USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘charity’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Soup on a Nail

Folk Piece

“This story is called Soup on a Nail. It’s an old Norwegian folk story. OK, so the story goes that there’s this village and there’s this woman in the village that’s known as being very miserly. She doesn’t give at all to the poor, she’s very very selfish, um, and things like that.

So one night a man comes and knocks on her door and he’s a beggar. He’s really really poor. And he says “Um, excuse me, is there any way you can spare me maybe just a pot of soup or something. I’m so so hungry,” and she says, “Absolutely not, I hate beggars. Just please go away.” And he says, “Oh, well, could I possibly just have some water. Maybe you don’t even have any water but that’s OK.” She says, “Oh, of course I have water” and he says “Ok let me come in and just boil the water,” and she says “Ok fine”.

So she lets him come in and he boils the water and he says “Now this soup tastes pretty incredible if you just have some bone marrow but you probably don’t have any bone marrow or anything like that.” And she says, “Of course I do, what are you talking about?” and gives him the bone marrow.

So he takes the bone marrow and he mixes it in —

OH and I forgot to mention earlier the point of this story is that he says “I can make soup on a nail; all you need for this soup is one nail,” and she says “Ok, I have a nail, take it.” Not like a fingernail, like a nail for the wall. So he puts the nail at the bottom of a pan then boils the water and then adds the bone marrow.

Then he’s like “You know what works really well with this whole mixture? If you just have some vegetables. I know you might not have some vegetables and they’re hard to come by, not many people have them.” She says, “Well of course *I* have vegetables.” So she gives him the vegetables and he mixes this in.

And this goes on and on, like he adds meat, all these different things and flavors to this soup, and makes this really delicious soup, and in the end he says “There! I’ve made soup on a nail!” And he takes it away, and she’s given him a meal without realizing it. It’s about, like, it’s not that hard to give to people, and it’s bad to miserly and selfish and not give to the poor.

 

Background information

“It was taught to me by my grandmother, and i haven’t heard it since I was maybe five.” The informant said she doesn’t know why she remembers the tale so well, but it always stuck with her. Her grandmother told a lot of tales to them when they were kids, and always tried to impart wisdom through fun stories. She likes the story because charity is something she’s believed in her entire life.

 

Context

Informant: “This story would probably be told to a small child. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a simple story and isn’t too long or anything, and um, like teaches good lessons, so yeah. I know my grandma is the one that taught me it, but I wouldn’t tell the story to my friend or something, yeah.”

 

Analysis

Tales are often told to children to teach them lessons, and there’s no lesson more important than the golden rule: treat people the way you would like to be treated. The informant comes from a family that is generally wealthy, but she says that her grandmother did not grow up with as much. In telling this story, her grandmother is teaching her that not only is it important to help those less fortunate than you, but also that it is not that difficult.

In the story itself, the rich woman is described as selfish and rude. She also can’t see what the beggar is doing despite the listener being able to pick up on it fairly quickly. It was interesting hearing the voices that the informant gave the characters in the story, which can not be translated over text. The tone of the woman was snobby and rude, while the beggar was cunning and shifty. Without this intonation, one might read this story as the woman acting like a complete and total fool for no reason, but with the tone that the informant used, it’s revealed that it is the need to display her wealth and capabilities that makes the woman susceptible to the trap.

Hearing tales like this are always interesting to me, because I was never told many tales as a kid. However, my mom would use folklore to instill the values of being kind to others, and helping those less fortunate than I am, but it was typically done through proverbs.

I researched this story a little bit further, and found out that I actually had known this tale all along, despite thinking it was brand new. The variation that I am used to is called ‘Stone Soup’, and I believe I learned it in school growing up. Other than its title, the story is almost exactly the same. It’s interesting that even a change as simple as one word can lead to such different recollections of stories and tales.

For one of the most popular variants, which includes a group of tricksters gathering ingredients for a soup that does not even exist, you can check out the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.

Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup: An Old Tale. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947. Print.

 

Customs
Holidays

Christmas exchange

“On my dad’s side of the family there’s about 50 people. He’s the youngest of 7 kids and they have kids and even they have kids. So it’s like three generations of people. We use to do a gift exchange where we drew names with a price limit according to the generation. But now we have a new tradition where we donate to charity instead. We keep the same price limit, $40 for my dad’s generation, $30 for my age group and so on. So like my generation would pull $30 from everyone in that age group. Each age group pulls their collections into a group. And then each year, it rotates between the seven siblings, their family decides where the donations go to. So this year will be my dad’s ‘turn.’ My dad and mom will choose where their age groups donation is going to. And then my brother and I will pick where the money is going to for the collection from our generation.”

I find this tradition interesting because in the last few decades, with globalization there has been a movement towards more humanitarian actions. People have become more aware through media of human rights, health issues, natural disasters, and other struggles communities and groups are facing. This family tradition of my roommate reflects this awareness. Because her family is made up of so many members they are able to make a sizable contribution. They are definitely focusing on the theme of giving during the American “holiday season” and not of receiving. It goes against what the Christmas tradition has morphed into with the consumer culture that has developed in American and Western society. It’s also great that they involve the younger generations as well and teach them this selflessness from an early age.

[geolocation]