Author Archive
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Blonde Joke

My friend, who is a blonde female, told me this joke: “So, uh, one day A blonde walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer.  She says she’s going to Europe on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000.  The bank officer says the bank will need some kind of security for the loan, so the blonde hands over the keys to a new Rolls Royce.  The car is parked on the street in front of the bank, and she has the title and everything is all good.  The bank agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan.  The bank’s president and its officers all enjoy a good laugh at the blonde for using a $250,000 Rolls as collateral against a $5,000 loan. An employee of the bank then goes to drive the Rolls Royce into the bank’s underground garage to park it.

Two weeks later, the blonde returns, repays the $5,000 and interest, which is about $15.  The loan officer says, ‘Miss, we are very happy to have your business, and this  has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled.  While you were away, we checked you and found that you are a multimillionaire.  What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $5,000?’

The blonde replies, ‘Where else in the city can I park my car for two weeks for only $15 and expect it to be there when I return?’

My friend and I both agree that this a counter-current to the general trend of blonde jokes. Usually demeaning (playfully) of blondes and depicting them as naive, ignorant, or the like, this one conversely shows the blonde winning out over the bank employees (even the president). We see yet another example of the common person triumphing over those who traditionally would have come out on top. It is very much a “Legally Blonde” moment, an instance when the once-oppressed rise above any previously constricted confines to challenge and negotiate their place in society.

Folk Beliefs

Folk Belief

It is common in the Catholic Church to make the sign of the cross when praying and other important, specific instances during mass. Nowhere in doctrine does it specify that one has to make the sign of the cross when passing a Catholic church or emergency, though my grandmother does. She replied when I asked her about her doing this with, “It is what Catholics do – we…or I guess my family at least…have always done this…we show that we are Catholic as a reminder not to other people, but to ourselves.”

I can agree with this, but will also point out the variation and deviation from doctrine involved in religious practice that is present. It may be another example of seeking agency against the structure of a dominant religious denomination. Either way, as with belief in ghosts and aliens, we see people choosing to act as they wish and believing what they want, even if it is in contrast to or modified from the norm. Again, I will suggest it is an attempt of individuality and identity creation.

Tales /märchen

Baganda Tale

“One day Hare chose to host a dance. Elephant was one of the guests he invited, and Hare danced with him, though it was obvious that Hare was a better dancer. Elephant was upset about this and asked Hare how he could improve his dancing ability.

‘You are too large to be able to move well,’ replied Hare. ‘You should let me cut some of your meat off your hips so will be lighter and able to move better.’

Elephant took some time to think about this, but then agreed because he wanted to be able to dance as well as Hare and the other animals. Hare sharpened his large knife and cut away at Elephant’s flesh. When he was done, Elephant thanked Hare and went home.

The next morning Elephant was feeling horribly, so he called his friend Cow to help him. ‘I must get my flesh back from Hare, for I will die without it. Please go and fetch it from Hare.’ Cow agreed and set off for Hare’s home. When he arrived, he noticed Hare was cooking. Cow asked him to return the flesh from Elephant’s hips, but Hare brought out a plate of meat to Cow and asked him to quickly eat first. The meat was really Elephant’s flesh, but Cow did not know this. He thought it was delicious and asked Hare were he could get more.

‘I know a hill where many of this kind of animal graze. We shall go there together and hunt enough to prepare a feast.’ Cow agreed, and the two set off for the hill. Hare spotted a large bush at the bottom and instructed Cow to hide in it while he went to the stop of the hill to chase the animals down towards Cow where he would jump out and catch them by surprise.

‘When you hear a small rumbling, keep your head in, but when it is loud, stick your head out.’ Cow waited as he was told, and then heard the rumbling. He held his head in the bush until it got louder, and louder, and louder. He quickly stuck his head out from the bush and was killed by a large boulder rolling down the hill.

Hare found Cow’s body, took it home, and cooked it. Meanwhile, Elephant was worried that his time was short and thought it best to send others to retrieve his flesh. All met the same fate as Cow. Finally, Elephant asked Leopard to talk with Hare. Leopard was presented the same meal as all the other animals and also asked to go hunting for more meat with Hare. However, Leopard was too smart for Hare, and instead of sticking his head out from the bush, he let the stone roll past and then pretended to be dead. Hare carried him back home and began to prepare another meal. As he was about the cut into the body, Leopard leapt up and accused Hare of murdering the foolish animals.

Hare ran as fast as he could, crossed a river, and then ran back across to meet Leopard just approaching the other side. Leopard couldn’t see that it was Hare, since he was wet and looked completely different. Leopard asked if he had seen Hare.

‘No, I haven’t, but I have heard that leopards are being hunted today. Ten have already been killed.’ Leopard was scared by this and ran to take refuge at Elephant’s house.  But by the time he got there, Elephant was dead.

My friend and I agree on this tale’s interpretation: this tale reveals the effects of trickery and wit. Unfortunately, the story ends with these two characteristics being victorious over nobility and friendship. Like many Baganda narratives, it demonstrates the importance of reality to their society and not always assuming that life will unfold according to plan. It additionally hints at the idea that we should accept ourselves for who we are and not try and alter nature for our own benefit. This is seen with Elephant, and how his discontentment with himself and desire to dance as well as Hare and the other animals ultimately led to his death, as well as the death of his close friends. The narrative thereto contains the values of natural ability and beauty versus seeking to refine oneself to fit into a perhaps exaggerated idea of what is beautiful or idolized.


Passover Tradition

The following is from a student partaking in Passover: “Well, last night I went home for the second night of Passover. And, uh, I was there with my cousins and my parents. We have a tradition, um, each year where we sign a pillowcase with our date, initials, and a message. Uh, if you’re not familiar with Passover, you’re supposed to recline for the holidays. Basically the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and God picked Moses to lead them to freedom in Israel – so they are no longer working slaves, they can relax and recline. I’m not sure who started the traditions, but it goes back to before I was born. I think other families do this as well, but I’m not sure. The message is like something that was big that year – just like a general, big event that you’d want to mark. It would be something from the very recent past or immediately upcoming future.”

This demonstrates that which is valued by the individuals partaking in the tradition and their relationship with those who were a part of it before. It acts as a connecting factor with the past, the performance aspect legitimizing the celebration and in doing so enabling those now to feel a part of the struggles felt by their people so many years ago.

Folk speech

Swedish Proverb

Vanda kappan efter vinden

Turning jacket after the wind

Used in English: “I’m not one to turn my jacket after the wind.”

“It’s like used in reference to politicians who change their views in order to look’s a criticism, it’s not a good thing. Also, it has relations to like, uh, religion, and not being firm in your convictions by changing what you believe depending on the circumstance.”

The given interpretation makes sense, and with it one can see the valued characteristics of an individual held by those who employ this proverb. It suggests that conviction is a prized quality, and one is admirable and respectable by sticking with what they innately feel is right and acting with integrity rather than changing themself to conform to what it trendy, popular, or will make them better off.


Swedish Festival

A Swedish friend told me about this festival now held throughout Sweden: “This is very, very Swedish. We have this things called the ‘kräftskiva.’ So, um, what are they called…lobsters, a direct translation would be lobster dinner. You celebrate with family, bring friends, this can start at like 2 in the afternoon and you sit around and around eating and eating these fucking lobsters, and you drink Swedish schnapps. Swedish schnapps is very, very different than Americans’ version. It’s very clear, and tastes like ethanol – even the good ones, and it’s always clear. Right, so you can spend like 7,8 hours sitting around drinking schnapps. Some people drink beer, but, you know, it’s not really the traditional thing to do. This is typically during the midsummer time, but it doesn’t have to be a specific date. It has become so traditional that it’s like as traditional as Christmas. Its origin probably has something to do with fishing, but I’m not sure. So, cities all over Sweden have this now. So many people get wasted. Sometimes there are silly games like tying shoe laces together, hopping in bags – adults play them too. I guess it represents a time for us to have fun and act differently than normal…but by eating lobster as a way of acknowledging the sea and tradition of seafood in Sweden.”

This is interesting in that is does provide a depiction of the society’s values and that which provides their sustenance. The lobster symbolizes their connection with the past, the food of their ancestors, and is celebrated during a liminal stage in which people can act differently than normally ascribed behavior. This is indicated with the hearty consumption of alcohol and the playing of “silly” games even among adults.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Graduation Custom

“When people graduate from high school, it is one of the most important days in someone’s life. It’s called ‘studenten.’ The idea is in Swedish if you are a ‘student,’ you are a graduate that year, and ‘studenten’ is ‘graduation.’ Alright, so, there is kind of a framework for that day: it starts early in the morning at about nine, everyone has a hat that looks exactly like a captain’s hat. It even has the small shield in front and white puffiness. Everyone’s dressed up…guys in suits, and girls in white dresses. This is when you are 18 or 19, so you will generally be old enough to drink. So after the pictures, there is a champagne breakfast. Then you eat strawberries. That’s usually at school, the drinking part. Parents are not there yet…just classmates. Then we go to a park in the city, and other graduates from other schools are also there. It can even carry on for days and days,  that is the period when different schools are ending at different times. You continue drinking at the park with these other students. And then, for lunch, you usually go have lunch with your teachers. It’s usually held at a nice venue. Everyone’s together drinking together and eating lunch. The lunch usually last 2-3 hours, and people speak about the last 3 years (high school is 3 in Sweden.) You kinda joke around…it’s basically joking about nostalgia. Then you go to the bar, or park…whatever it is, you’re drinking. So you continue drinking until ‘utsläppet,’ which is when students run from inside the school out onto a stage outside, where everyone is gathered (not just parents or immediate family, but the extended family, the whole sha-bam. And so you basically stand on this elevated platform or whatever for 3-4 minutes just shouting and still holding champagne glasses. After, you get flowers and gifts, and thin ribbon in blue and yellow…everything is blue and yellow (Swedish flag.) Then you go home, where the parents have generally been preparing dinner all day. All the students take off to ride around the city…at any given day during this period, traffic can be stopped. And people have all done this before, so they’ll walk up to you and scream, and you scream back. After the ride, there is dinner…at mine there were about 35 people. Then you get more gifts, usually more expensive gifts. By this time everyone is just wasted…parents are celebrating that their child made it, you are happy because you are now an adult, and everyone is just happy. Those dinners usually last from 6 or 7 until 9 or 10pm. Then you go to night clubs with other graduates. When you are done, you have been pretty much been drinking for 24 hours. There is saying, ‘If you remember your studenten, you didn’t do it properly.’ By the time you get home from the night club, the family is gone, and you crash. It’s the most important day of your life.”

The informant and I had completely the same views of this tradition. It is definitely a part of the life cycle and partaking in the liminal stage of transition from childhood into adulthood. The details of the celebration reveal the values held important to those partaking in the tradition. The Swedish colors represent nationalism, the pride of being a Swedish citizen and fulfilling your duty after having been educated to the social well-being of the country. In the United States, a very capitalistic country in which the individual surmounts the community, we do not celebrate graduation adorned in red, white, and blue, but rather with what we want to wear, or what identifies us with our classmates and school (school colors). Finally, this level of celebration indicates the importance placed on education and one’s ability to contribute to society as an educated adult.

Tales /märchen

Baganda Tale

“Two friends, Leopard and Hare, decided to grow some millet one day. Hare, knowing Leopard would try and take more than his fair ration, made a deal with Leopard.

‘Just plant the millet, and I will weed when it is time to weed, I will harvest when it is time to harvest, I will cook when it is time to cook, and I will prepare a meal when it becomes time to enjoy our work,” Hare offered. “All I ask in return is that I get a fair portion of the meal.’

Leopard agreed, and set about planting the millet. As months went by, Hare fulfilled all that he promised to do, and soon it was time to enjoy their meal. Hare called for Leopard, and the two sat down to eat. Once Leopard tasted the millet, he immediately wanted more. He used his great strength to overpower Hare, and ate all that had been prepared for both of them, leaving Hare with nothing to eat. This story is used to show the bad effects of trust…or, uh, not tru…of trusting someone too much.”

In my opinion, this tale exerts the idea of reality and how the strong can ultimately obtain their desires over the meek. However, the roles of Hare and Leopard are reversed from what they are in other Hare and Leopard tales. Similar to Coyote in the lore of Native Americans, Hare is versatile within the Baganda culture. Kizza writes of Hare, “…very few collections of folktales would be complete without [H]are…that survivor, ever ingenious, at times annoying, but an often loveable small creature.” [1]

[1] Kizza Immaculate N., The Oral Tradition of the Baganda of Uganda, pp. 161


High School Graffiti Tradition

The following is an account of a high school tradition: “At my high school in Arlington, Virginia, the boys’ bathroom has graffiti in the cracks where there is…it has something to do with grout. They write something that has to do with grout or rhymes with grout on the walls. I haven’t seen it, but everyone knows about it, and a friend told me there is one writing that says ‘Grout Gatsby.’ I’m not sure how it started. Every bathroom has writing, I mean, usually on doors in stalls, but it’s interesting that it’s allowed at the school – the janitors don’t get rid of it. So I think it’s about keeping the tradition and leaving your mark at the school, leaving a piece of your identity to signify that you were there.”

This is an example of the prolonged liminal space which high school occupies in one’s life. It is a time of transition from childhood to, four years later, adulthood. As such, there is a felt need to create identity and also leave part of that identity behind, to ensure that one’s mark is left. This is illustrated with the above example, showing also the remaining tidbits of antithetical, anti-authoritarian behavior demonstrated by children via the very act of writing on the wall and the ways in which the writing is utilized (to mock one of the standard novels of high school literature.)  In this way, the gap of authority and student is tactically lessened by the students.

Folk medicine

Folk Remedy for Chili Peppers

A classmate of mine informed me of the following folk remedy for curing the pain of intense spiciness: ” I heard this folk remedy from my nanny when I was like 7 – we lived in Texas. There were a lot of chili peppers around, and I ate some – too many – and then started drinking a lot of water to help with the spiciness. My nanny put salt on my nose, and said that putting salt helps to get rid of the spiciness…I don’t think it worked. Let me see…I uh really don’t know that this means…it just shows tradition I guess and what people will believe to be true. I really don’t know what to make of it.”

This example falls within a larger spectrum of folk remedies and the utilization of nature in contrast to produced medicine. While it is arguable whether this situation would have even necessitated the use of medication in the first place, the idea of relying on traditional ways of doing things still stands. And its importance is made apparent. The example illustrates the connection we have to modes of activity and performing a tradition that we may even acknowledge does not work. It is a reminder of where we came from and creates a sense of identity. If we see our parents or grandparents perform such an activity, then we are inclined to do so as well. It comforts us to practice what has been done before, and in doing, close the gap the distance of our past and our present, connecting us with those with whom we identify.