USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘health’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Spitting in China

Main Piece

WY: “Let me think…so it’s like superstition. Whenever my mom hears something terrible or scary she will always spit on the ground. Kind of like a ways to spit out the horrible things so she won’t be hurt by those things.”

Collector: “Where I am from (San Francisco), I know a lot of Chinese people who spit deliberately like that, too, but none of them have ever mentioned that to me. Guess I know now!”

WY: “Yeah. A lot of places in China they probably have the same tradition. Chinese people also do it for general health. They call mucus and other stuff in the system ‘toxins.’ I think the air quality has a lot to do with it, so they just try to make their lungs feel as empty and breathable as possible.”

Collector: “Do you do it?”

WY: “Generally not, but every once in a while when I hear something really terrible, I end up doing it.”

Analysis

I found the informant’s insight on this tradition enlightening because she grew up in an environment where she understood the meaning of it and had had time to process it. She did not hold a strong belief in it, but in desperate times fell back on the practice that she had learned from her mother. It was also interesting to hear how a scientific idea was also put forward in order to justify it for those who would question it. The two beliefs could work hand-in-hand, and do not contradict each other.

Humor

Eating While Laying Down

Background Info/Context:

As a child, I liked to eat snacks or meals while laying down, whether it be my parents’ bed or on the floor in front of the TV. My dad used to scold me, saying that it was bad for my digestion, but I never felt sick or nauseous. I had seen him do it a lot, so why would it be bad if I did it too? So he told me this Korean saying to try to prevent me from further eating while laying down.

 

 

Piece:

누어서 밥먹으면 소된다

 

Transcription:

Noo uh suh bap mug uhmyun soh doen dah.

 

Transliteration:

Lay down while eating cow become.

 

Translation:

“If you eat while laying down you’re gonna turn into a cow!”

 

 

Thoughts:

My dad probably said this to scare me into doing as he asked, and to prevent me from developing bad habits. Even though I never truly believed it, I did stop eating while laying down, just in case. I think this saying functions in a similar way to the belief of “If you eat the seeds of a watermelon, a watermelon will start growing inside you!” Although it’s not true, and there isn’t a real punishment for eating while laying down or eating watermelon seeds, they both seem to be things that people tell children to see if they are gullible or not.

 

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Protection
Proverbs

The Whiter the Bread, the Quicker You’re Dead — Health Proverb

Text

The following piece was collected from a young woman from Denver, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Before I went vegan, my dad would say to us whenever he thought we were being unhealthy. He would say we weren’t allowed to have white bread, only wheat.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: “He would say, ‘The whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead.’”

Collector: “Haha…that’s good. What do you think he meant?”

Informant: “Oh, obviously he was just trying to scare us into believing that if we ate unhealthily, we would die…haha… kind of mean but pretty effective, as far as I can remember.”

Context

            The Informant learned the piece from her father when she was a child. She believes its meaning is pretty clear – if you eat unhealthy food, like white bread, then you are more likely to reap the consequences. The Informant believes that it was simply a saying used to frighten children into eating more healthily. She has always remembered the saying because of its catchiness, but also because when she made the decision to become vegan, she also gave up white bread. She laughs now at the fact that her father can no longer remind her that if she eats white bread, she may die sooner.

Interpretation

            I believe this saying to be very interesting but not uncommon within a parent-child relationship. It is easy to understand the many ways parents try to persuade their children to act correctly and do the right thing. This is just one of the many examples of that form of parenting. “White the bread, the quicker you’re dead” is reminiscent of the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. In both cases, these sayings serve as a warning to a child – to be healthy and safe. But looking deeper, the saying can serve as a reminder that you reap what you sow – if you do something that will negatively affect you, there is no one to blame but yourself.

Customs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
general
Protection
Signs

Rubor, Dolor, and Calor — Signs of Infection

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: My mother had a very specific way of checking her children for infections. She would always say to us: Rubor, dolor, and calor. Signs of inflammation.”

Collector: “What do they mean?”

Informant: “They translate to mean redness, pain, and heat. Basically you would check a cut or some injury to see if it was was, if it was giving off heat, and if it was tender. If it did, you would know it was infected.”

Context

            The Informant learned this phrase from her Irish mother, she claims it is just something her mother always said to the children. The Informant believes it to be a simple procedure of people to check for infection and inflammation for people who are not well equipped to handle any ailments. She remembers it because of the frequency of which her mother would mutter it when looking over the Informant’s injuries when she was young.

Interpretation

I loved this new piece. I had never heard of this before, but I was familiar enough with the signs of infection. I was intrigued so I looked up the origin of the phrase. The original definition of inflammation, set forward by Roman encyclopedist Celus in the 1st century A.D. The original definition also included the fourth sign, tumor, meaning swelling. I found it interesting that even though the signs are taken as canon for inflammation, when they are repeated, they are still said in their original Latin. Keeping the phrase in Latin might preserve its credibility in the eyes of some, everything sounds more official when said in Latin.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech

Folk Medicine — Face is red, raise the head

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My father was a doctor, he was always bring home doctorly advice for us kids.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: (laughing) “I remember, probably his most common medical phrase, a simple solution to seemingly every ailment, went like this: ‘Face is red, raise the head. Face is pale, raise the tail.’”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Just what it sounds like. If you’re face is red, stand up so some of the blood leaves your head. If your face is pale, you need more blood to flow to it, so you raise the bottom half of your body. But sometimes, he’d say it when no one was sick. Sometimes, I think he meant it in a whole other way completely.”

Collector: “What other way did he mean it?”

Informant: “He never said, but I always thought he meant that sometimes there was an easy…a simple solution to something. Like I was overthinking something, and he would tell me to ‘raise the head’ and I would go with my gut. The easiest solution.”

Context

The Informant learned this saying from his father, an orthopedic surgeon. He informed me that his father was constantly weaving his career into his everyday life, and one of his most common ways of doing this was by informing his children of his many medical insights. The Informant remembers this phrase, tells it to his own children, for its simple effectiveness and its complete ability to be applied to countless scenarios.

Interpretation

I agree with my Informant: the simple solution within the phrase is an easy way to fix a small ailment. Similarly, I really enjoy the thought that it can be applied to other situations, ones that do not involve a physical ailment. Meaning behind simple phrases or sayings always seems to me to reveal so much more.

Childhood
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Planting a Tree: Russian Birth Tradition

“After a child is born, both the parents and the grandparents on both sides, specifically the men in each relationship, plant a tree on the day of the birth. They do this mainly to promote the growth and strength of the child, but they also name the tree in accordance to the characteristics they want the child to grow up with and adopt. As the tree grows, it marks the health and growth of the child as well.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. Her account of this familial tradition was a sort of after thought as it was not something that she had experienced first-hand, but rather through casual conversation with a local Russian. Along with the usual plans that go along with child birth, various family members prepare young trees that are ready to plant well in advance, acting as a sort of exciting avenue in which one can channel their impatient anticipation. The type of tree may also vary, depending on what the family wants to impart on their child. For instance, one may plant a lemon tree if they wish to impart a bright disposition on their child.

Trees are a widespread symbol of new life and growth, so it seems fitting to associate arboreal traits with newborn children. The roots of the tree are planted as life is just beginning, and the fact that family members are the ones who ground these roots also symbolizes the safety and reliance that one can find in familial relationships. Tree trunks are weak and willowy during their first years, as children are, yet they are expected to grow to bear the weight of the various limbs and leaves that are to eventually grow. They grow in strength, and their health is measured by their sturdiness. Much like the growth of the trunk, children are expected to grow and develop their own health and sturdiness to bear the weight of life’s various whims and tribulations. Both the tree and the child are able to reach towards the sun, a brighter tomorrow that promises vitality and health, and their eventual ascension upwards signifies a greater purpose.

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Eternal Youth Face Mask

Context

I was interested in finding an example of a folk remedy or natural beauty regimen that had been taught to my mother from someone else in her family. While she could not think of any folk medicine examples, she did find a copy of her mother’s face mask recipe, which she read aloud.

Main Piece

Okay, this is the Silver Eternal Youth Mask, “Silver” meaning — that was her maiden name, and um… Grandma, and um, what she did was, she used to make this mask and put it on her face so she would look younger, and it was something that was passed on through her family — she learned it from her mom. When she turned 40, she decided that she was gonna create a business called 40 Plus, it was a line of products, and, so, this was one of the products that she was gonna try to sell. And so she tried it out on me, but it turned my face beet read. Anyway, so I’m gonna just read you the recipe:

Silver Eternal Youth Mask

3 egg whites, beaten until frothy.

One tablespoon honey.

  1. Mix together. 
  2. Place mixture all over face and neck. Feel how the mask tightens face and neck.
  3. Lie down with feet elevated. Place moistened cool cotton balls over eyes.
  4. Rest for 15 minutes. Think sweet thoughts.
  5. Remove mask with whole milk.

Notes

This piece gives insight into 20th century beauty standards (particularly the fact that it was passed from mother to daughter) and the association of beauty with “eternal youth.” I also was intrigued that my grandmother had planned on selling this product. As we have learned in class, many supposed Western medicine innovations are adaptations of indigenous methods; essentially, commodified and mass-marketed versions of things for which no one person can truly take credit. It would be interesting to know if commercial beauty products have similar folk origins.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Eucalyptus Oil

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as DD. I am marked as DG.

 

DD: Um my-the basic, the default remedy that my grandmother would go for is…a bottle of eucalyptus oil. And um whenever I was sick, no matter what the ailment was, she would, you know, tell me to rub it on myself. So if um if I had a headache, put a drop on like my temples or if I had a stuffy nose, put some right below my nose, if I had a stomachache rub some on my stomach, um something that-it’s crazy, my dad’s a dentist and he’s generally a skeptic of a lot of these you know, Vietnamese old wives’ tales, but this is one that he still swears by, and I think there is some method to the madness. I think um the eucalyptus oil is kinda like menthol it’s kinda warming it’s basically a natural icy hot, so I guess it does have a very you know the same like icy hot like warming cooling effect. So I think that’s why it like works for a variety of different effects.

 

DG: So you heard this from your grandmother?

 

DD: Um it’s something that like pretty much all of my family members know. Um my grandmother and my mother are the ones most likely I guess to take care of me when im sick, so um that’s where it came from I guess. And my dad, who’s a doctor because he’s a dentist, he still swears by it. Like it’s to the point where I even brought a bottle with me to college, like after a particularly grueling dance practice Ill rub it on my calves if they’re sore, or if I have a stuffy nose I’ll use some.

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting in a classroom during an assigned period to discuss folklore. However, the context for the homeopathic medicine to be used would be whenever the interviewee was feeling ill, whether it be a cold, or a sore muscle.

 

Background:

 

The student was born and raised in Northern California. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. Although she was born in Northern California, her entire family is from Vietnam, and she is one of the first generation to be born in the United States.

 

Analysis:

 

This homeopathic cure is one that seems to hold a lot of weight, as it has a similar feeling to Tiger Balm or Icy Hot, and also is one of the ingredients used in both ointments. It is used incredibly commonly. It reminds me of the use of aloe vera, where both are natural ingredients from plants, used as a soothing cure. I also found it interesting that the interviewees medically trained father believed in eucalyptus oil as a cure, despite neither of them being entirely sure of its proven qualities. I think this shows the power of hearing these cures from above generations, and also points towards it working, as they would not continue to believe in it if it did not work.

 

For another version of this riddle, see Eucalyptus Essential Oil: Uses, Studies, Benefits, Applications % Recipes (Wellness Research Series Book 6) by Ann Sullivan (2015).

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Eating fruit before bed

My friend Justine is Chinese-American, and her parents are doctors who practice holistic Eastern medicine. She shared the following folk belief with me:

“I guess like, it’s a tradition to always eat fruit before going to bed, like you have to eat fruit before you go to bed cause that’s like, it’s better for your body and like it’ll help your immune system too. But I wonder if that’s actually helping, or if it’s more like a- it’s just something that a lot of people do. And I find that that’s like, [a common belief] across all Asian, especially Eastern Asian people.”

Like many folk beliefs and practices in East Asian medicine, this one is not necessarily based in empirical scientific proof, but this does not mean there is no truth to it. Remedies and folk beliefs formerly dismissed as “superstitious” have often been tested and proven effective by the medical/scientific institution, and subsequently incorporated into Western medicine. This belief reflects a general practice in Eastern medicine of focusing on overall bodily wellness rather than quick cures for acute illness.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Salud, Dinero, Amor!

Folklore Piece

“So I went to a Spanish immersion elementary school; everything was taught to us in Spanish except for English. Um, and so, when anyone would sneeze, as kids usually do, there’s this  Spanish saying that correlates sneezing with health. I guess, you could say. So if you sneeze once, you say ‘Salud’, if you sneeze twice you say ‘Dinero’, if you sneeze three times, ‘Amor’. So you’re wishing someone health, money, and love after each time that they sneeze.”

 

Background information

“I don’t know why I did it. I guess I was sort of caught up in it. I mean, if you’re a little kid and someone’s screaming at you in Spanish, but it’s a happy scream, you’re like ‘Yeah! I’m a happy screamer too!’ But like everyone’s just happy yelling at each other. Which I think is a lot of the Spanish language. I learned that when I was really young, I mean I started Spanish when I was in kindergarten.”

 

Context

“I don’t really say it anymore, but yeah, in general, people say it any time you sneeze, like saying ‘bless you’. But I guess it doesn’t really change in English. But I think it’s the same idea.”

 

Analysis

I learned about this in my Spanish class in high school as well. Much like the term ‘Bless you!’ many of the native Spanish speakers I know weren’t sure why they say it. Generally, it’s to wish someone good luck: health, money, and love.

My family does something similar where we change our “bless you’s” each time. The first one, it’s just a mild “Bless you.” The second, a bit louder, “Bless you!”, and the third “Take a sick day!” Each and every time.

These sneezing rituals are not uncommon; as we talked about in class it used to be believed that when someone sneezed, a bit of their soul left their body, hence the phrase “Bless you!” This general sentiment of wishing someone good fortune when something bad has happened to them could be the reason for the extension to this Spanish saying that the informant is talking about.

Interesting, too, is the informants reaction to being asked about its origins. She had no idea, didn’t claim to have any idea, and removed herself from the culture entirely. Even though she attended a Spanish immersion school, spoke in Spanish for a large portion of her life, and learned and celebrated an immense amount of Spanish culture, she still speaks of it as if it were entirely removed from herself.

This deals a lot with our class discussions about cultural identity and heritage. I think the informant might feel that, because her heritage isn’t of Spanish origin, she doesn’t claim ownership over the Spanish culture. There’s no right or wrong answer to this dilemma, only that the informant acts in the way that she feels most comfortable, which evidently is not identifying herself with the language or culture.

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