USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sharing’
Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Why You Can’t Split a Pear

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 why Chinese people can’t split pears when they eat them.I asked for the story behind this folklore because I had known of this superstition for a while, but never understood why it was considered bad luck.Because her English is broken, I have chosen to write down my own translation of what she told me, 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: Um, so, um, Chinese people have a lot of traditions that determine what you can and cannot do. So, in my family, my grandparents told us that two people can’t share one pear. In Chinese, the pear is pronounced “li,” but it has another meaning as well, which, when translated to English, means “separate.” So if a couple shares one pear, that means that they’ll eventually separate and can’t keep their marriage. If a mother and daughter split one pear, they have to separate– just, two people can never share one pear. But, for some reason, three or more people can share a pear; it’s just that two people can’t share a single pear or else they’re destined to separate.

 

K: Do you take this seriously?

 

S: I take this VERY seriously. When I cut a pear, only I eat it, only my daughter eats it, or only my daughter eats it. If my husband and daughter unknowingly eat slices of the same pear, then I will make sure to grab a slice for myself and eat it.

 

Thoughts:

Just like my informant, I also grew up with my grandparents telling me of this taboo that I can’t share a pear with someone. Frankly, I agree with it—as a Chinese person, I’m quite superstitious, and even when I think some of the traditions I follow are a bit ridiculous, it never hurts to abide by them just to be safe. The fear about sharing a pear makes sense— “sharing a pear” in Chinese is 分梨(fēn lí), which is a homophone of 分离(fēn lí), which means “to divorce” or “to separate.” This taboo seems to have elements of sympathetic magic, otherwise known as “like produces like.” “Sharing a pear” sounds just like “separate” in Chinese, so by sharing a pear with someone, it’s the equivalent action to separating with them.

In a cultural context, family in China is so important. We are raised to be extremely loyal to our elders; everything we have, from our knowledge to our place of privilege, is because of them. So why would you run the risk of being separated from them? This type of folklore is performed because we like to feel that we have control over processes like relationships. As humans, we have this feeling where we can’t control the bad things that occur over the people we love, so we attach this fear we have to rituals. These rituals, which include taboos and prohibitions are practiced to protect our social bonds.

Customs
Tales /märchen

Chinese Pear Story

Context:  

The informant and I are sitting on my bed in my room. It is about 9:00 pm and she is describing to me some of the stories she heard growing up that impacted her life and viewpoint.

Body:

Informant: “So the story was that there was a huge bowl of pears in the dining room table and there’s a little girl and she was the middle child and there’s like an older brother and a younger brother, I don’t think the gender matters. Then a friend came up to the little girl and asked her which pear she was going to get. The little girl ended up grabbing the smallest pear possible in that bowl. Then when the friend asked the little girl why she picked the smallest pear, she replied saying she was going to give a pear bigger than hers to her younger brother. When asked why, she explained how he has yet to experience the good things in life and that in order to know the good things in life he has to at least experience them once. So that’s why he’s experiencing the big pear first so that he knows that’s a good thing. Then she’s going to give a larger pear to both her parents and her brother because they’re older than her out of respect. Then the elders are the most respected and the leaders of the family, and giving them a larger pear is also kind of signifying like they don’t have as much life left to live and so we should be giving the riches of life to them because they don’t have as much time left. Kind of morbid in all honesty.

A: “How did this story affect your life growing up?

Informant: “Oh yeah it had a huge impact on me! Growing up, it’s one of the only stories that I remember from my Chinese book. I actually just asked my mom if she remembered any stories and she said ‘no’ and then when I told her that I remembered the pear story, she still didn’t remember that one. Then I explained it to her and asked her again if she remembered and she said ‘no.’ But that’s always impacted me because I feel that I’ve always tried to prioritize my parents a little bit more in the sense where I did have to respect them because they are my parents. Also, because I wanted to give them things more so because I knew that they wouldn’t have the chance to experience them again like I may have or I will be able to

A: “Was there any significance with the pear and why the pear was the fruit given?”

Informant: I think often times a pear is a symbol of royalty. Ya know how apples are associated with knowledge and giving that to teachers? I think the pear is a symbol of royalty and nobility. Especially in Asian cultures because I feel like everything is a pear versus an apple in Asian cultures.  

TakeAways:

Within Chinese culture, respecting your elders is one of the most important things. I think what this story is trying to tell children is to always respect those who are older than you because they have more wisdom and also to cherish them. This story also teaches children the joys of sharing with others and giving more to others than yourself. This is therefore then instilling children not to be selfish and care for others since you should want them to experience the best in life as well. Children’s stories play a large role in shaping who they are to become as they learn through examples. This story clearly had a large impact on the informant and has reigned true to present day.

 

Customs
Foodways
Material

Drinking Mate

“Everybody drinks mate. As long as I can remember, since I was a kid, my mom and her friends used to drink mate. I think it’s made out of coconut or something. Everybody drinks it out of these cups made out of wood that basically look like coconuts. They put tea leaves in it, and drink out of a strange straw made of metal. The straw lets the liquid through without letting the tea leaves through. Basically, whoever is serving the mate has a bowl of yerva, which is the herbs, and they put it in the mate, and once you have all the tea in, you pour in hot water and sugar. The person serving drinks first because it’s usually very bitter but gets sweeter. You pass it around, adding more sugar and hot water, and everybody gets the mate out of the same container and straw.”

Background Information and Context:

According to the informant, her parents drank mate every morning and throughout the day, and her cousin drinks it by himself by the river, but the particular ritual she described is meant for a social gathering. She’s not sure if any of this is symbolic. “People will share with complete strangers. It’s really strange,” she remarked, “My cousin will be down at the beach and meet some strangers, and they’ll drink mate together.” In Argentina, kids drink it too, but with warm milk and lots of sugar. She remembers drinking it as a kid all the time, and remarked that shMare was sad that she didn’t make it for her kids when they were little.

Collector’s Notes:

Traditions reveal a lot about social relations within a culture. Based on this tradition of sharing mate, one can see that hospitality – moreover a deference for one’s guests – is an important aspect of Argentine culture and that being friendly and welcoming, even to strangers, is expected. The first time I came to the informant’s house, I was so confused by the extent to which she’d welcomed me into her home and wanted me to make myself comfortable because it was such a different experience from my own more conservative Vietnamese upbringing. A good way to see the differences between these two cultures would be to compare this mate tradition to what I’d consider a typical Vietnamese social interaction, like greeting each elder individually and bowing, a representation of the strong sense of hierarchy in Vietnamese social groups.

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