USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Stereotypes/Blason Populaire’
Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dumb southerners

Main piece: A common stereotype is that people from the Southeast are fat, uneducated, racist rednecks.

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head off to Boston for college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. S has heard this stereotype of Southerners their entire life, both from Georgians and non-Georgians alike. Interestingly, S even jokes about this stereotype having some truth to it: “When you go to school in the suburbs of Georgia and see people with confederate flag stickers on their cars, it’s hard not to label those around you as uneducated racists!” In all seriousness, S knows many people (including themself) who actively work hard to not become or buy into this stereotype. They want to prove people wrong and change the overall social climate of Georgia.

Personal thoughts: S and I will both maintain that this stereotype has tidbits of truth to it, but even more so than our personal experiences as Georgians, this conception of Southerners has solid historical basis – a quality that not every stereotype bears. To be obvious… the Civil War, in which the South was fighting to keep slavery alive and well. Some people may vaguely argue that the war was about “states’ rights,” but consider what rights Southern states were fighting to maintain – the right to own slaves. It would be naive to think that those age-old mentalities have simply disappeared, especially when almost every Georgian either knows somebody who owns a Confederate flag or owns one themself. One hundred years after slavery came the tumultuous yet impactful Civil Rights Movement, proving that racism never ended with slavery. Even today, lynchings and hate crimes occur way too often in the Southeast. So, while it is increasingly important for Southerners to educate ourselves on social/political issues, advocate for others and fight back against hate groups that give us a bad name, it is also equally important to recognize that these somewhat hurtful stereotypes derive from truth. Instead of getting defensive about them, we must acknowledge the South’s history of racism and subjugation, and prove with our actions that we are working to remedy that painful history.

Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese Restaurant Clapping Game

Context

Having collected a fairly common children’s game, thumb wars, I sought a game or rhyme that was more obscure. While familiar with similar games such as Paddy Cake (which the informant mentioned for reference), I had never heard of the Chinese Restaurant variant.

Main Piece

When I was little, on the playground we used to have… it was a sort of “paddy cake”-like game that had, um… a rhyme about a Chinese restaurant. So you would start and you would clap your hands together and clap opposite hands with your partner, and it would be like:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant 

To buy a loaf of bread bread bread

The waiter asked me what I want 

And this is what I said said said”

and then you would point to your eye and say:

“I know karate”

then you would punch and say:

“Punch in the body”

Then you would cover your hands with your mouth and say:

“Oops I’m sorry”

Then you would wag your finger and say:

“Don’t tell my mommy”

And then the most upsetting part is that you would move your eyelids in accordance with people’s race, so you would say:

“Chinese” — pull your eyelids up — or down, I don’t remember

“Japanese” — pull your eyelids up and then you say:

“Freeze!”

And then whoever said “check please!” first would win.

Notes

As the informant notes, the game is upsetting, enforcing the kind of racial stereotypes and prejudices that would have been seen as innocuous in past decades. As such, I would classify it as an example of blason populaire. It is through games and rhymes such as these, shared among children during their formative years, that casual racism insidiously engrains itself into young minds. Thankfully, the informant grew up and now recognizes the problematic nature of this game, but many others likely do not, and maybe even teach it to their children one day.

Folk Beliefs
general
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).

Game
general
Humor
Protection
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Religious ‘Crossing’ and Pre-Performance Chant Parodies

Informant (“A”) is a 19 year old, female from Rancho Santa Fe, California, and attends The University of Southern California. She is a Human Biology major. She is of European descent and her family includes her mother, father, and older brother who attends college in Texas. Informant has studied ballet for 17 years, including work in a professional company.

A: “…Now this one is going to sound really weird but recently there was a production of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ and there was this kinda offensive song sung in it.
This sort of got turned into a backstage chant, and like I’ve also heard other people do this too. We all huddle in and whisper this ‘We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, we’re gonna rape kill pillage and burn, eat the babies’. We say this multiple times getting louder each time until all of us are full on screaming it backstage. You know how people can like to scream vaguely offensive stuff, but its not that bad to us because we all know where it’s from. Then right before I go on stage I’ll do like a cross, you know the like Catholic one. I’m not really religious but I’ve been doing it for years. I think it started when I did a really hard solo and it had that cross in it. It basically tells me that I’ve done all I can and now I just have to perform. It’s another aspect of getting mentally ready, because so much of performing is about being physically but also mentally on your game.”

Analysis: The crossing seems to be a sort of parody of superstition. It may be an attempt to ‘use’ a previously accepted superstition in a socially accepted way or to comically parody their own use of superstition before the performance.
This backstage chant seems to be a sort of ‘trust building exercise’ that uses both humor and chanting to reinforce a sense of community. In high stress situations like ballet performances, such reinforcement likely serves to cater trust in other dancers, as the difference between an effective performance and a mishap could rely on other dancers.

Customs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Hipsters

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

Spencer, my friend from the George Washington University gave me a talk about a sub-culture of individuals known in America as “Hipsters”.

Spencer: “Hipsters are a stereotype. But they’re a funny stereotype. (laughs) They’re like, people who don’t ever want to be mainstream. They do everything outside of the ‘norm because that’s what’s cool.”

I ask him what he means by things that aren’t “mainstream”.

Spencer: “Well, a ‘Hipster’ is probably not somebody who listens to [music] that’s popular or anything upbeat. They like things that are old, things that are vintage. There’s this video of someone taking notes on a typewriter. Stuff like that.  It’s sort of a label. I mean, they’re a kind of subculture. Hipsters don’t identify as hipsters. It’s kind of an insult, really.”

I asked him why he believed that being labeled a Hipster represented an insult.

Spencer: “Well, It’s sort of a joke. (he laughs) Though some people probably take it seriously”, he continues. “It’s like if you have a friend, and you want to watch a movie together, like Star Wars, but he doesn’t want to see it because it’s too mainstream.” He makes a gesture here with his hands in a faux-suave kind of way. “You’d be all like – Man, you’re such a Hipster!”

He stops to laugh again.

Spencer: “People just think that they’re arrogant. That’s kind of what the word means.”

I asked him to describe what he thinks a hipster would look like.

Spencer: (laughs) “Oh man. Well the real hipsters dress funny. I’d picture dudes wearing leggings, loafers with no socks, handlebar mustaches, things like that. Girls would be kind-of the same, just more irregular.”

Spencer: “I mean, I live in [Washington] DC, and you see them all the time, or people who look like them [hipsters], I’m not judging. I mean, they’re sort of cool in a retro kind-of way. I like anyone who can do things without caring too much about what other people think of them. (laughs)”

Summary:

“Hipsters” are a subculture of individuals who live organically and distance themselves from the “mainstream” or “popular” world. As the idea of a Hipster has become something a stereotype, the term is seen by some as derogatory.

Personally, I find the concept of Hipsters to be very interesting. They’re sort of postmodern: rejecting our concept of modernity to substitute their own. Hipsters live an organic lifestyle, though some would argue that it’s mainly reactionary. The word “Hipster” embodies both a label, and a definition. Though many people adjust to the subculture, Spencer and I both agreed that the term has become somewhat patronizing in recent years. 

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

A Very Indian Joke

Item:

“In India, it is not uncommon – actually, scratch that, it is incredibly common to make tongue-in-cheek jokes against members of other cultures. They are not meant to be offended, because everyone makes such jokes against others. This is one of them. Pay close attention: Three men – a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim – are in a boat, and it is starting to sink because the boat is too heavy to stay afloat. In order to keep the boat from sinking, the three men all decide to make compromises and throw something overboard to lighten the load. The Hindu says, ‘I’m going to throw my Rolex overboard. I’ve got two or three more watches like this at home.’ And so he does. The Christian takes off his impressive top-hat and antique walking cane and promptly throws them over, saying, ‘I’ve got several more of these at home as well.’ The Muslim, to the shock of the other two men, picks up his wife and deposits her unceremoniously into the ocean, proclaiming, ‘I’m throwing my wife overboard. I’ve got several more wives like this at home!'”

Context:

The informant related his experience with this joke: “It was actually my brother-in-law who had come up with this joke after he’d had a little too much to…well, you know. He told me the joke at a party some sixty years ago, but I didn’t find it as funny as he did, perhaps because I was slightly more sober than he was. But only slightly. However, I must confess that did steal the joke from him, obviously because I’m the better joke-teller. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not making it up! I actually modified it a little and then told it at a dinner. It got many more laughs than when he told it. See?”

Analysis:

As the informant said, in India, it is very common to make jokes about other cultures, religions, and ethnic subgroups, poking fun at things that are stereotypical to their particular community. In this particular blason populaire, there are stereotypes of more than one group. In India, there are three distinct images – the Hindu man dressed in a very Spartan manner, with cotton everything except for his expensive gold watch; the Christian man with his tailored suit, felt top-hat, and wooden walking cane; and the Muslim man with his train of wives. Out of all of the three stereotypes, this joke exploits, in particular, the image of the polygamous Muslim, a depiction that has particular popularity among the socially and sexually conservative Hindu community. These two communities have been at odds with each other since the Partition in 1947, and therefore, many ethnic jokes have sprung up from this division in both communities, exploiting stereotypes on either side of the great divide.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Donuts, Donuts, Donuts!

Item:

“You know this is my favorite joke ever. Because it’s hilarious. And also because I’ve probably told it to you a million times. So this young guy, who comes from a minority population and speaks pretty limited English, starts working at a donut joint. At this point, he’s told to say ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ to customers with questions. So the first day of work, this customer comes in and asks ‘what do you sell here?’ The guy who works there does as he’s told and says, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ But he says that to every other question he’s asked, which are ‘How much to they cost?’, ‘Are they fresh?’, and ‘Should I buy them?’. Supremely confused, the customer leaves. So the manager tells the kid to say ‘Twenty five cents’ when asked how much they cost. Then another customer comes in with the same questions – ‘What do you sell here?’, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’, ‘How much do they cost?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Are they fresh?’, ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Should I buy them?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’ The manager, an understanding guy, tells the kid to say ‘Very, very fresh’ when he’s asked if the donuts are fresh. And so, naturally, in walks a third customer. The same suite of questions is asked, and instead of answering ‘Yes!’ to ‘Should I buy them?’, the poor kid answers, ‘Very, very fresh!’. Obviously because he doesn’t know any better. Now starting to get fed up, the manager tells him to respond, ‘Do it before somebody else does!’ to the question ‘Should I buy them?’.

And so, now that the kid’s finally got everything down, guess who comes in next? A guy dressed in black who’s obviously robbing the joint. The exchange goes like this:

Burglar – Whaddaya sell here?!

Kid – Donuts, donuts, donuts!

Burglar – How much you got in the register?

Kid – Twenty five cents.

Burglar – Are you acting fresh with me?!?!

Kid – Very, very fresh.

Burglar – That’s it! I’m gonna shoot you!

Kid – Do it before somebody else does!

And so, you can probably guess how the story ends.”

Context:

I was reminded that I already knew the context of this story, but I asked the informant to relate it anyway. “This is our family’s favorite joke. Ever,” he said. “You know because I’ve been telling it since we were kids. It shows you how a nice guy with a limitation in his knowledge of the English language, of which he is benignly unaware, gets in trouble because of his blissful ignorance.”

Analysis:

This joke takes on more than one form. It can be seen as a blason populaire against non English-speaking minorities, a darkly comedic cautionary tale against the disadvantages of not knowing the English language, and gallows humor. It is made apparent at the very beginning by the performer that the kid in the story is unfamiliar with English, and this is what ultimately ends up getting him shot by a burglar. In a rapidly globalizing society, the importance of the lingua franca is highlighted at the end of the sordidly humorous tale. Confused and dissatisfied customers might not be that big of a deal, but angry, armed pastry bandits? Nuh-uh.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Wonder That Is The English Language, or “Let Us Not Arg.”

Item:

“Two gentlemen are at a museum of modern art, one Indian and one American, and they are both looking at a very strange and indeterminate painting, trying to figure out what it is all about. You know, what people do with art, especially with modern art. So the first man proclaims his opinion on the work – ‘This painting is very vayg-yoo.’ The second man, although agreeing completely, is supremely annoyed at the first man’s butchering of the word ‘vague’. He attempts to clarify – ‘Look here, sir, in English, we do not pronounce the ue at the end.’ The first man nods, understanding, and benignly responds – ‘All right, all right, friend. Let us not arg.'”

Context:

The informant actually came up with this joke due to his fascination with the English language and its janky mechanics – “I came up with this joke after watching the film Chupke Chupke, which is, essentially, a questioning of the jhameli (ruckus) that is the English language. In the film, there is a line that perfectly sums up my fascination and confusion with this language – ‘Agar T-O “too” hai, aur D-O “doo”, toh phir G-O “go” kaise hua?’ (If T-O is pronounced ‘too” and D-O is pronounced “doo”, then how does G-O become “go”?) And so various other confusions came to my mind, namely the selective silencing of certain syllables. I thought this little anecdote was in perfect conjunction with this question from the film.”

Analysis:

English is a very weird language. It takes elements of every language by which it has been influenced and scrambles them up into an interesting but utterly confusing potpourri. The informant’s joke is, therefore, the perfect exploration and depiction of the non-native English speaker’s constant battle with the odd language. In India, especially, where Hindi is the most widely-spoken language, every syllable of every word is pronounced exactly as it is written in the native scripts. Therefore, when confronted with a word like “vague”, one can understand the confusion of the Indian man at the silencing of the last part of the word. Also, in a country where the rules of languages are fairly constant, one can also sympathize when the man does not understand that the rule of dropping the “ue” does not extend to every single word, and is instead a case-by-case situation. Interestingly, this joke gently pokes fun at the strange formulations of the English language while also not sparing the Indian man’s ignorance of pronunciation.

Customs
Festival
Humor
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Drowning Man’s Appeal

Item:

“A Hindu man is in a rowboat in a particularly stormy section of the river. All of a sudden, his boat rams into a boulder, and he goes flying into the icy water. The rapids are carrying him away, and so he holds onto a small fragment of the wooden boat, trying to stay afloat. This doesn’t help him for very long. Just as he’s about to drown, therefore, he has the brilliant idea to pray to Ganesha, the deity of overcoming challenges and obstacles. Ganesha appears before him, and asks him what he wants. The man tearfully begs the elephant-headed god to get him out of the water, to which Ganesha replies – ‘Hah! You drown me every year, without even asking me what I want, and then when you’re drowning, you expect me to help you out of the water? Yeah, right!'”

Context:

The informant, a devout Hindu and an avid joke-teller, related the history of this joke – “This is one of the most hilarious jokes I have ever heard. A lot of Hindus know the joke, and know the significance of the joke. It’s funny because it puts the festival and rituals of Ganesh Chaturti into the perspective of the god himself, turning the joke around on us and making us wonder what the gods actually think of what we do to them.”

Analysis:

This joke mocks the rituals of Ganesh Chaturti, a traditional Hindu festival in which earthen idols of Ganesha are immersed in the nearest holy river or lake, symbolizing his return to his mother, the goddess of the earth Bhumi Devi, amid a spectacular celebration. It personifies the idol of the young, elephant-headed god, and switches the positions of the drowner and the drownee, putting Ganesh in the position of power here. In addition to this, the god is portrayed hilariously immature and vindictive, diminishing his deified dignity and showing him to be actually disgruntled by the rituals of a festival which celebrates his birth and ascent to heaven, a situation which people don’t really consider when performing these grand and honorific traditions.

folk metaphor
Humor
Proverbs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Nothing Drops Faster Than an Anchor

The informant provided the following when prompted for a folk saying or proverb:

Informant: “Nothing drops faster than an anchor”

Me: Where’d you hear it?

Informant: I heard this at a frat party

Me: Cool, what does it mean?

[long silence followed by laughter]

Informant: I think it stands for, it’s… certain individuals from a certain sorority are not the hardest people to… please, to put it politically correct.

 

Upon further examination, the informant revealed the” anchor” as being a metaphor for the Greek letter Delta as it appears in some sorority. The sexual innuendo which follows needs no further explanation.

[geolocation]