USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘marriage’
Customs
general
Material

Future Son-in-law and Poached Eggs

Context: The collector asked the informant (as MD) for some Shanghainese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector.

 

MD: You know, when a couple in relationship want to make sure parents from each side agree with their marriage, they will visit the woman’s mother. When it is the first visit for the man, he should bring gifts, such as liquor or cakes or whatever, while the future mother-in-law is supposed to serve him a bowl of 水潽蛋 (Shanghainese in IPA: /sɻ̩ pú de/  Chinese Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ pū dàn/  Literally: water boiled egg, specifically poached egg in Shanghainese), 水煮蛋 (Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ zhǔ dàn/, literally: water boiled egg). The kind of water boiled egg that you break the shell first and then boil it. (The informant was emphasizing the difference between hard boiled eggs and poached eggs)

Collector: Yes, I got it. But why?

MD: I have no idea. It’s just a custom! If the woman’s mother does serve the man a poached egg, that means she recognizes the man as her future son-in-law.

Collector: Is there anything special with poached eggs? Aren’t they just daily matters?

MD: Well you know, life in the past wasn’t like now. Eggs weren’t something you could afford every day!

Collector: But you told me your family had hens when you were young… Okay, okay, I got it. Did Grandma serve Dad poached eggs when he first went to visit?

MD: She did.

Collector: Did she just give him the egg or she told him what that meant? Dad mustn’t know the custom. (The collector’s father is not from Shanghai)

MD: Well, she just served him the egg. Your dad is an outlander. He didn’t know.

Collector: Then did you tell dad what the egg meant?

MD: Yeah after the visit.

Collector: But wasn’t that meaningless for Grandma to do so? Because Dad couldn’t know what she implied.

MD: That doesn’t matter. It was the purpose and the feeling of the mother-in-law that mattered.

Collector: Alright. If CH (the collector’s elder sister) brings her boyfriend to you and you think he is a good man to marry, will you also serve him poached eggs?

MD: Yes, I will, if I like him.

Collector: Even if he is a foreigner?

MD: Yeah. That doesn’t matter.

 

Collector’s thought:

In the past, eggs were valuable food for ordinary people. Even if they had hens, they would probably rather sell eggs for money than consume eggs frequently. Thus, serving future son-in-law eggs is sharing something highly valued with that person, meaning that the man is viewed as a trustworthy husband and is welcomed as a new family member.

It is interesting that the informant values this custom and intends to actively carry it on even though she didn’t really know the background of the custom and in fact, the social context has already changed a lot, which to a certain extent reduces the special value of poached eggs and the meaning of the custom.

The custom might only be a practice in Shanghai, but it’s also possible that the custom is practiced in a larger region, for example, the Yangtze River region.

Adulthood
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Polish Wedding Joke

Main Piece

QJ: “Can it be a dirty joke?”

Collector: “Yes.”

QJ: “A lot of the jokes I grew up with are kind of dirty…most Polish ones are…I think one that my grandfather would say asks what is long and hard that a Polish bride gets on her wedding night?”

Collector: “What?”

QJ: “A new last name.”

Analysis

This joke seems to be fairly popular among Polish people, and I have heard it beyond my informant. In fact, I have heard it outside of the realm of Polish culture, and have seen different ethnic backgrounds attached to it. It seems that many prideful Slavic people make light of their often long and hard to pronounce last names through jokes like these. Given my informant’s background for the joke and explaining that he heard ones like these growing up, I would also assume that his culture and family have more of an openness to tell dirty jokes in front of younger audience. Generally, it would seem that older people have more of a relaxed ability to tell jokes that otherwise would not seem appropriate. This joke also implies a patriarchal society, where a woman would receive something from her husband in any interpretation of the joke, but no jokes suggest the woman giving the man anything.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Digital
Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Determining Marriages from the Chinese Zodiac Calendar

Context:

My informant is a 55 year old woman that immigrated from China to America in her early 30s. She is a mother, a registered nurse, and also a teacher in nursing school. This conversation took place in a hotel one evening, and the informant and I were alone. In this account, she explains the significance behind the Chinese Zodiac calendar in relation how marriages or compatible partners are determined. I asked for the story behind this folklore because I know the Chinese zodiac calendar holds a lot of importance to the informant, for she has discussed it a lot with me in the past. She told me that she doesn’t remember how exactly she learned all of this; rather, it’s so integrated into Chinese culture and talked about so often that it almost seems like common knowledge that everyone will learn one way or another. Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me (while still trying to stay true to her performance), because a direct transcription may not make as much sense on paper as it did in conversation (due to lack of intonation and the fact that you cannot see her facial expressions or hand motions in a transcription). In this conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as S.

 Text:

S: “In China, we have these zodiacs to, um, see what type of animal you are. For example, this year is the Year of the Pig, so everyone born this year will… have the Pig as their zodiac animal. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but, um, like, the Zodiac calendar lines up with the lunar year—everything we do and believe is connected to what point of the lunar year we’re at. So you can see why this zodiac calendar is so important. We even use it to, um, determine marriages. For example, if a person’s zodiac animal is a Chicken, they can’t marry someone who’s a Dog because chickens and dogs always fight in real life; symbolically, this means that these two, if they get married, will fight for the rest of their lives. Eventually, all of this fighting will break their marriage. Basically we turn to the zodiac calendar to look at, uhh, compatibility. Before Chinese people couples get married, they want to look at each others zodiacs and then look at this other thing called a ‘huang li,’ which determines which years and days they should get married.”

 

K: “Who else can’t get married?”

 

S: “I know that Pigs are considered perfect matches with Tigers, but, um, though I honestly can’t tell you why. I do know that Pigs, in Chinese culture, represent wealth, riches, and, like, will bring lots of happiness, so most people want to marry someone who’s zodiac animal is the year the Pig. People also want to get married the Year of the Pig, and especially want to have children the Year of the Pig.

 

Thoughts:

When I was a kid, my parents would always talk about our zodiac animals—my father is a sheep and my mother and I are rabbits. They would always talk about how their love was meant to be because, in the Chinese Zodiac calendar, sheeps and rabbits are considered perfect matches. Because it was so integrated into my childhood, I think I started to take on the characteristics and personality traits that were expected of a “Rabbit.”

After being told this folklore, I looked up what the expected traits of a Rabbit were, and the weaknesses include “timid” and “hesitant”—though I’ve grown out of it now, as I child, I rarely spoke to anyone because I was too nervous. Strengths of a Rabbit include being polite, generous, and responsible, which were all things that I was (and still am) known for among my family, friends, and peers. Because these traits of our Zodiac animals are so true to who we really are, it’s hard not to take these animals so seriously. As I’m getting older, the concept of marriage is becoming more and more relevant, so it’s natural that my Chinese parents, relatives, and the informant (who is also a Chinese relative) are starting to talk about my Zodiac in the context of marriage. Rabbits are apparently extremely compatible with most other Zodiac animals, according to my family, so perhaps that’s why they’re so confused as to why I’m not in a relationship yet/ thinking about marriage yet.

 

Adulthood
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thai pre-wedding custom

Main Piece:

Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.

Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.

Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.

Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.

Customs
general
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Naval Academy Wedding Tradition

Main Piece:

Informant: When a newly-married couple is walking out of the chapel for the first time they walk through two columns of Midshipmen holding their sabre’s up high. The lines are made up of members of the wedding party and officers in attendance. It’s four on each side of the two rows. The first two will lower their swords making like a gate. The married has to kiss in order for the each row to raise their swords and let them pass. When the couple gets to the last two Midshipmen with their swords lowered they kiss one more time. When they pass the last two one of the last two will slap the sword against the butt of the civilian spouse and say “Welcome to the Navy!”

 

Background: The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He first learned of this tradition through first-hand experience at the wedding of one of his closest friends at the academy. This interview was recorded over the phone. I asked the informant if he could recall any specific military traditions he has witnessed through informal mediums.

Context: The sabre is given to Midshipmen when they reach first class rank (the college equivalent of a senior). It is a point of pride amongst first class officers and is treated with the utmost care. The sabre arch is done right after the wedding ceremony finishes as the bride and groom leave the chapel. It is a highly-respected tradition and is always performed with punctuality.

Analysis: For most military members, the job can quickly become your life. Although the informant is a student, I have witnessed his transition into a full-fledged officer within the short span of four years. He holds the values and culture in the highest regard, much like his peers. In his words, “When you join the Navy you are making a lifelong commitment”. Well, some would also consider marriage to be a lifelong commitment. As I have experienced first-hand, the spouses of servicemen and women become an equal part of the military community they married into. As such, the tradition of the sabre arch is symbolic of that relationship. The spouse of the officer is committing to joining the military community around them. In return, through the sabre arch, the military community is grants the spouse acceptance. The cry, “Welcome to the Navy”, is confirmation of that acceptance.

Humor
Riddle

Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

“Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

Ziehst du den Ring ab, ist dein Haus weg!”

“What do a woman and a hand grenade have in common?

When you take the ring off, your house is gone!”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this joke from classmates who were mostly male.

Interpretation: This is perhaps meant to be cautionary toward young men. It is based on the stereotype that women use men for money, and could perhaps make men more cautious when choosing a wife so that they do not have to worry about “taking the ring off.” It uses humor to make women and marriage threatening, which is a common occurrence in American stand-up comedy. Furthermore, it subtly warns against divorce, which could suggest to the audience that an unhappy marriage is better than a divorce.

Folk speech

May You Grow Old Sleeping on One Pillow

Item (direct transcription):

May you grow old sleeping on one pillow.

Background Information:

The informant learned this blessing from his grandfather, who told it to him when he got married.

Contextual Information:

This blessing is meant to be given at a wedding. After the informant’s grandfather grew too old to attend weddings and eventually passed away, the informant took it upon himself to perpetuate the blessing by telling it at family members’ weddings.

Analysis:

This blessing has a simple, literal, and obvious meaning. Clearly, its power comes not from its unique insight or wit, but rather from its emotional connection to a beloved and deceased family member.

Customs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Wedding Custom

Background: Lauren was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Her parents are both Persian Jews, and Lauren considers herself Persian as well. She has lots of extended family in the area that she grew up in, so her family often has family events that she attends, including bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings.

Context: Lauren was telling me about a pre-wedding party that she recently attended for her first cousin. I called Lauren on the phone since she attends university in Florida and recorded our conversation. I have transcribed what she said over the phone below.

“So there’s two names for this wedding tradition. Goleh baleh* or shironim khanom**. Goleh means flower and baleh means yes. Shironim means sweet. It’s a party it’s one of the first parties that happens when a couple gets engaged. It’s thrown by the bride’s family. At this party there’s a table full of sweets, sterling silver, flowers and a crystal that’s called leelac. That chrystal is supposed to be very expensive. It’s basically bringing in the sweetness of course of a marriage and the combining of two families and it’s usually a very big party. It’s the first time the couple is there together. I learned this tradition from  my family because last April my cousin Natalie got exchanged and her parents threw a shironim khanom. I just remember the entire party there was just fresh pastries, crepes, flowers… people send hundreds of flowers. My aunt’s house, everywhere there was flowers it was just beautiful. Everywhere there were silver plates…just gorgeous. Since I’m so close to her I didn’t really get to enjoy the food because I was dancing the whole night. One thing that we do that I really love that we do at most of the parties is we get fresh flowers and there’s a song that is sung and during that song, during the chorus everyone throws the flowers up at the bride and the groom, and the bride and groom are supposed to kiss at that time. It was my first time really seeing all that happen and it was really pretty and magical. I don’t know the song of the song… I know the melody but I’m gonna botch the words. The flowers are normally light colored flowers, typically white roses. Always light colors, never a dark color. White or light pink. At my cousin’s shironim, there was some jewelry given to her like close family came early and jeweled her up I guess? She wore no jewelry at the beginning and before the party started each of the grandmas gave her a piece of jewelry and then her parent, and then the grooms side of the family. They put the jewelry on her and then she wears it for the party and the rest of the night. Usually it’s not during the party, it’s before, just for close family and friends because… I don’t know my dad doesn’t really like it, it’s not very humble. Usually it’s just close family and friends. She wears the jewelry for the rest of the night though. Jewelry is given to the bride and the groom, usually the parents of the bride and groom, the grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and if there’s even more jewelry then cousins, first cousins. No specific type of jewelry, usually just anything. Persians have this thing where you give married people emeralds, and older women will wear emeralds to the party if they are close to the bride. My mom wore emeralds to this party and the wedding, like emerald necklaces, earrings, rings. The groom’s mom wore emeralds. Something that has emeralds in it- once you’re married you’re given a lot of emeralds for some reason.”

 

*goleh baleh

How it’s pronounced: goh-leh bah-leh

**shironim khanom

How it’s pronounced: sheer-oo-neem khah-nohm

Customs
general
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Moroccan Wedding Tradition

Background: Leigh comes from a Moroccan Jewish family. Her experience with these pre-wedding traditions has predominantly been with her aunt and uncles’ weddings.

Context: I interviewed Leigh in person and recorded our conversation on my phone. Her comments below are what I transcribed out of our conversation. She described henna (pronounced “hee-nah”) parties in Israel before weddings.

“I’m not sure if this is Moroccan or Moroccan Jewish. In terms of the significance and all that I am the wrong person to ask. I always thought they were talking about tahini, which to those of you unfamiliar with it, its like sesame seed paste that is consumed by many in the middle east. I always thought that when I was going to my uncles wedding ceremonies, they were talking about “doing a tahini” which to me sounded like “doing a hummus” like making food, which I didn’t understand. It took me a while to understand that they meant henna. It actually makes sense now that I think about it, they come from the same kind of henna paste. But it’s referring to henna. It was interesting when I was little because I did not realize that my family owned all of these moroccan costumes, that was my first time really experiencing true Moroccan culture, because you would dress up the way that they would in Morocco. Mom would always dress me and my sister up in matching, elaborate, flashy costumes. They were pretty cool. For men there are tunics or kaftans and there’s a vest and a hat, called a tarboosh. Theirs are pretty boring to be honest, compared to the women’s costumes. They always looked like they were out of Arabian nights, either like a belly dancer look going on, or kind of like the coins, you know? They always had these really beautiful beaded costumes, I wouldn’t call them tunics I would say they were more like… it wasn’t a kaftan…the bride would always have something more open, which I think is a more modernized, Israeli-Moroccan take on the women’s costume. We didn’t have the most traditional ones I would say. We looked like genies. We looked like Christina Aguilera, “Genie in a Bottle” music video genies. I know my grandma still keeps them, she has a whole closet full of that stuff and the costumes. They’ll pull them out for random occasions, for Passover for example which is a pretty big deal in Moroccan Jewish heritage. Oh, and the henna itself, the tattoos that won’t leave your hand and smell horrible and stain everything. It’s kind of like…have you ever seen a horse take a shit? It looks like that and you rub it into your palm. I don’t remember much else about it because I was so concerned about getting out of the costume, I did not like being in the costume. It stains in a weird way, it’s not like a normal henna that you can get on the beach in Mexico these days. It’s more watery, it leaves a paler residue. I don’t know if it’s the exact same formula or anything like that. That’s all I got.”

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Lucky Number

My conversation with Suzie went as follows:

Me: “I don’t get when people say they have items or things that are lucky. I don’t feel like I have anything like that.”

Suzie: “What do you mean…you don’t have a lucky number or outfit or anything?”

Me: “Haha…no. I don’t think so….Do you?”

Suzie: “One HUNDRED percent. My number is 10:28. Every time I look at the clock it is 10:28 whether it’s am or pm. And I always notice because it’s the same number as my birthday…October 28th. So it’s my lucky number.”

Me: “When did you first start to notice that?”

Suzie: “I actually think I started noticing it when I met my husband because we’d always call each other or text each other at 10:28. He’d call and be like ‘Hi Suzie, its 10:28 so I thought of you…what are you up too?’ right when we started dating.”

 

Background: Suzie is a fifty-two year old mom currently living in Calabasas, CA. She has been married to her husband for 25 years and they have three kids together.

Context: I had this conversation with Suzie after a dinner at her house.

Analysis: The idea of something being “lucky” is so interesting to analyze because it is so unique to each individual. I don’t have anything in my life that sticks out as being “lucky” and neither do any of my immediate family members; we learn so many tendencies from our parents and siblings, so I think this has a lot to do with it. The only thing I could think of in this conversation with Suzie was that my favorite number as a kid was “2” and that was only because my brother’s jersey number was always 2 in the different sports he played. This furthers demonstrates the ideal in Suzie’s story that “lucky” or “favorite” things result from important moments or relationships in your life.

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