s in-insulting.

Q: So does that mean you still have yours then?

T: Have what?

Q: Your charge book?

T: You’re always supposed to have it with you. You carry that through your life, that’s your memory.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation about the informant’s experiences in the U.S. Navy.  He joined in 1990 and served 26 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2017.  He recalled the charge book tradition while discussing some of the Navy Chief culture.  He also mentioned how the Navy Chief’s Mess is the largest association in the world.  He has a lot of pride in being a retired Navy chief, saying how “The Chiefs are the backbone of the Navy, the Chiefs make the Navy run.”  The informant remembers his own initiation in which he also completed a charge book as a significant moment in his life, especially considering how he asserts that you carry your charge book through your life.  He briefly joked about how when you ask a Navy Chief their birthday, they’ll ask back which one in regards to their actual birthday or the day they became pinned as a Chief.  In addition, the informant talked about why there may be such significant traditions around becoming a Navy Chief.  He says that in other branches, moving from to an E7 ranking is nothing particularly special.  For the US Navy, though, becoming a Chief (the equivalent title for an E7) holds a higher significance and as such has an initiation “just like joining a fraternity”.

 

Analysis:

Initiation rites and traditions are a means of legitimizing or introducing an individual’s membership in a group to those who are already members, especially beyond any official announcement.  Particularly in the charge book tradition described above, even though becoming a Chief is an official designation in the Navy, the informant mentions how the other Chiefs will not acknowledge an individual as such unless they have completed the initiation tradition.  The alienation of those who choose not to participate is further emphasized by their insulting address as an E7, as also mentioned by the informant.  The process of the initiation is quite literally gaining a body of knowledge and experience from the existing members of the Chief’s Mess that otherwise would have taken years of experience to learn.  Especially considering how disparities in knowledge or experience are the basis of distinguishing a certain identity, as the Chief candidates complete their charge books, they slowly close the gap between themselves and the Chiefs already in the.  Thus, they slowly become part of the association.  The pieces of advice given are like stepping stones as the candidates complete their transition; once they have completed all of them, they have earned the right to be called Chief and a part of the Navy Chief’s Mess.  Initiation traditions, like completing a charge book to become a Navy Chief, not only legitimize an individual’s membership in a group, they also provide the means to earn an identity that cannot merely be given.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Old age
Signs

White Headbands – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: Why can’t you wear white headbands?

H: 嗰啲 (go2 di1) white 係人地死咗人地 先戴白色吖嗎(hai6 jan4 dei6  sei2 zo2 jan4 dei6  sin1 daai3 baak6 sik1 aa1 maa3)

[Translation: People only wear white when people die, right.]

Q: 白色件衫定係 白色喺個 頭(baak6 sik1 gin6 saam1 ding6 hai6 baak6 sik1 hai2 go3 tau4)

[Translation: White clothes or white on the head?]

H: 個頭 (go3 tau4)  Like when the parents, like the- your upper generation, like your parents or your grandparents or something, yeah.  When they pass away, so wearing the white [gesturing a headband]. So Asians nope, not gonna wear the white headbands.

[Translation: The head.] (Rest of line remains the same)

Q: So the person who dies wears the white or when you have someone who passed away?

H: Mhmm. So the younger generation will need to put the white thing on their heads, so that’s why no Asians wearing white headbands.

 

Context:

I collected this folk belief as part of a conversation in both Cantonese and English about Chinese traditions and customs.  The informant, denoted by ‘H’ in the exchange above, is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  It should also be noted that the informant likely meant East and Southeast Asians when referring to Asians in the text because these are the cultures that are most similar to her own.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned about white headbands from when asked but only said that you just know this kind of thing growing up because you would see it all the time in Vietnam.  She also told me about how one of her daughters unknowingly wore a white scrunchie once and thus had to explain the symbolism behind it before making her take it off.  White headbands as a funeral custom is an inherent part of the culture in which she grew up, and as such, she will never forget about it and will always stay away from wearing one out of proper context herself.

 

Analysis:

This folk belief can be tied to a belief in sympathetic magic: since white headbands are worn as part of funeral custom when a member of your family has died, you could potentially cause death in the family by wearing them if no one has actually passed away.  The likeness of performing the custom during a particular event may evoke the event itself to happen.  Here we can also see an example of the difference in color symbolism between cultures, a difference that becomes apparent when one is removed from the immediate environment of their own culture.  The informant grew up around this symbolism, taking it as a given, and as such never recognized it as significant until coming to the United States.  In the United States and other western countries, white is often a symbol of innocence and purity.  On the other hand, in Vietnam and other eastern countries, white is a symbol of death and thus only worn during funerary rights.  This is likely why the informant’s daughter did not initially realize the bad omen of wearing a white scrunchie because she did not have the background of having grown up in Vietnam where white headbands were only worn for funerals.  Now with another example of the symbolism in the color white in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, I can understand why it is also a bad omen to wear white during the lunar new year.  Since it represents death, you may bring death upon yourself.  All in all, this folk belief outlines the symbolism of the color white in East and Southeast Asian cultures and furthermore, it proves how one’s own culture is not immediately recognizable until taken out of its initial context.

Game
general

Tanks – A Pen and Paper Game

Item:

M: This is Tanks, at least that’s what I’ve always heard it as.  Um, we have two different control schemes that we’ve played with.  He used to do an actual flick to move it*, um, I never did.  Mine was always just pressure.  And then you just see if you can- the danger is actually stabbing the other person the pen, but you set it up at the end of the triangle, and then the- your tank moves to wherever, um, so you see that tank only moved a little bit.  (Gestures towards recent opponent move) So the goal of this is to actually eliminate your- the- all of your opponent’s tanks.

*By it, he meant a pen.

 

Summary of Game Rules:

Each player draws three triangles at either end of a sheet of paper pointing towards the opposite end; the paper should be fairly large like loose-leaf or computer paper.  The players take turns placing a pen at the tip of one of their drawn triangles and by either flicking the point or applying significant pressure draws a line from that point.  Regardless of the orientation of the line, the new tank is drawn facing the opposite end of the paper.  The tank’s new position is drawn at the end of the line.  To eliminate an opponent’s tank, your line must solidly touch the other person’s tank; eliminated tanks are crossed through with an X.  Whoever eliminates all of the opposing tanks first wins.  Please see the reference images below.

 

Context:

This game was collecting while hanging out with a group of friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about different games from our childhoods.  The primary informant, ‘M’, provided the brief description above as he was playing it with another informant who also gave his experience with this game.  The summary of the game rules was written using the explanation given and my observations as the game occurred.  The primary informant stated how he learned this game in elementary school while living in Okinawa, specifying that he attended school with both Japanese and other American students.  He also stated that this game was something he did during camps with his friends as well.  The informant playing against him grew up in San Diego and learned this game from his dad when he was four years old.  He mentioned how he was surprised that others knew this game because he thought it was just a game among Asians since his dad never fully assimilated into American society.

 

Analysis:

A quick search online yielded dozens of variations on this game, including, but not limited to, playing with planes or rockets instead of tanks, drawing a map that players must navigate around while also trying to destroy their opponents’ tanks, or destroying the tanks by means of gunshots as opposed to running directly into them.  Even with the two players above, they knew two different ways to complete their move: flicking the tip of the pen as it is standing or applying pressure until the pen slips from underneath itself.  I believe the drastic variations in the game and the spread in geographic location where this game is learned is due to a number of different reasons.  As a start, pen and paper games are easily accessible because of the simplicity of materials.  They travel easily and the game is easy to teach because the materials are familiar to most and do not need to be transported.  Tanks has no cultural or language dependencies, allowing it to be shared across cultures and potentially even cultivate cross-cultural relationships.  There is not a large learning or knowledge curve to overcome before the game can be enjoyed, either.  Lastly, as evidenced by how the opponent from the game above learned it from his father, there are no age limitations to this game.  The gameplay does not necessarily become boring or childish; younger kids may enjoy being able to flick pens around and destroy tanks, while adults may find simple pleasure in strategizing how to make a move or entertainment in playing.  Thus, it is easily passed down between generations and easily perpetuated over time.  All of these factors in the gameplay of tanks lend to how easily it can be modified and how easily it is shared among people.  Tanks is easily accessible by people from a variety of different cultural and personal backgrounds, and thus it can foster interpersonal connectedness wherever it travels through the shared enjoyment of a simple pen and paper game.

 

Images:

Tanks Game Board

The tanks game board, where each player starts with three triangles at their end of the paper.  You can see the drawn lines from each tank for the moves made, and how a tank is destroyed in the center because the opponent’s line crossed through it.
Tanks Gameplay

An example of the gameplay in tanks.  This player is making his moves by applying pressure to the pen until it buckles from underneath itself, making a line on the paper as it does so.

 Additional Informant Information:

The information for the primary informant, ‘M’, is above the item, the same information for the second informant is included below.

‘A’ – Nationality: American-Taiwanese, Age: 22, Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur, Residence: Los Angeles, CA, Primary Language: English, Other Languages: Mandarin, Japanese

Customs
Game
general

Challenge Coins – A Navy Chief Tradition

Item:

T: Well, the challenge coin, it started during the war.  So.. the guys would go to the war, they come back, they bring stuff back like their.. their.. kind of their achievements, their, yenno, their bragging rights, right?

Q: Mhmm.

T: People bring in guns, ammo, explosive stuff so it’s kind of get danger, right? So that’s why they start doin’ the – that’s the kind of challenging each other, so that’s.. they start the, using coins instead, so they’re challenge coins.

Q: Mhmm.

T: Right. So for the Chiefs, the Navy Chiefs, the challenge coin, you’re supposed to have it with you all the time, so every time you go in the bar, you go and sit and talk, somebody can pull out the coin and start tapping, right?  If they’re tapping on the bar and.. whoever doesn’t have a coin in them, they have to buy drinks for everybody else.  But, if they’re tapping and everybody got a coin, the guy that’s tapping the guy gonna buy the drinks for everybody else.

T: So with the Chiefs, the coin is more.. every chief gonna walk around with a coin.  Sometime they personalize their own coin or sometime they have, like, their command coin. So.. but the Chief coin a lot different than just a command coin.  It’s just the Chief coin got an anchor on it; every Chief coin got an anchor on it.  It’s for the Chief’s Mess, Chief Association.

Q: Did you ever get stuck on the end of the stick where you had to buy drinks?

T: Never.  Friends that cover me too. Some carry multiple coins with them, they just slip it through under the table.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation with a retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer about his experiences during active duty.  I had actually heard about this piece before and inquired about it directly.  The informant told me about challenge coins and other traditions in the conversation following the exchange above.  He talked about how he learned this piece while completing a charge book as part of his Chief’s initiation, and took pride in never having had to pay for drinks for the Mess in his 13 years as a Chief.  For my understanding, the informant explained that the Chief’s Mess is essentially the Chief’s association.  Inside the Mess, they can address any and all problems conflicts, including personal ones, but outside of the Mess, the Navy Chiefs are one operational unit that “makes the Navy run.”

 

Analysis:

The informant mentioned how Navy Chiefs are expected to have challenge coins on them at all times, but this expectation is never specified. Rather, it is something that is passed from person to person in between Chiefs.  Like how the informant learned about challenge coins through his charge book, a Chief would hope someone else tells him or helps him out before he has to buy drinks.  Carrying a challenge coin, then, becomes a way of proving one’s identity as a Chief.  It may also be a material reminder to uphold the expectations of a Navy Chief and fulfill those duties because it needs to be on you constantly.  It is less of an initiation though, I would say, rather than a game or a test of sorts.  The Navy Chief’s initiation is completing a charge book, and those who do not go through with this are called E7 instead of Chief.  In the case of the challenge coin, the repercussions are significantly less insulting, albeit still undesirable.  Also, as opposed to an initiation process, this tradition continues throughout the entirety of one’s service as a Chief rather than just at the start.  The possibility of being tested for a challenge coin can happen at any time, so individuals must be constantly prepared for it.  In addition, the informant mentions how he has had friends help him out when he did not have a challenge coin.  This is an interesting point because the challenge coin tradition, as a whole, asserts the group identity as the Navy Chief’s Mess and their relationship as an operational unit.  Since this tradition happens in the Mess, where they are able to set aside their responsibility of acting as a cohesive unit, individual interpersonal relationships can be revealed.  The possibility of helping each other out is an example.  Just as how only certain people may be friends within a larger group of people, potentially only certain Chiefs will be friends within a certain Mess, whether it be because of shared backgrounds or experiences, etc.  These friendships work to prevent each other from punishments and potential embarrassment from being caught without a challenge coin.  All in all, the challenge coin tradition of U.S. Navy Chiefs is a symbol of Chiefhood, through constantly having one on you as a material reminder of your duties and being prepared to present it as proof of your identity.

Game
general

Euchre – A Michigan Game

Item:

R: Euchre, in fact, uses a subset of a deck of cards.  It only uses cards 9 through Ace, or I guess Ace then 9 through King.  But ah, you play.. by.. ah, it’s like- it’s like Hearts or Spades where there’s the trump suit.  But uh, when you play, oh and everybody, uh uh, there’s- has five cards in their hand, and you do five different tricks where everybody plays down one card.  I’m sure it’s similar to Peaknuckle, and Hearts, Spades, other ones.  One of the suits is trump, and the way that that suit becomes trump is very Euchre way of making it, I think.  Maybe it’s similar to Peaknuckle.  One of the weird things about Euchre is that the Jacks, are the highest cards in the game.  Usually, in a game of cards, either the Aces are the lowest or the Aces are the highest and then Kings are the highest or the second highest.  But in Euchre, the Jack of trump is the highest card and the Jack of the same color off suit of trump is the second highest card, so there’s that extra thing to remember.  Ah, and thereafter all the other cards of the trump follow as you would expect: Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9.  Then you keep track of your score on the five cards.  First team to get ten points wins.  You get one point if you take a majority of tricks in a hand.  Two points if you take all the tricks in the hand, or you take the majority of tricks in the hand but the other team called trump.  You get, ah, four points if you go alone and you let your partner not do anything at all.  You get eight points if you go alone when the, ah, other team called trump. And you win still, because you Euchre’d them.  To “Euchre” someone means to beat them when they called trump.  But.. ‘cause when they call trump, they get the advantage of being able to pick up an extra trump card, or they get the advantage of knowing what’s in their hand should be better toward that trump.  If they called trump, and you still beat them, they were fools!  They made a terrible mistake and misread their hands.

Q: Sorry, could you explain trump again?

R: Trump is a system in cards where that suit mysteriously beats the other suits for no particular reason.  It’s like, it’s like white supremacy, there’s no real good reason for it, but for some reason white people beat other people at things.  In Euchre, every time you play a new hand, ah, you.. every hand, the trump gets redecided.  The trump is a suit of cards.  So, in one hand it might be spades, the next hand it might be hearts, and somebody who’s brave and thinks they could do well with that trump calls that trump.  Usually what happens is the dealer deals out cards, and then the dealer flips over one of the remaining four cards, ‘cause you don’t deal out four of the cards, otherwise people would be able to count cards and you don’t want that.  So, flip over one of the cards, that card is up for grabs as the trump suit.  The person to the left of the dealer goes first and says either they want to pass, or they ask the dealer to pick up that card.  If they ask the dealer to pick up that card, that suit become trump, the dealer puts that card in their hand and puts a different card down on the table, face down and puts those and the other cards to the side.  That’s how trump is decided. But if nobody tells the dealer to pick it up including the dealer doesn’t want the card they flipped over, they don’t want that card to be trump, the dealer flips that card over and then you go in the circle, and from the left of the dealer around, you can choose any suit as trump, except for the one you flipped over.  If nobody picks it, then the dealer is screwed.  It’s a move called screw the dealer, and the dealer has to pick the trump.   Even if they have no chance of winning with anything.  You play in pairs, the dealer is one member of the pair.  It’s a four-person game, and uh, the dealer rotates around.  You rotate the dealer around in the circle.

 

Context:

I picked up Euchre while hanging out with a group of friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about games from our childhoods or where we grew up.  Two members of this group were from Michigan, but one of them did not know the game, explaining how she’s had people assume she knew the game because she was from Michigan.  She talked about how if someone knows the game Euchre, and knows that someone else is from Michigan, it’s a good possibility that the person knows how to play it.  She also explained that you would pick the game up from family or friends in a social setting.  The other informant did not entirely grow up in Michigan, but did know how to play and explained the game in great detail above.

 

Analysis:

Euchre is a prominent example of how a particular piece of knowledge is tied to a certain locale, in this case, the state of Michigan.  It is also an example of how something like a game shared from person to person amongst a group creates or reinforces a certain identity.  Euchre serves as a very obvious identifier of who comes from Michigan.  The significance of the relationship between Euchre and Michigan is evidenced by how the female informant explained that everyone assumes she knows the game because she’s from Michigan.  She does, in fact, know of the game, but she does not know how to play.  To some others from the state, it may seem like she is not truly a Michiganian.  Since Euchre is primarily a Michigan thing, learning it may also be a method of assimilating into the state culture.  In the case of the male informant, he actually lived in Maryland before moving to Michigan.  As such, he turned from an outsider to an insider by learning how to play, becoming a Michiganian himself.  There appear to be no rules about sharing Euchre outside of Michigan, alluding towards openness in the state culture because there is not any exclusivity.  In this particular case, the informant’s willingness to share the game with others outside of Michigan allowed them to partake in the state’s culture when they otherwise would not have had a chance to.

 

Additional Informant Information:

The data of the male informant, ‘R’, who explained the gameplay of Euchre is in the section above the item.  The same information is provided for the other informant below.

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age 29; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

Game
general
Kinesthetic

Chicken Games – Proving Personal Vigor in American Childhood

Item:

M: Most of the games I had, like, heard about and observed were all the, like, chicken games where it’s like, “ah yeah, take an eraser over your knuckles. Whoever wimps out first loses.”

R: Well of course they- did you play quarters**?

M: Yeah, or um, slaps.  This is where people would like, hold the other person’s hand, slap each other as hard as they can

E: Until someone gave up.

M: Until someone gave out.

E: It’s so stupid I hated it.

A: A version I played was when you did the middle finger thing to their forearm until they gave out.  And you’d end up with these giant red spots.

 

Context:

**Quarters was understood by all as a game where each player places his fist knuckles down on the table and shoots quarters at the other until someone gave out.

I collected this piece about chicken games while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods.  One of the participants in the conversation, denoted as ‘M’ , brought up chicken games from his elementary and middle school days, prompting others to contribute the variations they knew of and demonstrating on themselves when necessary.  Each interlocutor is denoted by a different letter.  The interlocutors were students of the University of Southern California, but of different class standings and two had already graduated.  The first informant, ‘M’, is a sophomore who went to elementary school on a military base in Japan but middle and high school in Texas; ‘R’ is a Ph.D. student who grew up in Maryland and Michigan; ‘E’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in Lompoc, CA; and ‘A’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in San Diego, CA.  They all brought up these games as something they had either observed or participated in during either middle or elementary school years, saying they viewed it as something either funny (a common opinion amongst the males) or stupid (as said by the only other female in the conversation aside from myself) at the time, but particularly viewing it as stupid nowadays.  There was also a general consensus that most kids would abandon these games by late middle school (8th grade) at the latest.

 

Analysis:

The wide range in age of the interlocutors is very indicative of how long these chicken games perpetuated, particularly with how the oldest interlocuter is ten years older than the youngest interlocuter.  Since you would pick these games up from other kids, it would make sense that as the older kids pass them down to the younger kids, they would continue through the years, particularly through neighborhood interactions where groups were not necessarily divided by age.  Another interesting point was the wide variety of locations in which each of the interlocuters grew up and/or attended elementary and middle school.  There were locations all over the United States, and even abroad in an American community overseas; I also knew of these games while growing up in Virginia.  As such, these chicken games are likely a part of greater American school-age children’s culture, especially amongst younger children because there was a general consensus that these games were abandoned once late middle school years came around.

What is more important, though, is why children would partake in these kinds of games, especially when they sometimes left physical marks on the body as mentioned by ‘A’ in the exchange above.  Particularly in the institutionalized schooling structure of the US, children are all brought up to think in particular ways and learn specific things and as such there can be a large sense of homogeneity among them.  These chicken games can establish another type of identity that is more counterhegemonic, considering these games were often strictly ruled against in schools and looked down upon by parents.  They can also establish a power dynamic amongst children who might otherwise be in an egalitarian environment.  If children can establish themselves as the strongest or the bravest in these games, it gives them something else to identify themselves with, which is why leaving marks may also be apart of why they take part in these games in the first place.  They become victorious signifiers of glory and pride, somewhat like battle scars; this also becomes significant when considering how children become increasingly aware of their bodies and their physical images as they get older.  These games were more popular among boys and with American culture so heavily centered around physical strength in men, these chicken games may be their attempts to embody these ideas from early on.  As for why they typically died out during middle and high school, partaking in certain subcultures becomes increasingly more significant during this time as children becoming adolescents begin to further explore who they want to be; these subculture identities begin to take more precedence moving out of elementary years.  This can correlate with why chicken games die out as students get older and more mature because they would no longer need these trivial markers of identity.

 

Additional Interlocuter Information:

The informant description for ‘M’ is in the section above the item, and the same information for each of the other informants is included below.

‘R’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 29; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles; Primary Language: English

‘E’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 22; Occupation: Non-Profit Arts Administrator; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Italian

‘A’ – Nationality: American-born Taiwanese; Age: 22; Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Mandarin, Japanese

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Passover Plate and Matzah – Symbolic Food at the Passover Seder

Item:

L: This is gonna explain the Passover plate in the middle, not all things are on it ‘cause we have a big bowl of charoset and um, and we don’t have a lamb’s shank bone because yenno, where you gonna find those?  Not really, so we’ll just break something else and uh..

S: For reference, my, uh, my family uses the same lamb shank bone every year.

L: That’s terrifying.

E: Do you actually break it or is it just symbolic?

S: No, it’s just symbolic.

L: So there’s the egg, symbolizes, uh, new life, uh, new beginnings, that sort of thing.  A little bit of the karpas which is the vegetables, spring new life, that sort of thing. Uh, the egg is more of a new life for you as person and the culture, spring is the vegetable.  There’s the charoset, um, and the maror, that’s the herbs and the bitterness.  Um, and the salt water, which is supposed to represent the tears of our ancestors and how much they suffered! Yaaay! Um, it’s all- this is all pretty much about remembrance.  Um, and being- welcome to Judaism, pretty much everything is remembering the troubles you went through in the past so that you, uh you know, remembering your past.  Don’t, you know, take things for granted.  Uh, think about how fortunate you are now that you’re not building pyramids

S: Be afraid of Egyptians and Christians and everyone.

L: But it’s also like, you know, new birth, rememb- like you know, it’s not all bleh.  Um, which comes across in the charoset, which is the mortar between the bricks that we built.  Um, yeah, why is mortar made out of apples and walnuts? I don’t know, it tastes good though.  And we’ll get to that later with the Hillel sandwich.  But that’s what the plate in the middle is supposed to represent.  Um, so karpas! Which is the herbs, pretty much this is the parsley and the salt water.  The herbs, which is the little bitter, dip it into the salt water to remember the tears of our ancestors and the sweat of all the hard work they did when they were enslaved in Egypt. Hahum, once again. Tha- this is gonna be a reoccurring theme guys!

L: So um, we all take a little bit of the parsley… [distributes parsley] and do you typically say the prayer before or after you eat it?

S: Before.

L: Before? Okay, I did- somebody did it after, and I was like [makes a confused face].  I know, I was confused as well. Alright so, um, this is to remember the tears of our ancestors and all the hardships they went through.

All: Blessed are You Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.

L: And then we dip it in the salt water.

L: Yachatz.  Matzah! What is matzah? It’s unleavened bread, because when we left Egypt, we didn’t have time to let our bread rise, um, ‘cause we were in such a hurry.  So we left Egypt in a hurry and the bread baked on the backs of the Jews who were walking through the desert, um, on their long journey.  So that’s what matzah is, we don’t eat any bread with wheat, or basically leavened bread this night, um, to signify that.. um, and we will break it in half.  So what we do is we break it in half, and hide the smaller piece, uh, and this is the Afikomen which is our “dessert” for the Passover uh, but yenno real dessert, it’s- it’s a modern thing. But what we do is we hide this somewhere in the area and then all the children go and find it and a lot of the time if you find it, you get a prize or something like that, um, I was thinking the people who could find it are the people who have not participated in Passover before.

S: In case you were wondering, as the oldest cousin, I did find the Afikomen every year.

L: I never found the Afikomen!

S: My grandma got dollar coins.  So it was a dollar, but it was a special dollar.

[Continuation of the Seder dinner, primarily the telling of the Story of Passover]

L: The pesach, which is the lamb bone that we don’t have.  No one actually uses roasted beets

S: That’s true

L: So that’s why I didn’t even think about it.  It’s the sacrifice that God passed over the Israelites’ houses with the tenth plague, um, what they did is they painted lamb’s blood on their doorways so that God would pass over their doorway and not kill their firstborn. So that’s what the shank bone is for, the blood of the- the sacrifice of both the firstborns of the Egyptians also the lambs that we painted blood with.

[Second Glass of Wine]

[The Second Urchatz – Washing of Hands]

L: Blessing over matzah, so now we get to eat the matzah.  This is eating the unleavened bread so you can crack off a little piece.

All: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His laws and commanded us to eat matzah.

S: Whenever you make matzah at home, it’s circular.

L: It’s supposed to look like this ‘cause that’s how they made it back in the day.  However, you know, factory processed matzah.

S: This is in fact why you have matzah that’s not Kosher for Passover ‘cause they were too lazy to get a rabbi in there.  Or too cheap.

L: The maror, okay the bitter herbs. Here’s the horseradish.  This is the bitter herbs, um, remembering the bitterness and pain, again, of our ancestors.  Yep.  It sucked being slave so what you do is take a little bit of the horseradish.  If you’re feeling the pain of your ancestors, you get a big ol’ glob on there but if you’re not really feeling the pain of the ancestors. This- this would also be a competition.  Whoever could eat the most bitter- the most maror, would be the most remember-y Jew.

S: What my family does is we’d chop up the horseradish and take a teeny tiny little bite.

All: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His laws and commanded us to eat bitter herbs.

L: Yaay, the best part, the charoset. So charoset, anyone remember?

Participant: It’s the spackle and the mortar!

L: Yeah! Cool. So what we do is that we make a Hillel sandwich.  Hillel was a famous, ah, um.. is he a rabbi?

S: He was a rabbi, they’re all rabbis.

L: Yeah, he was a famous religious figure in Judaism who made the- who would- this is what we name after, Hillel.

L: So what we do is we take the mortar, there’s no prayer for this funny enough, you take – if you want, you don’t have to – a little bit of the radish, the bitter.

S: You kinda have to.

L: You do.

S: You kinda have to, but you drown it out with the charoset.

L: Now the charoset, oh so we take it ‘cause we still remember the bitterness, but we put in the charoset ‘cause we- because it’s also the hope of the future and the- the taste of the joys of life.  So there’s the sweetness outweighs the bitter, but you still need the bitter to remember.

S: In case you were wondering, for this and the previous thing, most people take like a teeny teeny little bite.

L: Oh yeah, no- no one ever really goes super hard.  That was just the first time ‘cause someti- it’s always a competition, especially if there are kids.

 

Context:

This recorded excerpt is only parts of the Seder dinner I attended that reveal the symbolism of food at Passover.  I collected this piece as the leader of the Seder, denoted by ‘L’ in the excerpts above, was going through the ritual agenda.  That being said, it should be noted that these excerpts were not consecutive in the procession.  In some locations there are brackets with the rituals that came in between certain sections.

The primary informants of the Seder dinner were two students from the University of Southern California.  They are both Jewish and both grew up celebrating Passover and attending Seders with their families.  As such, throughout the transcription, there are places where one of the informants may have an additional comment regarding something their family did specifically or what their family may have changed from the a more traditional Seder as prescribed by a guide book called the Haggadah.  For example, typically three days of Seder are observed, on Friday, Saturday, then Sunday, but both informants mentioned how their families typically only did one.  Both the informants also talked about the Haggadah they used in their families, but the guide book was not a means of learning the rituals or the traditions by far.  It served as amore of a refresher and catalog of knowledge on the stories that are told through the night.  People would actually learn about the rich symbolism and reasoning behind Seder as they experience it and partake in it.

 

Analysis:

The Passover Seder is very rich in food symbolism, as seen in the excerpt of the dinner I attended above.  The food itself does not inherently hold meaning, but it is the context in which it is presented and consumed in which the meaning arises.  The choice of a particular food to hold meaning may have different origins as well.  Whereas matzah is a literal representation of the unleavened bread that baked on the backs of the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert, some of the other items on the plate have physical connections to their intended meaning.  For example, the bitterness of the horseradish, or the maror, was meant to parallel the bitterness and pain of suffering in Egypt.  The charoset, though, a delicious mixture of apples and walnuts, is supposed to represent the mortar and spackle between the bricks of the pyramids.  There is not quite any apparent connection here as opposed to the other items whose taste or appearance is the basis of their symbolism.  On the other hand, though, later on one the informants mentioned how the charoset also represents the joys from life and hopes of the future, and this has more of a direct connection because delicious food can be a joy of life.  Children or non-Jewish participants in Seder are able to very quickly identify the symbolism of foods during Seder because some of the spoken rituals are about explaining them as well.

Not only is the symbolism of the food important at Seder, but the ritual interactions with these foods are significant as well.  The most prominent example of this would be having to eat the maror, or the bitter herbs.  As ‘L’ mentioned, those who really strive to experience the bitterness and pain of the Jewish ancestors would go for a large amount of it (though on the flip side, it may just be a competition).  If the foods hold the essence of some state of being, then eating the food could nurture that same essence within an individual by means of contagion.  I think this is part of the reason why such emphasis is placed on food symbolism during Seder.  Whether the resulting state of being is negative or positive, it provides a means to remember the events of the past.  By continuing to ritually reenact Seder dinner, during which the suffering of the Jewish ancestors is remembered and God is thanked for freeing the Jewish people of their slavery, the story of Passover for the Jewish people will continue to perpetuate and thus preserving this aspect of Jewish culture.

 

Annotation:

For additional examples of familial variations in celebrating the Passover Seder, please refer to  Sharon R. Sherman’s essay titled “The Passover Seder: Ritual Dynamics, Foodways, and Family Folklore” in Chapter 14 (pages 193 – 204) of Food in the USA: A Reader.

Sherman, Sharon R. “The Passover Seder: Ritual Dynamics, Foodways, and Family Folklore.” Food in the USA: A Reader, edited by Carole M. Counihan, Routledge, 2002, pp. 193-204.

 

Additional Informant Data:

The informant data for the leader of the Seder is included in the section above the item.  The same information is included for the other informant below:

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

Game
general

The Game

Item:

E: So basically The Game is, once you know about The Game, you’re playing The Game and if you think about The Game, you lose The Game and that’s it.

S: Yeah.

E: So once you think about The Game, you lose The Game and then you say “I just lost The Game” and then everyone around you now hates you.

S: It’s beautiful in its simplicity.

Q: So.. you guys would learn about this from, like, your classmates?

E: Yeah, so someone would just be like “I just lost The Game” and then you would ask

S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) “What’s The Game?”

E: And they were like “you just lost The Game” and you kinda just pick it up.

 

Context:

I collected the following piece while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to share games from our childhood and school days.  On the way back from practice, one of the informants (‘S’ in the exchange below) announced that she had just lost The Game, prompting ‘E’ to express disgruntlement and me to inquire after what ‘The Game’ was.  I am ‘Q’ in the conversation, and there were three participants in the conversation, denoted by ‘E’, ‘S’, and ‘M’.  For two of the informants, the time period in which they learned about The Game approximately matched up, with ‘M’ being in elementary school, ‘E’ being in middle school and ‘S’ being in high school.  The informant denoted by ‘M’ also did say that he has seen The Game on the internet.  It should be noted that all of the informants were in different locations when they learned of The Game, ‘M’ stated that he attended elementary in Okinawa on an American military base, ‘E’ attended middle school in California, and ‘S’ attended high school in Michigan.  None of the informants seemed to know of the origin of The Game.

 

Analysis:

The Game is a particularly interesting piece of folklore in a number of ways.  For starters, it is a purely psychological game where you have to avoid thinking about The Game in order not to lose The Game. That being said, there also seems to be no apparent method of winning, so some of the motivation to continue must derive from making others lose The Game instead. Also, there is really no physical evidence of The Game at all.  Although there is digital evidence as referenced to by ‘M’ online, otherwise you would only learn about The Game if someone around you loses they game because they are technically supposed to announce it.  The only clue to the origins of The Game would be that the staple saying, “I just lost The Game” is in English, but I am not sure if there are versions of this in other languages or if this game may have originated in another language before being translated for English speakers.  The Game also very clearly dichotomizes the world into those who are playing The Game and those who are not.  Furthermore, The Game is not restricted to a particular time and place.  In fact, its spontaneous nature is what allows it to be passed along for so long.   Also, because of its simplicity and the universality of human thought, The Game spreads easily across cultures as well, particularly on the internet where the space is incredibly global.  Regardless of the fact that there seems to be no apparent motive or winning strategy to The Game besides not thinking about it (which is much harder than it sounds), people continue to play it.  It may be because it is fun to introduce people to the game, or entertaining to see the people around you express disgruntlement when you made them lose, but it may be because it can serve as a reminder of the fact that our brains work between the subconscious and conscious in response to the world around us.  Trying to figure out how thought works brings about the psychology questions of whether we can “un-think” something, and if we cannot, whether we can and how to avoid thinking about it.

 

Additional Informant Data:

The data for the informant denoted by ‘E’ is included above the item.  The same data for the other two informants is included below:

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age; 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

‘M’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 19; Occupation: University Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Mandarin

 

Game
general

MASH – A Game to Predict Your Future

Item:

E: MASH is- is a game, um, where it stands- it stands for mansion, apartment,

S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) shack, and house

E: and then there were different categories.  And how I played it you could always customize your categories, but it was usually always something along the lines of the pet you’re gonna have, the car you’re gonna have, your job, your husband, or wife, blah blah blah blah

S: Who’s gonna be your husband, or wife.

E: How many kids you have, that was a popular one. And then you would, um…

S: Salary!

E: You played with salary? That’s terrifying

Q: That’s a little too high stakes!

S: We were really hardcore middle schoolers man

E: And then you would write it all down.  And then you would, um, you would say start and go and you would draw lines until you said stop and that would be the amount of times the person would just go down the list counting and crossing things out, and then whatever was left was, uh, your prediction for your future life.

 

Context:

This piece was collecting while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods or school days.  Some of us even played them again now as college students, including but not limited to MASH as described above.  After this exchange, we proceeded to play a few rounds of MASH choosing the following categories: husband/wife, occupation, husband’s/wife’s occupation, salary, husband’s/wife’s salary, car, number of children, place, and pet.  The person whose future was being predicted chose three things to place in each category and the others in the room chose the last, usually an unfavorable choice, for a total of four items.  We also restricted the husband/wife options to those who were in the room at the time.  The counting number was determined by me drawing lines until the person said stop, then I counted through the categories back-to-back, crossing out the one I landed on each time.  Once I finished the categories, I counted through MASH at the top and then we read out the person’s future to the room.

The two informants were both females, and a majority of those who chose to play were female as well, but the person whose future was predicted was male.  The two informants grew up in different places and we have age differences of a few years between each of us.  ‘S’ in the exchange above grew up in Michigan and primarily played this game during middle school.  ‘E’ in the exchange above grew up in California, and mentioned how she would play the game with her friends at “every sleepover ever.”  There was a general consensus that primarily it was girls that would play MASH.

 

Analysis:

I played MASH quite a bit as well while going to middle school in Virginia.  It was mainly just a fun way to pass the time at that age.  The fact that it was so widespread and so popular for a period of time may be because it is an easy pen and paper activity that is simple to learn, customize, and pass on, but I believe there is another reason why it was so popular, especially during middle school years.  At its core, MASH is a game about predicting the future, and this practice existed long before the game existed.  People have a desire to predict the future so that they have more control over it and can decrease their anxiety about what may come.  Especially for middle schoolers, when most children are now going through puberty and beginning a transition into adolescence and eventually adulthood, there can be great uncertainty about the future.   MASH, then, becomes an unconscious way to plan out and/or predict the future in a completely low risk, zero consequence, and even humorous environment.  There may be even a hint of belief in its prediction power for some, indicated by how you would primarily put choices you wanted under each category.  Furthermore, the particular anxieties can be extrapolated from the categories chosen.  These categories may be completely trivial and entertaining (e.g. Type of Pet) or they can reveal desires regarding social class (e.g. Salary, MASH) and gender roles, particularly for females (e.g. Number of Children, Occupation).  Even the common addition of an undesirable choice to each of the categories, when it is known that there is a possibility it may be picked, indicates an awareness that the future may not always be in their favor.  On the surface, MASH may seem like just a funny way to pass the time and be entertained due to the improbable nature of the results, but all things considered, it seems to be a way for middle-school age children to overcome their anxieties about the future in a time where they are going through a number of changes, both physical and psychological.

 

Additional Informant Data:

The informant data for the interlocuter denoted by ‘E’ is included in the section above the item.  The same data for the other informant is included below.

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

[geolocation]