USC Digital Folklore Archives / Adulthood
Adulthood
Humor

Haitian AIDS/HIV Medicine Joke

“So, back when I was doing HIV work I used to hear this joke all the time from my gay patients. It would go something like, ‘What’s the hardest part about having HIV?’ and the gay guy would say, ‘Convincing my mom I had sex with a Haitian. *laughing* ”

Context: This joke was performed at a dinner party whose guests were primarily family, with the informant being the father of the collector. The joke was said midway into dinner while the guests and informant had been drinking wine.

Informant Analysis: The doctor who said this joke had done much work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s. At the time, it was more of a secret for men to be gay since it was largely deemed “deplorable” by the average American. Today, this sort of anti-gay rhetoric has decreased. Many of the doctor’s patients were gay, had HIV, but also had a wife and children. They kept their sexual orientation hidden to their families and friends. However, when the HIV epidemic began to ravage America’s gay population, it was often difficult to hide the fact that you were gay since getting AIDS was considered a sign. Along with being gay being a sign of having AIDS, it was also common belief that Haitians also had it since there was and still is a high percentage of HIV positive people in Haiti.

Collector Analysis: The joke seems to play on the taboo topic of  coming out as gay to one’s mother. It seems to show that, especially during the 80’s, being considered gay was completely out of the question for many homosexual males. Instead of coming out as gay after being diagnosed with AIDS, the patient would rather say they got it from sex with a Haitian. The joke itself hinges on the fact that the highest percentage of HIV is found in homosexuals and Haitians. The humor also makes light of a situation which, especially during the 80’s, was considered a death sentence. Medical humor, including this joke, often contains this sort of dark humor to try to lessen the pain involved with such terrible situations.

Adulthood
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ivan Kupala

“Ivan Kupala, which is celebrated on a midsummer night, celebrates the young women of the community. The girls wear flower wreaths on their heads, though at the end of the night they let them float down the river. Everyone, especially the girls, sing happy and innocent songs all day, and they do not sleep for fear of demons or witches that arrive in the night. A bonfire is lit to symbolize purity and renewal as well. Eventually, everyone goes through the forests in search of a fern flower. When you find it, you make a wish and the flower has the power to grant your wish.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor stated that of all the holidays unique to Russia, she enjoyed the concept of Ivan Kupala the most because of its positive imagery and perspective on femininity. She laments that she does not know of any event that celebrates femininity in the way the Ivan Kupala does, and she hopes to receive a flowered wreath or herb wreath on her next visit to Russia during the summer. However, she does not know if she could last through such a long event, especially as it lasts through the night.

A prominent theme throughout this holiday is the celebratory sentiment regarding the budding fertility of women. The flowers represent their nascent ability to bear fruit of their own, yet it is not a shameful or ascetic acknowledgement, but one of commemoration and joy. This goes for the fern flower that is sought after as well; its special capacity to grant wishes also symbolizing the power that women have through their fertility.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

Adulthood
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thai pre-wedding custom

Main Piece:

Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.

Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.

Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.

Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk speech
Humor
Narrative
Old age

Call a Wambulance

Main Piece:

“You better call a Wambulance”

Translation: Don’t complain about pain unless you want to go to the hospital

Background: The informant is a senior here at USC. He is my next door neighbor and we conducted this interview in person at his apartment. He is from Manhattan Beach and has lived there for his entire life.

Context: I asked the informant if he knew of any “Dadisms”. Dadisms are usually puns, combining word play with a common saying to covey a new meaning. The informant learned of the saying through his own father saying it and has said this to me multiple times in casual conversation. The informant stated that he likes to use the phrase as it reminds him of his father. The informant said his father will make this joke in response to someone (usually within the family) complaining about getting a minor physical injury, such as stubbing one’s toe. The joke is meant to mean that the person injured should fight through the pain and not let it bother, per the informant.

Analysis: It seems Dads have their own folklore, as does every other social community. I found this piece intriguing because this is actually stated by my own father as well. My Dad will use the exact phrase in the same situation as the informant’s. I asked my father where he learned this phrase and he said he learned it from his own father. Clearly, these “isms” are trans-generational. Like the informant, I also use this joke in passing. And, like the informant, I also learned of and associate this saying with my father. For the more recent generation, I believe this phrase is repeatedly used as a way to continually tie us to our fathers. For the the older generation, I believe the continued use of this joke serves to solidify their own identity as fathers.

Adulthood
Childhood
Customs
Game
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Year Scavenger Hunt: Los Angeles High School Folk Tradition

Folk Custom:

So basically it was off the grid, no one was supposed to know about it. All the students would get together. A couple students would organize it. If you got invited it meant you were cool cause the popular kids would do it. I got invited my senior year. You got this list of stuff you’re supposed to do thats really bad stuff. You drive around my neighborhood. You get points for the stuff you do on the list. Whoever has the most points by sunrise gets wins a bunch of money that everyone pools before. And so there are certain things that are automatic win like get a tattoo on your ass cheek that says senior scavenger hunt, or – they got rid of this before I did it – but it was drive to Vegas and back. It was all stuff like have sex on the football field. Go streaking. I did go streaking. Piss in a strangers pool. I did that. Most of us were drunk except for the drivers. They also gave you this bag of flour before you left and anyone you saw around the neighborhood (it was far out like 23 miles) you were supposed to throw flour at them or at their car which is so dangerous.” 

Context:

This was a senior year tradition at a high school in the valley in Los Angeles. It was done at the end of the year in celebration of graduation. Informant says, “It’s been going on maybe like 10 years. I think its definitely still going on. I vaguely knew about it before being invited. I heard whisperings and usually something bad about it. Someone got arrested during one of the senior scavenger hunts. “

Informant Background:

The informant is 21, from the valley. He only learned about this formally after being invited.

My Analysis:

There is a lot of children’s folklore created by adults that teach lessons. This is a children’s folk custom generated by children in celebration of the freedom of childhood. Your senior year of high school is regarded culturally as your last year of childhood before you turn 18, move out, and are recognized (at least in American law) as an adult. This final hurrah is a chance for the children of the school to act recklessly and carelessly while there are not the weighted responsibilities attached as they would be in adulthood.

This game resembles the one presented in the movie “Nerve”. In that movie, everyone is either a watcher or a player. Players are given risks at different levels. Completing risks earns players money. The bigger risks like jumping off crane or going under train warrant more monetary rewards.

The fact that both games use money to motivate people to do completely absurd and dangerous things they would never do otherwise speaks to the huge weight it has over our society. People today are willing to do anything for the right price. I think in the case of these teenagers from the valley, it could go the other way around. Since they are the ones supplying the money and setting the rules of the game, perhaps they want to use the money to justify actions they are not allowed to do otherwise.

Adulthood
Customs
Foodways
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Turkish Wedding Customs: Coffee

P.N. – “When Turkish girls are old enough to make a good Turkish coffee, a joke is made in the family that they are now ready to be married off.”

What happens during a traditional Turkish engagement ceremony?

P.N. – “In the actual engagement ceremony, the groom’s family sits in the living room while the bride’s family stays in the kitchen, making and preparing the food of the day.  The bride is not to sit down with the groom’s family until the end of the ceremony, because the bride is supposed to be all up, being the working woman, and that kind of stuff.”

“But, at the very end, after all the pastries are eaten and the tea is drank, you always end the ceremony with coffee.  So the bride goes in to the kitchen to prepare the coffee, and she has to carry the coffee one by one to each of the family members present, and the most important one she has to hand the coffee to is the groom.  That always happens.  She is carrying the coffee to her future husband, whether or not that is what is desired or anything.”

“If she spills any coffee onto the saucer, it’s gonna be a failed marriage, and they blame her for it.”

“That’s the whole thing; whenever I’m carrying Turkish coffee, (I used to have really shaky hands) I’d always spill it when I was younger, and my mom would always tell me I’d have bad luck.”

 

 This particular story struck me as odd, because I could tell how conflicted the person was while she was talking.  She, an extremely powerful woman, clearly doesn’t love this custom, as it’s implicit biases against women both in Turkey in general and during the wedding specifically are clear.  

 

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material

Wall Quotes at HB Woodlawn

Abstract:

This piece is about painted wall quotes from graduating seniors at a high school in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Main Piece: (L is the informant and I is the interviewer)

“L: At my school when you become a senior and you’re graduating, you get to write a quote on the wall. In your group.

I: In your group?

L: In your, like, age group. Like the 2005’s. Or the graduates of the 2005’s.

I: What school do you go to?

L: HB Woodlawn in Arlington, VA.

I: Why do you guys get to do this?

L: Um, to have like your message to the school. So people can look at it. It’s not necessary to look at, but it’s not hidden away in a yearbook.”

Context:

The informant is a 13 year old girl who attends a middle/high school in Arlington Virginia called HB Woodlawn. She started attending the school in 6th grade and plans to graduate from the school as well. The school is small in comparison to the other local public high schools and can only be attended through a lottery system. The school is known as the “Hippie” School because of it’s nonchalant rules and artistic programs that other schools in the area do not have. This senior tradition at HB Woodlawn allows students to leave a quote or message painted on the walls of the school for future students to read, instead of having a yearbook quote.

Analysis:

Leaving your mark at this school reminds me of graffiti and leaving messages in that way as well. Since the school is artistic and focuses heavily on creative ideals, it makes sense to me that they would have this unconventional way of leaving senior quotes. In a way, this version of senior quotes allows for more students to view the messages over the years. For example, if you are a freshman looking at a yearbook, you will only see the quotes of the seniors from that particular year. You would miss out on the quotes from seniors in the years before you entered the school. However, in this version of senior quotes, you will see the quotes on the walls for years and years.

 

 

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Kinesthetic

First drink at Stonewall

Main Piece: Many young LGBTQ+ individuals have their first legal or “official” drink at The Stonewall Inn when they turn 21.

Context: The informant is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. The Stonewall Inn is a now-popularized gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, famous for being the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969. It is said that the bar served as a catalyst for many of the leaders and thinkers of the Stonewall riots, as they would gather there to discuss queer theory and modes of action. The informant, who identifies as lesbian and has heard of this custom through her other queer-identifying peers, believes that there is much power in “doing what they did.” In other words, they pay homage to trailblazers for gay liberation and the sacrifices that they made by saving their first legal drink for the bar that, in a way, is partially responsible for their current freedoms.

Personal thoughts: This tradition is a perfect example of how folklore is performative. By going back to a place that holds much historical and personal importance to many people, and re-enacting those who started the tradition, they are truly performing. Those in the LGBTQ+ community who go to the Stonewall Inn Bar are not just discussing what their trailblazers said and did, they are also, in some way, actively taking part in and adding to their own history. As new ideas are brought up by new generations visiting the bar, the tradition and ideas behind it will continue to evolve.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Kinesthetic
Life cycle

The Jewish Slap

“It’s a Jewish tradition for mothers to slap their daughters after their first period. I don’t actually know the source of this tradition. Maybe it’s to warn the daughter of the pain of womanhood. I also heard from someone that the slap is supposed to bring blood to the daughter’s cheek, but I don’t know what that means. I never slapped my daughter, and my friend yelled at me because I didn’t. She slapped both of her daughters when they got their periods.”

Context: The informant is a Jewish woman with one daughter. Both of her parents are Jewish. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish household and raised her children in a Reform Jewish household.

Interpretation: The most reasonable conclusion seems to be that the slap is a symbol of the pains of womanhood. It could also be used to shame young girls out of sexual activity by immediately punishing them for being capable of reproduction. It also connects Jewish females both to their mothers through the slap and to other Jewish women through the shared experience.

 

[geolocation]