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

The Cook and the Cowhands

There was a joke that my grandpa used to tell. It’s a little off color but not so bad. But he told the story, and then my mom told the story, and I haven’t really told it but I can tell it to you so you can hear it. It’s a little bit racist but you can take the race out of it and it works just the same. This is a story that my grandfather’s older brother and father told him. So there was a ranch in the West somewhere, probably Colorado or California. There were cowhands, and they were working all day on the ranch, and they had a cook named Wong. They thought they would play some practical jokes on him. When Wong was sleeping, the cowhands they would tie his shoes together with lots of knots. The next day they waited for a reactions, but nothing happened—he just fixed his shoes and didn’t mention it. The next day they put thumbtacks on his seat. They waited to see his reaction, and when he sat down he kind of grimaced, but just swept them away and didn’t really care. The next day they either short-sheeted his bed or soaked his sheets with water—I don’t really remember. They waited for a reaction, and no reaction. So they finally decided to talk to him. “So Wong, you’ve been a really good sport, tying your shoes in knots and putting thumbtacks on your seat, and messing with your sheets, so we won’t do that to you anymore.” In a different voice; “You no more put knots in my shoes?” “No, no more knots in your shoes.” “You no more put tackies on my seat?” “No, no more tacks on your seat.” “You no more soak my sheets in water?” “No, we won’t soak your sheets in water anymore.” “Good, well I no more pee pee in your soup.”

This story is important to the informant because of its history, and it having been passed down for multiple generations. It reminds him of how different the world used to be regarding the treatment of minorities, and their portrayal.

I find it interesting that the racist aspect of this narrative isn’t actually essential to the story– it could be told just about the same, without making stereotypical voices or mentioning the races of the characters.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Prejudiced beliefs about Jewish People

Informant related this while at tea, when interviewer mentioned a Jewish holiday in passing.

First of all, I don’t believe any of this, but these are things my grandparents said to my mother and she said to me.

I did tell you before, didn’t I? How my grandfather used to take my grandmother to the opera, and he had a box because he was a successful early ad magnate or tycoon or what have you, and he would pick out the Jew in the audience by their pointed ears. I never asked for an explination because you know, you don’t need one with something that batty.

My mother grew up in Indiana and they had a cook and a maid and one day, you know, Mom and I were driving up at 19th and California, there’s a little tiny temple school, and my mother says in ths really sweet voice she used sometimes, “when I was growing up, my I was told by the maid that Jews took Christian babies and ate them and drank their blood.”

I think it must have been the German help because my mother never saw her parents and they tended to try to at least keep their prejudices, you know, tasteful. At no point did I ever press my mom for more details about this because, you know I was stunned.  Schtunned.

Informant’s grandparents are of English and German extraction, and their beliefs do reflect historical attitudes held by many Europeans at various points in time, generally emphasizing the otherness of a group of people who lived and looked different and may have, at times, competed for economic resources; by identifying the strangers as ‘bad,’ these groups may have felt more justified in protecting scarce resources for themselves during hard times; and the stories created for this purpose were then passed down through generations.


These beliefs, and other similar ones, are discussed in John Efron’s Jews: A History. Taylor & Francis, 2013.


Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Tom and Jerry

“When me and my brother were younger, and even still to this day, my grandfather compares us to Tom & Jerry.  Like the cartoon, Tom & Jerry.  But it’s not just for me and my brother, he believes every pair of siblings follows that dynamic.  Like the younger one being like Jerry and always fooling around and bothering the older one, Tom, who’s just trying to ignore the younger sibling.  It’s probably because that’s the way he was with his younger brother and he likes to think everyone’s the same as him.”


It’s interesting that this folk belief is based around someone’s experiences with watching a cartoon.  Because of the informant’s grandfather noticing a parallel between his own life and the lives of his grandchildren and two characters in a cartoon show, the grandfather made an assumption about the entire human population, which I find really funny, and honestly not entirely inaccurate; I definitely understand where the grandfather is coming from, as I do believe that me and my own older brother follow this dynamic as well.  I wonder in the creators of Tom & Jerry based the cartoon off of a prominent sibling dynamic they noticed, or just thought Tom & Jerry were funny characters and that’s all.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Brazil vs. Portugal

“So my mother’s Brazilian, and in Brazil there’s this stigma against people from Portugal.  It’s kind of like how people in America view blonde people as being dumber than average, or maybe it’s more like how people in America see people from New Jersey as lesser people.  So like, in Brazil, there’s just this stereotype that people from Portugal are dim-witted or something.  Like, if someone does something stupid, Brazilians will say, ‘oh, how Portuguese of them’ which sounds really mean, but there is an heir of teasing behind it.  It’s not like Brazilians are bigots that actually have something agains Portugal, it’s just this kind of international teasing, but just with a little bit of truth behind it (laughs).”


This is a really interesting cultural stereotype to make because while it is playful, it wouldn’t exist if people didn’t at one point in time, believe there was some truth behind it.  I would be really interested in seeing how this stereotype originated, and if it was still teasing back then or if it was really serious.  And seeing that it’s even still slightly serious today, I would think that it was serious back when it originated.  After all, I don’t think it would have stayed around for as long as it has without people believing it to at least some degree, like the informant does.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

South Korean Plastic Surgery

Background: Stella is a 55-year-old woman living in Cerritos, CA. She was born in Seoul and has lived in South Korea for the majority of her life until she moved here for college. She stays at home. Before that, she worked at a hair salon as a beautician. She is married and has two grown children.

I was watching a Korean music show with my mother. I commented on how gorgeous the idols were and my mother interjected, “you know, they’re all fixed, right? Every idol, no matter how natural they look, has had plastic surgery on some part of their face. Look at them. They all look the same.”

I asked her if she really thought that was true and how she knows they’ve had plastic surgery.

She said, “Korea’s plastic surgery is the best in the world. There’s a reason for that. We have the best, and we want to look the best. You know, I think every Korean citizen probably has or will get their faces and bodies fixed because it’s just, um, part of the culture there, do you know what I mean? Even I’ve had my nose raised and eyes widened, so you see, I can tell if somebody else also had the, um, same procedure.”

I believe my informant is both proud and skeptical of the plastic surgery phenomenon in South Korea. It has caused her to become very jaded about “natural beauty” and very particular about what features are “beautiful” in her eyes. She constantly talks about how Korean people all look the same because they all go to the same plastic surgeon. As a result, she refuses to call anybody “pretty”. But at the same time, as someone who has undergone plastic surgery herself, she begrudgingly recognizes the power of plastic surgery as well.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

No Dancing in Texas/China

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend was originally born in Texas, where his father is from, before moving to California as a child. His mother is an immigrant from China.

Dialogue: Yeah, um, again, I wrote a paper for dance history class that was in freshman year, about my personal experience with dance, and the professor gave me 100%, pulled me out of the class, and said, “Hey, I really enjoyed that paper, it was really cool, and I really appreciated the way that you opened up in the paper about your experiences,” because I wrote about how I have absolutely NO personal cultural experience with dance, like, in my life… Um… And that was due to the fact that my father was from the Deep South, and there, uh, at least for men, dance was seen as… something that was highly effeminate, and, like, if you danced it would somehow make you gay, um, and being from the Deep South he didn’t want me to be gay… So, I just NEVER danced as a child! And, then, on my mother’s side of the family, I had no cultural experience with dance because… uh, she was from China, but she was born under the Mao regime, and, um, during that time, a LOT of forms of art were actually pushed, um, out of the cultural sphere… And so there wasn’t really any dance except for this one dance that they did was like, “Hail the Might Mao” or whatever. Um… And, most forms of art were pushed out, so I had no culture of dance from that side either.

Analysis: I debated whether or not to check this under the Folk Dance category, but went against it because there isn’t actually a dance to be learned or performed. It’s interesting to compare these two different types of censorship, and see how much they’re based on the same kind of ideals. While the Maoist restriction of dance and art forms in general is more a complete totalitarian regime, the Deep South’s stereotyping and discrimination against gay people is more focused and specific. Yet they’re both based on the idea of controlling what people do through the use of villainization (against art and homosexuality, respectively).

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Dumber the Name, The Better the Food

My sister got this saying from a guy she was seeing at the time. He was extremely well traveled, and used this trick for finding close to/authentic Chinese food in America.

Allegra: “So his advice is to look for the Chinese restaurant with the weirdest name – the name that makes no sense in English. Go there and you are sure to have some authentic fare at the right price.”

Me: What do you mean by weird?

Allegra: ” Well there are names which make no sense and are a sort of enigmatic challenge for the discerning brain. Do they actually make sense and would be clear to those who were more culturally aware and cosmopolitan? Or are they purposely inscrutable so as to attract attention? Who knows, but here are some real-life examples:

I Don’t Know Chinese Restaurant

New Fook Lam Moon (was there an Old Fook Lam Moon?)

Concubine and The Shanghai

New Cultural Revolution Restaurant

Confucius Pao

The New Edinburgh Rendezvous Mandarin Kitchen

Nice Day Happy Garden

Me: Have you tried this out anywhere in New York City?

Allegra: “I haven’t yet. But now that I’m thinking about it, I fully intend to.”

Analysis: Perhaps perpetuating this rule of thumb – “The dumber the name, the better the food” is a way for people to deal with their fear of the unknown and bestow some honor on their xenophobia. Or, maybe the rule of thumb is true – at least as a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will think the food is better if they’ve found a place with a truly confusing name.

Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Midget Town

Oh it was always like have you been to midget town? Because it’s like… Yes, it scared the bejeezus out of me. But it was just like this one way street by the river bed and that the houses are smaller so it’s midgets. But it’s a private… it says PRIVATE STREET:NO TRESSPASSING, that if you drive down the street, midgets will come and chase you with pitchforks.  

This Urban legend came to the attention of my informant through her high school friends and peers. She told me this story as a funny thing she and her friends used to do. This was an urban legend around where she grew up in Whittier, California. She was an active practitioner of this urban legend and found that the houses were indeed smaller for little people, but there were no pitchforks. This piece of folklore was interesting to me because this was a real place that was only nicknamed “Midget Town” a name stereotyped for little people.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese, Japanese, Look At These, Hit My Knees

“I had an ummm…. sort of racist I mean it was very racist, I think this might have been in the Devils Rejects, was it in the devil’s rejects? I think it was anyways I did the same thing as the people in the Devil’s Rejects did in elementary school… not murdering people… but this demented nursery rhyme… it went sort of like ‘Chinese, Japanese, look at these hit my knees*’ it was very racist and I think that’s why we did it and even the Japanese kids in our class did it…. ummmmm…. We knew it was bad and we did it anyways (laughs)”

*note the informant does motions with his hands when he says “Chinese” he stretches his eyes length wise, “Japanese” he stretches them width wise, “Look at these” he motions towards his chest as if to insinuate breasts, “Hit my knees” fairly self explanatory, the speaker hits his knees.

I found this one interesting because it’s a rhyme that’s clearly at the level where it’s made for kids. It’s very intentionally crude as sort of a taboo rhyme. It was a horrible non sensical thing to say but it whoever said it felt like they were breaking rules. This probably added to the fun of the rhyme.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Snowbirds” flock to Arizona in the Spring

Living in Arizona in the spring, we are flocked with what are colloquially know by Arizonans as “snowbirds”. These are tourists from areas who have terrible winters that bleed into spring, so they escape their snow for a few months (march to may) and live in Phoenix. I was in the car with a friend on a visit home, she was driving behind a car driving particularly slow and she turned to me and complained about “snowbirds”.

Me: “Explain what a snowbird is, and why they are called that?”

KC: “Snowbirds are tourists that come to Arizona in our spring, their winter and just live here, they are usually older couples. They are called snowbirds because they like, migrate here in the winter for the warmer weather.”

Me: “Why do you complain about them?”

KC: “Because they are so annoying haha. They are the single worst drivers ever, driving behind this one now is an example, Minnesota plates, they just crawl along because they usually don’t know where they are going or don’t know the speed limit. The sad thing is, is Arizona is so easy to drive in, I mean we are on a grid system, so east to navigate. Also they just cram up the streets, I mean usually Phoenix is so spread out that you don’t see to many cars, but come this time a year the traffic is awful because all you see are the Minnesota, Michigan, Kansas or like Illinois plates mixed in around with the Arizona ones. It’s really just driving that it’s annoying, I mean old town gets crowded, but it’s not bad, and they only go to the tourist place in the day, which are like far out of town anyway.”

Me: “Where did you learn this term from”

KC:”Hmm. I don’t know really, just heard it around growing up, probably my parents complaining about their driving too or something.”


This term is one local to the Arizona or perhaps even the southwest region of the United States, one used only by the locals to describe the tourists. This term is one where the locals perform their identity with one another by creating the “other” of the snowbirds. It brings the people together under a common annoyance of these tourists and those who know and understand the term in this context would be deemed as part of the group. It is creating the locals as a group, as ones who know how to drive properly in their home and instantly can recognize when someone is not simply because of their driving.