USC Digital Folklore Archives / November, 2010
general
Legends
Narrative

Urban Legend- New Jersey

Urban Legend. Dangerous Men
So You Meet This Guy In A Bar…

There are a lot of urban legends that deal with the ways in which men lure women to their death. Alex Romano told me a story like that that is probably the creepiest I’ve ever heard.
In it, a girl goes to a bar one night looking to meet men, and she ends up making out with a random guy on the dance floor. After a period of dancing and kissing, he asks her if she’d like to come back to his place. Even though she wanted to make out with someone and possibly go home with them, she isn’t really feeling this guy and turns him down. A few days later, she isn’t feeling well and has developed a type of rash on her mouth, so she goes to the doctor to get herself checked out. The doctor asks her if she’s been with anyone in the last few days, and she tells him of the guy she made out with at the bar. He takes a sample from her mouth with a cotton swab and sends her home, telling her he’ll call her if he finds anything. A day or two later, she gets that call, and the doctor says, “We need to find that guy you met at the bar. The bacterium in your mouth is a kind that is only found on dead bodies.”
When I first heard this, I was like, “So wait, the guy was dead?” But then Alex explained to met that it meant the guy she met at the bar had been kissing dead bodies, and probably having sex with them, and that he probably intended to kill this girl by taking her home, only later to get busy with her body.
Alex told me that “at least two people” have told her that same story, saying that it happened to “some friend in France or whatever.”
I’ve noticed a lot of urban legends concern a dangerous man luring the innocent female to her death. Oftentimes though, the big twist comes with the reveal that the man would have done something to the girl, had he gotten her to come with him, but her female intuition told her not to. These urban legends seem to serve as warnings for women, advising against going anywhere with men you don’t know, and that if you do, you might end up in the arms of some necrophiliac, never to be seen again.
I think the large amount of urban legends dealing with this issue directly correlates to the high number of female rape victims in the United States. “One in six American women are victims of sexual assault…” With such a high number, most people know a girl who’s been sexually assaulted or raped, and therefore it’s pretty easy to believe one of these stories. And if you do, maybe it can serve as a warning. Urban legends are different than plain-old legends because they can serve as responses, and warnings, to modern issues.

Customs
general

Superstition

Superstition
Throw Ice Out The Window For A Snow Day

Get Those Cubes Ready

I maintain contact with all my friends back home through the Internet. One of the sites that helps me to do that is  HYPERLINK “http://www.MySpace.com” www.MySpace.com. On this website, people that I’m friends with can post what are called “bulletins” which are like little e-mails that go out to all of their friends. People usually write them saying something like “Ugh, my day sucked” and then friends who are interested in hearing why can write back and ask.
One day I was checking out the bulletins that my friends posted, and I came across one that my mother’s best friend’s daughter (who I went to Elementary school with), Olivia posted, which said:

“EVERYONE
throw ice out your window…

we want snow

my sister and her class did it their senior year and you know what happened

the blizzard of ‘05

so hoes get your ice cubes ready”

That’s the literal text, transcribed exactly how it was written. I immediately copied and pasted this bulletin for this project. I’d never heard of this tradition, but I believe that people back home would do it. We love to get snow days, a day off to chill inside or go out and go sledding, especially the seniors, who don’t have to make up the missed school days at the end of the year. The fact that Olivia mentions how her sister’s high school class did it supports the fact that this is an up and coming tradition. I almost wished I was back home so I could participate in this new tradition. It might just result in a bunch of ice cubes making square-shaped holes in an inch of snow, which would be somewhat disappointing. But if there was a snow day the next day, I’d feel really great about throwing those cubes out the window. In the end, it’d be worth it to at least try.

Customs
general

Tradition/Custom

Tradition/Custom
Hair

I went to Chabad for dinner with my friends Lindsey and Alex one night and we ended up sitting next to Rabbi David, who told us a lot about Orthodox Jewish culture. He told us that the reason they keep their beards so long and never shave is because they feel it is wrong to take a knife to something that God created. They see growing out their beard as part of devoting themselves to God, and showing their dedication to Him. They also believe that God wants them to keep their hair long in order to single them out for people to recognize them as followers of Him.

Hair can be used as a representation of who you are, your femininity, your masculinity if you get a short crew cut (although men these days are much more free to do what they want with their hair than anyone else), or your religion. Many people and groups take hair very seriously, making rules about hair upkeep part of their culture. It can be an easy way to show off a certain part of you. But, hair should only do that if you want it to. It should never drag you down, or be forced upon you to keep you in a certain group. Women should not be forced to have long hair to maintain their femininity. Women can have short hair and be feminine all the same.

Customs
general

Tradition/Custom

Tradition/Custom
Hair

I Am Not My Hair

People can be finicky about their hair. For years during high school, and for most of my freshman year of college, I refused to cut mine. Finally I did, because all that hair just became too much to handle. Sometimes I wonder how girls can constantly deal with having so much hair atop their head. It’s a lot of work to deal with. But, girls having long hair is a custom that has been around in almost all of society for as far back as we as a species even go.

Savannah has medium length hair, but that’s because she’s over 18 and her dad can’t control her decisions anymore. Her father is normally very strict in enforcing that his daughters do not cut their hair. Savannah’s younger sister, Tiffany, is 15 and still in high school, and her hair goes almost down to her knees. It’s long and curly, and very frizzy, and the pure weight of it has actually caused her sister to have a premature bald spot, but her father still doesn’t want her to cut it. He thinks girls should have long hair, and that girls with short hair “are just ugly.”

general

Superstition

Superstition
Spill Salt, Throw Some Over Your Shoulder

No Use Crying Over Spilt Salt

Another co-worker of mine, coincidentally the youngest of all the people I asked, seemed to have the most insight on the topic. She said that she thinks the reason people do it is because salt was so valuable and important back in the day, that spilling it was seen as a bad sign, because you were wasting it. To this, I asked, “But, if it’s bad luck to spill salt because you’re wasting it, why waste more by throwing some over your shoulder?” She had no answer for this.
She also mentioned that her mother was very aware of this particular superstition and won’t even let them simply throw away the things of salt that you buy, but rather makes them pour it down the drain and dilute it with water if you’re going to do so. She says it has something to do with “putting salt back into the water.”

I read online that the reason people do this is because, like Mayra said, salt was very important in the past, and that “spilling salt was considered an almost sacrilegious offence, and left one perilously exposed to the devil’s machinations. Throwing salt over your shoulder is akin to blessing someone after they’ve sneezed – it’s a way of keeping the devil at bay while you’re in an especially vulnerable moment.”

Foodways
general

Superstition

No Use Crying Over Spilt Salt

When you spill pepper, you do nothing, but that’s not the case when you spill salt. You just gotta throw some over your shoulder. It’s a superstition so embedded in so many people, it’s almost at the point where it’s tradition. I mean, they even do it on the food network. Emeril is always running around his little kitchen setup on the backlot of some studio, tossing about ingredients, cutting peppers or whatnot, yelling BAM! everywhere, he spills a little salt, tosses some over his shoulder, and moves on. I asked a bunch of people about this superstition, and why they thought it was so prevalent.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition/Christmas Season

Mayra often attends a Posada around Christmas time, which she says are “really popular in Mexico.” Posadas are like parties, where everyone in a neighborhood dresses up and goes from door to door asking for food, drinks, and occasionally sings carols. At the end, one house lets you in for a giant party in which everybody attends. It’s supposed to be similar to the search for a place to give birth by Mary and Joseph.

A lot of the time, Christmas traditions can be very tied to the religious roots of the Holiday, but more than ever we seem to be moving away from that, with Christmas coming to represent the big fat guy in the red suit and shiny, wrapped gifts rather than any sort of religious symbol. Whatever way you celebrate it, Christmas is a popular folk holiday with many different, unique traditions and ways of celebrating it. It seems like every house you go to has a different variation on how they celebrate, a small twist in tradition. The actual traditions of the Holiday are so diverse that it seems like the only one that everyone seems to follow is the Christmas tree.

Game
general

Game, Rhyme

Ring Around The Rosie

Rosy Posies

I was at work when another co-worker of mine suggested that I look into that old children’s game, Ring Around The Rosie. Her name is Kristen, and when I asked her why she explained that she had head it “had something to do with the black plague.”
So, I looked it up. I remembered playing the game when I was a kid, holding hands with my peers and the exhilaration I felt before letting my legs out and dropping to the grass in laughter.
Line by line, the old rhyme can be analyzed and connected to the Black Death bubonic plague that swept through Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Apparently, the first line refers rose-colored puss boils that people would get all of their body at the start of infection, which would eventually become encircled by dark rings.
The second line refers to the custom of putting posies in the pockets of those killed by the plague, in order to warn people from going near the body, because the disease was extremely contagious.
“Ashes, Ashes” refers to the ashes of the dead, because those who died of the disease would eventually be burned to ashes in order to stop the spread of the Black Death.
The last line, “We all fall down” refers to peoples fear that the disease would wipe out the entire population of the earth. Almost everyone knew someone who died of the disease, and it wiped out a large portion of the population.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ancestor Worship – India

Ancestor Worship- India

Sudharam discussed this cultural celebration that is practiced to worship your ancestors. The ceremony involves a Neem tree which is prayed to and a portion of it is also consumed to cure jaundice and many other ailments. Great respect is shown to the tree because it represents the respect you show to the elders. While praying to the tree you take sunflower oil and put 22 dots on the tree and then you proceed to tie red thread around the twigs. Sudharam made it important to note that this is only done by women. He could not say if the number 22 had some secondary meeting but in general he feels this practice is for the well being of the ancestors.

Sudharam commented that when he was raised he had to show supreme reverence toward his elders, both living and dead. In his family the eldest people always were at the head of the family making the decisions guiding the family in the right direction. Ancestor worship is yet another form of that, as you pray to your relatives who have passed to watch over you and guide you along your path in life. Also the ancestor worship practiced was to ensure that those who have passed continue to have a good life in the after life.

I feel this practice displays a strong respect for the past. Clearly in this culture they believe in the power of their ancestors to play a part in their lives currently, hoping they may be able to benefit them in some way. It seems to me that ancestor worship is practiced because people fear the unknown and that which they can not control. So by praying to their ancestors to watch over them, they are trying to gain some control back. I feel that it is very odd that in the United States, elders do not get as much respect as they do in other countries. Perhaps that is because the U.S. is so oriented at looking at the future while other cultures place an emphasis on learning things from the past.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rite of Passage – India

Rakshabandahan- Brother Sister Rite of Passage- India

According to Sudharam this festival involves an oath between a brother and a sister. During this celebration the whole family gathers together at the house. The sister ties a red thread to the wrist of the brother asking her brother to protect her in times of trouble and watch out for her. After that the brother gives her a gift or some money and then the sister put a sweet into the mouth of her brother. The forehead of the brother is also decorated with a dot of red paint and several grains of rice. This festival happens in September and again is based on the lunar calendar.

Sudharam participated in this celebration many years as a child and said that he felt extremely close to his sister because of this. He still has saved all the red strings from each of the ceremonies and even now that he has moved to the United States her sister still sends a red string to him every year. Sudharam spoke with a lot of emotion about this festival, clearly showing that he cares greatly about his sister.

I feel this is a very intimate celebration that represents the emphasis on family in this culture. I can relate very strongly to this ritual because I too feel very close to my sister. Although my family does not have a formal celebration of this closeness but many times in my childhood I have confirmed to my sister that I will watch over her. This ritual reflects the true love and bond between a brother and sister. In general this ritual serves to bring the family close together.

This ceremony also speaks to the concept of gender roles in society. The brother being the male automatically assumes the role of protector. The girl being weaker and less aggressive needs the protection of the older brother. This idea is displayed unequivocally in that ceremony but also holds true in the United States, just without the ceremony attached to it. I have always been told by my parents to watch our for my younger sister, and indeed I do feel inclined to protect her.

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