Tag Archives: money

Lucky Penny

Main Piece

AO: “Growing up, I was always told that finding a penny face up was good luck.”

Collector: “Do you still believe it?”

AO: “I’d like to think I do. I still get a smile on my face when I come across a penny on the ground.”

Collector: “Is there any bad luck associated with finding it with the tales facing you?”

AO: “I never though so…it’s more so that it is just regular, or doesn’t possess the same magic. It does not have any affect on you, negative or positive.”

Collector: “Do you know of any other coins being good luck?”

AO: “No, but I think finding money in general is a good sign of fortune coming your way. In the US at least, the penny is the only one that is really associated with the good luck motif, though.”


Finding money without an owner in public is clearly a fortunate encounter. Pennies, being the least valuable of American currency, have probably come to mean good luck because they are the most common, but also the hardest to spot. The face of the penny being Abraham Lincoln probably also plays a large part into why the coin is associated with this belief, with the president considered by many as the most influential and often considered a favorite.

The Fisherman and His Wife


Informant: So anyways, it’s something to the effect of, I don’t remember it very well but it was, it was part of a theater thing that we did and apparently it’s a very old story where, like a fisherman catches like some magic fish that, he and his wife were kind of down on their luck, and the fisherman catches a magic fish and the magic fish gives him a wish every time he catches it, but the fish doesn’t like being caught. So, he gets, he gets them like I don’t know, just kind of enough to feed themselves for like however long they want to be fed because they were kind of born destitute and like need it. And he gets it. And then his wife starts to ask for like, more and more and starts to live a more and more lavish lifestyle, so every day he goes back and catches the fish and wishes for some new thing and the, and eventually the fish just gets fed up with it and takes everything away. And it’s kind of, I don’t know if I would call it, yeah sad, I guess it’s a little bit sexist because it’s one of those like “women are gold diggers” or whatever. That’s basically what the message of it is, but I guess in a larger sense, in just relating to the audience members regardless of gender, it’s just “don’t ask for too much” and “don’t get, don’t get caught up in wanting more when you already have everything you need.”

Context: The informant learned this story from a theater group in New Jersey, where he was told that it was a theater story. It had been passed down from other actors. This story was recorded by the Brothers Grimm in 1809 (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Von dem Fischer un syner FruKinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 19.). That said, it likely has origins outside of the New Jersey theater community.

Analysis: I tend to agree with the second analysis given by the informant, with the sentiment of “don’t ask for too much.” While it is technically the wife’s desire to have more, that doesn’t mean that the husband isn’t also wanting the same things. At the same time, I also feel like the tale could show how hard work and persistence can lead to getting your goals (at least before they are taken away). Essentially, the idea is to know when one is successful enough to stop taking advantage of others to garner more success when it’s unnecessary. Overall, the idea of complacency and assuming that you can keep all good things is a theme of the tale that resonates with me, especially because of the emphasis on capitalist ideals in America.

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.

Purses do NOT belong on the ground! – A superstition

Main Text:

“It is never appropriate to put your purse on the ground because this will bring bad luck.”


DC told me this belief because when I asked her if she had any interesting folk beliefs that she has heard  she said that her mom passed this one along to her and it just stuck with her because she had hear it in other places before too (but she did not name said places). When I asked DC what she believes this folk belief means and why she thinks it has been passed along in her family and culture she responded, “I’ve never really questioned why I shouldn’t put it on the ground, maybe it is just so it doesn’t get dirty or so someone doesn’t steal it”. I also asked DC if she would tell this folk belief to someone else and why, and she responded that she probably would if she knew them well enough and felt comfortable doing so because she would not want to risk someone getting bad luck when it was onto a simple sentence that she had to say to them in order for them not to.


The idea behind the purse on the floor is that it means bad luck but I believe that more specifically this “bad luck” that is references has to do with financial encounters. I think that putting one’s purse down symbolically represents just leaving money laying around and having disregard towards wealth and because of this bad financial luck will be brought upon any person who leaves their purse on the ground. Another reasonable explanation for the “bad luck” part of this folk belief is that leaving your purse one the ground literally makes it available as easy access to thieves who can steal it in an instant, which is the bad luck.

Another saying that is very similar to this one that I have heard is ” A purse on the floor is money out the door” and I think that this saying segue into another reason that someone would say putting a purse on the floor is bad luck. This reason is that purses have fairly high re-sale values and according to what I have heard from my own family and read online it is possible to resell a purse back for more than half of their original value. This however is only true if it is kept in good condition, meaning not places in places that would cause turmoil to the bag or places that carry a lot of diseases, such as the floor itself. So looking at this folk belief from a financial perspective it makes sense that this would be passed along because it helps to save money for individuals who may need it later on and selling a purse back would be one way to get it.

In addition to the three other reasons I have provided for what I think this saying means and why I believe it continues to be passed down, another fair reason would be the pride found within cultures for the items that they have bought, earned, value and/or were gifted. To put this into context, DC is a Mexican woman who came to the United States at a very young age with her parents meaning they had to start in a new country from scratch. Whatever money they had to spend on basic necessities and luxury items such as purses themselves, they earned and this is the case for many immigrant families. It would make sense for this folk belief to be passed along as a way to teach people to take care of the nice things that they have and that they have earned, because if you don’t and the purse gets ruined it is basically like money out of your own pocket.

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Respecting the Penny

Title: Respecting the Penny

Category: Proverbial Phrase

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18


“ The man that does not respect the Penny, does not deserve the dollar.”


The phrase comes from Julianna’s great Uncle and is thought to be an originally German proverb. According to the source, the proverb means: A person should value the little things so that they can appreciate when larger things happen. The phrase implies that a person should be appreciative of all things that happen to them and take nothing for granted.

Personal Thoughts:

This proverbial phrase is something that can be heard when talking about small occurrences in an insignificant way. It can be used as a retort when someone acts inappreciative of something nice that happens to them.

Korean New Years Traditions

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as KP.

KP: New years. For Koreans, new years is huge, right? New years, for us at least, we have like a family reunion, with like our other extended family. If you are like, considered a child, you bow, and you get money, and it’s wild. So obviously, the bigger the family reunion is, the more money you get. So that’s great. We always eat ddukguk, which are rice cakes. Traditional korean foods on the holiday—ddukguk is the main one. Every Korean family eats that on New Years—that’s just a thing you do. This is just typical Korean tradition, and it’s even way more intense in Korea.

BD: What do you mean way more intense?
KP: Well, I mean, New years is a way bigger deal there. Everything is closed. Here, all the American places are closed, but for some reason the Korean places are open. I don’t know about that. On Christmas all the Korean places are open. Straight up, we don’t care—we’ll work. Money is money, right?


This piece of Korean folk tradition covers two topics—money and food. Food is a central part of many holidays, but the ubiquity of a particular dish is pretty interesting, especially that it has also become a thing here in America. The discussion of money is also very interesting. “Red envelope money” is a tradition in Chinese culture as well. It is likely that this tradition is tied with the ideas of “good luck” and “good wealth” for the coming year in Korean culture, as it is in Chinese culture.

The Rice In the Rice Bowl

The Main Piece
Rachel explains to me the superstition she was told by her mother from her early years about the dangers of not finishing every grain of rice on her plate: “Back home, when I was little, I always hated (said with emphasis) finishing my food ‘cause it would feel like my belly would explode. My mom would always tell me that even if I didn’t finish my meats and vegetables I had to finish every grain of rice on my plate or else I would lose all my money in the future, it was so annoying.” Rachel went on to explain that she would imagine herself as a hobo and that would be her encouragement for finishing every grain despite her belly possibly exploding. However, she told me this story as more of a reminiscence rather than a warning of possible losses or persuasion to finish my food.
Background Information
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Since childhood Rachel has always been told to finish all her food, as have many children all around the world. Although the practice may be common, the reasons and stories behind such practices have varied throughout time and regions. Rachel may have grown out of her imaginative years and says that she “doesn’t really believe in it anymore,” but she is reminded of her mother and her story from time to time as she eats and sees any left over rice on her plate. However, she does not perform any act of purposefully finishing every grain as she feels it is pointless. This story was passed down in her family for generations as her mother remembers her grandmother telling the story and so on.
This Chinese superstition was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. I was eating fried rice and we were discussing our life back home.
Personal Thoughts
I found it quite interesting to hear the different stories that were told by our elders and passed down from generation to generation. Having lived with my grandmother who is also full Chinese for four years I have heard my own personal share of Chinese superstitions. I have learned that many vary from household to household depending on ancestry. It was also interesting hearing how Rachel told the story. The difference in generation and where and how she was raised influenced her take on the superstition. She no longer believes in it, recalling it as more of a “silly superstition” rather than something that should actually be taken with caution.

When Your Hands Make You Lose Money

The Main Piece
Look at your hand, making it as flat as possible with your fingers firmly touching one another. Do you see any holes or spaces between your fingers? Well, one can only hope not. According to my friend, Demie, any holes between the cracks of your fingers represent a great loss of money and income. For many Chinese people it is believed that money will fall through the slits of your hand, leaving you unable to catch it. She even remembers seeing portraits of men and women trying to catch their money, but it continuously falling back towards the ground. It served as a reminder to keep your hands tight and shut, especially when holding money. “My father always told me when I had cash in my hands to hold onto it tight, or it’ll fall through. But I think he also just didn’t want me to drop any of it on the ground.” This superstition reveals the Chinese belief in having one’s fate semi-predetermined.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She has yet to meet someone that has holes between their fingers but has always figured “there has to be some people out there with them… what’s the point of making a belief that affects no one.” Demie recalls having her elementary school friends tell her this belief. “We were really into superstitions and beliefs like that. Especially one’s where we could figure out what our lives would be like in the future.”
As we were studying together and she was procrastinating on her homework in the study lounge, she started staring at her hand and brought up this folk belief that she was told by her friends.
Personal Thoughts
I found this interesting to hear about having one’s wealth predetermined for them. It is easy to state that “the world’s against you,” but it is another thing to believe that it is because of body shapes, birthmarks, etc. that one’s life turned out the way that it did. The story was unique and interesting, I had heard of beliefs having to do with the markings on the palm of one’s hand, but never the cracks of their fingers.

Gold Is A Girl’s Best Friend

“On my mom’s side of the family, because my mom’s side of the family is really rich, um, in India, like, her father’s, like, an advisor to someone super important, and he’s a professor at this like super prestigious university. And they have, like, slaves, and it’s just weird to think of my mom’s family being rich in India when we’re middle-class here. Ummm, but, so, I guess, I think it’s a South Indian tradition, but I know it’s definitely a big thing on her side of the family is when your eighteen-year old daughter or when your daughter turns eighteen years old, you like give her gold, like, just like, whatever every singly side person in my mom’s side of the family sent me something gold for my birthday when I turned eighteen. A lot of gold! It was all like earrings and like necklaces and stuff like that, and I don’t wear any of that, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me because she was like, ‘You’re gonna lose it.’ Umm so I just have all of this gold at home that’s like mine, and yeah, that’s a thing. In Indian culture, like jewelry and like umm that sort of stuff is really important like to the point of being sacred. Ummm, like you have, I don’t know what it’s called, but like the giant ummm nose ring that connects to the earring umm like that is a sacred thing that they wear in like wedding rituals and stuff like that, ummm. So just like, jewelry’s really important and the eighteenth birthday is obviously really important, and I feel like that’s where the tradition comes from.”


On top of the jewelry being sacred, this tradition sounds like something that’s done for dowry purposes. Once a woman turns eighteen, she’s of proper marrying age, right? So if she’s of proper marrying age, she’s going to need a dowry and property for when she gets married. The gifting of jewelry and gold marks this transition into womanhood, honors whatever sacredness comes along with this tradition, and also prepares the woman with a dowry in the case of marriage. It just goes to show how much the culture depends on money to reflect who you are as a person. It’s very different from our society. While we do look up to people who have money, it doesn’t seem to reflect on our character as much as it does in India.