My friend Amal is of Jordanian and Lebanese descent. She told me the following story about a tradition in the town of Fuheis, Jordan, and a chaotic culture clash resulting from it:
“My grandfather was from a wild west of Jordan, otherwise known as Fuheis. And like, so in Jordan like, at weddings- not weddings but like parties the night before the wedding; I don’t know if there’s even an equivalent in America ’cause it’s not like a bridesmaid’s, it’s not like a shower. So at the party the night before the wedding you like shoot guns in the air. And then also like, sometimes to like, welcome someone who’s coming to your town you like, or if there’s a party, you just shoot a gun in the air. And so there was this um, famous Arabic singer who was coming to do a concert in Fuheis, um, I forget his name…But um, famous Arabic singer, like really big concert, blah blah blah. And uh, he’s like introducing himself and his set and my grandfather yells and like runs up on stage and is like, ‘welcome! We’re so happy to have you in Fuheis!’ and whips out a gun. And shoots the gun in the air. And this guy has uh, has never been to Fuheis, he doesn’t know this tradition, and he is terrified and security drags my grandfather away. And uh, that’s my fun story about our traditions.”
This personal account of a tradition in practice demonstrates the ways in which local folklore can create unpleasant or funny results when placed in a context with outsiders who aren’t familiar with it. These kinds of recontextualizations result from an increasingly interconnected and officialized world in which non-institutionalized local traditions often remain.
JH is a high school senior living in Pasadena, CA.
JH told me about a major perk of living above a large concert venue:
“Generally living above the Rose Bowl can be a huge pain in the ass – New Years is a huge production, and there’s traffic every weekend during the college football season when UCLA has its home games here. They put barricades on all the side streets to keep people from parking, but they direct traffic down the main street in the neighborhood…but for the last few years they’ve gotten really big music people to play in the Rose Bowl, like Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna…but tickets are usually way over $100 if you want to see anything…luckily for kids my age, who really like the performers and the music, because the sound from the Rose Bowl carries all the way into the neighborhood. There’s this one street a couple blocks away with houses on one side and cliff-kind of thing on the other, that drops off straight into the Arroyo and where the Rose Bowl is…so if you go sit out there, you can hear the music almost perfectly. It’s usually warm enough in the summer that we can go out with chairs or blankets and stuff and just listen to a free concert. It’s not so great for the older people in the neighborhood that hate the music…they’re always complaining about like, being kept awake at night…I do feel kinda bad for them.”
The concerts here are probably a contentious issue in the neighborhood, with most residents probably being against the extra noise and traffic. But for younger kids who would actually want to attend the real event, the ritual is more about making the best of a bad situation. It shows the dichotomy between a generation who probably moved to the neighborhood never imagining these circumstances, and the generation that grew up in it appreciating these extra perks.
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“So as a pianist, whenever I have a recital or competition, or when I’m about to perform, I guess it’s a habit or something I always do, I have to talk to someone. So, if it’s a stranger, I don’t really care, I just go up to someone like, ‘hey.’ you know, just talk about something, I don’t know about what. It just helps me calm down and gives me that strength and that luck to play well.”
My informant has established a ritual to cope with pre-performance stress. Perhaps the interaction with another human being relaxes him and allows him to think about other things rather than worry about how he’ll perform. Often times, a person’s nerves may prevent him or her from performing their best. Focusing too much on one part of the song may cause him to tense up or forget a different part of the song. Therefore, maintaining a calm state for him before going on stage may prove beneficial. The ritual is relatively easy to achieve as there are people everywhere in a concert hall. Through this ritual he is able to quickly able to calm his nerves and boost his confidence with some luck from his ritual.
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“So whenever I have to dress up formally for a competition or a recital or an interview I’ll always wear my lucky red dress shirt. It’s something I’ve done since probably middle school. I always get a different red shirt, but it has to be red which is my favorite color. Whatever I do it gives me that luck that I need to do well to do whatever I need to do that day.”
It seems like the color red instills confidence in this informant. Interestingly, he is Chinese American. Many Chinese see red as a lucky color. Perhaps this is doubly so for him as it is his favorite color. Having lucky items of clothing seems quite common. This informant differs from the norm of having a lucky item of clothing in that he does not have one lucky red shirt, but derives luck from red dress shirts in general. In this case, red dress shirts are less like a lucky item, but closer to a symbol he derives strength from.
While not religious, the red dress shirt is somewhat analogous to the Christian cross. Those of the Christian faith gain strength and feel protected by crosses, they feel the presence of God when they see symbols of their religion. They feel this way not only about all crosses of their religion, not just about one specific cross. Similarly, my informant feels lucky and successful from the symbolic power of a red dress shirt, not just one specific red dress shirt.
Furthermore, the fact that he wears a dress shirt may affect his confidence. Many people claim to feel more confident and assertive when dressed professionally.