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German Märchen: Snow White

Interviewer: Do you know any German fairy tales or lullabies that you were told when you were younger or when you’ve visited Germany over the years?


Informant: I know a similar version to the Grimms of Snow White.  I think it’s really popular for people who are German or those who live in Germany to know stories that come from Grimms.  A lot of other stories are based of that collection.


Interviewer: Do you have one that sticks out for you?


Informant: Yeah there’s one called Sneewittchen which is German for Snow White or what we know as Snow White.


Interviewer: How does it go?


Informant: So there’s Snow White and the Evil Queen in the beginning and then Snow White escapes to live with the seven dwarves.  But after the Evil Queen asks the mirror, who’s the fairest of them all and it says Snow White, she sends the Huntsman out to go and kill Snow White.  But instead of killing her, he kills a boar and brings back the heart as a way to trick the Evil Queen into thinking that Snow White is dead.  So time goes by, and then the Evil Queen asks the mirror again who the is the fairest of them all and it says Snow White again.  That’s how the queen finds out that Snow White is still alive and decides to go out and look for her.  So when she finds her, she tricks her into eating the apple and she actually dies for a short time and they place her in a glass casket.  The Prince is out hunting in the woods, when he discovers Snow White in the glass and kisses her.  She comes back to life and as they are planning to get married, the Prince realizes that the Evil Queen is the one who was trying to kill her.  So he captures the Queen and forces her to wear these pair of burning hot shoes while she dances in front of the whole court.  And the Prince makes her dance until she is eventually consumed by the heat and essentially burned alive. The Queen dies and Snow White and the Prince get married and that’s the end.


Interviewer:  That is a very interesting version and a really awful way to die if you were the Queen.


Informant: Yeah, a lot of the stories that everyone knows, especially the Disney version don’t include those kinds of details but the earlier version aren’t as censured.


Background: The informant is a college student studying Linguistics with an emphasis in German.  She has a large extended family that still lives in Germany and she visits every two to three years.  She has also spent time in rural Germany teaching English at a children’s day school as well as learning to better her German.  This piece represents a lot of similar stories she heard as a child and was unaware until she was older that other children were learning the same stories in different ways.

Context: This interview took place when the informant was visiting with the interviewer.  For the informant, this piece is something that she not only heard when she was little but also studied again in school when taking an upper level German course.


Analysis: With this piece, the informant and I talked a lot about the history of the story and the role the Grimms played in distributing the stories that circulated a lot in German culture.  For the informant, the Grimms were almost a form of national pride and I found that really interesting.  Despite, that to an outsider like me, these stories seem gruesome and dark, to her it is an identifying mark of the history of her culture. It also brought to mind some ideas that we discussed around tourism and the way that the visited culture can be both proud and somewhat embarrassed by the things that make them stand out to other people and for me the Grimms tales seemed like a prime example for this informant.


Annotation: Other versions of this story and other like it can be found in

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Kinder- Und Hausmarchen. G. Weise, 1860.

German Märchen: Struwwelpeter

Interviewer: Do you know any German fairy tales or lullabies that you were told when you were younger or when you’ve visited Germany over the years?


Informant: My grandfather used to read out of this story book when I was little and it was compiled of German folktales that centered around this one character, Struwwel Peter.  It is like really well known in Germany and it follows this guy who is like supposed to teach children life lessons in the form of tales. They are more like warnings, like if you do “this” then “something” will happen to you I guess.


Interviewer: Do you remember one of the stories or an example of the stories or lessons?


Informant: Well there was one that was told to me about Struwwelpeter when I was younger and it was that there were these children that were really young and still sucked on their thumbs.  And the parents or the group that was around them was trying to get them to stop or get them to grow up so basically Struwwelpeter turned into a “scissor man”.  I know it sounds really weird but that’s what it was about and it really freaked me out.  And the tale goes that if you were sucking your thumb then he would come and try to cut off your thumb as a punishment.  So he was basically like chasing kids who miss behaved or disobeyed their parents in some way.


Interviewer: Was it meant to be a scary story?


Informant: I don’t think so but German tales and stories really don’t mess around, like there is no beating around the bush with certain images or details. It’s all kind of very graphic and upfront.  But I didn’t really grasp how scary and graphic the stories were when I was little until I got older and thought about what they were actually saying and the concepts kind of started to freak me out.


Interviewer: Yeah just by you telling me the story I got freaked out and I can’t even imagine telling that to children but I guess different cultures and time frames use different folklore.


Informant: It was also really serious because my grandfather is really German and the rest of my cousins still live there so I knew he wasn’t messing around.


Interview: Well thanks for sharing!


Background: The informant is a sophomore in college student Linguistics with an emphasis in German.  Her extended family lives in Germany and she visits them every two to three years.  She has also spent time teaching English and learning German over the summer at a children’s day school in rural Germany.  To her, this piece is very characteristics of things she has learned and experienced through this particular culture.  Even upon this interview she asked first if I knew who the Grimms were and the stories they collected.  Tales for her are a signifying point.


Context: This interview took place while on visit to see the informant.  The informant first heard or experienced this piece from her grandfather who not only knew the tales by heart but had gotten her a book compiled of a collection of these stories that her family still has.


Analysis: This interview was extremely special because it was the first time I had asked someone for cultural products or folklore and they knew exactly what I meant.  It was also cool to see examples of things we had discussed in class and to meet someone who knew exactly what märchen were and the history of their culture, including the Grimms.  In hearing the piece I was also struck by the reality of it and the exclusion of filters for different audiences depending on age, but given the course, it makes sense that these tales would not be edited for children of the time if childhood was not an established concept.  The coming together of these different examples and theories is a really interesting process that has brought tangibility to the study of folklore.


Annotation: Documented versions of this piece can be found in Heinrich Hoffman’s book, Struwwelpeter: Merry Tales and Funny Pictures.

Hoffman, Heinrich. Struwwelpeter. G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1909.

La Llorona Variation

Interviewer: Do you know of any cultural legends or tales that someone else told you or passed down to you?


Informant: I know about the Mexican folk tale or story.


Interviewer: Great, how does the story start?


Informant: Well this woman, fell in love with this man and wanted him to marry her.  But the man said that he didn’t want to marry her because she had kids, so she had to get rid of them.  So she took them to this river and either drowned them or just left them there and eventually they drowned on their own.  And then when she went back to the man she loved, he told her that it was too late and that he had found someone else to marry.  She was heartbroken and was crying as she went back to the river to look for her kids but they were gone.  From then on she cried for the rest of her time.  And apparently if a kid cries then La Llorona can hear the crying and thinks it’s the children she lost.


Interviewer: The version I have heard is that you aren’t supposed to wander to far from home or go to bodies of water, like rivers alone, or misbehave in general because then she would find you.  Have you heard different versions as well?


Informant: I hadn’t heard the part about wandering off but what I was told was that parents tell their children the story when they want them to stop crying.  Because that’s how La Llorona knows where you are, by the crying and her believing that it is her own children crying.  I guess it also makes sense if you are misbehaving but it loses the thing that identifies you to La Llorona.  It is almost like the crying is a siren call for her so I think it’s an important part of the telling of the story that the child listening also be crying.


Interviewer: Yeah that actually makes a lot of sense.  Did you believe the story when you first heard it?


Informant: I thought it was just creepy.  I don’t know if I necessarily believed it but it makes an impact.  I think logically you know it’s an old wives’ tale but at the same time it’s pretty weird.  Like it makes you think about where these stories started and what happened to start them.


Background: The informant is a junior at USC and has lived in Los Angeles her whole life.  She also has a large extended family who often get together to spend time catching up.  This piece was one that she had often overlooked but was unaware of the various versions of it.  For her the story was not used against her as a way to get her to behave, but mostly as a scary story.

Context: This interview took place during a dinner conversation about scary stories and other things we had learned about from our families.  The informant learned the legend from her mother who told her and her younger siblings.

Analysis: I had heard versions of this story for other people but never from my family.  My grandmother also knew about the story but didn’t tell me or my parents because she didn’t believe in it and didn’t want to spread it.  Which is interesting in the sense that even when some performers stop passing on folklore, that people will still learn the pieces whether through other performers or media or through projects. But after hearing the legend in full I think it was better that I learned it from friends because I think if my family or even my grandmother had told me I would have believed it more and been more afraid.

Family Gorditas

Interviewer: Is there any food or dishes that have been passed down through your family and that you share with others?


Informant: Well we do this thing every year for the past twelve years where we make Gorditas and my whole extended family is invited as a way for us to get together and celebrate being a family.


Interviewer: And when did the tradition start?


Informant: One of my uncles died and my family was more spread out so it was sort of a way to reconnect.


Interviewer: And who started it?


Informant: My mom started doing it because the uncle that died taught her how to make the dough for the gorditas and no one else knew how to do it.  So from then on each year we have a night at my house.


Interviewer: Has your mom passed down the skills to you?


Informant:  I know how to make them now after helping her for so many years but I don’t know the ingredients off the tops of my head just because she is always there to help me.  So I guess f my mom was older and she wanted was worried about the recipe getting forgotten, then she would right it is down but for now it’s more of something we do together.


Interviewer: And do other members of your family help?


Informant: Usually everyone does something to help.  My aunts, or my mom’s sisters, usually help assemble the gorditas or help with other food that they want to bring.  And my uncles usually take the time that the food is cooking to gossip and catch up. My youngers cousins and siblings usually all stay in the living room or something to just eat and play.  And then the middle kids or like the older kids around my age with help to do dishes and clean up.  So everyone pitches in in some way or another.


Interviewer: And does this happen the same time every year, like is it a set holiday?


Informant: No, it’s more of a healing thing.  Like the food and the coming together helps people feel better and we usually plan it around something happening in the family and the food helps us come to terms with how we heal and move on.


Interviewer: That’s interesting because a lot of people have specific dishes to help them celebrate good things or like birthday and things like that but it makes sense that it could also be to comprehend and deal with more serious things as well.


Informant:  Yeah like it would seem off for me to eat the gorditas or prepare them other than in that context and with those people.  It’s kind of sacred now.


Background: The informant is a Junior at USC studying Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Change.  She is Mexican American and comes from a large family and extended family based in the greater Los Angeles area.  The informant is also the roommate of the interviewer and a close friend who shares many cultural traditions. This piece to her was very special and personal but also something she enjoys sharing with her friends because it provides a glimpse into her own family history.


Context: This interview occurred during a lunch meal with friends where we discussed similar cultural practices. However, the informant and interviewer happened to also be roommates earlier in the year and were able to experience the family tradition together.  The informant invited the interviewer to participate and engage in the gathering at her home and was able to witness first-hand the power of the food.


Analysis: For this piece, I was lucky enough to experience it in person and then interview the informant after the fact just to gain a better understanding of why and how the tradition came to be.  It was great to see similarities in the family gatherings that I have in my own home and them compare it to what I was witnessing.  Also to understand the meaning behind it after having already experienced it made it more special that she had invited me in the first place.  And it was important to see that food has many different aspects for those who create it, it is often wholly different to have something from a restaurant and then to have something homemade and the effect it has on the person consuming it.


Cultural Joke

Interviewer: Do you know any folklore based on stereotypes or any jokes based on communities?


Informant: I know some jokes that I learned from my family.  I think one that would fit is a joke I heard from my mom.


Interviewer: How does it go?


Informant: Why do Mexicans make tamales for Christmas?


Interviewer: I don’t know, why?


Informant: So they can have something to unwrap.


Interviewer: That is actually really funny, I don’t think it would have the same meaning if I wasn’t Mexican.


Informant: Yeah I think it’s more relatable because my family has tamales for Christmas and it’s a big part of our celebration.


Interviewer: Yeah it was actually really funny and the first thing I thought about was how excited my dad gets around Christmas because he could honestly care less about the presents but loves tamales.


Informant: Yeah exactly.  If you weren’t Mexican it would be more like you thought it was funny because it fulfilled a stereotype but not because you actually understood the customs or the culture.


Interviewer: That’s so true! Thanks for sharing.


Background: The informant is a Junior at USC studying Non-Governmental Organizations and Social Change.  She is Mexican American and comes from a large family and extended family based in the greater Los Angeles area.  The informant is also the roommate of the interviewer and a close friend who shares many cultural traditions.


Context: This interview occurred during a lunch meal with friends where we discussed similar cultural practices.  The informant first heard this joke when at home with her family and then shared it with me.  She said her mother was the one to share the folklore and that she had heard it before from another within her community.


Analysis: At first this joke was really funny to me but then I thought about the cultural implications that went into creating the stereotype.  It was weird to see how other people thought about a given culture.  And it was interesting to analyze why it was funny to those within the group, and to me it was that people within the group are able to laugh because they are acknowledging but also counter acting the stereotype.