Author Archives: Scott Wey

Concert Interactions for Luck

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“So as a pianist, whenever I have a recital or competition, or when I’m about to perform, I guess it’s a habit or something I always do, I have to talk to someone. So, if it’s a stranger, I don’t really care, I just go up to someone like, ‘hey.’ you know, just talk about something, I don’t know about what. It just helps me calm down and gives me that strength and that luck to play well.”

My informant has established a ritual to cope with pre-performance stress. Perhaps the interaction with another human being relaxes him and allows him to think about other things rather than worry about how he’ll perform. Often times, a person’s nerves may prevent him or her from performing their best. Focusing too much on one part of the song may cause him to tense up or forget a different part of the song. Therefore, maintaining a calm state for him before going on stage may prove beneficial. The ritual is relatively easy to achieve as there are people everywhere in a concert hall. Through this ritual he is able to quickly able to calm his nerves and boost his confidence with some luck from his ritual.

Nail Worms

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“When I was little, my parents used to tell me that if I bit my nails, I’d get worms in my stomach. But, I never did, so it’s okay. But it’s one of those things parents tell you to discourage you from doing bad things.”

Sometimes parents seem pretty desperate to discourage bad habits. As a child, I think this would have information deterred me from biting my nails. When I was young, I really enjoyed eating raw tomatoes. For some reason, this really bothered my mother who told me in graphic detail how parasites living on an uncooked tomato could bore their way through my intestinal tract and come out of my bottom. I am still hesitant to eat uncooked tomatoes to this day.

The idea that she would get worms from chewing her nails may be influenced by the fact that nails are known to carry many different species of bacteria. Since kids are constantly putting their hands into their mouths, parents would find it necessary to scare them into stopping, or teaching them to clean their hands often to prevent them from becoming ill.

When we hear about horrible things like this as a child, they really stick in your mind even after you’ve grown up even if you’ve learned otherwise. Parents hope to discourage bad habits from forming by slightly scaring their children. It makes sense why many of the folktales that the Brothers Grimm collected were so grim: so the cautionary tales children heard would stick with them.

Lucky Socks for Basketball

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“So I used to play basketball and when I played well I’d mark my socks, so if I played well I’d always wear the right sock on the right foot until I played bad and then I’d switch them up.”

I think this is a good example of contagious magic. According to my informant, the thinking behind this is that if he plays well with a certain sock configuration, the socks must either be causing the good performance or they must soak up some of the “mojo” of the good game and will lead to good games in the future. However, once he starts playing poorly, it’s obvious that the sock configuration has lost its magic and needs to be reconfigured. This is a way for him to relieve pressure from himself and stay calm in stressful games. If he does well, he will continue to do well thanks to his lucky socks. If he does poorly, it is not because his game is bad, but because his socks are no longer good luck socks and simply need to be changed. By rationalizing his basketball performance like this, my informant is able to stay cool and confident under pressure. Furthermore, the belief is that luck can be recycled, as long as he finds the proper order for his socks.

Lucky Red Shirts

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“So whenever I have to dress up formally for a competition or a recital or an interview I’ll always wear my lucky red dress shirt. It’s something I’ve done since probably middle school. I always get a different red shirt, but it has to be red which is my favorite color. Whatever I do it gives me that luck that I need to do well to do whatever I need to do that day.”

It seems like the color red instills confidence in this informant. Interestingly, he is Chinese American. Many Chinese see red as a lucky color. Perhaps this is doubly so for him as it is his favorite color. Having lucky items of clothing seems quite common. This informant differs from the norm of having a lucky item of clothing in that he does not have one lucky red shirt, but derives luck from red dress shirts in general. In this case, red dress shirts are less like a lucky item, but closer to a symbol he derives strength from.

While not religious, the red dress shirt is somewhat analogous to the Christian cross. Those of the Christian faith gain strength and feel protected by crosses, they feel the presence of God when they see symbols of their religion. They feel this way not only about all crosses of their religion, not just about one specific cross. Similarly, my informant feels lucky and successful from the symbolic power of a red dress shirt, not just one specific red dress shirt.

Furthermore, the fact that he wears a dress shirt may affect his confidence. Many people claim to feel more confident and assertive when dressed professionally.

Water Bottle Toxins

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“So whenever I bring a water bottle onto the car I almost always forget it there. My dad says that after you leave it in the sun and the bottle heats up, you’ll get cancerous toxins in the water and he would never let me drink it and would always force me to pour it out in front of him.”

The belief that water bottles leach toxins into the water that they hold is not a novel one.  I have heard this health belief from many other people in the United States. Generally, the usual concern is due to BPA (bisphenol-A), which is said to interfere with natural hormone regulation. My high school chemistry teacher believed strongly in this health belief and spent one of his lectures demonstrating how it is possible for BPA to leach from a plastic water bottle into the water it holds. As a precaution, he was often seen with a metal water bottle.

However, this is my first time hearing about possible toxins causing cancer. I think this plays into a cultural fear of carcinogens, especially within the food manufacturing sector, and combines it with our health beliefs about plastic water bottles.  None of my foreign relatives share this health belief, which leads to me to believe that it is mostly a belief shared by those in the US or specifically health and environmentally-conscious California. This health belief most likely stems from the fear of “chemicals” that seems to run rampant in our society. It is a fear of the unknown. We don’t know how water bottles are made and how the substances used in manufacturing them interact with our day-to-day usages, so we tend to assume the worst.

Furthermore, water is a life-giving substance to humans and the idea of vessels used to hold it “betraying” us and leaching something poisonous into it has a certain appeal to it. This health belief has been largely debunked in scientific literature: while plastic water bottles do leach BPA, the amount leached is so negligible that one would be more likely to die of water poisoning before the BPA levels would reach any significant level.

See:
Schmid, P., Kohler, M., Meierhofer, R., Luzi, S., Wegelin, M. “Does the reuse of PET bottles during solar water disinfection pose a health risk due to the migration of plasticisers and other chemicals into the water?” Water Research. 4 Sep. 2008, Volume 42, Issue 20: 5054-5060.

ACC. “The Safety of Polythylene Teraphthalate (PET).” PlasticsInfo.Org. American Chemistry Council, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. <http://www.plasticsinfo.org/s_plasticsinfo/sec_generic.asp?CID=657&DID=2605>