Tag Archives: French

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.

La Bête: A French Monster Legend

Context: CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood. CW is a USC Game Design Student who loves the macabre, and the morbid.
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CW: So I know one French story… that I don’t remember what town specifically

CW: But there was a town, and a beast that kept eating people’s sheep and…

CW: I think also sometimes people, and they just called it the beast.

Interviewer(MW): What was that in French?

CW: La Bête

MW: Cool

CW: I’m pretty sure a farmer girl went and found it and killed it and now it’s an attraction in the town.

MW: I actually think I’ve heard a version of this before

CW: So a lot of people are like “oh, I saw the beast”

MW: Yeah, I think this is where the Tarrasque comes from in D&D

CW: Interesting…

MW: Were there any visual qualities that the Beast had that you know about

CW: It was like…a really big wolf but like real big

MW: Where did you hear this story originally?

CW: My middle school French class

MW: Why do you like this story?

CW: Cause monster stories are cool, and monsters are spooky, and also feminism.

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Analysis:

This story conveys an obvious historical anxiety, rural communities were searching for an explanation for their missing sheep, it suggests that communities are looking externally for problems assuming the supernatural rather than suspecting other members of their communities, or regular actual wolves. It speaks to the desire to know why something has gone wrong, and when that problem is found to be seemingly unsolvable, help comes from somewhere unexpected. When the beast is slain by the farm girl, who would likely have been seen as weak in the conditions a story like this emerged in. This story teaches fear, but likewise empowers rural French communities, if now as a tourist attraction a way to share their culture and turn a profit from it. It likewise empowers non-men, given that the hero of the story, someone who conquers a beast known to eat people, is a woman. This version of the story presents this conquest as a slaying as well which situates this unexpected hero as physically powerful as well, providing agency to a group that’s often denied that.

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.

Piece:

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.

Context:

We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:

Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

French Joke Turned Folk Practice for Middle School French Class

French Folk Joke:

“My 7th grade French class all took french. It was all our first year of french and I went to middle school with a bunch of people I ended up going to high school with so we all took a bunch of classes together. We had learned this joke that became an inside joke. It was the first French joke we ever learned. We would tell it to each other and share the reactions of the people we told the joke to with the rest of the class. So the joke is, ‘Comment s’appelle un chien qui vends des médicaments? Un pharmachienne.’ So it means, ‘What do you call a dog who sells medicine?’ The word chien is dog, so the answer is,  you call it a mixture of pharmacy and dog. The word for pharmacist which I don’t know off the top of my head and then ‘chien’. ”

Context:

A middle school french class in Omaha, Nebraska.

Informant Background:
The informant is 21, from Nebraska originally. She now resides in Southern California.

My Analysis:

This play on words is a good way to get children to remember vocabulary. There are many words in french that sound almost identical to their english pronunciation. Hence, it is easy to remember those. However, the ones that don’t align with english pronunciation like ‘chien’ are so abstract that this little joke will help young students remember the vocabulary term. My informant said she does not remember any french, but she does remember this joke. So, clearly this was an effective learning mechanism.

Three Soldiers Coming Home From War

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SO.

SO:  “This is the story of three soldiers coming home from war.  And they’re walking through the countryside and they’re really hungry and they’re tired.  And they come across this little village.  And they walk into the village and the people aren’t overly friendly and the soldiers say to them, ya know, “Do you think you could give us some food?”  And the one house says, ya know, “We’d love to but the harvest hasn’t been good….. and we just don’t have any food to give you.”  So the soldiers go on to another house and said, “Do you think you could give us some food to eat, ya know, we’re really hungry, we just fought in the war to help all of you people… and um this other couple, this other family said, “Ya know there were soldiers that came by here recently and we gave them all of our food.”  And what really happened, uh, was these people had seen the soldiers coming and they hid all their food cause they didn’t wanna share it with the soldiers.  So the soldiers were kinda upset and they’re in the town village and they said, “Well, there’s no food, we have a good idea… we’re gonna make stone soup.”  And all the people in the village were like, “Well, what’s that?  I’ve never heard of that before”

JK:  “Stone Soup?”

SO:  Stone. S-T-O-N-E.  Stone soup.  So the soldiers said, “We gotta get a big, big pot of water and let’s build a fire, and they boiled this big, big pot of water.  And then the soldiers said, Go find us three nice, round, smooth, stones.”  And the villagers were, uh, kinda excited, they went and they got the stones and they put the stones in their and the soldiers were stirring them.  And the soldiers said, “Ya know, do you think maybe we should….put some carrots in there?”  And the villagers said, “Yea, that sounds like a good idea, we could find some carrots.”  So they put some carrots in there.  And then they stir it up, and then they said, “Uhh maybe we should put some celery in their.”  And the villagers ran home and got the celery  and put it in there.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, what if we put some barley in there?”  And the villagers ran home and got the barley.  So it was startin’ to smell really, really good and then the villagers said, “Wait a minute, we need something more than this… we need some bread.”  And they went home and got their bread, got the bread.”  And then the villagers said, “Nah, we need, we need to have a big, big dinner here.”  So they set up all these tables in the town square and it ended up turning into this big, big party.  And the villagers were so, so happy that they had this big party.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, we do need some place to sleep.”  So they go the best houses in the village.  One of the soldiers slept at the Mayor’s house, one slept at a priest’s house, and the the other slept at a really wealthy person’s house.  The villagers thought the soldiers were so clever to have this soup made out of stones.”

JK:  Where is that from?

SO:  It’s an old tale, it’s an old French tale.  It was just about how they conned the people, they didn’t even realize, ya know the people were being stingy, but the soldiers kinda conned them into making soup.  And the villagers ended up being so happy with the party, they thought these guys were just the best in the world.  In the beginning they weren’t even gonna give them anything.”

Conclusion:

This tale was told to me by my dad’s friend, Stephen.  I enjoyed listening to how the wit and cunning of the soldiers got them everything they wanted and more.  I think this story encapsulates one of humanity’s basic animalistic tendencies: greed.  We see this when the townspeople will not give any of their food to the weary soldiers.  Everyone seems to be thinking for themselves– their minds are solely focused on their own survival.  It isn’t until the townspeople hear they will get something out of the soldier’s request that they being to cooperate and act more hospitable.

This tradition was told to me by my high school friend Mika:

“In France, white boars are very prevalent and hunting them is a big recreational pass time there. My uncle used to go on hunting trips where they would round up all of the 20 year olds and later teen men in the town and go out on a hunt.

They would have somewhere around 20-25 hunting dogs with them when they went hunting. The dogs would be let loose to chase down the boar and corner them. My uncle would then run up to the cornered boar and kill it with a traditional hunting sword.

My Uncle was 16 when he killed his first boar on a hunt like this. He didn’t have a son to pass on the tradition to, so when I was 16, he passed on the same sword he killed his first boar with to me.”

Background:

Mika’s family is primarily of European descent, with his Grandparents hailing from Finland. Mika’s uncle is a very avid hunter and would go out on expeditions all the time. Mika tells me his favorite type of hunting was the one mentioned above, as it is more of a sport having to be closer to the animal and adding a level of danger that is not there when shooting at it from 100s of yards away.

Mika especially likes this story because it is the tradition in his Uncle’s French community where when your son was ready to hunt, you would pass the sword on to them. Because Mika’s Uncle didn’t have a son he could pass the sword on to, he passed it down to Mika because he was the closest thing he had to a son. Mika said it was a real honor to get the sword from his Uncle because he was basically saying that he sees Mika as his son.

Context:

Mika has a lot of artifacts and artwork on display in his house, anywhere from weapons they bought in Africa on a Safari to artwork his grandparents passed on to his parents. I wasn’t expecting to get a big story out of it, but one day over spring break when we were hanging out in Mika’s room I saw the sword and asked him why he had it. He proceeded to tell me the story above, and I knew that it had a special meaning to Mika and it wasn’t just some souvenir he picked up when visiting a castle.

Mika tells me he plans to pass the sword on to his son, and even though he doesn’t use it for the same purpose his Uncle did when he passed it on to him, he wants to keep it in the family as an heirloom. He hopes to keep the story associated with the sword, as it is something that is a part of their family history and where they come from.

My thoughts:

I personally am a big fan of family heirlooms and their passing down from generation to generation. I think it gives the holder a reminder of where they came from and not to forget their roots and their family. I think the story is a great accompanying piece to the sword, and it is a great conversation starter.

I don’t personally have a family heirloom, but I would like to start one by passing something on to my son that has a deeper meaning, not just something I decide to give as a gift but will be cherished and passed on through many generations.

French Food Traditions for The Epiphany

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 name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

The last one I remember was the epiphany, early January. It celebrates the Three Wise men visiting Jesus. In France we eat the “galette des rois”, a pastry cake, made with almond paste, with a “fève” placed inside. With all the family around the table, you split the cake in as many shares as there are people plus one representing the “share of the poor” that will be offered to someone later on (a friend or a homeless person). Whoever has the share with the “fève” becomes the king of the day (or queen) and can pick his mate (queen or king) ; you also get to wear a paper crown that is sold with the cake.

Piece Background Information:

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance:

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

The concept behind the galette des rois, that is – a cake with a prize (typically a baby trinket) inside that allows the recipient of the slice with the prize to have special privileges shows up in many different cultures. Other variations include King’s cake eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season and rosca de reyes in Spanish speaking countries and lends this tradition to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must exhibit multiplicity and variation. As a result, I have also participated in this similar tradition and actually have a plastic baby on my desk. It is definitely interesting and cool that a tradition like this can bridge such different cultures together.

French Candlemas

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 name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

Another tradition that I remember celebrating every year is “La Chandeleur”, French Candlemas. An early February commemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple that French culture embrace by making Crepes and lighting the house only with Candles, that day being called as well the day of the light marking the end of the Christmas period. I remember making crepes with the family during that time, until I moved out of the house after High School. The tradition of crepes comes from the fact that being round they represent the sun (day of the light), easy to make and cheap, required a bit of agility (flipping them and succeeding at it means the household will be prosperous for the rest of the year. My Grandma never did that but a lot of families keep one crepe, place a coin in it and leave it in the closet for the rest of the year to bring money to the household. Also if you’re able to flip the crepe 6 times in a row you will get married that year.

Piece Background Information:

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance:

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

Upon further research, I found that French Candlemas, which takes place in December, is generally supposed to utilize the remainder of the harvest from the year on the crepes to symbolize completion of the cycle of the sun (as noted by the informant himself- the roundness of the crepe is similar to the roundness of the sun). I consider this folk belief to fall under homeopathic magic as there are thought to be real world effects (a great harvest in the year to come) due to the similarities between the crepes and the sun. Additionally, this ritual falls within/ is coordinated with the Earth cycle too.

Guatemalan Eclipse Ritual

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:

The informant was born and raised in Guatemala, but immigrated here to America when he was about seventeen. He has not and will probably never go back to Guatemala as he fears he will be killed.

Piece:

When I saw my first eclipse… lunar, you know a moon eclipse? I heard… well first we moved to the country because my grandma was dying. I grew up in the city and when I moved into the farm, everything was new to me. So I remember when the moon eclipsed, everybody was there banging things- they were banging the ceiling of the house, they were banging drums, making noise, you know? Because they thought that it would be the end of the world. *laughs* I got so scared! *laughs* That night I couldn’t sleep. It was, it was kind of disturbing for me.

Were they trying to scare you?

I don’t know, maybe they were kind of, kind of ignorant you know? They thought that the moon was fighting with the sun. You know what I mean? And the sun was… it was like that. This is something that they’d think for years. They thought that the moon was fighting with the sun. So they were rooting for the moon and that is why they were making so much noise.

So they were cheering on the moon?

Yeah… it was weird. I don’t know if they still do that. They probably still do, or maybe not because you know… traditions sometimes die. It was in the 60s you know? The beginning of the 60s. I was very young.

Did they tell you to bang on things too?

They want me to. They want me to but I was like… scared. I was surprised you know cause I never saw one of those things. I mean I didn’t know that there was so much superstition in that… in that people’s heads. You know, I don’t know… there was dancing, they were looking at the moon. I was like… I don’t know. The only thing I remember I told my dad, “what happened?” And my dad just laughed. You know because my dad didn’t believe in all this stuff.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already expanded that he thinks that the people he witnessed partaking in this tradition were ignorant, and that he did not quite understand what was happening at the time.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Calabasas, California.

Thoughts on Piece:

I could tell while collecting that the informant (who is my boyfriend’s father) was and still is very disturbed by this experience, which reflects in the fact that he is disconnected from Guatemala. He was very young when he witnessed this and it adds to why to this day, when we go out to lunch, he is always saying that Guatemalans are very superstitious- it scared him to death because he literally thought the world was going to end. Upon further research, I found further expansions on this belief that one must cheer on the moon during an eclipse so that it does not die. Apparently, without the moon, it is thought that there will be lots of deaths within the community and the age range of the persons involved in these deaths (children to elders) depends on the size of the moon being eclipsed.

Dodo, L’Enfant Do

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.

Performance:

“Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Une poule blanche

Est là dans la grange

Qui va faire un petit coco

Pour l’enfant qui va fair dodo

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bien vite

Dodo, l’enfant do

L’enfant dormira bientôt

Tout le monde est sage

Dans le voisinage

Il est l’heure d’aller dormir

Le sommeil va bientôt venir.

My mom used to sing it to me. I think hers did too.”

ENGLISH: Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; a white chicken/is in the barn/making a little egg/for the baby who goes to sleep; Sleep, baby, sleep/the baby falls asleep/sleep, baby, sleep/the baby will sleep soon; everyone is calm/all around/it’s time to sleep/sleep is coming soon.

Thoughts:

This is an adorable piece of folklore, and one that has understandably withstood the tests of time. The lyrics and tune are quite simple; simple enough that, years and years later, people can still remember the song as it was sung to them and pass it on to their children.