USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘drinking’
Humor

What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

Subject: American Joke on Irish Drinking Habits

Collection: “Q: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

A: One less drunk.”

Background Info: This joke was told on the 30 March 2018 by A. Haynes. He is a resident of San Clemente, is a proud father of two children, and still married to his high school sweetheart.

Context: I recorded this joke from a friend of my father at dinner at an Italian restaurant in San Clemente, CA. At the table was also another childhood friend who was visiting from Hawaii, where he now lives with his wife. As part of the celebrating their reunion, the men ordered two pints of beer. This joke was shared as the waitress was setting the beer down on the table.

Analysis: The joke was shared out of the jovial spirit of the moment. The speaker knew that neither of the two people to whom he addressed the joke (I overheard on accident and then asked permission to document it) would have any objections to the unflattering portrayal of the Irish as drunkards who in turn do not properly honor the dead or the insensitivity towards the treatment of death.

In fact, one of the main subjects of conversation at dinner that night was the death of a family friend (ironically, one who suffered from alcohol addiction for the total of her adult life) who was close to all three families present at the meal. Drinking is commonly thought of as a social and jovial activity with contradicts the nature of death. The news of her death weighing heavily on the brain, all present were aware that our present happiness, might be disrespectful or, at least, not doing proper honor to her memory. The joke itself also deals with the oxymoronic relationship between death and drinking and what it means to return to normality following a death.

We later learned that the speaker of the joke has gone on a diet in the last six months, the reason for him not ordering the Rigatoni Pomodoro, his favorite dish. In this context, the joke can then also be read as a comment on excess. He is a man who is trying to improve his health through changing his diet, making his consumption of beer seem counter-intuitive. However, by sharing a joke over a pint of beer marks this occasion as one worthy of indulgence.

In conclusion, the joke capitalizes on stereotypical beliefs of the Irish to be drunks with curious funeral rites to reveal anxieties about death and indulging in drink, especially if the two are related.

For Further Readings: An interesting collection and commentary of Irish-as-drunks can be found at “SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information > Social Groups > Recovery Follies” in the folder entitled “What’s the difference in an Irish Wedding and Wake?”.  One participant in the online forum, Nocellphone, responded to the joke with, “Always loved that one! You’ll find lighthearted stuff and jokes in the Recovery Follies forum. Just keep scrolling down…”. This environment shows a different type of indulgence: jokes to build support and comradery out of deprivation of the item that the group otherwise has in common.

Folk speech

Bo Tah Bo Lampa

Proverb: Bo tah bo lampa

Phonetic Translation: Boe tah boe lam pah

Translation: If you don’t chug, you have no balls

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This piece of folk speech was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: This informant is from Singapore, where the drinking age is 18. Because of this, he has gone to clubs and other places with his friends to drink. While out drinking at one of these clubs for the first time, his friends shouted this over and over while they were drinking, essentially telling each other to keep going over. He personally likes this piece of folk speech because or its origins. It did not arise in Singapore initially, but rather has roots in Cantonese bars.

Analysis: The first thing that struck me about this phrase was that, despite the informant identifying it as mainly Singaporean, its origin is in fact in Canton. Though Singapore is a mainly Malay-speaking region, this phrase has replaced other, native sayings. Furthermore, this phrase is an awesome view into how many pieces of folklore formed. In this case, Singapore and Canton share strong trade ties and relatively close geographic locations. That, coupled with the maritime nature of the two regions, meant that sailors temporarily onshore, as well as passengers, were most likely the ones to make the phrase well known. Personally, I think the phrase is crude, especially when translated to English, but still, I can see why it spread easily. Phonetically, it’s an easy and fun phrase.

Customs
Foodways
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Eye Contact Following a Toast in Germany

The informant is a 51-year-old international businessman who has frequently traveled across Europe and Asia to meet with clients for the past 20 years.

Over a relaxed nine holes of golf, I asked the informant if there were any dining customs or etiquette that have stood out to him throughout his travels. He went into detail about proper German etiquette when enjoying a drink with friends, family, or business connections.

“It’s always a great time drinking in Germany, especially for a beer connoisseur like myself. Whenever I’m out to lunch or dinner for a business meeting, we always grab a beer and make a toast before drinking. Usually the toast is just to a successful partnership in the future, or to health and happiness. What you’d expect. One thing that’s really important following this toast is that you look whoever it is you’re drinking with in the eye when you ‘cheers.’ It is considered extremely rude not to. They joke that if you fail to look someone in the eye it means seven years of bad sex, but what it would really result in is whoever you’re with thinking that you’ve been dishonest or are hiding something from them.”

This German custom of looking someone in the eye reveals that in German custom, authenticity and personal connection are important. Toasts usually follow a celebration or accomplishment of some kind, and so eye contact can be seen as a way of solidifying whatever the toast was made to. If one man makes a toast to good health and the other fails to look him in the eye, then the ma who made that toast may begin to wonder whether the other is hoping for him to become ill. The superstition that failing to make eye contact will lead to seven years of bad sex is a playful way of reminding Germans of this custom, or of highlighting its importance to foreigners. I thought that this particular folkway made a lot of sense, given the intimate nature of a toast and taking into account the context in which the informant learned of it. Since the informant is often out to eat with business connections and is working to create a professional relationship, it is important that he look his German clients in the eye to let them know that he is understanding of their culture and that they can trust his word and that he will honor their negotiations.

Adulthood
Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Dance
Game
Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Midsummer (Sweden)

And then we have our Midsummer…which is the biggest drinking holiday in the world I would say. It’s the Friday of, that’s the closest to the summer solstice. And the origin is, that way back when we were pagan, we would pray to the gods for a good harvest. So…we would raise a maypole…which is a big penis…directed into the ground, to fertilize the ground to have a good harvest. And we would dance around this penis, you know, it’s a big thing you have to do. And that night, if you’re a woman, you have to pick seven different types of flower, out in the wild, not in the store. You have to go out in the wild and pick them from a field, seven different ones, put em under your pillow, when you sleep that night you’re gonna dream about the person you’re gonna marry. It’s all about fertility! It really is.

 

So you danced around the maypole?

 

Oh yeah! We do it every year.

 

What was that like?

 

It’s, I mean now it’s more of a fun, family, keeping the tradition…it’s not so much a pagan ritual anymore. But the actual like, you carry the maypole in, all the men in the village or society help raise it. And the women have spent the whole day decorating it with small flowers. And then traditional music is still playing…

 

And everyone’s drinking during this?

 

Everyone is drinking all day. So this is the progression. Usually you have lunch, where you eat herring, herring and potatoes, that’s when you start drinking, you have some schnapps. And beer obviously with your lunch. Then you go to the area where the maypole is. And usually it’s organized, your society or village, if you’re a bigger community there are several spots so you can walk there close from your house. And there’s musicians, that play music so that you can dance to… There’s usually games of different sorts… and you know, if you’re too drunk at this point you just enjoy coffee, and you know. So it’s basically sort of desserts, but like thicker desserts, so you have coffee, you have cinnamon rolls, that kinda stuff. And you sit on the ground, on blankets, everyone brings there own blankets around this pole. So everyone dances, and then they’ll take a break, there’s some raffle stuff… And then after that you go home, and if you’re a bigger society you go home and then you have games, like seven or ten different games that you compete in against each other. And usually it’s by teams, and if you’re fewer people it’s individual. So you do that closer to where your home is, and then there’s a barbecue, and you keep drinking. And I mean you keep drinking throughout the whole day, like you start drinking at 11am in the morning, and then you keep drinking. And because it’s in the middle of summer the sun never sets, so you’re up all night. So you have your barbeque, you keep drinking, and then 2am, the sun is still up, you go skinny dipping…and then…you know……and then you pass out. And then you have sex in a bush. Everyone has sex, nine months after Midsummer there’s a lot of babies being born. Because everyone has sex, outside, you just pick a bush and have at it. You would love it. And that’s how you end your night. You easily drink…..probably a liter of schnapps per person. And probably uh….depending on how much of a beer drinker you are but let’s say you’re going with beer…probably drink about 3 gallons of beer? You know. So it’s a fun holiday.

 

So when specifically does it happen?

 

End of June. Cause harvest is in the fall for us.

 

What is the age group of people that are dancing around the pole?

 

Anything from one year olds that can hardly walk, to 85-year-olds. It’s a whole family thing. Usually what happens is, eventually after the barbeque, if you’re still a young teenager, you celebrate with your family, and then you head out to a party somewhere. But once you get old enough, like if you’re past 18, like you can still do it with your family during the day, you’ll have lunch and the celebration around the maypole with your family, and then you’ll hit the barbeque party, you’ll have dinner with your friends. And then party all night long. And if you’re doing it extra special, if you’re out in archipelago, you might leave…because everyone is off Friday, except like, firemen, policemen, hospital people. Everyone else is getting fucked up. So Friday’s always off, you’ll start Thursday, you’ll fill your car up with alcohol and food, take your boat out to your summer place which is out in the archipelago on an island, and you stay there the whole weekend. And midsummer’s on the Friday, on Saturday you wake up and…start drinking again! And then Sunday, you have a couple of beers just to…mellow out. And then you go home. It’s a lotta fun. And I mean, it’s a pagan ritual. That’s what it’s from. So that’s one of the ones that’s not gonna go away…ever. That one will definitely stay around.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a common spring festival throughout Europe, traditionally occurring in Germany, England, and Sweden, according to The Festival Book by Jennette Lincoln. This is a spring fertility festival, both about fertilizing the ground for a good harvest, and also about the young generation reproducing and starting a new generation. There are many rituals with symbolic (phallic) imagery, and games and celebrations in which families come together and also young people from different families. Flowers are a big symbol, as the pole is decorated with flowers, the girls have to collect flowers and put them under their pillows, etc. Girls both ‘come into bloom’ in this liminal pre-adulthood stage in which they become able to bear children, and are also ‘deflowered’, two symbolic meanings in relation to flowers. Alcohol is clearly a big part of the festival, both in celebration of plenty and abundance, and probably also as a way for the young people to loosen up, party, and “interact” – which seems to be expected and even condoned by the adults and families. People copulating outside in nature also has a connotation of fertilizing the earth for a good harvest.

Customs
Folk speech
Foodways
Gestures

Russian Drinking Custom – Toasting

The informant is a 21-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. The following is what she said when I asked about her step-daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.

 

Informant: “Drinking is really big in Russian culture—you probably know that. We have a lot of family dinners and there is always drinking, of wine or vodka. Guest will bring wine or the host will bring out their favorite wines. My parents actually have a whole spreadsheet of the different wines in their wine closet. Since drinking is so much a part of Russian culture, there are traditions that go along with it. The biggest thing I can think of, I think, would be toasts. Like, there are certain traditions of what toasts you say in what order. Second toast is usually for the host. The first toast is always for the occasion you are gathered for, and second for the host. The third one is for those who are at sea.”

 

Interviewer: “Are there lots of people at sea…?”

 

Informant: “No. We say ‘at sea’, but it’s really more a reference to those who are not with us—either dead or not the at the dinner table.”

 

Interviewer: “Hmm, that’s really interesting that the toast for people not at the table is the ‘at sea’ toast. Do you have any idea why that is?

 

Informant: “No, I don’t know. I mean, drinking culture was a big think in Russia in general. And I guess originally there may have been a lot of traders? Or people at sea? What I think is so distinct about Russian drinking is this tradition of you can’t drink unless you toast. You have to validate your drinking with a toast.”

 

Thoughts:

What my informant said about toasts being a way of validating drinking stuck with me. I feel like a lot of folklore, or festivals and rituals, at least, is centered in validation—validating customs already set in place, validating a relationship or new union to be had, validating a new stage in a person’s life, validating one’s entering adulthood, etc. What is sometimes seen as merely paying homage to an earlier time, or to a certain religion one follows, usually has more influence than that.

 

When I asked my informant about why the third toast is said for those “at sea”, when no one I know of her family is actually off at sea, it seemed like the first time the informant had really been considering the question. This illustrates the tendency not to question the traditions and the folklore one grows up with, contrasted with the tendency many people have to critique or ridicule other traditions and folklore, ones the criticizing individual hasn’t grown up with. This speaks to the us them mentality that we see quite often with folklore—one example of the mentality’s presence is in practical jokes, a form of folklore that often serves as an initiation, or a demonstration of the tightness of one group and the outsider-ness of the one being pranked. However, it is worth noting that in the person being pranked, they are many times being initiated into the group of the pranksters…

 

For a slightly different interpretation of the third toast, see an article in the New York Times from 1995:

http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/08/world/moscow-journal-glassy-eyed-etiquette-a-guide-to-russian-toasts.html.

Foodways
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Margaritas at La Barca

My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.

“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”

 

Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.

Customs

If you don’t drink, you’re a spy

A couple of my roommates have gone to my informant AF’s house for dinner.  Each time my friends have come home at least tipsy, maybe even drunk.  It is atypical for my friends to come home tipsy or drunk from dinner with a friend’s parents.  Yet, when they go to AF’s house, it always seems to happen.  I wondered why.

Both of AF’s parents were born in Russia.  As a result, AF grew up in a Russian American home.  Besides the fact that vodka is a Russian drink, I’ve wondered why Russians seem to be so good at drinking. My friend AF explained that it is custom for men to drink anything and everything in Russia.  Why?  AF explained, “If you don’t drink in the pace with other people, you are a spy in Russia.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man refuse a drink. Or at least it is very rare.”

This mentality is definitely present within the Russian American community.  In fact, this mentality perseveres outside the community.  My friends expressed that they felt uncomfortable or rude turning down a drink in AF’s home. The paranoia that AF’s parents experienced in Russia has had residual effects.  It is custom for Russian Americans to prove that they are not spies by drinking heavily and possibly impairing their judgement, simply because they can.

 

 

Initiations

Big Sis Night

 My informant, CS told me about her experience as a “big sis” to her guy-friend Josh’s little in a fraternity on USC’s campus.  Within USC’s Greek system, members of fraternities get a “big bro” as well as a “big sis.”  The big bro usually picks one of his good girl-friends to be his little’s “big sis.”  Big sisses are revealed on one night during the semester.  From my understanding, it is typical for big sisses to get their little bro very drunk and dress him up in a humiliating costume for part of the night.

CS detailed her experience as a big sis.

It was just me and KK [her friend].  So we walked over to the house together.  So I get him there.  And I’m really bad at the “drink, drink, drink” stuff.  I got there just in time to put him in a room. And then Josh’s lights were off. And then we took off the blindfold and I had candy and cupcakes or something.  

We didn’t have any hard alcohol.  We just had beer. So we taped two beers to him. But then they were cold, so we put two towels around the beer before we taped them to his hands.  It was sad and weird!

The next year when Jacob, my little, got a little, he also got this very sweet guy.  And his big sis, Meghan, ended up doing the exact same thing. 

CS’s reaction to her big sis experience reveals the expectations of such an experience.  CS’s story suggests that a big sis should force her little bro drink heavily.  Yet CS did not make her little bro drink heavily.  Instead she gave him some beer and made sure he was comfortable while drinking it.

CS and Meghan’s experience suggests that big sis and little bro nights do not meet the expectations of most college students within Greek life at USC.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”

 

This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorority Drinking Song

Informant: Take a shot, take a shot! Take a god-damned shot! If you can’t take a shot like a/an [sorority nickname] can, then you shouldn’t have a shot in your motherfucking hand! Take a shot!

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

The informant first learned this drinking song, or chant, on the night after she received a bid from her sorority. She and her new “sisters” gathered in the largest bedroom of her sorority house, poured shots of Fireball (a popular brand of cinnamon flavored whiskey) and preformed the chant before knocking back their drinks. The informant has since preformed the chant only a handful of times—all occurred with other sorority sisters before a night of partying, and sometimes during. The informant claims she has also heard members of other USC sororities sing the chant with their own sorority’s nickname in place of the informant’s. Nevertheless, the song stands a symbol of initiation into a sorority; only members can preform it.

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