My informant told me about a time when he was younger, maybe thirteen, and he had a dream about his teeth falling out. In the dream, his teeth began to feel loose and when he touched them they started to all fall out. He remembers being mortified and having a great sense of anxiety; the dream felt very real. When he woke up, he told his grandma, who lived with him. She got angry at him and told him the dream meant he had been telling lies; this was common knowledge in China. He tried to tell her he hadn’t been, but she wouldn’t believe him. His parents didn’t think much of the dream, though, and didn’t think their son had been telling lies.
He said he remembers the incident because the dream felt very real and it had disturbed him. He’d also been very upset to have his grandma angry at him when he felt he hadn’t done anything wrong. I could even see him become uncomfortable as he remembered the event.
I think it’s interesting to see that while his grandma put a lot of stock in this folk belief, his parents, the next generation, did not. This could reflect a changing attitude in the world and show how more recent generations are more apt to side with science and logic rather than trust old folk beliefs and superstitions. I also think it’s interesting to see that losing teeth became symbolic of telling lies, as if the lies had been so caustic that when they exited the mouth, they caused the teeth to fall out. Or maybe losing teeth in the dream was almost like a punishment for lying. I’ve heard the more modern belief that losing teeth in a dream represents a lack of confidence or feeling of insecurity. Because we use teeth to forcefully chew our food, they represent power, and seeing them fall out could reflect a sense that we have lost power in our lives. Another interpretation I’ve heard of the dream is that it indicates a family member will die, though I don’t know how that necessarily relates to teeth falling out, except maybe because people lose their teeth when they grow old and approach death.
This is a tale my informant heard from her mom, who is Persian. The story goes that a man living in Baghdad was very poor and so asked God to help him. That night, he dreamt of treasure that was at a certain place in Egypt. When he arrived, though, he was arrested because the police thought he was a thief for some reason. They beat him nearly to death. Later, when the police chief asked him why he’d come there, he said he dreamt that he’d find treasure if he did. The man just told him that he was a fool then. He continued that he’d often dreamt of finding treasure in a certain place in Baghdad but never pursued it because it was just a dream. It turned out that the spot the man had described in Baghdad was actually the house of the first guy. So, he returned home and found the treasure there.
My informant likes this story because of the reversal of fortune, which is unexpected but satisfying because as an audience, we want to see the man succeed after he is brought so low by the world. She also likes it because it emphasizes hope and trusting the universe to give you what you need. The man follows his dream and eventually succeeds, even though the police chief calls him foolish for this. Maybe sometimes you need to be foolish to just do what you think is right or what you think will get you what you want, though.
The tale speaks to a lot of different themes. For one, that we will generally get what we need in life, but it won’t simply be given to us. The man asks God for treasure, but he has to travel to Egypt to find out it was under his own house the whole time. He had to undergo a journey, as well as suffering (being beaten) to get the reward. The story also seems to say that dreams are meaningful. While we might not really believe this, it seems very human to want to, so this story serves as wish fulfillment in that way. The police chief gives the realist view that trusting dreams is foolish, but it pays off for the main character because we like the idea that a dream can guide us to something good.
The informant is a friend from high school. He originally created the expression “girl with the look” on one of the first days of senior year when he saw a girl he was very attracted to. He didn’t know her name so he just called her the girl with the look. The expression quickly became a kind of inside joke within our friend group and rather than ask each other who we were interested in at school, we might ask who each other’s girl with the look was. The expression expanded out a little and other people at our school started using it, too. Another variant is “girl with a look” meaning simply a girl you’re attracted to, whereas “girl with the look” implies infatuation at first sight almost. For girls and gay guys, “guy with the look” also became a thing, though it was never used as much.
My informant liked the expression because it was a way to refer to someone without using a name, which kept it kind of secret and exclusive to those that knew what was being talked about. It kept the discussion within the friend group and also bonded us together by having our own phrase. I like it for the same reasons. Because it started out in one group, it created a sense of community and exclusivity within the group. And even though it’s a new piece of folklore, it did grow to have multiplicity and variation.
This is a Buddhist proverb and my informant doesn’t remember where he heard it. It means all lust leads to sorrow. My informant likes it because it reminds us that our spiritual well-being is often more important to our happiness than our physical world; he takes lust to mean want in general rather than only sexual want. Buddhism says that attachment is what leads to suffering, so detaching oneself from desires in the physical world will lead one away from suffering.
Humans are often said to feel a sadness after an orgasm, perhaps because it is a let down; the ecstasy is just suddenly gone. The French call it le petite mort, meaning little death. In this way, lust does directly lead to grief. On a larger scale, though, all sexual and romantic attachment usually leads to grief due to human drama and the breaking apart of relationships. And on a scale larger than that, all human wants, which the word lust could be used to represent, lead to grief because having our desires in the physical world fulfilled doesn’t bring us lasting happiness. We get what we want and then that’s it; there will be a void again afterwards. Beyond that, everything is ephemeral, so it may not even be important that we got what we wanted, be it reaching a goal or acquiring a physical object. Buddhism recognizes this and communicates it via this concise proverb.
Something she learned as a kid, my informant remembers this piece of folklore from middle school. The way it works is someone says that if your hand is bigger than your face, you have cancer. Then, when you put your hand up to your face to check, they push your hand into your face. It’s painful and annoying and it makes my informant remember why she hated things like that when she was younger, tricks kids would make up to hurt others. Because the kid the prank is pulled on fails to realize they’re being tricked, it becomes almost acceptable to hurt them. The pain comes as a result of the person’s failure to realize it’s a trick. This is why many people accept it when they get hurt from a prank like this, versus if someone randomly just hit you in the face, in which case you might less readily let it go. My informant remembered being a kid and not differentiating between the two cases, though. When a peer did this to her, her response was to kick him in the leg. The prank is something she hasn’t forgotten because it serves as a reminder of that human desire to hurt others and be in positions of power over them, where it becomes acceptable to hurt them. My informant dislikes that quality of humanity but finds it interesting that it exists and that things children do often reflect it.
The prank also acts as a kind of initiation into the group of people who know it. Once it’s been done to you, like a college hazing ritual for example, you want to do it to the person who doesn’t know about to get revenge upon whoever did it to you. And once the prank’s been done to you once, it can’t be repeated unless you forget how it works. This makes it not seem as bad, since even if it hurts you, it also teaches you what it is so you feel like you gained some knowledge from the experience. Humans learn from pain, and this is an example of that. The prank’s existence also shows how children like to push limits to see what’s socially acceptable. Mature adults would be less likely to perform this prank because it is against social codes to malevolently trick someone like that.