Author Archives: Courtney Berck

Red or Green

When you go into a restaurant, usually a New Mexican restaurant, but they do it at McDonalds too now. They ask “red or green?” which means red or green chilis.  You can also say Christmas which means both of them, and they add it to your meal.

The informant learned this from her uncle when she was about to move to Albuquerque.  He warned her saying, “They are going to ask you… It’s that big of a deal.”  The informant is a green chili person, and she says that it’s a huge battle.  “Are you a red person or a green person?  It’s like are you a Democrat or a Republican?”  The custom of adding chilis to food is very widespread in her area because of the influence of Mexican cuisine, though New Mexican cuisine is not quite the same.  The custom is also a way of weeding out the visitors from the natives, and learning it from her uncle essentially initiated her into the culture of New Mexico.


Mysterious Green Slime

“This has to do with KFC and umm for a long time, I never knew why my parents never went to KFC cause my family likes fried chicken, and I remember that I asked my mom one day.

She told me a story about when she was kid. Her and her sister would be walking to school.  On the side of the road, there would always be this green slime.  They didn’t know where it came from.  It was weird. They never knew where it came from. They were from New York, but still it was just weird.

One day they were walking home from school, and her sister had a ball she was playing with and it rolled into the alley next to KFC.  They went over to get it.  While they were back there, a guy came out of the back of the KFC, and he had this big bucket.  He dumped the stuff in the bucket out and it was the green slime.  They didn’t know what chicken or process it came from, but they knew it was from KFC.”

The informant’s family has never gone to KFC.  The informant says that she believes the story is true, but when she introduced the story, she said it was something that she wasn’t sure about.  This could be since the legend came from the close source of her mother.  Legends like this one about fast food restaurants with tainted food and mysterious chemicals have been very popular on the internet in particular, not necessarily because they are true but because they address the fear of what people are really eating and putting into their bodies.  As people started to move away from cooking their own food, they no longer have the ability of watching their food be prepared, and especially at fast food restaurants where they get their food in such a short time, people start to become suspicious and worried.  The informant, however, goes to other fast food restaurant, but she will never break her rule about KFC.


Ride that Pony

You stand in a circle with 3 to probably 6 people in the middle.  Everyone sings:

“Ride, ride, ride that pony. Get up and ride that big fat pony. Ride, ride, ride that pony. This is what she told me.”

As they sing this verse, the people in the center dance around like cowboys riding horses.  Then the people going around in the middle go up to a person standing in the circle and sing:

“Front to front to front, my baby.  Back to back to back, my baby. Side to side to side, my baby.  This is what she told me.”

As they sing this, they face their partner in the direction that they sing (front, back, side), and when they finish, the people who were standing the circle switch with their partner who had been in the middle and they repeat the song.  At the end, after a few rounds, you say “everyone in,” and everyone goes around and does it.

The informant learned the song and dance from the seniors in the theatre department at her school when she was in 7th grade.  Before every performance, the director leads a warm up, but then the students do a more fun warm up of their own called the “actor warm-up,” which includes the song above.  The informant explained that they did it as a cast as preparation for the show to raise energy and get excited.  On the closing night of the show, the seniors start in the middle because it is the last time that they will ever get to do the pre-show ritual.  The song and dance is a way for them to bring the cast together regardless of age or experience.

I knew the song also from my own high school where we used it in the same way as a warm-up in what we called cast-bonding.  Instead of having a number of people in the center though, we go one at a time while the rest of the circle claps and cheers.  The ritual helped us to get the younger cast members to break out of their comfort zone and become part of the high school theatre community as a whole.


“Build a giant man essentially, out of flammable material and write fears or things you want to expunge from your life for the new year.  It’s usually done around harvest time.  You write down the fears on pieces of paper and put them in the statue and burn it.  It’s supposed to get rid of your fears and the bad spirits.”

The informant believes that the ritual has Spanish, Mexican and Native American roots.  She learned it when she first moved to New Mexico by seeing it done at a Native American pueblo.  The informant says that her school also does it every year with the 7th graders as part of a harvest fest, and there is a giant one in Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico.  The informant compared the burning of the zozobra (the statue) to the making of resolutions for the New Year.  The practice allows people to start new each year and banish any of their own personal demons in a time of abundance with the harvest.



Ring the Chapel Bell

“Uhh…I guess we all know…you ring the chapel bell after…Like after, um, a team wins or just like after something good happens to you like if you get an “A” on a test or something. Ummm.  Like after football games, if we win, there’s like an hour wait to go ring the bell. Ummm.” (I asked if she had rung the bell.) “Yes.  Well it’s a tradition for my like sorority family to go do it on big little reveal night, and we also do it on bid night.  And ummm. I have never done it after a football game just cause it’s too long.”

The informant attends the University of Georgia, and she loves football like most of her school, which is probably why the line is so long at the bell after a team win.  The bell allows everyone to take part in the joy of winning the football game.  The informant told me that the university talked about the ritual on the tours for prospective students, but it is also just something that everyone knows.  Ringing the chapel bell and knowing what that means is an initiation into the university community, and as she said, it has been adopted by her sorority as an initiation ritual for new members.  In addition to celebrating what good thing has happened to you, no matter how small, ringing the bell becomes common knowledge that helps the new members of a sorority or freshman at the university make the shift from being outsiders to insiders.

“If you don’t try, you’re lazy.”

The informant shared this proverb that he learned from his father in law.  I laughed when he said it, but he asserted, “It’s actually quite a good one though.  I learned that from him.”

The informant learned it in the context of their shared business.  To him, it means that “if you just, when something comes up, if you don’t try to resolve it or if you just do nothing, then you are lazy. Also if you can do better, but you don’t try new things because it is too much work…  You should always try things or else you are lazy.”

He uses the proverb when talking to his employees.  He says that they never try new things; they just do.  They think that this is how they have always done it so they just continue even if it isn’t working, but he tells them this so that they will try something new.

I think the proverb is very true especially to the more modern generations who rely more on technology to get things done.  I think the proverb is really saying not to complain if you aren’t going to do something to change the situation.


Tuxedo Nights

“If you want to have a wedding at night in Nashville, you have to wear a tuxedo.”

The informant was told this from his mother and father in law.  The reason that they gave him was that that’s just what you do.  The informant is from New York, and he wanted to wear a Giorgio Armani suit for the wedding.  “I didn’t want to wear a tuxedo.”  His in-laws told him that if he wanted to wear the suit that he could have the wedding on a Sunday afternoon because at night weddings, he had to wear a tuxedo.

The informant ended up getting married on Sunday night so he had to wear a tuxedo.  He told the story with a bit of resentment under his voice, and he ended saying that “it doesn’t apply anymore, but it did apparently, according to them.”

This tradition of wearing a tuxedo stuck with him because he hadn’t been allowed to do what he wanted to because of previously existing tradition.  Because he was joining a new family, he had to go along with their traditions instead of doing what he had wanted, and he still holds on to a tiny grudge for it.  The folkloric ritual held strong on this occasion.


Hiding Presents on Chanukah

On Chanukah, when we were young, my dad would hide the presents around the house for each night of the holiday.

He learned the tradition from his parents, and he chose to do it because it adds suspense to gift giving.  Also, there are eight days so it makes it more interesting.  He kept doing it because he thought that we really enjoyed it.  Whenever my mom would say that we didn’t need to do it, he would assert that it is a tradition and that we do it because it’s more fun when it is a tradition.

The tradition gives my family something to look back on and laugh about when we think of the holiday.  The informant, my father, remembered a time where we hid the presents and didn’t find them till two years later.  The ritual has become in grain, but because we do not come together for the holiday anymore, the ritual has stopped.

He hopes that we will continue the tradition if we have children and celebrate Chanukah, and he thinks that we will just because “it is something in our heads.”

Saying Thanks

Every Thanksgiving, the informant’s family goes around the table while each person says what they are thankful for before they eat the meal.  The informant records all of the thank yous on tape, and he says that many people who have shared Thanksgiving with the family have brought the tradition home with them and adopted it as their own.

The informant said he liked to do it, first of all, because it made all the kids nervous, but also because it got everyone involved.  Each person would have their own version of a thank you from his sister in-law who would read a pre-written 4 page one to the kids who year after year would repeat “Thank you for the food.”

He got the tradition from his in-laws and started recording them, but then the traditional meal moved to his house so he could control it a bit more.  The thank you is also a bit of an initiation for new members of the family because everyone has to say something.

I asked if he ever plans to watch them, and the informant replied, “Oh yeah, some point I will.”

The tradition of saying thank you brings the family together, and it gets everyone to really think about their lives in the past year.  It allows people to say the things that are normally too cheesy to say in public.  For the children, the Thanksgiving where they say they are thankful for more than the food also represents a rite of passage where they are now adult enough to say something more meaningful to them.

“Always try to look at it from another person’s point of view.”

“It was something my dad told me, and I really liked it.  It stuck with me.  Usually it would be because my sister and I were fighting.  He wanted me to have compassion for my sister who had kind of a tough childhood for a number of reasons, but I don’t know that it really helped me that much for her.  It helped me many other times.  We are all ego centric and we look at things from our point of view.  Sometimes when you pause, you can realize where other people are coming from and it benefits you also in so many ways.  You can be more compassionate because you understand them.  Not manipulate, but you can change the situation so both people get more of what they want.  Its just smarter. Its just plain smarter not to live only in your own mind.  You really should do that.  You can use it to your advantage in addition to helping someone else.”

The informant relies a lot on having compassion and understanding for others, but she also understands that by helping others sometimes you can help yourself.  Hearing this as a child has helped her better understand how to deal with people in her present.  This goes to show how some things really stick with children and the weight that proverbs can carry as wisdom from an “older generation.”