Author Archive
Customs
general
Material

The Grog Bowl – An Air Force Tradition

Item:

G: It’s pretty standard across the Air Force, I’m not sure about the other branches but- So we have “dining-ins” or “dining-outs” so..  “Dining-in” is like a dinner event amongst everyone in the unit, so it’s just pure, like, military.  And then “dining-out” is when you can invite your family, you can have dates and stuff.  And depending on the circumstance, there’s something called a grog bowl.  It’s the worst thing in the world!  So like, if you ever look at what a “dining-in” or “dining-out” is, there’s a president and a vice president.  It’s like role-playing, it’s really funny, it’s so dumb.  So it’s like, let’s say the president hasn’t been seated yet, to eat dinner, like.. and everybody else sits down to eat, everyone has to go to the grog bowl.  The grog bowl is like a punch bowl with like, the nastiest stuff inside like, they throw like, cranberry juice and like, chocolate and like- They just mix everything like hot sauce.  And last time, they threw a slice of pizza, so they started involving solids.  And it was the worst experience ever because it’s like, nobody wants to go to the grog bowl, but that’s like, it’s- it’s tradition that you have to have a grog bowl at one of these events, at least if you’re making it a formal one, like by the books.  Like the grog bowl, if somebody makes a mistake, they have- they have to be sent to the grog bowl.  They have to get a little shot- like plastic shot glass or whatever, serve themselves, drink the whole thing, and then lift the cup and like, flip it upside down on their heads.  So if they don’t drink it, they just spill the freakin’ all th- all the liquids on top of their heads.  Or they drink it all and they don’t have anything, right?  And it’s just like, it’s so funny.  So it’s like, there’s so many little tedious things so if like, somebody makes a mistake: Oh! You’re goin’ to the grog! You spoke before being told to speak? You’re goin’ to the grog!  It’s such a funny experience.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation with one of my friends over lunch about military traditions and customs since he is an Air Force ROTC Cadet at the University of Southern California and my dad served 26 years in the U.S. Navy.  The informant is a sophomore studying astronautical engineering and a cadet in the USC Air Force ROTC.  He described having a grog bowl at dining-ins and dining-outs as “by far a terrible, but super fun experience,” also telling me about how one of the worse ones he had experienced was when they included solids into the mixture.  He could not recall what he did wrong immediately, but he then remembered that he had started eating before the president did.  The informant also explained additional information, like how the roles are typically determined by the highest-ranking officers, and that they have the authority to “do whatever the hell they want” with the grog bowl, as long as there was not any alcohol.  When asked about the origin though, the informant said that he only knew of it as an Air Force tradition for dining-ins and dining-outs.

 

Analysis:

The Air Force grog bowl is an interesting piece of military folklore because it is essentially a type of hazing that is not really associated with assuming a new identity or an initiation tradition, and it also juxtaposes a single element of chaos that has been allowed to remain with an otherwise highly regulated and disciplined environment.  With other humorous or more casual traditions, there is a time and place where it is acceptable for a large group to engage with it as once, thus creating an overall environment of humor or chaos.  Yet, the grog bowl sits in the middle of a formal event.  It seems as if it is meant for enforcing discipline and proper behavior at dining-ins or dining-outs since those who make any type of mistake are sent to the grog bowl.  In the case of the informant I spoke to, though, he could not readily recall what he was sent to the grog for, which somewhat decreases the effectiveness of the grog bowl as a means of discipline.  His strongest memories on the grog bowl are how funny the whole concept is and how nasty the mixture was when he got punished at one of his first dining-ins.  Everyone is equally susceptible to being sent to the grog bowl and as such, is held to the same expectation of conduct and discipline – two very important ideas in any branch of the military – regardless of ranking or status.  Regardless of its purpose, whether for entertainment or punishment for those who make mistakes in conduct or both, it is clear that the tradition is expected as a part of formal events.  With each new concoction that is created and each member that is sent to suffer with it, the U.S. Air Force tradition lives on.

Game
general

Bitch Card – A Drinking Game

Item:

M: So we use the.. the poker card, and like you use like, possibly two or three packet or pack of the.. the poker card and you make a ring like, here’s one cup [gestures to a cup on the table] and then you make the poker card a circle and this in the center [gestures again to the cup] and everyone like, uh, in order to take a card.  So, uh, every- every number has different meaning, and possibly like, so for the- for the ‘A’- for- for the ‘1’, number 1, you can point at [name] and let him to have a shot or drink a shot.

Q: So it was a whole deck of cards?

M: Yeah like, several.  Several.  And like when you- when you make a ‘K’, then you can pour, like, pour some possibly the shot or possibly the orange juice or milk or something like, just liquid

Q: Oh into the center cup

M: Yeah, the center cup.  So for the first, second, and third ‘K’, you just pour it.  The fourth one, you drink it.  Yeah, and every number has different rules.  Like, like for the number 2, like you will be the.. whore and if there’s someone like, he has to take the drink, then he can order you to drink with him together.

Q: So if you pull the number, then you do the action.

M: Yeah, like when you take the num- take the card, you will follow the number.  You follow the rule according to the number.

Q: Was there a name for the game?

M: It’s called like, bitch card [laughs]

 

Context:

I collected this piece while hanging out with friends and we began talking about the games we knew from our childhood and school-age years.  The conversation progressed to games we know now, particularly drinking games, such as the one the informant described above.  The informant is a student of the University of Southern California and actually learned this game from her peers at the university last semester.

 

Analysis:

Games establish our identities in certain ways, including our group identities are revealed by the games we know and our individual identities are revealed by the games we choose to play and how we choose to engage in them.  Drinking games, like the bitch card game collected above, albeit riskier than children’s games, for example, are no exception to this.  Furthermore, they are no exception to the wide variety in types of games, like card games or dice games.  Most popular among college students and young adults, often times drinking games are initiated to foster the interactions of a group and facilitate the formation of group identity – even if that group is specific to a particular time and place and may be temporary – because they get people to start drinking and letting loose.  On the flip side, drinking games can also alienate those who choose not to participate, but this is common amongst all games and not just restricted to drinking games.  Even worse is the risk of personal vulnerability that can result from a drinking game gone overboard.

All of the analysis that can be applied to games can be extended to drinking games.  Since the bitch card game is purely based on luck of the draw, there is no learning or knowledge curve that would place an individual at a significant disadvantage.  The game allows for variation as well in the card assignments; a bit of internet searching revealed several different versions of the game where the card action assignments were different from the few that were described by the informant.  What appears to be a constant, though, is the rule regarding drawing Kings and the King’s cup, most likely because the center cup is the focal point of the game.  Though drinking games can be interpreted in many of the same ways as other games, the significant point to consider is the addition of alcohol because it adds on a much greater sense of risk.  There is a physical risk and maybe even a social risk like when bad drinking stories go viral, and these things can significantly affect how and why people choose to interact with drinking games.

Customs
Festival
general
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Tales /märchen

七姊誕 (cat1 zi2 daan3), The Annual Meeting of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl – The Chinese Qixi Festival

Item:

H: 七姊誕 (cat1 zi2 daan3), I don’t know like, um, July 7*.  Oh I know, 七姊誕係 (cat1 zi2 daan3 hai6) um, the girl is- she’s- she’s number seven so 叫七 (giu3 cat1) and um, loves the boy and the families not, like, agree to- they are marrying so they build the bridge.

[Translation: The Qixi Festival, I don’t know like, um, July 7*. Oh I know, the Qixi Festival is for, um, the girl is- she’s she’s number seven so she’s called 7 and um, loves the boy and the families not, like, agree to- they are marrying so they build the bridge.]

Q: Is it the same story as the one where the boy and the girl can only meet once a year?

H: Mhmm.

Q: Oh, ‘The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl’!

H: Yeah, 牛郎織女 (ngau4 long4 zik1 leoi5)!  牛郎織女係七姊誕 (ngau4 long4 zik1 leoi5 hai6 cat1 zi2 daan3)

[Translation: Yeah, The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl!  The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is the Qixi Festival]

Q: 點慶祝七姊誕 (dim2 hing3 zuk1 cat1 zi2 daan3)?

[Translation: How do you celebrate the Qixi Festival?]

H: 七姊誕通常人哋會帶 (cat1 zi2 daan3 tun1 soeng4 jan4 dei6 wui5 daai3) seven… different things. Yeah, 你拜七姊拜七樣嘢 (lei5 baai3 cat1 zi2 baai3 cat1 joeng6 je5), but usually buy fruits. Yeah.

[Translation: For the Qixi Festival, people will seven… different things.  Yeah, you pray to the seventh sister with seven different things, usually buy fruits.  Yeah.]

 

Translation and Additional Notes:

The Chinese characters are again followed by the Jyutping Romanization in parentheses, but they will also be followed by a transliteration and a full translation.

 

七姊誕 (cat1 zi2 daan3)

Transliterated: Seventh Sister Birthday

Translation: Qixi Festival

The English name for the festival comes from the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of the holiday. The characters are 七夕旦 (Mandarin Pinyin Romanization: qi1 xi1 dan4; Transliterated: Seven Night Day; Translated: Seventh Night Festival).  Alternate names is the Seventh Night Festival or the Double Seven Festival

 

牛郎織女 (ngau4 long4 zik1 leoi5)

Transliterated: cow young man weave woman

Translation: The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

The story of ‘The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl’ is the narrative on which the Qixi Festival was founded upon.

 

*July 7: The informant was referring to July 7 in the lunar calendar commonly used by the Chinese to mark their holidays, rather than July 7 in the Gregorian calendar.  Usually, this date will correspond to August 7 in the Gregorian calendar.

 

Context:

I learned this piece from a Cantonese-English conversation about Chinese culture and traditions.  The informant, denoted by ‘H’ above, can speak Cantonese fluently, but chose to speak with me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  The informant is Chinese and was born and raised in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She brought up this story when I inquired about when people pray in Chinese culture because the day that this festival lands on is when she prays and sets out seven different fruits as she described above.  Though she had a general knowledge of the plot, she could not recall any more details about why the festival occurs or where she first learned about the story beyond the fact that this story is the basis for the festival.

 

Analysis:

When the informant described the general plot of the story, as seen in the exchange above, I was able to recognize it as ‘The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl’ because of the bridge.  I actually knew of this story before I spoke with the informant, and also knew that it may have originated from legends about the location of two constellations in the sky that are separated by the Milky Way.  These constellations were named the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, and numerous pieces of authored literature were written based on this story.  The version of the story that the informant knew, with the two lovers separated by family disapproval might be reflective of the tradition of arranged marriages. At least, it seemed as if that was the underlying message of that version of the story because the family disagreement was what the informant recalled first.  Women typically married up in Chinese society, and the wife chosen by the male’s family may be dependent on a number of factors including beauty and health.  In a different version of the story I have seen, more emphasis was placed on the reunion of the lovers itself, focusing on the romance and endurance of true love.  As such, with this particular story and many others, the plot may remain generally the same but the details may change depending on what message is being conveyed.

In regards to the festival, there seems to be a great emphasis on the number seven.  The weaver girl is the seventh sister, and the meeting of the lovers is on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.  People praying on this date set out seven different fruits.  Furthermore, the various names of the festival include the Seventh Night Festival and the Double Seven Festival.  Since this is the day that the two lovers reunite, and the focus is on their reunion rather than their separation, I believe people may celebrate it to ensure eternal love in relationships.  By extension, people may pray on this day for longevity in their relationships as well.  This is also supported by how seven is seen as a lucky number for relationships in Chinese culture because the pronunciation resembles that of the word “even” in Mandarin.  As such, the seventh day of the seventh month may have been deliberately chosen as the date the lovers unite, to represent harmony and a good relationship, and the ritual celebration of this day may bring good luck in relationships to those who partake in it.

 

Annotation:

For a poem written based on the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, please see “Immortal at the Magpie Bridge” by Qin Guan on pages 136 and 137 of Songs of the Immortals: An Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry translated and versified by Xu Yuan Zhong.

Zhong, Xu Yuan. Songs of the Immortals: An Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. Penguin Books, 1994.

general
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Engineer’s Constant – A Stereotype about Engineers

Item:

The engineer’s constant is 3.  We don’t need to be accurate so we round e to 3 and pi to 3, and also g is 10.

 

Context:

I collected this piece from a physics lab partner who is also an astronautical engineering major at the University of Southern California.  Some of our calculations were off, so he joked about rounding the final answer to three.  When I asked why, he explained that three is the engineer’s constant.  As such, three would be a good alternate answer if we could not find the error in our calculations.  The informant said that he found the engineer’s constant for the first time on an engineering meme page.

 

Analysis:

This short piece actually reveals a bit about the culture of engineers, including their work habits and particularly stereotypes about them.  I have heard of the stereotype that engineers are not always the most accurate, and that they are quite liberal when rounding or making approximations.  There are also jokes about how engineering students should not be trusted with any technical applications of their studies because of this.  I think the stereotype comes from the fact that engineers often do quick, back of the envelope approximations of things in order to get a sense of what they are working with before they dive into the more detailed computations.  Furthermore, sometimes the exact answer is not as significant as getting the correct order of approximation.  My astronautical engineering professor has actually done this during class multiple times because the exact values of the computations were insignificant.  In most cases, he rounds the gravity constant from 9.8 to 10.  By extension, we round commonly used constants such as Euler’s number and pi to 3 for ease of computation as well.  As such, those outside of engineering may mistake this as what we primarily rely on when we work.  The stereotype is not insulting to engineers though, in fact, engineers themselves have also made jokes about it as seen on engineering meme pages.  The potentially insulting stereotype is countered by fully embracing it and taking pride in it as part of the group identity of engineers.  What this short piece reveals is how stereotypes may emerge about a group from those who are not in it, as well as how taking pride in these opinions can counter them and become a part of your identity as a member of that group.  In this case, the stereotype is about how engineers appear to be very generous in approximation, but engineers embrace this by claiming the engineer’s constant.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Stab Your Food with Chopsticks – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: You said how you can’t stab chopsticks into food?

H: 落去飯(lok6 heoi3 faan6), right?

[Translation: Into rice right?]

Q: Yeah, 飯 (faan6) or 嘢食 (je5 sik6) in general?

[Translation: Yeah, rice or food in general?]

H: 嘢食 (je5 sik6) or 飯 (faan6) or whatever.  Why?

[Translation: Food or rice or whatever.  Why?]

H: 你拜神你係唔係插咗兩枝香落去 (lei5 baai3 sen4 lei5 hai6 m5 hai6 caap3 zo2 loeng2 zi2 hoeng1 lok6 heoi3).  It look like 你拜神插嗰啲嘢(lei5 baai3 sen4 caap3 go2 di1 je5).

[Translation: When you pray, don’t you stick the two incense into the holder?  It looks like when you’re praying and you have the two incense in the incense holder.]

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a Cantonese-English conversation about Chinese and Vietnamese folk beliefs.  The informant can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  The informant is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned not to stab chopsticks into your food from, but only said, similar to a number of other folk beliefs and customs she knew of, that you would just know or pick up this sort of thing growing up from the community around you.

 

Analysis:

The basis of many folk beliefs is the belief in magic, either sympathetic or contagious.  In the case of not stabbing your chopsticks into food, the idea that like produces like comes into play because as the informant says, the two chopsticks standing up looking like sticks of incense used when praying.  Praying occurs for a number of reasons, death in the family and respecting one’s ancestors included, and it can be highly ritualized in Chinese culture, particularly when praying to the ancestors due to the long-standing tradition of ancestor worship and respect for those who came before you in your lineage.  There are rules about where the incense and incense holder are placed, what kind of offerings should be made, and when to pray.  For example, praying for ancestors has set time frames but praying after an individual’s death is done as appropriate.  As such, standing chopsticks in food not only emulates incense in the physical image, it may be seen as a poor recreation of the ritual and consequently a disrespect to one’s ancestors.  With such emphasis placed on respecting one’s lineage, this is very majorly looked down upon.  Furthermore, considering how like produces like – especially if it is not the correct time to pay one’s respects to their ancestors – someone may bring death or other bad omens to themselves or those around them through emulation of praying at an otherwise inappropriate time.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shellback Initiation – A Navy Tradition

Item:

T: So that’s a- that’s where you crossing- you ride the ship til you’re crossing the equator.

Q: Uh-huh.

T:  So once you cross the equator you see King Neptune, you have to do the ceremony to become a shellback.  Once you become a shellback, next time, when you cross the equator with the new sailors, you’re gonna make them do things, so they have to go through the initiation, like, similar to that to become a shellback.  Like you have to wash the deck.  What we did is we.. what I did was we.. crawl through the ship, crawl through got sprayed water on, got jumped dunked in the water, all the stuff to become a shellback.  When you become a shellback, you better not lose your certificate or else you cannot prove it.

Q: There’s a certificate for it?

T: Yup.

T: If you cross the equator at the International Dateline, then you become a golden shell back.

Q: Is there like a worse initiation for that?

T: No, it’s the same, it’s just that you’re crossing the International Dateline instead of other place.

Q: What does the certificate look like?

T: Big.  You carry the ID card too.  I don’t know where I put my ID card.  If I go back to the ship, I have to do it again. [Laughs]

T: Back when- when it was 2013 on my deployment, I was a shellback so I was getting other people to go through it to become a shellback.  Make them dress funny, make them do things, spray water on them.  Dump into a blue- green water.  Yenno the neon sticks, the glow stick?  You break that stick into a water tank and make that water turn green.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation with a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy about his experiences during active duty.  He recalled the shellback initiation above as a humorous tradition amongst those who are stationed on a ship that crosses the equator.  The informant mentioned how those who were too humiliated to participate would not watch the initiation; they would sit in their rooms and watch TV instead.  The informant has clearly participated in the initiation before, as both an initiate and as a shellback initiating others, and clearly holds respect for this Navy tradition since he joked about how he would have to do it again since he misplaced his ID card.

 

Analysis:

Initiation rites and traditions in groups, including but definitely not limited to the military, serve to introduce individuals to a group or legitimize their membership in it.  While conducted, they can establish comradery.  For the shellback initiation, those crossing the equator for the first time may not always be new sailors.  Vice versa, the shellbacks may not always be the higher-ranking officers.  As such, it puts initiates and shellbacks on more equal standing, either in rank or authority, in the space of this tradition regardless of official rank designations.  For the prior shellbacks, they would all have a right to participate in the initiation process by spraying water or making funny requests of the initiates.  For the initiates, once they have completed the process, they would have another facet of their ship experience that they share with each other and with those who came before them.  On the other hand, initiation traditions can also alienate individuals, but in the case of those who chose not to participate as told by the informant, it can be a personal choice.  An interesting part of the shellback initiation tradition, though, is the presence of ID cards and certificates to commemorate the event.  In most initiation rites, the process itself is the sp;e legitimizing factor in becoming a particular new identity.  In this case, there is also physical documentation.  I believe this may be because of the nature of military service.  The group an individual crossed the equator for the first time with may not necessarily be the group that they cross with the next time.  As such, there needed to be another form of documentation to be able to prove one’s shellback title.  Overall, the shellback initiation tradition in the U.S. Navy is a humorous and entertaining example of how initiation rites and traditions provide the means of earning a new identity.

 

Annotation:

For examples of the shellback initiation tradition, please see pages 74-76 of Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions written by retired U.S. Navy Commander Royal W. Connell and retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William P. Mack.

Connell, Royal W., and William P. Mack. Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions. 6th ed., Naval Institute Press, 2004.

general
Humor
Initiations

The Mail Buoy – A Practical Joke on New Sailors in the Navy

Item:

T: With new sailors, we go out and say “Hey! Watch out for the mail buoy so we can pick up our mail!  Keep an eye out for that mail buoy, if you’re not gonna get that mail buoy, we’re not gonna get our mail!”

Q: So the new sailors would go out and they would look for it?

T: Yep.

Q: So how long is it gonna take them before they find out it’s a joke?

T: [Laughs] They will never know unless somebody tells them.

 

Context:

I collected this practical joke in a conversation about the informant’s time in the U.S.  Navy; I asked him about a few of the traditions I had heard about before and he also told me about a few others including the mail buoy joke.  The informant is denoted by the pseudonym ‘T’ and I am ‘Q’ in the exchange above.  The informant served in the U.S. Navy for 26 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2017.  He learned this joke from other sailors in 2002 when he was stationed on a ship for the first time since enlisting in 1990.  He never got this joke played on him since he was more experienced when he was first on a ship, leading others to believe he had been stationed on a few before, nor did he play it on other sailors, mentioning how there were plenty of younger sailors to play pranks on the new seamen fresh out of boot camp.  He remembers this joke as a humorous part of the time he spent stationed on a ship, and also mentioned other funny rituals and jokes played on new sailors later on.

 

Analysis:

The mail buoy prank on new sailors is a classic example of practical jokes played to establish who is in and who is out of a particular identity, further distinguishing who has the knowledge and experience from who doesn’t.  In this case, the mail buoy practical joke is a way of legitimizing the change in identity from a new to a seasoned sailor.  Particularly in the military where a power structure determined by rank already officially exists, these kinds of practical jokes and other initiation rituals serve as a further distinguisher between those of different power, experience, and knowledge levels.  There are also other identities that transcend the official structure, such as being a sailor in the Navy since members may not always be initially stationed on a ship.  When the more knowledgeable, higher power, or more experienced individuals initiate the joke, they display the fact that they are in that particular identity (though it may not yet be known to those the joke is being played on).  Once the other individuals learn about the joke, though, or get the punchline in other words, they are now also in on that group.  In the mail buoy joke, seasoned sailors would know that mail is not actually delivered in a buoy to the ship, but the seamen straight out of boot camp may not and actually take the warning to find the buoy seriously.  The fact that the new seamen would believe in the buoy would clearly mark them as new sailors.  The humiliation of realizing the mail buoy is not a real thing would serve as an initiation ritual to the group of seasoned sailors and the recognition of the joke would be an internalization of this new change in identity.  These types of practical jokes, particularly in the military, are significant ways in which people ritualize a change in their identity and studying them, like in the mail buoy piece above, can indicate what change is occurring.

[geolocation]