Tag Archives: clever

Gesture: “Occhio”

Main Piece: “When Italians want to point out cleverness, they use a gesture rather than words. They take their finger and they pull down on the bottom of their eye, which opens the eye more, and that indicates that this person is clever in the sense that they are sly. There’s another way…I’m not positive…to pull the cheek down to open the eye.”

Background: The informant would often see this gesture when people would try to speak about another person without using words. According to the informant, instead of verbally communicating, a physical gesture is used because it is universal and non-confrontational. This gesture isn’t always used as a compliment, it can be a mark of dissaproval. This gesture is done to another person, communicating this thought of cleverness about the other.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table outside.

My Thoughts: Using a physical gesture as a medium of foklore is a noteworthy method of communication. Its physical nature, rather than verbal, can be comprehended universally, as the informant noted. The opening of the eye seems to be a watchful, all-knowing way of letting the receiver know his/her slyness is recognized. Although this gesture may not mean the same things in a variation of contexts, the eye is the watcher, the giver of sight and truth. It is also interesting that this mark of cleverness is not always a compliment. Being sly versus being clever is a mark of acceptable versus unacceptable.

For further reference see: http://en.blog.hotelnights.com/italian-gesture-language/ for alternative explanation of the gesture.

The Clever Boy

Once there was a boy who worked for a giant. It was a very hard job. The giant had a great big ox that made a horrible mess, and the boy had constantly to sweep out after the ox, and he still couldn’t keep the place clean. The giant was always bawling him out.

One day when he’d worked especially hard, the boy got a bright idea. He took a cork and pushed it into the ox’s rear end. In the morning the giant came to inspect the barn, and found everything nice and clean, but he couldn’t understand why the ox was so fat, or why it wouldn’t eat.

“Perhaps you’d better take a look, Pop,” said the boy.

“Perhaps I should,” answered the giant, and started his examination. When he got to the tail, he lifted it up, causing the cork to fly out of the ox’s behind. It hit the giant right in the temple so hard that he died on the spot and was buried under the manure.

The boy took over everything the giant owned and lived there happily for the rest of his days.

Analysis:

This narrative was taken from a collection of Swedish folktales, in which many of the stories featured bumbling, boisterous giants who posed problems for the humans. In some way, the human would always outsmart the giant and kill him or steal his riches. The tales, especially “The Clever Boy,” highlight the skill of those who appear underprivileged at first glance. What chance does a small boy have against a giant, who in this story and many others, is extremely wealthy and powerful? The answer is stressed in the title; with his cleverness and manipulation, the hero is able to thwart the giant and demonstrate the important of brains over brawn.

Furthermore, the giant himself would stand in for an abusive authority figure perhaps, particularly one who was corrupt and much richer than the rest of the townsfolk, who could pride themselves on nothing else but the cleverness they carried with them. It’s a typical triumphant tale of underdog beats bully, only with Nordic characters.

There is also quite a bit of humor in these tales, no matter if they are long or short. “The Clever Boy” features an ox’s behind and the giant dying in a pile of manure. We still have bathroom jokes and tales to this day, because as perverse and immature as they may be, they can still be funny, especially to those whom the stories are aimed at. Children would be satisfied and gleeful at this ending, in which the boy gets out of doing chores, something which they also probably dream about, and makes the authority figure die in a very undignified way. The boy even calls the giant, “Pop,” a term that’s too familiar for a employer-worker relationship, but very applicable in a parent-child one. Thus the children instantly see themselves as the hero and may strive to outsmart the giants in their lives, also known as their parents. All these features combined make the story a memorable one and lets it stand out from the other hero vs. giant tales.

 

Collected from:

Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.

Who’s Got the Dumbest Husband

Once there were two women who had very stupid husbands. One day they made a bet to see which one of them was best at fooling her husband.

When one of the men was lying in bed feeling a little under the weather, his wife convinced him that he was dead. He was so dumb that he believed her, and he laid himself out so that he looked dead. His wife dressed him in burial clothes and put him in a coffin. Then she got everything ready and invited people to his funeral.

Among the funeral guests were the other woman and her dumb husband. When this husband had started to change his clothes of the funeral, his wife convinced him that he was already dressed! He believed her, and went along to the funeral in his birthday suit.

Afterward, the rode to the graveyard carrying the “corpse” to his grave while he lay in his coffin, peeking out. There was a small hole in the coffin, and through it he could see his neighbor walking stark naked in front of the funeral procession. After a while he couldn’t hold out any longer, and he burst out laughing. One just can’t bury a laughing corpse, so everyone had to walk back home again.

Analysis:

This story was also from a series of Swedish folktales, focusing on marriage relations. There is no true hero or villain in the story, only a comedic tale of wives and husbands, in which the wives are portrayed as the clever, good-natured tricksters and the husbands as shameless simpletons. The situations presented are ridiculous and hard to believe, but they would provide the target audience with ample amounts of humor, despite the fact that the story itself is relatively short. Children who heard the folktale wouldn’t fully understand the dichotomy between wives and husbands in marriage, but this story allows them a little preview of what the future holds. There are inter-couple and intra-couple competitions, to begin with. Also, the tale proves that one can’t shouldn’t take oneself too seriously, as the husbands are not shown to feel particularly embarrassed, and it also stresses the it’s important, or at least, better, to be clever than a fool, regardless if one is a woman or a man.

It is peculiar that the “joke” of the wives’ ends because “one can’t just bury a laughing corpse.” It’s not that the corpse was not a corpse at all, or that the wife felt sorry for the husband, but it was a socially unacceptable act to bury a non-somber body. It may simply be the writing or translation, or the style of the folktale itself, but I still found it interesting that the townspeople had to walk back only because the corpse was laughing, making it seem as if they would have had no problem burying the stupid husband alive.

 

Collected from:  

Blecher, Lone Thygesen and Blecher, George. Swedish Folktales and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993. Print.