USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘love’

A Romantic Knock Knock Joke

My informant here recounts a knock knock joke which was spontaneously told to her by an adolescent:

So I was babysitting this kid, and he started telling me this knock knock joke: he was like “knock knock” and I was like “who’s there?” and he was like “window!” and I was like “window who?” and he was like “window to your heart,” and I was like “wow kid that’s really deep.”

Although my informant said she felt as much amusement as genuine gratitude in return for this knock knock joke, she mentioned how “awesome” it was since it had come from a child. Indeed, the propensity of the cheesiest lines to touch us when recited by children can only be due to their pure child-like honesty. In fact, It was this selfsame pure benevolence, which comes through this knock knock joke, and so touched my informant.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Custom Henna

In Indian weddings in general, Henna is very very important. And it is said that the darker it is, the more your husband loves you.
This belief, while known to be a mere superstition, is still venerated and guarded as paramount to the success of a marriage. So much so, that there are articles and tips in Indian wedding magazines and blogs as to how to obtain a darker stained Mehndi. Some brides, Mayuri mentioned, go so far as to bleach the skin around their upper and nether limbs in order to have the henna stand out more from their skin and appear darker.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorority and Fraternity Pinning

My informant shared with me how her sorority celebrates one of its members getting pinned by her senior boyfriend in a fraternity. First, the fraternity shares with the president of the sorority that a member of their fraternity is intended to pin a sister in the house. When a date for the pinning is set, the sorority informs the house that a sister is getting pinned, but the girls do not get to know who. Any girl in the sorority who has a senior boyfriend is asked to come to the ceremony wearing a red dress and to send the president the names of her two closest friends in the sorority. Then, on the day of the pinning, all members of the sorority are required to wear black dresses except for the girls who are eligible to be pinned. These girls will be in red. The girls in black gather in the sorority house with the lights dimmed and stand in a huge circle. A ritual song is sung while the girls in red join the circle and stand in-between their two closest friends. A candle is passed to the right, starting from the ritual chairwoman, around to every girl in the circle once. On its second time around, after it passes the girl wearing red who is getting pinned, her best friend standing to her right will make to pass it to the next girl, but then actually pass it back to the sister getting pinned. The two closest friends then blow the candle out together. That signifies that it’s that girl, and this is when she first finds out she is getting pinned. After the candle is passed around, all the sisters line up outside of the house where the fraternity and the sister’s boyfriend are waiting. The boyfriend and his best friend as well as the girlfriend and her two closest friends stay standing on the porch so everyone can see them. The sorority president introduces everyone and officially announces that the sister is getting pinned. All of the close friends give toasts to congratulate the couple and the boyfriend talks about his relationship with his girlfriend. Then the fraternity presents him with his pin and he pins it on his girlfriend.


These ceremonies are very fun and exciting for both the fraternity and the sorority as pinning is comparable to a pre-engagement promise. The fraternity brother is giving up his active pin and is essentially reduced to pledge status within the house. It’s a little bit old fashioned, but the girls appreciate this public acknowledgement of their relationship. My informant was just involved in a pinning ceremony at her sorority at the University of Southern California, as her best friend was recently pinned.

Folk Beliefs

Why the Roussillon rocks are red

Informant: “This Lord and Lady  lived in the castle in Roussillon, which is like this canyon area in France, right? There was this pageboy that came to hang out at the castle and stuff. The Lord was away a lot and didn’t like to spend time at home. So the pageboy and the Lady spent time together and like, fell in love and started to have an affair. The servants started to notice and a jealous maid reported the incident to the Lord. One day, the pageboy sang a song of his love for the Lady, and hearing the truth, the Lord was so mad he decided to take revenge. He took the pageboy hunting, and when the pageboy wasn’t looking, he stabbed him in the back and cut out his heart. Then he went back to the castle with the heart and had his cook prepare it with a spicy sauce. The Lady thought the dish was delicious, until her husband informed her that she had just eaten the heart of her lover. She said, “You have given me such a good meal, that I never want to taste anything else again”. Then she  fled out of the castle to the edge of the cliff, and jumped off the cliff. Her blood spilled over the land and turned it red, and that is why the Roussillon rocks are red.”

My informant first heard this story from a tour guide when he was visiting Roussillon.

Analysis: According to my research, this is the story of Raymond d’Avignon and Lady Sermonde. It is interesting because while this is story is called a legend, it has the quality of a myth because it tells a story of how the earth came to be, and why the rocks are red.

The Roussillon cliffs are a unique shade of rust-red, therefore it makes sense that someone came up with a story to explain why they were the color they are. This is due to the “ochre” color in the clay of the sand, which is a rose-pigment that is often used in the coloring of textiles.

This story does not appear to be very well known, and is only present in tour-guide websites across the Internet. The story has an almost Shakesperean quality to it. The love, lust and tragedy might be due to the fact that France is known for being the romance capital of the world.


Gatsby’s Facebook Chat Joke

My informant told me this joke as a piece of humor relating to current events. It references both a Movie (Great Gatsby) which comes out this (May) month, as well as Facebook chat, a  currently utilized electronic media.

Informant: (as a prologue) You know Gatsby right?

Me: Yeah

Informant: All right, well you know that sexual tension you get when you and your crush are “online” on Facebook at the same time, and you just stare at the green light chat button?  Suddenly you realize that you know what Gatsby felt like.

This joke relates Fitzgerald’s classic Great Gatsby, by way of its new movie, to generational issues of correspondence. Just as Gatsby looks out longingly at the green lighthouse light which represents his beloved Daisy, so does this joke suggests those of us with Facebook accounts have a similar experience when looking at the green chat buttons with which we  can start conversations with others. Perhaps most appropriately in light of its digital themes, my informant first heard this joke on the internet.



Street of the Kiss

So, in Guanajuato, Mexico there’s a place called Calle de los Besos. Um, and it’s just translated to Street of the Kiss, where this couple lived on opposite ends of the sleep. The woman lived with her family, and the man was a traveler. And every night they would talk and then kiss good-night, and then one night the woman’s father came home from work late and saw that they kissed, and he was furious and he said :If you ever kiss him again, I’m gonna make sure he’s dead and he just freaked out, and so she promised to never kiss him again, And then some weeks passed and she didn’t keep her promise, and then again one night the dad came home late and saw that they had kissed and so he goes up to the guy’s room and kills him, and she freaks out, and she’s really depressed. And then she kills herself. And then now today whenever you cross that street, visitors or anybody, you kiss each other on the 7th step, because there’s like steps on the street. On the seventh step you kiss your significant other, otherwise it’s like 7 years of bad luck for you. But if you’re single nothing happens to you.

This legend tells the story of the town, and tells how the custom of kissing when crossing this certian street came to be. The story also tells us about the culture of the town. For instance, one might infer from the story that it comes from a culture where fathers have a lot of control over their daughter’s love lives, and the father’s extreme reaction, while drastically over the top, is considered within the realm of possibility. It also tells us that the town culture may identify as romantic and passionate.


Queretaro’s Aqueduct of Love

In Queretaro, Mexico there’s basically a bridge with arches that runs from one side of the city to the other. And the story is that they used to be two separate cities at the end of both bridges, and on one side of the bridge lived a nun in a monastery, and on the other side of the bridge lived this really rich man and the really rich man lived, oh the really rich man fell in love with the nun, and the whole reason there is a bridge is that it’s basically an irrigation system, because the nun had to get water from the other city because that’s the only way she could because there was no water in her own city, and so, um, the rich man built this bridge that is an irrigation system that brings water from his city to her city. And that’s basically the story. That’s the story of why the bridge is there. It’s like famous. It’s in Mexico.

This is a really romantic legend that attempts to explain the history of the town’s bridge-aqueducts. The bridge is very long, very beautiful, and fairly unusual. Regardless of whether the tale is true or false, it is a lovely explanation for the construction, and reveals some information about the city’s culture and values. We see that the city likely values religious commitment (the nun does not break her vows), but people of Queretaro also seem to feel the love of a man for a woman (perhaps particularly an unattainable one) can inspire great and beautiful actions, like the construction of the aqueduct bridge. The extremeley romantic explanation for the bridge also clearly suggests the city’s prioritization of romance and beauty.

folk metaphor

Pico y Pala

Ok, so we have another saying in Spanish that is, when you’re trying to, like, go out with a girl—or a guy, it doesn’t matter—and that girl doesn’t wanna go out with you, the thing that we do is called “pico y pala” which refers to pickaxe and shovel, and it just means that you have to, like, break down the rock before you move it. That’s basically what the saying says.



This saying basically says that dating someone you like may not always come so easily—you may have to “break down the rock” or work hard to crack the proverbial shell to win the heart of a particular woman or man of interest (especially if she/he plays hard to get, you will have to toil to get what you want). Sergio had to break down the rock a lot when he was younger, as many girls were either very shy or pretended like they didn’t like him.


Sergio says he learned this phrase at a very young age from his father—perhaps around eleven or twelve years old—which shows a big difference between American and European culture when it comes to dating and sex. Most American parents shelter their children from sexual/dating related content as it is considered more adult.


I have never heard of an American equivalent to “pico y pala” but I have heard about women playing hard to get and having to work to win her heart. My parents never spoke to me about such things when I was eleven or twelve. I learned most things about dating and sex on my own or from friends.

Folk Beliefs

“When you tie the paper wrapping of a straw into a knot, if the knot breaks, nothing happens, but if you end up with an intact knot, it means someone is thinking of you.”

The informant first heard this in the seventh grade while out with her classmates at the local In-and-Out.  This occurrence normally happens at fast food restaurants, simply because these are the places that typically dispense paper covered straws.  Usually only the boys and girls who have a secret or not-so-secret crush that they are thinking about.  When unwrapping the straw, the paper is kept and a single knot is tied. The informant was told to tug firmly but not too strongly to secure the knot.  With the final tug, if the knot remains, then it means that your crush is thinking about you at that very moment.  If the knot comes undone with the final tug, it means that you crush more than likely doesn’t return your special feelings.  The informant just thinks of this as another way that teens take up their time thinking about their crushes and trying to figure out whether or not they return their feelings because they are too afraid to ask themselves.  However, she still plays along and performs the simple knot, just to see if someone is “thinking about her” because it is fun and amusing to ponder who actually might be thinking of you at the moment.

I believe that this is a cute way of joking around with one’s friends.  When a group of friends knows that one among them has a secret crush, it is simple and easy to tease the person.  If the wrapper ends in a knot, the group can easily tease the person about their secret crush, and often times among middle schoolers, the group can produce a blush in the person’s cheeks.  Although this may seem like a cruel form of school teasing, it is merely a humorous attempt at lightening the situation and helping the person have not take his or her crush too seriously, in case of future heartbreak.  I think the knot symbolizes the “knot” tied in marriage between a groom and bride, signaling a promise made between two people. This might be where the image of the paper knot came to represent feelings of love and crushes came from.


German Folksong: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door

Link to audio recording of song: Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Horch, was Kammt von Draussen Rein/ Hark Who’s Rapping at my Door:

Informant’s Explanation: “It’s very simply a story of someone’s in love with someone, he or she marries someone else, and he or she dies young, and on the grave, they plant forget-me-nots. It’s very simple, you know, in strophic form. It’s very easy, anyone can sing it, you don’t need to have any singing education or musical talent.”

Analysis: Interestingly, the song combines a weighty theme with a lively, upbeat melody. The music does not quite seem to match the story—from the notes alone, you could never guess at the speaker’s misery. According to my informant, almost all German folksongs are in major keys; so, apart from this tradition of writing cheerful folksongs, it is difficult to explain why such a disconnect would exist between the words and the melody. Perhaps, the lyrics and music were written by different people with different visions for this song.

Multiple versions of the song can be found online, including at the following links: