USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2012
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Signs

“If you eat a double cherry when you’re pregnant, you’ll have twins.”

The informant, then twelve years old, first heard this phrase from her uncle, whose wife was pregnant at the time.  Her uncle and aunt were gathered with the family and announced their pregnancy.  Later after dinner, the family was eating cherries together and was discussing whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, when the topic of twins came up.  The informant’s uncle saw her aunt eating a double cherry and said, “Did you know that if you eat a double cherry while you’re pregnant, you’re going to have twins?”  My informant doesn’t really believe that this is true because she does not believe in superstitions, although it is a superstition that everyone in her family likes to joke about, because it also happened to come true.  Her aunt ended up giving birth to twin girls six months later.  This is why the informant likes to retell the tale, because it makes the superstition much more mysterious and believable when it actually comes true.

I believe this superstition is highly unlikely to be true because the events are completely separate, and that the informant’s story just happened by coincidence.  However, superstitions are always driven by the chance occurrences that happen to confirm them, making some people believe that they’re true while they may completely be random happenings.  I believe the informant tells the story only to joke around, poking fun when pregnant women are around.  The superstition is so seemingly arbitrary that people tend to believe that nobody could possibly create such a fantastical story up, so it must have some sort of truth behind it.  This is how the superstition of double cherries is spread and dispersed.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“There’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

The informant first heard this proverb when she found out that her crush had just gotten a steady girlfriend in the seventh grade.  Her best friend realized how sad she was because she had been silently moody all day long.  When she found out the reason why she tried to explain to the informant that “there are plenty of other fish in the sea,” meaning that there are many different types of guys in the world.  If you don’t catch one, there is always another one that you might want more, and maybe if you didn’t catch this one this time, next time it will be even better when you do manage to catch it.  The informant believes that this saying is just for immediate comfort, for the best thing that any good friend can do is listen and think of ways to help their friend feel better about themselves.  She retells the proverb because she has been through that experience before and it always feels better to help someone through something that you overcame in the past.

It is true that there are always plenty of other fish in the sea.  However, this saying doesn’t always work, since emotions are hard to control.  The saying very much reflects the optimism of our society though.  The United States is a very future-oriented society, where we are always looking toward the future, saying “forget the past, think of all the possibilities for the future!”  I think people say this to their depressed friends because it helps motivate them to look toward the brighter and better future, where they are in control of what happens in their lives and they are the only ones who can choose when and where they will be sad or happy and they won’t let any single guy prove them wrong.

There is in interesting cartoon by J. Hitchcock and Zahn related to this proverb at http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/p/plenty_more_fish_in_the_sea.asp .

Humor

Fun Guy/Fungi Joke

Q:  Why did the girl mushroom like the boy mushroom?

A:  Because he was a Fun-Guy (Fungi).

The informant first heard this joke when she was a Freshman in high school during one of her intense study sessions for Biology class.  She first heard it from her teacher, who was a laid back, down-to-earth, person with a great sense of humor.  It was during an after school session, when the students were all preparing for the lab practicum at the end of the year that would have a large impact on their grade when the teacher suddenly rose and said to the students, “Hey guys, lighten up. Let me tell you a joke.  Why did the girl mushroom like the boy mushroom?  Because he was a Fun-Guy.”  What made the joke more funny was the fact that the teacher was red in the face when she was telling it.  Though it is an intellectual joke only understood by those who have the elementary understanding that mushrooms are a type of fungi, she remembered it well because she thought it was a cute joke.  She retold it because she liked to use jokes to “break the ice” or make people laugh.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang”

“gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang”

Literal translation: “close to ink then black, near by light then bright”

The informant learned of this Vietnamese proverb when he was in third grade of Vietnamese school, while studying for a test.  Again he heard it from his grandmother also, which is when he began to remember it clearly.  His grandmother would tell him this proverb whenever she talked about his studies and friends at school.  She would say, “gần mực thì đen, gần đèn thì sang,” which implies that you are what your friends make of you.  If you hang out with bad friends (ink), you will become bad (black).  If you have good friends (light), they will influence you to become good (bright).  The informant believes this piece of wisdom because he sees it come true in his cousins’ lives.  One was really wild and rebellious and when she found a boyfriend who was very religious and good, she began to change into her old, nice self.  The informant likes to retell this to his friends who are Vietnamese, often making them laugh because normally one would not randomly quote a proverb out of the blue, but he likes to lighten the mood with quirky sayings.

This is a fairly common Vietnamese proverb, often used to teach younger kids to have good friends and be influenced by good people, opposed to bad friends.  The original proverb is actually a play on words as well as a useful saying about choosing your friends wisely.  It is slightly repetitive yet different, it also uses “đen” for black and “đèn” for light, in order to emphasize the similarities between the two phrases for increased memorability.  This creates the most unique phrase that is easy to learn and easy to say.  Usually it is the older generation teaching the younger generation, as it is in the informant’s case.  However, the younger generation can also spread it to others.  I believe they spread the knowledge because somewhere deep down they have an appreciation for the Vietnamese language and because that proverb is so true and the play on words is so easy to memorize, it remains in one’s memory, even from childhood.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Mắt to hơn bụng”

“Mắt to hơn bụng”

Literal Translation: His eyes are bigger than his belly

The informant first heard this from his mother when he lived in North Vietnam when he was a young boy, about age nine or ten.  The entire family of six had been eating dinner together for some time when the informant became full.  However, he still had food left over on his plate.  His mother then said to his father, “mắt to hơn bụng” and made him finish the rest of his food.  This proverb essentially means that the person wants more than he can handle.  The informant remembers laughing when his mother said this, because he had never heard such an odd saying.  The informant remembered this proverb until now because it sounded so strange.  “How can one’s eyes be bigger than one’s stomach?” he thought to himself.  So whenever his children put more on their plates than they can eat he reminds them not to have eyes bigger than their stomach and makes them eat it all.  He thinks this proverb is very popular in Vietnam where food is scarce because it reminds people who are blessed enough to have food on the table to not be greedy and wasteful when so many people are starving in the world.

Because the Vietnamese people are starving and hungry in Vietnam, they have learned to appreciate the importance of food and how hard it is to come by.  The Vietnamese people who generally use this proverb are adults who have experienced that hunger and try to convey that experience onto their children, who generally have not experienced hunger to the most extreme yet in their lives.  When people are hungry they tend to crave different types of food.  “I want this and this and this and that,” when in reality they want it but don’t have the stomach room to eat all of it.

Humor

Trapped in the Desert.

 Q:  There is a man stranded in the middle of a desert with no resources nowhere to go, no one to ask for help.  All he has with him is a water bottle with a small ping pong ball inside.  How does he get the ping pong ball out?

A:  He pees in the water bottle.

The informant first heard this at his work, where his coworkers like to tell each other jokes during their break times.  He was 42 when he first heard it, and retold it to his family that night.  The informant asked his family the question.  They came up with a variety of answers from “stomp on the bottle until it cracks, then rip it open,” to “suck it out with his mouth.”  However, none of these were the right answer.  When he finally told the answer to his family, they all groaned but then laughed for almost half an hour after because it was so original and pervertedly funny.  The joke was a great way to end the family dinner before they all had to return to their work, be it school homework, or things around the house to finish.  The joke had worked to bring the family a little bit closer together.

A joke like this would be inappropriate anywhere unless the people participating in the joke either knew each other or were in an atmosphere where talking about “peeing” would be appropriate.  However, it is a great tension breaker and would most likely cause a few chuckles at the least.  I think the informant retold this joke because he thought it was funny and that other people might enjoy it as he did when he first heard it.  He enjoys bringing laughter and happiness into others’ lives.   The American obsession with perverted ideas is an underlying idea in this joke as well, as with private things like going to the bathroom. Normally people don’t want to talk about things like that because it is uncomfortable, but jokes allow people to talk about these things without feeling awkward.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“When you toss a penny into a fountain you can make a wish.”

I first heard this belief from my father, who would always take me to the Placentia Library on Sundays to read books together, when I was in second grade, about seven years old.  Outside, there was a large fountain that was beautiful and I loved to play around it.  One day my father handed me a penny and told me to toss it into the fountain. When I asked him why, he told me that whenever I toss a penny into a fountain of water I can make a wish and it’ll come true.  At the time I believed him, although I soon realized that this wish was much like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and making wishes after blowing away the seeds of a dandelion.  However, making a wish in a way lets me let go of something that I really want.  Now whenever I make a wish it is to release something I’m holding inside, and it feels like I’m lifting a burden off my chest.

This wishmaking is reflective of an optimistic, yet creative society where one can dream whatever one wishes.  It also goes along with the United States’ futuristic worldview, where one can do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she tries hard enough.  Dreaming and wishing is only the first step to achieving those goals.  I believe that this wishmaking is a very useful tool for helping people find out what their true inner desires are.  You know that what you want most is what you wish for, so all you have to do is wish, then work to make that wish come true.  I think this is also why it is appealing to many people as well, because the idea of wishing anything they want and having it granted without the work that goes along with it is a nice feeling, but it also help them figure out what they really do want in life at that moment.  I also think that the idea of wishing with water came from the idea of the wishing well where one could make wishes into a well but it somehow evolved into a fountain.

Folk speech
Game
Humor
Proverbs

“Last one there is a rotten egg!”

The informant first heard this when he was in elementary school, about age six or seven, while attending the after school day care with twenty or so other students.  After school the students would be walking when one of them would spot the babysitter’s car and would yell, “Last one there is a rotten egg!”  All of the students then sprint to the car and upon reaching it, touch a doorknob or any part of the car.  The last student to touch the car is the “rotten egg” and is labeled the “rotten egg” for that round.  Nothing in particular happens to the rotten egg, but the student is singled out as the slowest one.  This is similar to the game “Duck, duck, goose” where there is a mushpot where the students who are too slow to catch their goose have to sit until someone can replace them.  The informant no longer plays this game, but believes it to be a good form of entertainment for kids.

Though it is a game played among children, it is often the parents or guardians who first introduce the game to their kids.  However, it is very rare that you can find a parent playing this game with their child, since the advantages of being an adult are obvious and the game would be unfair.  The informant is good with children and often uses this game to bring children together to play, and to keep them attracted to a focal point so that they will stay together in one group and not cause too much trouble by becoming out of hand.  This is also a useful tactic for babysitters and day care personnel as well.  The idea of a rotten egg probably came from the idea that nobody wants to be something smelly like a rotten egg, so they want to win the game.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Fukusui bon ni kaerazu.

Fukusui bon ni kaerazu.

Literal translation: Spilt water will not return to the tray.

The informant first heard this from her friend in the eighth grade after a mutual friend had just broken up with her boyfriend of several months.  She was fifteen.  Her friend was comforting their mutual friend, saying, “Fukusui bon ni kaerazu. It’s okay, everything will get better.”  Her boyfriend had broken up with her bluntly after a fight, saying, “I can’t stand you, I hate you!  Let’s break up.”  The informant thinks this is saying that you can’t go back so you should live your life without regrets, because once you’ve lived your life, there isn’t any way that you can go back and change it to be the way you imagined it.

This saying is very similar to the American version “There’s no use crying over spilled milk,” meaning that what is part of the past will remain in the past.  It already happened and there is no way that you can go back and fix whatever happened so there is no use wasting your entire life mourning for something that won’t come back.  Just accept it and move on with your life in peace.  I think the crying over spilled milk goes back to childhood, when children are of the age when many things upset them and they cry about everything.  This might be where the saying arose, don’t cry over spilled milk, because it isn’t a big deal.  However, over time it must have evolved into a different meaning.  Spilled milkd came to symbolize an unimportant matter, something upsetting that will soon fade away in your memory so there is no use stressing over it so much.  Don’t waste your tears on stupid things.

Folk Beliefs
Musical
Protection

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

The informant first heard this phrase in elementary school in the fourth grade.  She was being teased by a sixth grader about being in the G.A.T.E. program for gifted and talented students.  The boy called her a geek and a nerd so she came back to class after recess sad and near tears.  Her teacher, Mrs. Clark, approached her and asked her what was wrong.  When she retold the story, Mrs. Clark told her, “Whenever people say mean things to you or about you, just remember: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  This cheered the informant up a lot and she remembered it whenever she got saddened by others’ harsh words.  Instead, she learned to take those mean words and used them to build her own character to become a stronger person.  She believes that this saying is appropriate for such situations, when sad people need cheering up after being scolded or teased, and she continues to tell younger kids the same thing, knowing that it can help them as it did her.

Unlike many would initially think, kind and inspirational words such as these are not always effective unless the person saying them makes them so.  For example, in the informant’s case, the person saying them was her teacher, someone she could trust and believe in.  Often times it takes someone else to help someone understand the importance of self-esteem and confidence.  I believe that if it hadn’t been a person she trusted who said these words, the informant might not have been as influenced by them.  Therefore, this proverb is retold by people who truly mean the words and have the intention of helping a person in need of happiness.  People, in return, want to share the happiness they experienced with others, so they share what others have shared with them.

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