Form of Folklore: Gesture
Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent. Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.
Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.
Item: In Arabic culture it is rude to show others the bottom of your foot. So when you sit cross-legged, the bottom of your foot should not be pointing towards them; it should be pointing towards the ground.
Informant Comments: The informant grew up with this idea that showing the bottom of his foot to someone, particularly an elder, is very disrespectful. He developed this etiquette of not showing the bottom of his foot because he was raised in an Arabic cultural surrounding where this disrespectful gesture is considered very rude. The informant does not know exactly why this gesture is considered to be so rude, but has decided to simply stray from doing it so that he never accidental offends anyone.
Analysis: This gesture is considered rude in many Middle Eastern cultures. It seems that the idea behind this gesture is that the bottom of your foot belongs on the floor and showing someone something that belongs on the floor seems to indicate that that person is like the floor. Essentially, this gesture implies that the person doing it is in some way superior to (on top of) the person that it is being done to. While in America, no one would be offended by this gesture, many Middle Easterners would. Thus, this gesture is not universally rude, but one can see how it may be considered rude by those who grow up in an environment where it is disrespectful (i.e. in Arabic culture).
Allah ey adim illy fee al qhar- “God bring what is best closer.”
My informant has known this saying as long as he can remember. His Syrian family uses it frequently. When having a serious conversation with someone about what to do, what is going to happen, etc. the conversation will almost always end with this phrase. This is because if two people are discussing something that is out of their hands, it ends the conversation with a little prayer to God asking for the best-case scenario to play out, whether or not the person knows quite what that is. It also signifies that this scenario may play out bad right now but best overall. You just can’t see it.
Insha Allah – “God willing”
My informant has known this phrase as long as he can remember. His Syrian family uses it frequently. He claims it is also common among most Arabic speakers who are Islamic. Essentially you say it after a sentence like “He’s going off to college in Kentucky, Insha Allah.” or “I’ll see you next week, Insha Allah.” It’s meant as a constant reminder that although we make plans and do things with a purpose, it is ultimately in God’s hands what happens and where you end up. You never know what can happen or where life will take you.
Many times, however, it’ll be said essentially as a “no” or “maybe.” For instance a child can ask, “Can I get a Nintendo for my birthday?” and you’ll hear the parent say “Insha Allah.”
The boh boh is the Syrian equivalent of the “boogeyman” it’s some vague scary figure that parents scare their kids with and friends tell stories about. “watch out for the boh boh”
My informant does not remember any particular stories, but his parents did tell him a number of stories to scare him into behaving as he was growing up.
“According to my mom, who’s Palestinian, the owl is bad luck in Arab culture. Like she doesn’t like images of owls, but I don’t think she actively, like avoids them.”
The informant is currently a student at the University of Southern California. She says that she first heard this folk belief from her mother when she was discussing Harry Potter with her mother about five years ago. Because of the prevalence of owls in the Harry Potter series, she thinks that her mother mentioned this folk belief of hers to the informant. The informant recalls that she found this particularly odd and that this belief stood out to her in her mind. She also says that when she asks her mom about owls, her mom doesn’t like images of them and doesn’t like them in general, but cannot provide a reason as to why. This is an example of how folk belief has persisted throughout time even when the meaning behind the belief has been lost. Even though the informant’s mother does not know why she is supposed to dislike owls, because she has grown up in a community where she has been taught to dislike owls, she does not like them.