USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘clapping game’
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.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Game
Kinesthetic

Miss Lucy

This is a children’s hand-clapping game that my informant played when she was in elementary school with other girls. The hand motion is similar to paddy cake; the participants’ right hands meet, then each participant claps their own hands together, then the left hands meet, and then it repeats. Some specific lines go with specific movements: at “operator”, the participants put their hand up by their ear with their thumb up and pinky sticking out, mimicking a telephone; at “dark dark dark”, there is just continual clapping with the word for emphasis; at “bra bra bra”, it is the same thing as “dark dark dark”.

“Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven, and the steamboat went to

Hello operator, please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me, I will chop off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there laid a piece of glass

Miss Lucy sat upon it, and it went right up her

Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park

Miss Lucy and her boyfriend are kissing in the

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

D-A-R-K

Dark dark dark!

The dark is like the movies, the movie’s like a show

The show is like a tv show, and that is all I know

I know I know my ma, I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80 meter, 80 meter bra bra bra!”

This particular clapping game song has very simple hand movements, but the text is very interesting. It engages in a lot of scandalous tabooistic discourse, and is cleverly constructed so as not to actually say any inappropriate words. For example, at “Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to/Hello operator”, the word “hello” serves both as the greeting and as the word “hell”, where the steamboat presumably went. However, because it’s inappropriate for primary aged children (generally female) to be talking about such things as boys zipping up their flies, it’s recited in a way where they’re not technically saying anything inappropriate, though they do mean it. This tabooistic discourse is indicative of the kind of things that children at this age would be wondering about, or hearing about, and it is often passed among children and taught by friends in older grades or older siblings, continuing its tradition.

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