Author Archives: Patra Childress



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Dana anast ke bedanad ke bedanad va beporsad.

Nadan anast ke bedanad ke nadanad va naporsad.

The wise is the one that knows (he or she) knows and asks.

The not wise is the one that knows (he or she) not knows and not asks.

The wise one knows he knows and asks.

The fool knows he does not know and does not ask.

This expression came up in conversation when I was gossiping about someone who was acting very sure of herself on a topic she did not know much about. My grandma told me to remember this phrase, implying that the person we were talking about fits the category of a fool. My grandma was born in a village outside Tehran, where she moved after she got married. In 1986, she moved to the United States.

She explained to me that this proverb emphasizes the importance of checking your work and making sure you’ve done things right. The wise person never takes for granted that he or she is correct, while the fool is not concerned with the truth of whether or not he or she is correct but only concerned with giving the impression that he or she is correct by not challenging his or her ideas.

In addition to this I think it implies that one should always be open to the possibility that one is wrong, especially because the only way to become wise is to fix any mistakes that one has made in the past. It also calls for the continual pursuit of knowledge even where one thinks one has the correct facts, and for the continual pursuit of other opinions.

This proverb separates knowledge from wisdom, which is a very big theme with my grandmother, who always assures me that knowledge is not worth much without wisdom.

Folk Speech

“She looked good from far, but far from good.”

            Sean is a college student who has spent all his life in Orange County, CA. He used this expression to describe to me a girl he doesn’t like too much. This is how he reworked his first impression of her after he got to know her. They started off as friends, but now they don’t get along. His interpretation of this expression is that it describes how wrong he was to think of her as a friend and also to describe how ugly he thinks she is.

            I think this expression allows him to turn something that could be seen as his poor judgment in character into something acceptable so that he is not seen as a fool for thinking she “looked good from far.” If she had looked bad from far, he wouldn’t have an excuse for being fooled. Also, it gives him the opportunity to insult her looks, which he probably thought were good when he first met her.

Folk Medicine-China

“When I went to China I went to this..uh..province called Yunnan. I know like those minority group people, like when they want to stay healthy they eat a little bit of silver. A very little bit. Because you know too much is bad for you. They take like this (points to bracelet) and boil it to get the top layer off, and then they put it in their water, and it floats on top, and they drink it. Not a lot at once, but little by little throughout their life.”

            Jamie is my roommate. She is an international student from Hong Kong, here at the University of Southern California to study film production. She found this folk medicine interesting because it was something very different than she was used to seeing, living in Hong Kong. She explained to me that people in the provinces have different customs and lifestyles than the people in the city, which is why she took a trip out to this province as a tourist.

            This anecdote shows me an example in which the nation-state model is not necessarily accurate. Parts of the same nation are different enough that a Chinese native can be surprised by the differences in culture nearby. It’s easy to attribute many cultural differences across the United States as resulting from the different ethnic influences in each area; however in Jamie’s case, Americans would consider her and the people of Yunnan to be of the same ethnicity because they belong to one nation-state. In America, they would both be considered Chinese, when in China, they belong to different folk groups.


“This guy’s a merchant, okay? And this merchant asks his wife what she wants as like a gift. She just says she wants something nice. He goes somewhere in the Middle East. So this guy tells him ‘I have a goose that every time you cook him, he comes back to life. So when you put the bones in the dish, it comes back. So the wife’s cheating. She decides to cook this bird for her lover. It comes back to life and tells the husband that his wife is cheating. Wait—before that even happened, the goose tells the wife that he’s going to tell the husband she’s cheating. So the lover tries to kill the goose by leaving it in the oven burned. And long story short, the husband beat the shit out of the lover and beat the shit out of the wife. That’s the moral of the story. Russian stories are weird.”

This Russian story was valuable to Sean because it was “weird.” Sean is a college student who has spent all his life in Orange County, CA. He learned about this tale in a class he took and was compelled to retell it for me. He said he remembered the story because it was bizarre and had such a mixed moral message. The wife was wrong for cheating, the lover was wrong for trying to kill the bird, the bird might not have been right in telling about the infidelity and telling about informing the husband, and the husband was wrong for beating the wife and the lover. It seems the moral of the story is to “keep your mouth shut,” which is not typical in Western märchen, in which truth is always valued and things work out so as to accommodate the importance of the truth.

I think this tale was interesting for this reason and also because it follows Propp’s 31 Functions. There is an interdiction of fidelity that is violated when the husband makes his departure. The lover is the nemesis, who makes his appearance during this time. The magical donor, the man in the Middle East, gives a magical object, the goose, to the hero. The magical object helps defeat the nemesis, and the hero defeats the lover while “reclaiming” his wife. Depending on your particular culture and how badly you view infidelity compared to violence, the hero may become an antihero. Here it provides a spin on the classically-established pattern as described by Propp.

Folk Game

“Quick. Make a wish. Now point to a cheek. Ok. Your wish will come true.”

Melissa Johnson is an accountant from southern California. She explained this folk belief to me, that this is said when an eyelash falls onto one’s face. If you point to the correct side of your face, your wish is supposed to come true. She got this from a friend who said this to her. She doesn’t really believe that her wish will come true, but feels it’s fun to do anyway, like making a wish when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake or when the clock hits a certain time.

I think this is why anyone does this, and it’s an interesting display of the continuum of belief. She doesn’t believe in wishes enough to say that she believes pointing to the right cheek will make her wish come true, but she believes in it enough to go through the process of wishing on a fallen eyelash.