USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘French’
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

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.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Hunting Tradition

Main Piece: French Hunting Tradition

 

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.

Customs
Foodways
general
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

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.

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

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.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

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.

Childhood
Musical

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.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

“Il n’a pas la lumière à tous les étages.”

JN is a 19 year old student at USC studying neuroscience and French.  Most of her family lives in Chicago, but they’re from various European countries. She has travelled the world extensively, and she lived in France during the second semester of her sophomore year of high school. Here is a humorous example of French folk speech that she learned that year:

This is a French proverb that I learned when I was living in France.

It goes “il n’a pas de lumière sur toutes les étages.”
And that basically translates to the English version of “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer” or “He’s missing his marbles” or something like that. So it literally means “He doesn’t have light on all of his floors” so it means, oh he’s kind of missing something, or he’s kind of “dim”.

Where did you learn this from?
I heard my host mom and dad say it a lot especially over the phone when they were talking to their friends. I understood the words and it kind of made sense to me that it was that French translation of our English expression. I overheard it from them and then asked what it meant and then I made the connection.

Why do you like it?
Because I learned it from my host parents and it’s definitely a colloquial French saying- it makes me feel more fluent in French to know those things that you can’t just learn the classroom. Plus I think it’s kind of funny!

 

My thoughts: I agree with JN when she says that when it comes to learning a new language, it is the colloquial expressions-the folk speech-that makes the leaner feel that they are truly a part of that culture. It was interesting to see that this French proverb had parallels in English with “the light’s on but no one is home” or even “not the brightest bulb in the box”- different languages and cultures have similar ways of expressing the same idea figuratively.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Tales /märchen

Dames Blanches

16) Dames Blanches

This is from out of french mythologies/folklores.

Dames Blanches are white dressed female spirits who supposedly appear near caves, caverns, bridges or ravines. These are not extremely evil spirits, but they would ask passersby to do certain things for them to pass.

Those who did what was asked of them were able to pass the road safely, while others that refused are tortured by animals that helped the dames blanches or thrown off somewhere.

Some believe that these were pre-christian goddesses.

(*For more information, check out White Woman of Dutch and Germanic mythologies.)

My french friend Cami told me about this story as her parents used to tell her this story to scare her from going out late at night. She has never encountered these situations herself so it was hard for her to perform it in a believable manner but overall it was cool and I definitely remember reading about similar versions of this story.

Folk speech
Proverbs

French Proverb

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. His native language is French, and he did not learn English until after moving to the US.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and asked if he could share any French proverbs with me.

The proverb, in French, that he chose to share is: “Qui recherche la lune ne voit pas les étoiles.”

The English translation he provided is: “Someone who looks for the moon misses the stars.”

He said that the proverb is used as a small piece of advice used to let someone know that “if you try to accomplish something that’s near impossible to do, you will miss the things that are possible and that you can do.”

I thought that this proverb was a nice reminder to keep realistic expectations and not worry about factors in life that are outside of our control. It sounds very beautiful when spoken in French, and so I can see how this proverb’s aesthetic quality coupled to its meaning would make it popular among those who speak the language. Following my conversation with the informant, I would love to expand upon my knowledge of the French language and continue to learn more of the proverbs used by those who speak it.

Humor

The Louvre Heist

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece is one of the informant’s favorite jokes.

“A bunch of art thieves are escaping from the Louvre, and they’ve stolen millions of dollars worth of art, and they’re in this van. So they’re chasing down Paris, you know the cops are right behind them, and news camera are watching them, the eyes of the world are glued to these art thieves. And then, they pull into a gas station, and suddenly stop. The police cars pull right up to them, and encircle them, and boom! They caught ‘em.

So the reporters descend on them like vultures on a corpse, and they’re like, “Why didn’t you just get away? You were, you were by far like, you were gonna make it home free, you were not going to get caught, et cetera. The lead ringleader just looks at the reporter and he says [the informant adopts a French accent], “Uh, ve didn’t have de monay for de gas to make de van go.””

Analysis:

This joke has a long, narrative build up compared to a relatively short punchline. While the joke could still be told effectively in a question and answer format, it is clear that the informant gets a lot of enjoyment from setting the stage and describing a more elaborate and vivid setup. The punchline plays on the slight alterations in English pronunciation by native French speakers as well as the play on words—“monay” with “Monet,” “de gas” with “Degas,” and “van go” with “Van Gogh.” The setting contextualizes the joke further, providing the foundation for the French and art references in the joke.

 

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