Context: MC is a Vietnamese undergraduate student at USC. She’s currently studying cinematic arts and is my friend. One day when we were hanging out I asked her if she had any beliefs she and her family followed.
YM: So what are some beliefs or superstitious things you and your family follow?
MC: Well a big one is that when we use chopsticks we always lay them flat when we aren’t using them. if they’re vertical that kind of means you’re offering to feed the spirits
YM: can you give more insight about the chopsticks belief ? Do you happen to know why this belief came about ?
MC: When we worship our ancestors, it’s tradition to bring them food like the dia de los muertos altar
MC: So we stick chopsticks vertically to signal that it’s for the spirits…and they say not to do that in everyday life to not signal them if we aren’t actually offering it.
YM: Would something bad happen if you were to leave your chopsticks vertical when you aren’t using them ?
MC: Hmm I’m not sure, I dont think it’s bad as a spirit will try to haunt you but maybe you’ll invite spirits into your home because you’re offering to feed them, and no one wants spirits in their home !…. it’s just one of those things you aren’t supposed to do
YM: Yeah right ! so you believe this?
MC: I don’t really believe it but since its tradition I still follow it
Background info: MC identifies herself as Mein and she grew up following this belief, which was told by her mom and grandma.
Analysis: It seems this folk belief sets up the way the Lu Mein people think about the world. Having done some research during a funeral one leaves the chopsticks upright because it’s a way to portray the ritual of incense burning which symbolizes feeding the dead or death in general. As well as belief, laying your chopstick flat is also a form of etiquette (custom) when eating. This belief and custom also seems to be liminal since it’s in between this world and the spiritual world. Since it has to do with the dead or death itself, not following this etiquette may bring bad luck.