USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘#newyork’
Folk Beliefs
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Don’t Sing At the Table!: German Superstition

Context and Practice of Superstition:

“So basically when we were sitting at the dinner table, if someone whistled or sang my grandmother would stop them and she would say if you whistle or sing at the dinner table (meal time) you would have a crazy spouse.” 

Significance to Informant:

“Now when anybody is singing or whistling at the dinner table, I will remember what she said and I will say it. Maybe I think sitting at the table is a time for family to be talking to one another and paying attention to one another, not being self absorbed in their own music and their own. Ya know.”

Informant Background Information:

The informant is 56 and from New York. Learned this saying from his grandmother who was born in New York in 1907 to German immigrants. Informant says she probably got this from her mother. Informant says, “[My sisters] would try to sing their music and my grandma would tell them not to. I’m sure she said it to me too, but they were older than me so they were singing and whistling at the table before I was.”

My Analysis:

I think that this superstition speaks to how people of the informant’s grandmother’s time value table etiquette. Rich people then and now could pay silly amounts of money to take classes in table etiquette. Abiding by these decided social rules in public could outwardly indicate your social standing. Singing at the dinner table does not follow the rules of table etiquette, so doing that would signify your uneducated/lower social status. Marking yourself as lower status would probably fend off higher class potential partners, leaving you with less socially-desirable pickings (AKA someone “crazy”).

An alternative interpretation is that this stems from something more wholesome as the speaker indicates, like valuing interpersonal connection. We still value interpersonal connection today, as many parents tell their children today not to use their cellphone during dinner. Following this train of thought, parents could fear that if their children lack social skills (at the dinner table), they will probably end up marrying someone who also lacks social skills. 

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