USC Digital Folklore Archives / Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Salami and Women

Background

Informant: R.P. Italian-Australian Male, 28 years old

Location: Sydney, Australia

Context

Told to me by a 2nd generation Italian male, whose family immigrated to Australia from Italy and Naples a generation earlier. This folklore may be local to the Southern region of Italy. Informant volunteered this information after being prompted.

Main Piece

RP: “I don’t know many superstitions, but I always remember being told that women should not walk into a room if Salami is being served.”

Thoughts

When asked about the meaning being this folklore piece, the informant could not offer a a solid explanation for why this superstition existed. He posited that it could be related to the time of day or where the salami was being served. For much of the early 20th century,  southern Italian women were not allowed to be present in places where men would congregate, for example bars or clubs. This would be considered taboo and the women would be viewed as “working women” should they enter one of these establishments. The belief in the superstition of salami and women may be an extension of this idea and cultural practice.

Interesting to note, this practice of baring women in certain public spaces began to change in Southern Italy with the invention of the television and the viewing of television programs in large public areas due to the fact that most Southern Italian families could not afford a personal television. Instead, the town would purchase a TV for the entire community and would broadcast the programs in bars or town squares where women and children were allowed to frequent for the duration of the show.

Legends
Magic
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Menstrual Blood in the Food

Background

Location: Tarzana, CA

Informant: M.S. - Black, female hairstylist in her late 20’s, born and raised in Los Angeles but has family in New Orleans, LA

Context

Overheard in a hair salon in Tarzana, California. M.S. is a stylist that was working at the salon, speaking to her client. Told in the context of Louisiana witchcraft. The collector has heard this piece of folklore told many times before this encounter.

The Bayous of Louisiana are well known to the locals for being places of witchcraft practice and voodoo. Many local wives-tales revolve around the idea of this witchcraft having real effects. I have summarized the telling in my own words below

 Main Piece

The tale goes that if a woman wishes to “keep” a man, or ensure that she and the man will stay together romantically, she should put her menstrual blood in his food while she is cooking and serve it to him. This will create a mystical and unbreakable bond that influences the man to stay as her partner.

Thoughts

I have personally heard this wives tale told to me from members of my family that still reside in Louisiana. The folklore itself points to both an interest in Louisiana witchcraft and the belief that those methods can be employed by common folk to help them achieve certain goals, specifically when relating to other people and controlling them through supernatural means.  Stories like this circulate and are based in areas of Louisiana that are known for witchcraft, specifically Black, female witchcraft. The informant seemed to tell the story as though she believed there was some merit to the idea of witchcraft, as she expressed that it would be foolish to attempt witchcraft as it could have dangerous effects on the “caster.” It is a common held belief in Louisiana that witchcraft is not to be trusted and should be treated with caution.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Myths
Protection
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

American Street Crack Superstition

Main Piece:

“Step on a crack and break your mom’s back”

Context and Analysis:

The informant claims the superstition is common knowledge. When asked when she first heard it she insisted not knowing when she picked it up, she just assumed it was common knowledge, “Everyone knows that when you are walking, you are not supposed to step on a crack it’s just what everyone says.” The informant does not know where the superstition originates from. The informant does not believe this superstition is true and therefore she does not apply it to her daily life. The informant states, “I know it is not true because I have stepped on a lot of cracks and nothing has happened.”

Like most superstitions, this one uses the threat of something valuable to encourage people to follow it. If something valuable is at stakes many times even if people do not believe in the superstition they will follow it to avoid any potential curse. This superstition emphasizes the dangers of stepping on a crack which can lead to breaking your mother’s back.

It is interesting to note the informant’s belief that this superstition is known worldwide. Often when someone does not know the origin of where something comes from or if they heard it at an early enough age, they assume everyone is familiar with the same things they are. Due to the understanding my informant has of the superstition I want to infer she heard it when she was in her early childhood years.

I also think it is important to note my informants reasoning as to what makes this superstition relevant. She states ‘everyone’ knows this. By emphasizing the use of a lot of people following a tradition or employing a saying, this gives any work reliability and validation.

There also seems to be a correlation with how difficult the superstition is to follow and how many people follow it. Many people follow superstitions when it does not inconvenience them. Therefore, when you have a superstition like this where it takes a lot of effort to avoid cracks everywhere one goes, it is less likely people will follow it.  Among children, this superstition can act as a game where a child will aim to avoid the cracks on the pavement and if he fails the punishment is the belief that his or her mom’s back will be broken.

general
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Bill Clinton and the Pope Joke

Context: The informant was in the midst of telling his favorite jokes at a party

Piece: “Okay… so… by chance Bill Clinton and the Pope die on the same day, and due to some clerical screw up, Bill Clinton is sent to Heaven and the Pope is sent to Hell. And the Pope’s like nah this ain’t right. So he goes to the… uh… the administration folk and goes and says look I’m the Pope I shouldn’t be here and they’re like oh… we must’ve made a mistake we’ll get that fixed, it’ll take us a day— we’ll get it fixed. So, the next day.. uh the old Pope is walking up the uh pearly white steps and Bill Clinton is walking down and uh they stop, they shake hands, they say hello and uh Clinton says, ‘So, uh father what are you looking forward to most in heaven?’ and the Pope says, ‘Uh, I don’t know, I guess one thing I’ve always wanted to do is meet the Virgin Mary.’ Clinton says, ‘Ah, missed her by a day.”

Background: The informant, a 20 year old student at Harvard, found this joke on Reddit and believes this is one of his best jokes. He enjoys telling jokes to his friends and family.

Analysis:This joke is compelling and intriguing because it combines two radically different public figures in an absurd scenario. The joke plays on Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, insinuating that he has sex with everyone and would even have sex with the Virgin Mary. This piece reflects how American culture views Bill Clinton as untrustworthy and has sex with all women. By putting religion, and such a holy figure in Christianity as the Virgin Mary, this joke further pokes at how Bill Clinton lacks boundaries and respect. The audience recognizes that Clinton has conducted this behavior before and it is ironic that he would do it again, especially in Heaven, where non-sinners (unlike Clinton) would go.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Serbian Derogatory Roma Joke

“So a Roma woman, a gypsy woman, goes to the gynecologist, and the gynecologist has his gloves on. He notices that his gloves are ripped and notices that his wedding ring has fallen into the gypsy woman’s vagina, So he goes and he looks around and then sticks his head in, and then he sticks his whole body in, and he he is walking around in her vagina. And he sees another man in there who seems to be looking for something. He says to the man, “Hey I lost my ring, have you seen my ring?” And the other man says to him, “No, have you seen my horses?”

Context: This informant, SM, is half-Serbian and was telling my friends and I about a specifically vulgar and racist joke that she has heard other Serbian folks tell her. She explains that the Roma people are all over Europe and some parts of Asia, and are nomadic people. They are known as “gypsy” people, which is a derogatory term as they do not like being called as such. Serbians do not have a positive outlook on the Roma people, as they are seen as beggars and pickpockets. SM explains that sometimes they [gypsies] even use their children to get sympathy and get more money. The stereotype that is used by this joke is that Roma women have a lot of children, hence the size of the woman’s genitals in the story. The joke stuck with SM because of how derogatory and misogynistic it was. SM does not agree with this derogatory speech towards this specific ethnic group, and whenever telling the joke she prefaces by stating her own views towards the joke.

Analysis: Jokes, especially crude ones, are incredibly telling and descriptive of the culture from which the joke emerged. Jokes are a reflection of the things that a particular culture find humorous or witty, or can be a way to allow the persistence of certain stereotypes and essentially make fun of them. For example, the ample number of “blonde” jokes that are basically just jokes about how dumb blonde people–specifically women–are. These jokes allowed the spread of this stereotype across various American communities, leaving many blonde people the burden of having to prove their intelligence–even though none of this is rooted in fact. In this case, the Roma people, and the Roma women are being put down in a racist way, and is a reflection of certain Serbian communities’ views on the ethnic group. The experiences and observations of the Roma People by the Serbian society have influenced the way that they perceive these people. These stereotypes bleed into their jokes as a way to connect with the rest of their community, despite its provocative nature.

Along with this, there is a specific demographic to whom we tell stereotypic jokes. SM would never repeat this joke in front of a Roma person, in fear of offending them or them thinking that she shared the views espoused by the joke. This shows that we alter the way that we share folklore based on the context and the audience.

Customs
Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese Restaurant Clapping Game

“So we had a clapping game that my friends and I used to do that involved this one song that I always thought was a little bit weird:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant, to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread.

They asked me what my name was, and this is what I said, said, said:

‘My name is….choo choo Charlie, I can do karate, punch ‘em in the stomach,

Oops, I’m sorry! Please don’t tell my mommy!

Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Freeze!'”

Context: The informant, ER, is an Asian-American student. She really enjoyed playing games with her friends when she was growing up in California; some of these included clapping games like this, along with making lip-sync dance videos. ER is a very popular girl, and wanted to fit in with the other girls, which includes participating in this game. ER explains that she uncomfortable with singing along with this song. Being an Asian-American, she felt that this song was quite racist and drew from various stereotypes in order create a catchy song to sing along to.

Analysis: This song follows other types of children’s songs that are common and widespread. It has catchy, simple rhythm with equally catchy lyrics. In this case, it involves repetition of certain lyrics that are necessary for clapping games. Towards the end of song, the lyrics become a bit nonsensical, and do not really provide any real connection with the original theme of the song. Even the first line of the song make no real sense since no one would normally go to a Chinese restaurant to purchase a loaf of bread. However, rational lyrics are not the main purpose of children songs, but rather about parodying other songs, or making fun of strict components of society.

However, probably the more telling part of this song is the slight racial insensitiveness of the lyrics. In this case, the lyrics are playing on stereotypes of Chinese people, and also equating them with other Asians, including Japanese people and Indian people. For many children, it is common for them to not be able to differentiate between different groups of East Asians, or can tend to be more racially insensitive. Due to this, it means that when these children come up with these rhymes and games, they will be less inhibited by potentially insensitive lyrics when trying to find rhyming words and catchy lyrics.

For ER, calling out her friends because of a racist song had too many consequences. From the social side, ER did not want to say that she did not want to participate in the game, which would create a rift between herself and her friends due to a mere song. Children’s social structures and relationships tend to be very fragile and complex, and due to this, telling your friends that you do not want to participate in a favorite game would be seen as an insult. Due to this fear, many kids will not tell their friends about something that bothers them personally in order to maintain their friendships and keep their social standing.

general
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Viola Jokes

The informant is a 20-year-old friend from Westport, Connecticut, who plays the violin. He told me about viola jokes, which are silly, baseless jokes that strings players make about violists. He learned these from hearing other people in his orchestra, including his conductor, make these jokes. I asked him for an example of one of these jokes.

——————–

“How do you stop a violin from being stolen? You store it in a viola case.”

——————–

The concept of viola jokes was amusing to me, because they don’t seem to actually be based on anything true about viola players, but they are so widespread that they even have their own Wikipedia page. Based on my own knowledge of string instruments, violas do seem to be the odd ones out, as they use their own clef, the alto clef, which is not used by any other instrument in a classical orchestra. However, there is nothing about violas that actually suggests their inferiority as compared to other instruments, so these jokes seem to be an example of an invented other-ness that knits the rest of the group together in their identity as strings players. Without context, the jokes would seem offensive to viola players, but those who understand the jokes know that it is actually a fake out-group identity that would tie them closer to the group; in other words, knowing that the jokes are not actually making fun of violists allows the violists being made fun of, and others who understand the joke, to participate in string-instrument or orchestral culture.

For more viola jokes, see The Grand Encyclopedia of Viola Jokes by David Johnstone, found online at https://web.archive.org/web/20140824203638/http://www.j-music.es/FileUpload/articulos/gen026-Gran_Encyclopedia_viola_jokes-j-m.pdf.

 

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“America versus Yogurt” Joke

Context: The informant is a 19-year-old student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he is currently an Art History major at USC. I asked him if his family is one that passes around a lot of jokes, to which he immediately replied, “Oh yeah. My family is really into humor and comedy.” I asked him if he could tell me a joke that a family member tells often. He said, “Here’s one that my dad says like all the time, especially to foreigners, and especially when we’re in another country.”

Piece: Q: “What’s the difference between America and a cup of yogurt?”

A: “If you leave the yogurt alone for long enough, it’ll eventually develop a culture.”

Analysis: This joke is a variation of the common “What’s the difference between…” joke format. A pun on the word “culture” is used to deliver the punchline as the word refers to both bacteria cultures and human culture. This piece is playing off of the common stereotype, or blason populaire, that Americans have no culture. This is a viewpoint that a large number of foreigners, and few Americans themselves, hold against the country, as many think that Americans are lazy, entitled, greedy, and gluttonous. We certainly do live in a society that glorifies excess; however, many would argue that the culture of America is one of the richest in the world since the country is a melting pot of many different cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, races, and religions. This stereotype may have also stemmed, in part, from the fact that the country is relatively new compared to many of the world’s other nations and quite separated from a large part of the Earth.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Pushing Mongo: A Skateboarding Stereotype

Context:  I visited the informant’s dorm room at USC at about three o’clock, having already asked him if he was willing to participate in the collection project. He was willing, so we sat down to chat in his bedroom, alone. We began chatting, and I recorded three pieces from him. For the final piece, I knew I wanted to talk about skateboarding, a passion both of us enjoy. I remembered that, at the beginning of the semester, I had accused the informant of “pushing mongo,” which has a certain stigma in the skateboarding community. I asked him if he could explain the concept to me, as well as the attitudes surrounding the practice. Somewhat reluctantly, as if it were a shameful secret, the informant began explaining, and I began recording.

Transcription:

JB: Mongo is just when, like while you skate, you push with your front foot instead of your back foot.

WD: And you push mongo, right?

JB: Yeah, but there’s a whole fuckin stigma around it.

WD: What do you mean?

JB: Well, its because… uh…  well I guess it just looks really goofy, and you have to, pretty much, move your feet around literally every time you want to push or pump or do something… So, I guess it’s just sort of impractical, but if you learn how to skate that way, you can’t really do it any other way. So you’re just stuck with it.

WD: But people will call you out for it, right?

JB: Yeah, I mean, you did when we first started skateboarding together. People will call you out for it because, like, no really good skateboarders push mongo.

WD: Yeah, even when, like, pro skaters push mongo while riding switch stance, they’ll still get roasted on Instagram for it. That never really made sense to me, since it’s so difficult to skate switch.

JB: Yeah, I guess it’s just the rules among skaters. Like, you shouldn’t push mongo, but I can’t help it, since it’s how I learned to skate.

Informant: The informant is an 18 year old, German-American student at the University of Southern California. He was born in Aptos, California, a small beach town located to the west of Santa Cruz. The informant attended public school in Aptos and has been skateboarding for six years. He is one of the few skateboarders I know that “pushes mongo,” and he has been doing it since he learned how to skateboard. The informant has mixed emotions about the practice, since, on the one hand, it’s comfortable for him, but on the other, he’s looked down upon by most skateboarders.

Analysis: Skateboarding can be extremely exclusive. Skateboarding has a rich diversity of styles and techniques, but some are valued more than others. But, the first thing a skateboarder will notice about another skater is how they push. Pushing is an immediate indication of a skateboarder’s skill, as it relies solely on the skateboarder’s comfortability on the board. Posture and foot position are clear indicators of the way an individual learned how to skateboard, and their proficiency in the activity. Pushing “mongo” is distinct from any other pushing style, since it is immediately recognizable based on the back foot’s placement. Skateboarders have a heavy emphasis on the “style” of skateboarding, or how effortless the maneuvers look when performed. Since pushing “mongo” is inherently more difficult, as well as takes longer to set up for than pushing regularly, those who push with their front foot rather than their back foot are typically ostracized by other skateboarders. Even among professional skateboarders, pushing “mongo” is a heated topic of discussion. While some professionals are able to push with their back foot, regardless of which foot is oriented in the front, others are forced to keep the same foot planted on the board while pushing “switch stance” (or facing the opposite way on the board than what feels comfortable). Those professional skateboarders who cannot push regularly while riding “switch stance” are typically made fun of, in particular by other professionals. While, the phrase “pushing mongo” can be grounds for exclusion among some skaters, it can also be a source of humor among professionals, simply because the practice looks slightly strange. For more information about “pushing mongo,” watch this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gfcepLX-qw

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Turkish Tree Branch Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Ağaç yaş iken eğilir’, which means that people should learn the best way to behave as soon as possible because older people tend to be stuck in their ways.

Main piece:

Turkish: “Ağaç yaş iken eğilir”

English Translation: “The tree branch should be bent when it is young”

Thoughts:

I asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other Turkish phrases, as this is a fairly common saying. He could not think of any. Though not exactly this phrase, there are variants in all cultures. For example, in English, we say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which essentially has the same meaning. Things should be taught young, otherwise people will struggle to learn it. This is a common theme in a lot of proverbs and folk stories. This phrase can be applied in American culture, but it is also important to D’s family dynamic. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that the values carried over from his mother. Manners are something that was lacking in the American culture I saw growing up. Families focused more on punishing bad behavior to prevent it rather than show the children what is right.

 

 

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