Author Archives: Miriam Bedrin

Irish Proverb


The informant and I were having a conversation in my apartment, and the topic of our families was brought up. I asked him if his parents or relatives had shared any interesting stories or sayings with him, and he shared this proverb with me.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: I mean, this is just… uh, like a saying, so it’s quite short. Um, but one Irish uh… okay, one Irish saying that I really like is: “The mouth often is what breaks the nose.” Should I maybe explain some of it?

Collector: Yes.

Informant: The idea is that, uh, the reason why someone might get into a fight and then have their nose broken is because of running their mouth. Um, actually, it’s kind of interesting that a lot of Irish proverbs have to do with this kind of loose speaking, like, maybe from drinking. Uh… being careful about that.

Me: So who did you hear this from?

Informant: I think from my… Well… My mother is less aware of these things than my grandmother. Yeah, um… She often… Um… We’d see her during different holidays. Things like that. She would also have like, you know, writing cards for us and write some poetry, and she would have like a little thing that she would say. And it would be just a little funny thing.


This proverb espouses the idea that one should think carefully before speaking, so as to avoid saying something regrettable or angering somebody. The informant’s explanation of the proverb’s meaning plays off of the stereotype that Irish people drink a lot of alcohol and therefore need to be cautioned against behaving recklessly while drunk.

Cold Remedy

Context: My informant first told me this remedy when I was sick with bronchitis. For collection purposes, I asked her about the remedy again and recorded the interview.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: When I was little and I got sick, and I had a runny nose, my grandpa would give me a bowl of brown stuff with ginger in it, and he goes, “Drink this. It’s boiled cola with ginger, and it’ll make you feel better.” And I’d drink it, and he’d tell me to eat all the ginger, and I do, it’s really spicy, and then a couple days later my nose isn’t runny anymore.

Me: Do you think that the remedy helps you?

Informant: Sure. It also tastes pretty good.

Me: It does. How old were you when your grandpa told you about it?

Informant: Three or five?

Me: And was this something that, um, runs in the family? Or did he learn it as a cultural thing?

Informant: Most Chinese people know it.

Me: What type of person would you normally share this with? Anybody, family members, friends?

Informant: People who don’t think I’m crazy.

Me: Do people usually react badly when you tell them about it?

Informant: Hmm… See, I haven’t tried it with anyone who might think I’m crazy.

Me: I see. So it’s more of a self selecting type thing?

Informant: Sure.

Me: How do you think it compares to other cold remedies?

Informant: It tastes better. And I don’t have to swallow any pills.


This remedy is meant to be both enjoyable and healing. Ginger flavored cola is more pleasant to drink than cough syrup, and my informant commented on its good taste. Hot liquids, such as tea and soup, are also commonly consumed by people with sore throats and coughs. This recipe also makes use of the spiciness of ginger to open one’s sinuses. According to the informant, the recipe is most often known by those of Chinese heritage and is commonly used by people within that demographic. My informant commented that she does not share this remedy with those she believes would react skeptically to it. The remedy has not yet gained prominence within Western medicine.

The Story of Mulan


The topic of Disney’s Mulan came up in a conversation between the informant and me, and the informant told me that she knew the story the movie was based on. We later met to talk about it and other Chinese stories, and I recorded the conversation for collection purposes.


Informant: The setting is a very very long time ago, in the dynasty of which the name I do not know. There was, um, this family, Mulan’s family, and she doesn’t have a brother, or, um, an older brother or a younger brother. The only man in her family was her father. And… The dynasty went to war with another country. So the emperor gave out a draft for all the laymen to come to the army. And since Mulan’s family did not have any, uh, males other than her father, her father was kind of like required to go to the army. But, um, Mulan’s father was very old, and Mulan was worried that if her father went, he wouldn’t be able to, like, he would never come back. So instead, she disguised as a man and went into the army by herself. And this is actually a very, uh, rare act in ancient China, because women at that time were expected to be gentle and soft and weak. But, um, she did this, and then, um, joined the army, and I don’t think anybody discovered that she was actually a woman. And she fought the war, and reputedly she got safely back home. So that was nice. And you would think that in ancient China, those who worshiped gentleness and kindness would criticize her actions, but she actually wasn’t criticized. And that’s because this brave act of hers displayed, um, filial piety and a lot of love for her father, and that was like a more important value for women, to be loyal and pious to their family. So, that’s the end of the story.


“The Story of Mulan” upholds loyalty to one’s family as a more important priority than staying consistent with societal expectations regarding one’s behavior. The story also focuses on a female character who defies gender roles and portrays her positively. It also includes elements of identity concealment and deception through Mulan’s disguising herself as a man. The poem Ballad of Mulan is regarded as the first instance the character appeared in print. Mulan also appears in modern works such as the 1998 film Mulan by Walt Disney Pictures and the television show Once Upon a Time, which airs on ABC. Mulan’s character has remained popular for centuries, and knowledge of her story has spread far beyond its origins in China.

Armenian Pothole Joke

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian joke about a man who falls into a hole with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: This one is really funny. It’s just kind of like a… it’s just… a parody. Basically, the story goes, um… A guy who was drunk is walking along, and he falls into a hole. Nevermind why there was a hole in the middle of a… road in Armenia, but apparently there is. So he falls into it, and… he tries to heft himself out the first time, and it doesn’t work. He’s like, “Alright,” and tries it another time. He tries to heft himself out, “Huh!” He’s exhausted. It’s not working. And then he says, “Alright. I’m going to try one more time to get out of this hole, and if it doesn’t work I’m just going to go home.” But… he’s already trapped in a hole. He can’t get out. So the point… that’s the whole funny thing about it.

Me: When do people usually tell this?

Informant: When everyone’s very drunk. And sitting around in a circle. That one… and the one about the… Most Armenian jokes revolve around someone who’s drunk. The majority of them.


This joke is an example of humor that would be used at a party. It derives its humor from the ridiculousness of the situation the subject finds himself in and from the subject’s illogical thinking. It also references the impairment in thinking that occurs when one is drunk.

Armenian Rabbit Nursery Rhyme

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this nursery rhyme about two rabbits with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript: 

Informant: This one is a fun nursery rhyme. I think this was during, like, this came out originally, this rhyme, during the, um, the Soviet Union, to kind of symbolize Stalin. Which is hilarious because the rhyme basically goes, like: One rabbit is asking another rabbit, um, which symbolizes two innocent Armenian people, “Oh, like, what are you doing there? Why are you hiding under that tree? Like, come over to, um, come over to this other person’s house.” And he’s like “No, no, no, no, no. I won’t go to that other person’s house because a great big dog will come and… eat my tail away.” And… it’s completely illogical. There’s no reason why that would happen, but… that’s the idea. It’s to enforce paranoia into everyone. Like, don’t go outside, don’t interact with other people, like keep to yourself, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Me: What influence did Stalin have on Armenia? Was it more like, hearing about it? Or did…

Informant: No, the USSR owned Armenia. From 19… From the end of 1915 after the genocide, after they helped end the genocide, when they invaded Armenia and kicked Turkey out, um, during the genocide, which today, today commemorates the anniversary of it, um… So basically, the USSR reigned over Armenia just like it reigned all over all the other states in the Soviet block, um, by terrorizing the people. Like, economically the country… Armenia wasn’t doing as badly as it is now, ’cause it was under the influence of the Russian economy, which back then wasn’t doing that badly. It was bad for the people, but for the wealthy, who were like trading with Armenia, because Armenia has… had, before it was exploited for all of its stuff, had a very good produce industry, and, um, a very high quality of education. So we had a lot of people, like that other people knew of, who were getting, like, taken in by Russian soldiers and like taken to Russia and used for like, the space race or for research or whatever it may be. So you could be taken away from your home for some kind of advantage at any time. So the idea was, you know, stay away from people. Communism. You know, like stay away from people. There is a, everyone is equal, but there is a sovereign that will chop your head off if you believe you were special.

Me: And then like, why do people still tell it today?


Informant: It’s… cutesy. For kids. ‘Cause the rhyme… the rhyme rhymes. You know? It’s just a cutesy little rhyme. You can imagine a little bunny hopping around and being asked like, “Oh, why don’t you go hang out with this person?” Like, “Ah, ’cause I’m scared. This big bad wolf’s gonna come eat my tail.” Like it comes out really cutesy. And, you know, it’s just a fun thing to tell. Like why do we tell the story of Hansel and Gretel? Because it kind of, harshly, for the house of candy, it’s fun to describe it. So… yep.


This nursery rhyme provides an example of citizens of an occupied nation using humor to make light of their situation under an oppressor. Other children’s rhymes such as “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge is Falling Down” similarly use tragedies as their inspiration. The using of a “great big dog” to represent the Soviet Union and bunnies to represent Armenia references both the Soviet Union’s great size and its military strength. Children’s folklore also commonly addresses violence and misfortune.