Author Archives: Adam Schall

Folk Joke/Blason Populaire – Serbian

“What do you get in a room with two Serbs?”

“Three opinions.”

Mike grew up in Sherman Oaks, California with Serbian parents.  “My family originally is from Bulgaria so I grew up through Serbian culture.  My grandfather used to say this joke time and time again.  I never thought it was that funny, but it must be from his generation.  Serbs are known for being extremely opinionated and passionate about debating with one another.  This joke actually reminds of big family dinners with all of my extended family, because these dinners would always consist of arguments and debates ranging from anything, from sports to politics.  It is an appropriate joke to be said at almost any time.”

This folk joke is a form of blason populaire in the sense that it is poking fun at a stereotype, in this case that Serbians are opinionated.  It’s interesting that even though Mike doesn’t find the joke funny, it does remind of big family dinners and a Serbian culture.  While most blason populaire comes from someone who is not tied to the culture in the joke or stereotype, in this case, Mike’s grandfather who is Serbian told the joke.  It is one of the less offensive types of blason populaire, and it is possible that Mike’s family accepts the joke and acts more opinionated in doing so.  This is similar to Irish who drink more as a part of accepting Irish stereotypes and jokes about excessive drinking.

Contemporary Legend

“A girl named Karin is babysitting for a family while the parents are away for the weekend.  The first day she is at the house she notices a clown statue that the children are playing with in the living room.  Karin is terrified of clowns so she moves it into a room where the children don’t go.  The next day she sees that the clown statue is back in the living room and assumes the children moved it back in there.  So Karin calls the parents and asks if she can move their clown statue out in the back yard.  The parents tell Karin to grab the children and go in their bedroom, lock the door, and call the police because they don’t have a clown statue and it must be a real person.  Karin does so and the police arrive to find out that the clown statue was an escaped criminal who has a sleeping disease where he falls asleep randomly while standing and does not move.”

Ariella heard this legend when she was fifteen, around the time when she was beginning to baby-sit for several families.  “I originally heard the story from my other Lebanese friend, and the story was told to her in English not Lebanese.  I was about to leave my friend’s house, the night after I baby-sat, when my friend told me the story.  When I heard the story I did not baby-sit for another three weeks because it frightened me so much.”  Ariella claimed that she heard that story a second time from her Asian friend, which can mean that this is not specifically a Lebanese urban legend.  Ariella believes that the story is meant to scare young girls from watching children and that it encourages young girls to work at “actual” jobs.

Through paradigmatic analysis, this urban legend appears to send a message warning to young girls to be careful when baby-sitting and watching other children.  The clown represents an exaggerating version of the troubles that can go wrong through baby-sitting, and the urban legend emphasizes that there is a responsibility that goes into baby-sitting, in this case the protection of the children.  The fact that Karin is scared of clowns poses the idea that Karin herself is still a child, and can present the case that adults should not rely as heavily on baby-sitters to watch their own children, and instead, should take upon the responsibility themselves.  Watching other children is a major task to offer to young girls, and it is possible that this urban legend’s intent is that maybe it is too great of a task to offer.

Folk Joke – Chicago, Illinois

“That’s what she said”

Derek claimed that he first heard this joke from another friend of his while in middle school in Chicago, Illinois.  He said that the joke is used after someone makes a comment that can be turned into a sexual innuendo by saying “that’s what she said”.  Derek gave me two examples:

Example 1

Subject 1: “You finished your homework already?”

Subject 2: “Yeah I finished ten minutes ago”

Subject 1: “Wow you’re quick”

Subject 2: “That’s what she said”.

Example 2

Subject 1: “Are you going to keep practicing for basketball all night?”

Subject 2: “Of course.  I’m going to work until it hurts.”

Subject 1: “That’s what she said.”

Derek is not sure where the term originated from but has heard his cousins from New Orleans and Tennessee use the joke as well.  “Usually the context of this joke is in an informal environment amongst young adults.  When the joke is used in a more formal setting, with adults present, none of the adults understand the joke at all.”

My own take on this joke is that it had to have originated amongst younger boys, and clearly not girls because the joke consists of “she” and not “he”.  It also has an adolescent masculine tone of humor to it, further supporting this theory.  I also find it a unique and different form of folk joke than classic jokes because of the fact that in order for it to be fully utilized as comical, there needs to be something said that cooperates with the phrase beforehand.  This is a fairly untraditional form of a joke but also creates flexibility when using the joke and keeps it original with different pre-comments that lead to the phrase “that’s what she said”.


This folk joke can be seen in the hit NBC show The Office.

“The Benihana Christmas.” The Office. NBC. New York. 14 Dec. 2006.

Proverb – Brooklyn, New York

The walk of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

“I learned this proverb as a kid growing up in Brooklyn.  My father used to use it all the time, especially when I would be anxious or nervous over anything.  To me this proverb means that the best way to approach any big obstacle or task in life, you must take that first step.  Essentially, one of the most challenging aspects of completing or overcoming any task or hardship in life is to begin: begin to work or begin to recover.  I believe it might be an Asian proverb but I’m not sure exactly.  I use it at work with my colleagues when we have to attack a huge task or project.  I’ve also passed it down to both my kids whenever they have come to me with anxiety over school work.”

Harold is my father and this is a proverb that will forever remind me of him.  He used it all throughout my childhood as an inspirational saying, because I have always approached him and my mother when I am stressed out about anything in life.  My dad’s father died when my dad was in his twenties, and while Harold mostly uses this proverb for handling tasks or assignments, this proverb applied more than ever to the recovery and grieving process.  I think this proverb can be applied to so many things in the world.  Any world wide problems, such as AIDS in Africa or global warming, are such monumental and challenging tasks, that people don’t believe they will ever see progress made and are afraid to begin the long journey.  But in order to achieve any goals and to solve any problems, big or small, one must take the first step.  After doing some research, the proverb originated in China and can be found in several publications but modified slightly.  The proverb appears in the feature film Coach Carter but in the following form: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”.


Coach Carter. dir. Thomas Carter. Paramount Pictures, 2005.

Folk Medicine – Mexico

To cure a cold sore on one’s lip:

  • Take a green tomato and slice it in half
  • Place baking soda on the opened half of the tomato
  • Then place the tomato directly on the cold sore and hold it for one minute
  • Remove the tomato, and the cold sore should be gone

Daniel, who lived in Mexico for fourteen years of his life, learned this remedy there from his maid, who was also Mexican.  He said that when he first got a cold sore at a young age she followed the above instructions and Daniel’s cold sore was gone.  He said that it is certainly a Mexican remedy, because he had seen other adults show this remedy to their children, while going to school for most of his life in Mexico.  When he came to the United States at the age of fourteen, no one else had ever heard of this remedy.

Being an American, I had never heard of this remedy at all.  I was always told to put Vaseline on a cold sore, but that never instantly cured it.  The fact that a green tomato is used, supports the idea that this originated south of the Untied States, since we don’t use green tomatoes nearly as much as Mexico or South America.  There is most likely a scientific explanation to the baking soda killing the cold sore, but what makes this folk medicine and not actual official medicine is the fact that it has not been scientifically proven yet.