Author Archives: folklorestudent21

NO SLOW FRIENDS ON A POWDER DAY

MAIN PIECE: 

Informant: So one thing is like… “No slow friends on a powder day.” Which is just a way to say that you’re like picky with who you ski with when there’s powder, you know? Like you don’t wanna have to be responsible for someone slow on a powder day. You don’t wanna miss out on the fresh tracks. 

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: It’s the weirdest thing but, other than your mom, I don’t need to ski with anyone else. ‘Cause I like to go at my tempo which is probably more than other people want to do, you know? Like I’m… You let the monkey out of the cage on a powder day.

Interviewer: Why powder days specifically?

Informant: It’s just… It’s like the ultimate… For me it’s a huge part of why I live in the mountains and what I look forward to. I have certain areas nailed and I know exactly where I’m going and it’s just a little hidden area of paradise that, you know, ninety percent of people don’t know about. And you’re skiing it on a good powder day and it’s just amazing… The sensation of skiing untracked powder is one of the biggest lifts for me.

REFLECTION:

Being from a ski town, I can attest to the fact that, amongst avid skiers, there is a deep enthusiasm for powder days. People will wake up incredibly early––before the mountain has even opened––so they can be first in line at the chairlift and ski “first tracks” or “freshies” (areas that haven’t been skied yet, and so are still covered in fresh snow). Going alone or with a group that skis at your pace ensures you have a better shot at getting to those areas before anyone else skis them up, disrupting the powder. Proverbs are ways to pass on wisdom and give advice. This proverb is a way to advise others not to ski with someone slow, as they will then have to wait for that person and risk missing out on untracked snow. Proverbs also make it easier to say harsh things. If someone wants to ski with you on a powder day, you can use this proverb to express that you’d like to ski alone. 

GIFTING SHOES AND KNIVES

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: So my family has this superstition… About not gifting someone shoes or knives. Like you can give them in the sense of like… If you text me and tell me that you want Nike Air Forces for your birthday… I wouldn’t say no. But I would expect you to pay me for that, like just give me a penny, right? Because if not, the belief is that you’re going to walk away from me. And I need you. So the superstition is that if you get someone shoes, they will walk away from you. Like they’ll leave… So they’re going to move, you know, or go away and be far, and you don’t want that, you want to keep them close. And then with the knives, it’s kind of similar in the sense that if I gift you a set of knives––again, if you do not pay me for them at all––then you’re uh, you might cut yourself. Not like intentionally, just accidentally.

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: We have some German family that married in, you know? And this came from them, but my grandma who’s Persian really adopted it and so did all her daughters. So it’s all my mom and my aunts… I’ve always thought of it as like… A way to assuage guilt? Like if I give you shoes and then you get a great job opportunity and you like move away, I’m going to kick myself. Like, “ I gave her the shoes that she walked away in.” Same thing, if I give you a nice set of knives or something, right? And you go and cut yourself and you lose a finger, I’m going to feel horrible. But if you bought them, then it’s no skin off my back. 

Interviewer: Have you ever experienced something that supports this belief?

Informant: Yeah, someone in my family gifted my younger cousin some shoes, and she moved like half an hour further away because the mom got a better job opportunity.

REFLECTION:

The term “superstition” has a pejorative quality. Many people tend to look down upon these folk beliefs, choosing instead to adhere to scientific facts. However the line between truth and untruth is not so clear. It can be difficult to prove that superstitions are untrue, and it is not the case that all science is true (many of our currently accepted scientific beliefs may be disproven down the line as technology advances, etc.). Calling something a superstition does not mean the belief is untrue, it simply means it has not been scientifically accepted. For generations, across cultures, people have believed in lucky pennies. In this German tradition, including a penny (which is associated with good luck) dispels the bad luck of gifting knives or shoes. This belief may not be scientifically proven, but the informant’s family has witnessed the belief in action when the younger cousin moved away after getting shoes. To them, this folk belief has been proven. Thus, superstitions are not always as untrue or unfounded as people may think. Moreover, regardless of whether a folk belief is or is not true, some may find it comforting to adhere to it, rather than run the risk that a loved one will leave or be injured.

SOUPY VS. STICKY FOODS BEFORE AN EXAM

MAIN PIECE: 

Informant: So in Korean culture… Before like a test or an exam you’re recommended not to drink or eat something that’s like soupy or runny. So, like, don’t have soup on the day of. And you should rather have something sticky like sticky rice or taffy or something like that, that has that like “oomph” to it… ‘Cause the correlation there is like, you drink something runny or you eat something that moves, then that information will leave with it. But if you have something sticky, that’ll help your brain stick that information into your head. 

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE: 

Interviewer: Do you practice this?

Informant: No, I don’t. It’s just something my mom told me about… I haven’t really thought about it before like now. 

Interviewer: But have you ever tried or tested it?

Informant: No, I haven’t.

REFLECTION:

According to James George Frazer, homeopathic magic is magic in which like produces like. We see that manifested here, as soupy foods are believed to wash away information, whereas sticky foods encourage information to stick. The idea that what you consume can directly impact your performance in daily life is not unique to Korean culture; it is widely accepted that food is tied to health. Science shows that eating certain foods leads to different physical outcomes (ex. eating carbohydrates versus eating protein before working out). What is unique about this Korean belief is that it is not based on the nutritional value of a food, but on how soupy or how sticky it is––on texture or consistency. This is why it is more likely to be considered a form of magic, than a science-based belief.

WORKPLACE PRANKS

MAIN PIECE: 

Informant: Well… So, my coworkers and I like to prank each other, and there was a time when there was this really stink––I can’t remember who started it––but one of us got this stinkiest cheese from the store and hid it in the other one’s desk. And then he hid it in my desk. And then I hid it in his car. Like, I found a spot under the driver seat where I stuffed it up there and he couldn’t ever find it. So I mean, there’s stuff like that. One of the guys also covered my phone in Vaseline and called me and I answered it and freaking shoved a glob of Vaseline in my ear hole… One time I heard that someone was running late for a meeting so I went and parked both of our moving vans on both sides of his car within like three inches. He couldn’t open his doors so I saw him out in the parking lot––he had to open the trunk––it was a station wagon… So he crawled in through the trunk to get to his car. Um… The other thing we’d do is if like the other guy left his door open, we’d like recline the seat…? Because a lot of times when you get in your car you just automatically lean back without looking and so you see him like disappear. It was so funny. Like I did it to him one time, and you know, I saw him like go out to his car and he like went to lean back and he just disappeared. So, I don’t know, just stupid stuff… And we do it to our boss too. Like sometimes when we know he’s going skiing, we pack his boots filled with like popcorn… Uh… Styrofoam popcorn, or uh… We’ll turn his bindings backwards. Or, yeah.   

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Interviewer: Why do you think you guys do these pranks in the workplace? 

Informant: ‘Cause our job’s boring, and this makes being at work fun… There’s no real reason other than to have fun, you know? We’re all stressed out, we’re all… You know, working hard, and then… All of the sudden you start laughing ‘cause you find a block of stinky cheese under your desk… You know, or someone shrink wraps my entire desk with like computer and everything, like… With this like moving tape… It’s just part of the culture of the office to have fun together… Everyone’s like, you know, we’ll let air out of our boss’ tire when he’s going biking, just… There’s always stuff. 

REFLECTION:

Pranking coworkers is often associated with rites of passage, as the pranks are often geared towards new employees who have yet to be “initiated” into the in-group. Pranks are often associated with thresholds, as demonstrated by trickster characters who are neither entirely good nor entirely bad; they are unstable, liminal figures. This piece, however, demonstrates that pranks are not limited to transitional periods of time. They can also be ongoing components of a work culture, and may continue amongst the in-group. It appears here that pranks are used to make a very stable, predictable environment slightly more unstable. It reduces the formality of the workplace, blurring the divide between employer and employee, and between professional and casual relationships and conduct.

NORWEGIAN TROLLS

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: So… Trolls are what people think of when they think of Norway, I guess… But people don’t actually believe in trolls, I don’t think… It’s kind of like to make childhood exciting, I think. You know how we have these little hikes in the woods where supposedly the trolls live, and you know, they make all these little adventure trails for kids focusing around trolls. And at the cross country ski races there would be troll mascots, right? Mhm.

Interviewer: What are some characteristics of trolls? 

Informant: Maybe a little rascal-like. Not mean, but mischievous… Bushy. Lots of hair… And very small… Big nose. Big ears… Bad teeth… There are big trolls… But when I think of them, I think of them as little trolls… I don’t have a strong attachment to trolls I guess, I don’t know.

Interviewer: But they are like a national symbol? 

Informant: Yeah, they are… They’re in a lot of our fairy tales and stuff…  I don’t know if trolls are officially a national symbol… Or if it’s something people play off of ‘cause they think it’s cool, and it draws tourists. I don’t know. 

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Interviewer: Do you know why trolls are such a big national thing?

Informant: I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve never really… Maybe it has to do with the nature in Norway… I’d be curious to know actually. 

Interviewer: So what’s up with all the troll statues everywhere? 

Informant: Oh yeah… I’ve never even thought about that… I don’t know why that is… Like there’s a big one in Oppdal, but Oppdal is such like a… Rural community, you know? I’m sure that tales are even more… What do you call it….? More prevalent, there. Like I’m sure there’s even more focus on tradition, and that traditions are even stronger in a place like that where it’s so rural and everybody lives on a farm almost.

Interviewer: Were trolls as prevalent when you were growing up?

Informant: Probably. Just not in my life, you know……? Actually! Growin’ up, I had kind of like a troll-looking doll that was really cute. That my mom would like knit clothes for, you know? And I would bring him as my mascot to gymnastic competitions and stuff. And my friend had one too and we’d play with them all the time. 

REFLECTION:

There is no denying that trolls are a large part of Norwegian culture. And yet, the informant does not feel much attachment to them as creatures or symbols; she does not have much information on trolls, nor has she given them much thought throughout her life. This suggests that the emphasis on trolls may indeed be primarily a tourist draw, as tourists may find more appeal in symbols than locals do. In “Early Travellers in Borneo” in Tourism in South-East Asia, Graham Saunders writes, “Travellers…today arrive with certain expectations. They carry with them an idea or image of Borneo, an image which tourist brochures have conveyed” (Saunders 271). Tourists have expectations pertaining to their destination. They are on the outside looking in, and may thus attach themselves to symbols that seemingly represent the place they are visiting; it makes a foreign place easier to understand and digest.

In his book Trolls: An Unnatural History, John Lindow writes, “For centuries…trolls were found only in the landscape of Scandinavia. They were ‘nature beings…’ Their home environment was a pre-industrial society in which people lived by farming and fishing, often on a small scale” (Lindow 9). Trolls largely originated as Scandinavian figures. They are thought to be encountered in nature, and Norway is a landscape made up of forests, fjords, mountains, rivers, and so on. Norway was also a rural place for a long time, and there are still active farming and fishing communities. Trolls may then fit the tourists’ expectations of what Norway is supposed to be like: rural and woodsy. The tourists’ expectations may in turn fuel what tourist brochures, etc. convey, as the tourist industry aims to draw more people in using the tangible symbols that seem to be working (such as trolls).

ANNOTATIONS:

Sources cited above (Note: Also see Lindow’s book for further reading on trolls):

Lindow, John. Trolls: An Unnatural History. Reaktion Books, 2014. 

Saunders, Graham. “Early Travellers in Borneo.” Tourism in South-East Asia, by Michael Hitchcock et al., Routledge, 1993.