USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ears’
Gestures
Protection

Getting My Ears Pulled When Speaking of The Dead

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 62

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 8, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Alan is a 62- year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a 2nd Generation American whose ancestry is Austrian and Russian.

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that you experienced your mother’s family superstition first hand when you were a youngster. Can you explain it?

 

Informant: Sure. My mother would always pull my ears and those of my sister, when we were very young, when she heard that either a relative or person she knew had just died.

 

Interviewer:  Was there a reason why she did this?

 

Informant: She never spoke directly about this, but my mother was a superstitious individual when it came to the evil eye. I have to assume that this had something to do with that. For instance, she would always dress my sister and me in red if we were visiting someone who she felt possessed an evil eye. I remember one time when she just stood in front of this particular person and walking backward pushed my sister and me out of the room. I was young and didn’t really think anything about it.

 

As I got older I began to realize that the pulling of our ears when she spoke about the dead was a part of her superstitious beliefs. I never observed this behavior with her sisters and brothers (my aunts and uncles). Her mother and father (my grandparents) were both dead before I was born so I never saw if it was somehow connected this action to them. However, knowing my mother, she might have come up with this crazy superstition all on her own.

 

Interviewer: Does She Still Do This?

 

Informant: No. The last time I remember her tugging at my ears was when my Great Uncle Joe had passed away when I was 13. We were driving to a supermarket and my father asked my Mother when was Joe’s funeral. As he did she reached around from the front car seat and managed to grab my left ear, but I twisted and prevented her from getting my right one. From that day forward, she never tugged my ears again!”

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Superstitious gestures like this one become ingrained even if connection to meaning is lost. http://www.imamother.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=172695

For other Jewish superstitious customs see: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Folk Belief on Red Ears

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My parents and I are from Central China, but I grew up in Kentucky.

Piece:

My mom would say… sometimes my ears would get really hot and red and uncomfortable. I think that’s a normal thing for people for whatever reason. When I would tell my mom, she’d tell me that it just meant somebody was missing me.

Piece Background Information:

I think it was just a way of making me feel good in an uncomfortable situation. I think her mom told her that, and she passed it down to me. I don’t know if it’s like a Chinese culture thing or something passed down within my family, but that’s just something she would tell me.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day at Ground Zero, a milkshake shop and cafe on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The folk belief that itching, ringing, or burning (red) ears means someone is talking about you or thinking about you dates back very, very far and is definitely not limited to Chinese folk belief. Some further variations claim that ringing in your right ear means someone is thinking or saying something good about you, while ringing in your left ear means someone is thinking or saying something bad about you. While this of course is not based in scientific fact, it is most likely a sentiment that parents pass along to their children in order to explain an unknown phenomena of ear pain (and possibly even tinnitus) or feelings of embarrassment or overheating.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

“Pull up your ears”

“So, when I was younger, um, my grandparents, like my grandparents . . . my parents are older so by nature my grandparents were older and my grandfather died in 1995. And I remember he didn’t—I remember my mom telling me he passed away and . . . whatever I just remember sitting, we had like this, it’s called an LDK in Japanese, it’s like just a huge room where we all like . . . there’s a kitchen, living room and I remember sitting there and I remember I sneezed and I was watching TV and my mom was like, ‘Pull up your ears.’ And I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ But it’s a thing! After someone dies and the other person sneezes you pull up your ears because if you don’t pull up your ears it’s like then that’s bad juju . . . So you have to pull up your ears!”

 

I asked the informant what it means to “pull up your ears” and she demonstrated by taking the top of her ears between her thumbs and forefingers and lightly tugging upwards.

 

“And I do it all the time now because when I sneeze I instantly think of death and then I’m like, ‘Well, just to be safe . . .’ And I’ll do it if I’m in class too . . . And when my grandmother died two years ago, we were constantly pulling up our ears. Still! My mom still does it.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition within her family. She said, “There’s a lot of things I have no idea why I do them, but I do them because someone might die if I didn’t do them. Like, that’s how we’re taught . . . It’s kind of a life or death situation.” She said she learned this practice from her mother, but also said she thinks most of the superstitions her family practices come from Romania because her great great great grandmother was “the Romanian town palm reader and she read tea leaves and, like, they were a very mystical family.” When I asked her further about why she thinks this was, she said, “Because they were poor, that’s probably why. Because they had nothing. And the pogroms were going on that were attacking the Jews, so stuff like that . . .”

 

This superstition was fascinating to me because it seems similar to the practice of saying “Bless you!” after someone sneezes, i.e. it is a fairly innocuous action that people do as a way of warding off something much darker. I also think the fact that there are multiple superstitions surrounding the normal bodily function of sneezing is interesting, as it reveals something about the way humans respond to slightly odd and surprising occurrences. I agree with the informant that performing actions like this in order to ward off “bad juju” probably has something to do with the performer feeling a lack of control over forces bigger than humanity, such as death. This would make sense in the face of large-scale discrimination and genocide, as occurred in the pogroms. When you are reminded that death could come for you at any moment, it is comforting to think the performance of small actions such as this could help keep you safe.

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