Category Archives: Gestures

Bowing Down Twice

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing why bowing down only twice is important during a memorial rite or a funeral. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

She told me that to understand this piece, you need to understand the Yin and the Yang (negative and positive) culture of Asian countries. Yin, is the power that is believed to be dark and negative, while Yang is the positive power. 

In Korean funerals or memorial rites, people only bow down twice. It is believed that one’s first bow means the Yang power and the second bow means the Yin power. This means that the first bow is only meant for the people who are living and the second bow is for the people who are dead and no longer in this ‘living’ world. Thus, when you bow down to the families of the dead, you only bow once because they are alive, and you bow down twice to show respect to the dead. Events that require bowing down and related to death such as a funeral or an ancestral rite will require bowing down twice. 

My informant also highlighted that all bows should be performed with the utmost respect because this is a matter of living and the dead. 

Analysis :

When I was young and attended funerals, I remember peeking through my arm to see how many times my parents were bowing down. I was sometimes confused because they would bow down once in some situations and would bow down twice in some situations. This connection of Yin and Yang with the funeral culture show how Asian countries strongly believe in the ‘powers’ of negativity and positivity and its connection to Confucianism; you need to have detailed and precise actions even when you are showing respect to your ancestors.

Dap him up

Main Piece:

In an all-boys environment, usually if you don’t personally know someone, or if you’re like acquaintances, you greet them with a dap. A dap is like if you were to shake hands, but there’s a little more to it. You like grab the guy’s hand, and you hold it lightly and casually, and it’s more up and down and slidey. There’s multiple kinds, but this is the typical form, especially when you’re meeting someone new. It’s called dapping. An example is your friend introduces you to one of their friends, and so you dap them up as a greeting, and say what’s up. I don’t know where I learned that, but I’ve probably been doing it since summer going into freshman year, or that’s when it became super normal.

Context:

This is my little brother talking to me as we sit casually together.

Background:

My informant/brother goes to an all-boys school, and is a masculine boy with a lot of male friends. He would be considered “bro-ey” or a jock. He is a freshman in high school.

Thoughts/analysis:

Almost every American boy I have ever known does this. It’s an informal greeting, and a very masculine one. They don’t hug, but they always do this. Girls joke about it.

Dayenu, a Passover song

The following is transcribed from text exchanges between my informant, A, and myself, M.

Main piece:

A: On passover, there’s this tradition that Persian Jews have, and somehow only us. There’s this song called Dayenu that you sing as part of the Passover seder, which is like what we call the food and tradition we do.

A: Passover is about Jews being slaves in Egypt and Passover is specifically about when the Jews were freed, and that’s basically the whole thing. But this song is part of it, and its about thanking God for each specific thing He did in the story. And for Persian Jews, while we sing the song we hit each other with green onions because they symbolize the whips from slavemasters. We get pretty agressive, and it looks really stupid.

M: Why just Persians?

A: I don’t know how it started or why it never made it to any other ethnic Jewish group. I didn’t even know it was a Persian thing until like late into my life, so when I talked about it with my white friends, they thought I was insane.

She later texted me that her parents told her Italian Jews do it as well.

Background: My friend is Persian Jewish from Beverly Hills. Judaism has played a large role in her life, having gone to Jewish high school and been an active participant in the community since birth.

Context: She and I were texting casually, and I asked if I could collect from her.

Thoughts:

Food is a way of communicating, and from what I have learned about the Passover ritual is that it is a very active one, almost like a play. Also that food is heavily involved. I am left curious as to why Persians specifically do this part.

Socks are DIY hair curlers.

Grandma used to curl my hair with socks. They have to be nylon knee socks so that they can be crushed and tied, and you sleep in it. When your hair is just a tiny bit wet out of the shower, you stick all those socks in, and you wake up very curly. I think I did it to you, remember? I kept doing it, because it stayed so much better than regular curlers, it would stay for days. I would do it all the way until I got married. I don’t know anyone else who would do that. I learned it from grams.

Background and context: This was told to me by my mother, who is a white baby boomer. She is close with her mom, who is from the Great Generation. My mom grew up in Pittsburgh.

Thoughts: This is likely from before hair curlers’ existence. I have seen the style, and it looks more old-fashioned. I think this is people figuring out a way to curl before they had the technology, and it could be swapped out easily for another method.

Greek Life Homecoming

Main Piece:

“Okay, so, in USC Greek life there’s this thing called homecoming. Which is a tradition that goes back as long as anyone can remember. it coincides with the homecoming football game that is always at USC. A frat will ask a sorority to go with them to homecoming, and if the sorority says yes, then they do a week of activities together. They have something together every night– so it could be movie Monday, tequila and tacos on Tuesday, wine Wednesday, and it goes on until tailgating on Saturday.

It’s a big deal because it says a lot about what fraternities and sororities like each other at the time, and it’s probably the most high school thing in greek life. Sororities say no sometimes, and fraternities have elaborate ways to ask them in order to woo them. It causes tension and heirarchies. Last year, a frat asked a sorority with letters written in the sky by a plane, and the sorority said no.”

Context and Background: My informant is my brother, who was heavily involved with USC Greek life. He was in a fraternity and participated a lot in it socially, but he also played a major role in its governance first in his own frat then in the InterFraternity Council. He enjoyed it, but was always quick to point out the flaws in the Greek life system and its superficial tendencies. He told this to me as we sat together on the couch.

Thoughts:

Like its name, this tradition is very similar to high school promposals. I have seen it first hand, and I agree that it is quite elaborate.

Full Out and Mark

Informant: I’m not sure where it came from but in all hip hop dance classes I’ve ever taken we refer to a “mark” as a run through of choreo that isn’t as full energy, something you use to remember new steps or different aspects of the choreography you want to focus on. A “full out” run is one that is full energy, full facial performance, full movements. That is a run that is going to be most close to what you’d see on stage as if we were performing right in that moment.

Context: The informant is a dancer on an international US dance team called V-Mo. She has been in dance clubs ever since high school. As a dancer who has attended various dance classes, she gets to experience all the nuances that come with the classes.

Thoughts: From what I’ve heard, practice and the actual performance are two very different things. This slang is very similar to athletes who practice as if they were in a game. The two types of run throughs show how dancers are precise with their leaning and are smart when it comes to the conservation of energy, especially since dancing is physically demanding just like any other sport. 

PLUR Handshake and the Exchanging of Kandi – Rave Culture

Background: The informant is my twenty-two year old sister. She learned this piece from attending multiple raves and EDM music festivals in the southern California region. She is an avid metal and alternative music fan with a love of body modifications including tattoos and piercings as well as horror films. 

Context: The following was collected in a casual in-person interview in the informant’s home. 

Piece: 

The following is a transcription of a conversation about the exchanging of Kandi (which are homemade bracelets often with colorful plastic beads) in EDM culture through the handshake dubbed “P.L.U.R.” 

Collector: What does PLUR mean?

Informant: “Peace, love, unity, respect. So basically to anybody it means coming together and sharing something with like another person. My favorite part about it is like if you’re really connecting with someone at like party or you know like a rave um I’ll look at somebody and I’ll be like okay you look like you’re a hella stoner so we’ll like talk about be like ‘Hey like what’s your name oh my god you’re so cool’ and maybe dance a little bit and then we’ll do like this thing. So it goes peace, love, unity, and respect. And I would bring it over and then you would look at what it says. And it says ‘Smoke weed everyday.’ 

Collector: Do all of the bracelets have words on them? 

Informant: “Um not all of them have words. So like some people will be like ‘Oh it’s my first rave blah blah blah’ and you could just give them whatever. But like, for me like why I enjoy it is like I’ve been lucky enough to have people who have given me stuff with words. And I like to spread ones with words because its like way more personal and shows that like you really connect with somebody.”

Collector: So you wouldn’t do it with someone you don’t really vibe with.

Informant: “No but um I mean I feel like you vibe with everybody at those events. Usually though like if I’m giving you one, you’re giving me one back. So like you would have one and we would both look at our things and be like oh this relates to you or this is cute or you’ll like this or I hate this one so. For people I don’t really vibe with I’ll give them my ugliest one.”

Images of the process are included here: 

Peace is represented by the two participants touching their index and pointer fingers to each other, making peace signs. 
Love is represented by the two participants joining curved hands to form a heart. 
Unity is represented with two flat hands with the palms touching each other and thumbs wrapped around the opposite hand. 
Respect is represented with the interlacing of the two individuals’ fingers and the bracelet being drawn from the wrist of one individual to another. 

Analysis: The PLUR handshake is a fun and fast way of building a community and making friends at raves, parties, and even the beach. Kandi is a way to visibly identify those who participate in EDM culture and serves as a sort of invitation to others who participate in this culture to engage in conversation and even friendship. Historically, raves have been dangerous places with illicit drugs and little supervision. Woodstock 99, a 1999 music festival, ended in destructive riots and other festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival have had numerous deaths. Although raves and festivals are much safer today, with medical staff readily standing by, the PLUR and Kandi traditions began in 1990s underground rave culture when this wasn’t the case. I believe the ritual functions to reassure rave goers and build a network of accountability and trust. Since drugs like ecstasy and LSD are often consumed at these events, the handshake may also serve as a positive affirmation in order to assure that participants are having a “good trip.” Furthermore, EDM culture has historically been inclusive toward minority groups and LGBTQ. I believe this handshake is an extension of the welcoming and respectful undertones of EDM culture.

Rude Turkish Hand Gesture

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a conversation with myself, GK, and the informant we will call, AT. 

AT: A gesture we have in Turkey that has a different meaning than in America is the “okay hand gesture”. This is when your index finger and thumb create a circle between them and your other three fingers are pointed straight into the sky. In Turkey, this gesture has a very negative meaning.

GK: What’s its Turkish meaning?

AT: In Turkish culture, it means “a**hole”. You usually give someone that gesture when you are in an argument with them. It is the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger in American culture.  

Background: The informant is originally from Istanbul and lived there for 13 years before moving to Zurich. He knows of this hand gesture through living in Turkish culture and says to have learned it from a friend at school. And the way he handles the gesture really depends on where he is. When he is at school in the U.S., he knows the gesture has a different meaning so he does not take it poorly. However, when he is back in Turkey for the summer, he has a much more negative reaction when someone gives him this gesture. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this over Face Time. 

My Thoughts: It is interesting to see a hand gesture take on different meanings depending on the country. The okay hand gesture in American culture has a positive annotation to it, and has even evolved into the “Circle Game” where you get punched if you see someone holding that gesture up. However, you’d get a much different response in Turkey, and also a number of other countries. This includes: Brazil, Mexico, and Russia. This shows you have to be very careful when going into other countries because something that seems normal to your culture can be very poorly received in another country. 

Pre-Choir Performance Ritual

Main Piece:

Interviewer: You’re in choir, right?

Informant: Uh huh.

Interviewer: Is there any kind of rituals you guys do. Like anything before you guys start?

Informant: Well, one of our teachers, right before we are about to go into a concert, she’ll have us sit in a room and turn off the lights. Then she’ll close the blinds so we are sitting in a dark room. She has us sit criss cross applesauce and close our eyes and doing breathing things. And then she has us think of different places or different things, like, think you’re at the beach and you hear the waves and how at first they are very soft. Then the waves crash, then they go back to soft. Then she compares that to our voices. Then she goes, like, wind on the tall grass or in the trees or something and how you can hear it. But it wasn’t like one thing was way louder than anything else. It was like it all blended together. That’s how she had us get ready for a concert, so we had a calm mindset. We also had, like, a synchronous mindset, where we are all in beat with one another. But it wasn’t like a stressful, like we have to be in beat. It’s like a ‘can we be like nature,’ where we all move together’. And eventually when we move together it will all sound pretty.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s beautiful? Is there anything after the recital that you guys do?

Informant: Not really. I can’t think of anything we do afterwards.

Interviewer: What kind of breathing exercise?

Informant: Well, at first, she has us hold our breath for like 10 seconds, or something. And then breath in and out and in and out. But then our breath has to be in sync with the others, so it’s not like we’re going “huh, huh.” (Breathing hard and erratic.) And how you’d hear like different layers of it from everybody. It’s like “in sync” breathing. So we’ll go “in 1, 2, 3, out 1, 2, 3, in . . .” It’s like different kinda like counting.

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. We were in the kitchen and I asked her about different groups she was a part of at school.

Thoughts:

Not only was the choir a place to find community, it was a place of ritual, harmony and synchronization. Pre-recital was spent in meditation, softly centering the mind in balance with nature. I enjoyed hearing her explain their choir’s pre-performance routine. It was also a picture of the beauty that can come out of community and teamwork. It is not solely about the individual. Rather, individuals in a group working together as a cohesive unit. Ritual is a creative process, key in attaining a certain frame of mind and promoting active engagement.

The place you hold on the chopsticks

Main piece: where you hold on the chopsticks decides how far you are gonna go away from your home.

The informant said one of my relatives said I would go really far because I held the chopsticks near the end of it. There is a belief of how far you held the chopsticks from the bottom reveals how far you are gonna be away from your home.

The informant said when I was young I held my chopsticks really far away from the bottom, then one relative of us told her that I might go really far.

Background story:

The informant is my mom. She heard this piece from one of my relatives and did not really believed it. She mentioned this only because we were talking about that relative.

Context:

I was casually chatting with the informant.

Thought:

No matter if it is a real thing or just superstition, I did go far away from home to study. I still hold the chopasticks closed to the top.