Author Archives: Daniel Rahmann

Proverb – German


“Aller guten Dinge Sind Drei”

My Translation

„All good things come in threes“

My informant said this quote to me in the form of encouragement, providing a non-literal interpretation, which is “Third time’s a charm”. This saying comes as a form of encouragement, and as it has double meaning, can also be used for reassurance when discussing about a good omen they would like to occur. I find this proverb very interesting because it corresponds with Axel Olrik’s Epic Law of common use of the number 3. I find it also interesting that there is never an explanation as to why the number 3 is so ominous but is used very frequently not only in jokes and myths and tales, but also in simple proverbs.

Proverb – Paris, France

French:                                                            Translation:

“Après la pluie le beau temps”                        “Beautiful weather comes after the rain”

Informant: “I learned this in primary school in Paris when I was very young. I do not remember the time that I learned it, I felt that I grew up with this phrase being used a lot. To me it is a proverb of encouragement, to remind someone that trying times will eventually pass. I use it a lot because it is not only meaningful to emotional strife but can be used casually, i.e. when someone has a bad day or is going through a stressful period with work or school.”

In my opinion, a similar non-literal English translation would be that “Every cloud has a silver lining”, not only does it include the reference to weather, but also that something bad is not permanent. I do feel however that the “Every cloud has a silver lining term” makes more reference to the fact that there is always something good in something bad, whereas the French proverb in this case uses “Après” (after), which is a direct reference to time and therefore speaks more literally to a less fortunate period of time, which does not last forever. My informant is unaware of how long this phrase is existed but believes that every French person has heard and used this phrase at least once in their lifetime. Although she stresses that it is still popular and current, she has as of 1996 been a US resident and although she visits her home country frequently is not exposed to the French citizens and residents very often. Within her francophone community in the USA however she claims that it is a popular saying.

Folk Belief – Hong Kong, China

“Never place your chopsticks in your bowl so that they stick out from the bottom. It brings bad luck; you should put them on top of your bowl lying horizontally or beside your bowl”

I had to be reminded by informant during many meal times. The bad luck that this action brings is death upon yourself or your family. This superstition is important to the informant as she had learned it from her parents and everyone in her culture knows not to do this and considers it common practice. Only people who are completely out of touch with any Asian culture would be unaware of this superstition. As I learned about this practice in Hong Kong, it must be emphasized that this practice is prevalent in all of Asia, or most likely, any country where chopsticks are used during mealtimes. My informant tells me that the placing of the chopsticks into a food bowl, resembles the Buddhist practice of placing incense sticks into sand pits at altars, shrines and graves. Therefore, in mimicking that tradition which is only to be carried out in a religious and spiritual context, i.e. when offerings are made, you are invoking evil spirits who would in turn bring harm to you. I find this very important because I have never been able to drop this practice ever since. Although I do not do it out of superstition, I have adopted this habit merely to be respectful to others around me. This thus would bring a new meaning as to why I carry out a certain practice compared with someone else.

Proverb – German


“Einem geschenkten Gaul, schaut man nicht ins Maul”

My Translation:

„You don’t look into the mouth of a horse which is given to you as a gift“

Description from Informant:

“A gaul is a horse and usually by looking a horse in the mouth you can tell how old/good he is. So basically if you get something for free, you don’t go around checking whether it’s good (quality). I like it!”

This proverb, to my informant is important in that it defines an aspect of her beliefs. She relates to takes to this proverb in that it is an encouragement of humility and therefore is used most likely on occasions where someone is complaining about the quality of the gift they have received. It therefore also has an educational purpose. My informant believes that you should be grateful for every gift you receive instead of being critical and trying to evaluate its quality. Although I am German, and attended a German school until the age of 12, I grew up in Asia and therefore have not heard this proverb before. However, I do relate to this quote in that the value that is being taught was very much emphasised to me during my childhood, as I was repetitively told by my parents, and German grandparents to be grateful for the gifts that I am getting. From my personal experience of what I have learned about German culture is that proverbs are used extremely often, and almost all the time come in rhyming couplets. I believe this is done to make the proverbs easier to remember.


“Once this baby came out premature and died, so they called it the tuyul. Really scary looking and looks like a deformed baby midget. Myth was that the dukuns – witch doctors – would have these tuyuls to steal money, they would keep them in a jar. They liked two things: money and blood. That’s how they would feed. They’d rummage through bins and stuff and look for blood remains. So women’s pads and etc. etc. SICK”

This legend is something that my informant believes as true. She does not like to tell these stories as recounting them makes her feel scared and uncomfortable, likely because she considers these to be true and what I know as another common South East Asian custom, (having grown up in Singapore) is that you are not supposed to speak of any mythical creatures/spirits/ghosts as they become aware of they’re mentioned name and will one day appear in front of you. As far as the gore of this legend, I would like to point out that this style of gore is extremely common throughout South East Asian myths and legends. I would also like to point out another version of this story, which I had heard in 2002 :

“These ghosts would be kept in jars and feed on babies. Whoever was greedy for wealth and prosperity would either offer their own child or kidnap someone else’s to feed their child with. In order to get this creature to serve you, one would had to go up to the top of a deserted hill, and promise to sacrifice a living baby” This was from a Malay woman in her 70’s and had grown up in Malaysia.

I would also like to add from another source, the following aspect regarding the legend of the tuyul:

“You keep them in a jar under your bed together with a bottle of blood, and you can ask for whatever you want. When you go to sleep at night, they go out and get whatever it is you want but because these are evil beings, they do it by mischievous ways, such as theft”

The many different versions of this story underlines the characteristics of a legend and how they vary not only geographically but from culture to culture.

Story – Germany


„Wenn du dauernd am Daumen lutscht, dann kommt der Schneider mit der Schere und schneidet dir die Dauman ab!“

“If you keep constantly sucking your thumb, the Tailor will come with his scissors and cut your thumbs off”

I was told this very often as a child, seeing as I had great difficulty overcoming the habit of thumb-sucking. I was approximately between the ages of 6 and 10. This idea of the tailor who comes with his scissors to cut off your thumbs is very popular in Germany, not only among young children but amongst adults. It is quite brutal a story to tell a child but I later received a book which contained this, and many other stories of disobedient children who were brutally punished. As I grew up in Singapore but spent a lot of time in Germany, I still learned this piece of folklore in Germany. The book that this story stems from, entitled Struwwelpeter, was published in 1845. The 10 short stories are written in rhymes and come with illustrations. From speaking to my grandmother, she says she did not use this as means to persuade my younger cousins who were born in the very late 90’s or after 2000 because it has become too controversial. To me this is a sign that its use is decreasing or going through a phase where its use is becoming dormant. My grandmother says that these stories were around before her time, and that all of the stories from Struwwelpeter were used prevalently in the 1900’s. I believe that they were very popular because they came in rhymes and were easy to remember. My grandmother says she was able during her child to recite several of the stories by heart. The graphic illustrations which came with the original publication of the book were fascinating to children and provoked interest. I believe the stories are less prevalent today because children are growing up much faster and are exposed to many aspects of society at an early age, such as graphic violence. The story no longer is believable to children of 6 to 8, but perhaps when they are younger. Similarly, I would like to make the personal observation and assumption with a comparison to Santa Clause, who, many years ago, without the development of technology and communication was believed to exist among children until a much older age. My grandmother vaguely recalls, and would like to stress vaguely that she believed in Santa Clause until about the age of 10, while most children today, like my younger cousins at ages 6 and 7 have completely denounced him.


Struwwelpeter. Hoffmann, Heinrich. Papel-Moewig Verlag Kg. 1845. page 8.

Original Excerpt:

Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher

“Konrad!” sprach die Frau Mamma,
“Ich geh aus und du bleibst da.
Sei hübsch ordentlich und fromm.
Bis nach Hause ich wieder komm’
Und vor allem, Konrad, hör!
Lutsche nicht am Daumen mehr;
Denn der Schneider mit der Scher’
Kommt sonst ganz geschwind daher,
Und die Daumen schneidet er
Ab, als ob Papier es wär’.”

Fort geht nun die Mutter und
Wupp! den Daumen in den Mund.

Bauz! Da geht die Türe auf,
Und herein in schnellem Lauf
Springt der Schneider in die Stub’
Zu dem Daumen-Lutscher-Bub.

Proverb – German

German:                                              Translation:

“Rast ich, so rost ich”                         “When I rest, I rust”

I hear my grandmother say this phrase very often. I also notice that it is used by many germans that are similar to her in age, or mainly aged 60 and above. From my personal observation, the word choice and language is not very current, that is, it does would not speak to the contemporary or younger generation. The fact that it does not resemble colloquial or conversational German makes it sound more like a proverb. As far as the meaning of the phrase, it is a motivational proverb, which people would tell themselves in order to avoid becoming lazy. Resting too much, or not working hard enough, will make you rust faster. That could be a reference to aging or simple physical or mental deterioration from lack of stimulation. The context which my informant, a retired housewife, uses it in is when she talks about how she keeps herself young, being a retired widow who lives alone. The phrase usually involves the description of activities, such as housework, groceries, as well as recreational activities like cycling, which my information does to keep herself occupied and thus prevent from “rusting”. One observation I consider important is not only that young people do not use this proverb but also that the proverb itself makes no reference to resting “too much” or some form of excess. It simply states, “when I rest, I rust”, and thus I would like to suggest that it may have been coined during the Second World War, after which Germany went through a period of hard work to build the country’s economy; where rest was simply not an option. Unfortunately, my informant, who experienced the Second World War, knew this phrase as an adolescent but is unsure as to whether or not it was taught by her parents. Thus, the “terminus post quem” of this proverb might be the Second world war to my grandmother, but not necessarily to another German citizen or German speaker. Also the informant grew up speaking a German dialect, as a result of her growing up close to the Dutch/German Border. This proverb however is clearly “hoch-Deutsch” or “high-German” which is considered the correct German. The informant at age 18, moved to the city of Hamburg and learned to speak proper, non-dialect German, which I presume is where she would have learned this phrase.



„Ist der ruf erst mal ruiniert, lebt es sich ganz ungeniert“

My Translation:

„When reputation is ruined, it becomes uninhibited”

This proverb to my informant is meaningful in that it reflects the Swiss culture but mentality and attitude to life. My informant feels that the Swiss people are very relaxed, and comparing themselves to the Germans and the French (which is often done as Switzerland has French, German and Italian speaking regions), do not care about reputation, but rather to enjoy life. She also likes the humour in the proverb, as it encourages one not to follow moral boundaries. A non-literal translation would be that once you ruin your reputation, you can do whatever you want, seeing as you no longer have to work to up-keep it. I relate to this proverb also because although it promotes a laissez-faire attitude which is unlike the German, it encourages one to break away from social constraints. It also presents the idea that there is no point in trying to build up a reputation that has already been ruined, and also of course to focus on enjoying life rather than worrying about the opinions of other people.

Superstition – South East Asia

“You should never buy religious antique statues because spirits are trapped inside of them and bring misfortune to your home”

A found this superstition very relevant in that it has become a practice that I have, since hearing this adopted. According to my informant, the spirits trapped within these religious antiquities can haunt your house and be responsible for slow and painful destruction of your life. They are believed to bring great illnesses or misfortune to the family. They can apparently also constantly build obstacles that prevent you from being successful financially and personally. To the informant this is extremely important as she incorporates this into her daily life, and thus uses it all the time. She only buys imitations of antique statues such as Buddha sculptures, and other religious figures. I consider this personally important because I know that it is a prevalent superstition within South East Asia.

Tale – Ireland

“There is this story about this guy who had a pregnant wife. One day when she was almost due, the husband went out on horseback to pick up the nurse or midwife. Anyway since he was a carpenter or something he bought some nails and then when he was riding back he cursed because the nails were irritating him. Suddenly he found his wife lying in the middle of the forest unconscious and they had to pick her up and bring her back. By the time they brought her back she almost died, but she didn’t and he learned his lesson not to curse again”

To my informant, this folktale was told to her when she was a child. Although both of her parents are Irish, she grew up in Zimbabwe and had learned this story from her grandparents. As the grandparents had passed away, my informant claims that many parts of this story was missing but was a popular tale in Irish culture. She had emphasised that she had left out many parts and that the tale could vary from region to region. Many tales that were told by her grandparents had an entertainment purpose. This story however was one that involved less mythical creatures such as leprechauns and thus is very important to her in that she took a keen interest in what was more realistic. The tale is also important to her in that it has an educational aspect. My observation of this is that it follows a lot of Propprian elements, such as the violation of a code and the happy ending. In the tale of course the character, just like the reader or whoever listens to the story, learns that one should be careful about what they say and wish for. My informant stressed however that this story is told light-heartedly and with humour and therefore bears elements that don’t make Propp’s ideas of structure. The publication I discovered this story in, did indeed contain humorous aspects in that the husband nearly stabs his wife with a pitchfork. My observation is that Irish tradition, compared to my German tradition, uses a lot of tales to teach lessons whilst the Germans merely use short proverbs.


Glassie, Henry. Irish Folktales. 1985. Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library.

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