Tag Archives: luck

Penny for a Clock

Piece
“You cannot give time”
Context
In Chinese culture, you cannot give someone a clock, watch, or any other time-keeping device as it is seen as giving the person time or highlighting how much time they have left on earth. It is especially insulting if given to someone older than you. So instead of giving someone a clock or other time-keeping device, you sell it to them. The person you are “gifting” the clock to will then give you a penny (or the lowest form of currency of that region) so that they are instead purchasing it from you.
My Thoughts
Death is terrifying for most people and thus their culture will reflect that fear of the uncertainty. This practice shows the desire to ignore the passing time, or at least not acknowledge that there time may be coming to close. It also showcases a level of respect shown to ones elders in Asian culture that is not seen in American culture.
Scholar Annamma Joy writes about this in Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties where on page 250, she reports on a field study where a participant said, “I did buy a clock for a friend, but in Chinese culture clocks are never given as gifts because they are associated with death. But before I gave the gift, I asked her for a small amount of money, so that it appeared as if she had bought it for herself.”
Joy, Annamma. “Gift Giving in Hong Kong and the Continuum of Social Ties.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 28, no. 2, 2001, pp. 239–256. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/322900. Accessed 1 May 2020.

Waving/Beckoning Cat

R: Well, we gave him a cat for luck.
C: Why? And why is it waving
R: I’ve actually heard two stories for that. One, was a long time ago, there was an emperor who was a good man. He would always greet everyone he saw as he went about his walks. One day, he saw a cat waving at him and so he stopped to wave back. Then, right in front of him, whoooosh, a horse galloped by and would have hit him!
The other one I’ve heard is that the cat is actually beckoning you. So there was an emperor who was sitting under a tree and enjoying his day when he saw a cat beckoning him to come. So he did and then right after he was out from under the tree, lightning struck it and would have killed him had he not gone to the cat.
So now when someone is starting a new business, you give them a waving cat.
Context
The informant gave their brother-in-law a waving cat when he opened a new business and shared that story to those present when prompted to by his children. To the informant, it was a way of honoring their brother-in-law’s culture and sharing stories (the informant enjoys storytelling) that they had heard from their parents when growing up.
My Thoughts
I have heard several versions of this story besides the two shared here and have seen many different waving cats in Japanese stores. This shows the cultural desire to be able to influence things such as luck and to honor the things and people that bring good fortune: a good turn for a good turn. In another version of the story [see link below] the samurai is the one saved by the cat and he then goes on to give much wealth to the temple that the cat belonged to and honor the cat upon its death.
https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/maneki-neko-temple-tokyo/index.html

Lifting Your Legs Over Train Tracks for Good Luck

Context: The informant and I were driving in the car when we passed over train tracks and she told me the piece. The piece was collected in its natural performance setting.

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the piece as a child from her parents who would say it when passing over train tracks.  

Piece:

“Lift your legs for good luck!” 

Analysis: I grew up hearing this piece from my mom every time we drove over train tracks. Neither one of us knows why it is good luck, but I believe it is an exercise in controlling something tangible to control the intangible. Train tracks can be dangerous places. By lifting our legs, perhaps we are attempting to subvert this danger. Some variants of this practice involve lifting one’s legs in order to prevent them from being chopped off by the train tracks while other variants threaten that if one does not lift their legs, they will die young.

For another variant of this practice visit:

Edelen, John. “Lifting Feet Over Train Tracks.” USC Digital Folklore Archives. University of Southern California, May 13, 2019. http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=47643.

Saying “Merde” Instead of “Break A Leg” for Ballet

Main Piece:

Saying “Merde” to ballet dancers in place of “Good luck” or “Break a leg”

Background:

This saying was told to me by my informant who has participated in various dance groups for close to 13 years. She is most formally trained in ballet through a local performing arts center known as KCYA. She learned this saying growing up through this system and hearing it said by those with more experience as well as through her mother who used to perform ballet as well. The idea is that traditionally, ballet dancers would perform in large operas visited by upper class individuals and nobility. Due to their primary method of transport being horse-drawn carriage, the ideal situation was to see a lot of horse droppings outside as it meant a lot of people were coming to see the performance and merde means shit in French, where a lot of ballet originated. While obviously this does not apply now, it stuck around as a method of saying good luck for ballet specifically.

Context:

Having known my informant for several years, I knew of the phrase but did not know the context or the literal translation for several years until she told me after a performance. I asked her to tell me even more during a recent phone call conversation which is how I got most of my information above.

Thoughts:

I feel this piece examplarizes the use of folklore as a means of determining who is in or outside of a community. While ballet could be as easily grouped in with other performing arts, those within the community use this a way of identifying themselves as unique. This identity is also supported by the phrase’s history with ballet as it goes as far back as the perceived glory days of ballet where it was performed for nobility. In this regard, saying merde to other dancers is a method of keeping the tradition of ballet alive. Finally, my informant believes that the use of this phrase over the traditional “break a leg” is also in part a result of avoiding any superstition concerning any bodily harm coming to the dancer. Ballet dancers must endure severe physical exercise to perform their dances and while “break a leg” does not mean to literally break a leg, the superstition is that by even saying that it might cause one to suffer an injury and be unable to dance ballet again. In this regard, the phrase also shows the elitism sometimes displayed with ballet wherein they require those with the most skill and physical ability to be able to perform.

A Filipino Proverb

Original Text: Kung hindi ukol hindi bubukol.

Transliteration: If it is not then it won’t lump.

Full translation: If you weren’t meant to have something then you won’t have it

This proverb is used to pacify others. If someone got out of a relationship and were to be mad, they would say this to justify that it was not meant to be. The saying comes from the word bukol which is a lump of the head normally from a hit. So if someone were to hit their head and get a lump, then it was meant to be but if they hit their head and didn’t get a lump, then that bukol wasn’t meant to be.

Context: The informant lived the majority of her life in the Philippines. She then immigrated to the United States when she was 24. She learned about this saying from her family and classmates.

Thoughts: I personally find the relationship between the translation and the meaning behind the proverb to be obscure yet funny. It establishes the values of superstition and luck while being used as a way to make peace.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

Context: The informant is my aunt and will be referred to as L.I. She is originally from Hawaii and is of Filipino descent. She grew up in Hawaii, which is where she learned of this myth, but she now lives in San Diego with her husband (my uncle) and their two children.

Main Text: L.I: “The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is called Honu in Hawaiian and it’s a symbol of good luck. The Honu represents the link between man, the land, and the sea. It is believed that the green sea turtle is a form taken by the guardian spirit that Hawaiians refer to as Amakua. So if you see people taking photos with green sea turtles, its because they believe it will bring them good luck.”

MM: “And you aren’t allowed to touch them right?”

L.I.: “No you’re not, but there are always so many people that want to touch them because they are such big, relaxed creatures. People think that since they have a shell it is impossible to harm them.”

Analysis: The Hawaiian people are very in tune with nature and treat nature with great respect. It is now illegal to touch, collect, or harm green sea turtles because they are endangered and tourist populations in Hawaii disrupt them. After researching, it seems that Amakua can manifest in the form of several different types of animals as well, like sharks and owls.

Superstition -punching bread before it bakes

Context: My informant (M) told me growing up she had to punch the bread her mother made or else it wouldn’t be good bread, or they would have bad luck-she wasn’t sure which, maybe both. Now, as an adult, she never makes bread alone because she needs someone to punch it before it bakes. 

Main Text: M: When you make bread you have to let it rise twice, once right after you mix it and then right before it bakes after you shape it. In between the first and second rise, you knead the bread, and someone else has to punch the bread, or else it won’t be good. But it has to be someone else, not the person who is making the bread. 

Analysis: I had never heard of this superstition before she told me about it. It seems to me like someone has to give your bread their blessing and approval before. However, this could have started as a way for a mother to entertain her child by letting her punch bread, and it turned into a tradition and then a superstition. 

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

Context:
AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
—————————————————————————————————————–

Performance:

M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.
—————————————————————————————————————–

Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.
—————————————————————————————————————–

Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

Driving on Eggshells

Context: Following a conversation I was having with my father about warding off the evil eye, I asked him about another ritual we often performed – specifically, whenever one of our family members got a new car. 

 

Background: Persian culture often uses different foods, herbs, or spices as symbols. The egg often represents fertility, rebirth, or something new. In this case, the egg is used to celebrate the new while simultaneously keeping away the evil eye for that new endeavor. This ritual is a different way of warding off the evil eye, practiced in instances of large purchases.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious and sensitive when they talk about anything very good happening or having something expensive. They are nervous about other people judging them or cursing them. So any time one of you gets a new car, I take out the eggs and I start drawing the circles. The circles are supposed to represent an eye, or the evil eye I guess. I think in my head to myself of anybody I can think of off the top of my head that would look at us with a negative energy because of our purchase. I draw as many as I can in place of those people, and say their names while I draw the circles and say a prayer that the new car won’t bring a bad fortune. After I finish drawings, I put the eggs in a paper bag and I usually have you drive to a different street from our house, put the eggs in front of the wheels of the car, and tell you guys to drive over it. It sounds a little silly. But the idea is that you shatter any possible evil eyes that would come your way for getting this car. It’s for precaution, just to ensure protection and good luck.”

 

Analysis: The notion of the evil eye is particularly sensitive for the Persian community. Persians have a number of different rituals that they perform to ward it off depending on the circumstance and situation. This one in particular ties to significant purchases. Some others are burning sage, hanging an evil eye charm in the vehicle, or keeping prayer books within the car.