Author Archives: Svadharma Keerthi

Arab Belief: Soles of Shoes

“For a lot of Middle Eastern people, you can’t- you can’t put them so that the soles are facing up because the bottom of your foot is the lowest part of your body, the most dirty, the um..and if you put your shoe facing up, it’s like an insult to God.”

The informant is a Middle East Studies major at the University of Southern California. She says she learned this folk belief within the last year while studying various beliefs of people in the Middle East. This was a response to the belief in Thai culture that the feet are considered dirty and the head contains knowledge. This Middle Eastern belief as the soles being dirty and as an insult to God is an oicotype of the Thai belief, but adapted to its own culture. While the Thai belief believes that it is rude to other human beings in general to point one’s feet at, pointing soles of shoes towards the sky does not offend other humans in the Middle East, but God. It is a regional variant on the folklore that reveals the nature of each culture.

Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

Three Dog Night

Transcribed Text:

“A three dog night, which as far as I can tell, means like, harsh, like probably cold night. Comes from dog sledders, when they were traversing the wilderness. A three dog night would be a night where you would have to like cuddle up with three of your dogs to be able to stay warm for the night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and he does not recall where he first heard this piece of folklore. It is a saying that is normally only used in extremely cold weathered countries where sled dogs and freezing temperatures are the norm. It has a literal meaning behind it, where in these extremely cold areas, people would huddle and sleep with their dogs in order to stay warm for the night. A three dog night is an especially freezing night, because a person doesn’t need one, or two of their dogs to stay warm, but needs three.

It is said that the band Three Dog Night is named after this saying, where one of the vocalist’s girlfriend heard the phrase being used in a documentary about Australian Aborigines. However, there has also been debate about the saying originating with the Inuits. This search unable to trace back to a single point indicates how the original source was lost and this saying has now become like many other pieces of folklore; with no one author.

Annotation: The Australian band Three Dog Night formed because the vocalists girlfriend heard this piece of folklore about indigenous Australians.

The Story of the Zodiac

Transcribed Text:

“The animals had a race to determine the order of the Zodiac. They had to cross a river. So the mouse used his brain instead of his brawn because he knew he couldn’t win with brawn. So he hitched a ride on the water ox because it’s the fastest swimmer. So the rat was able to jump off the ox and finish first. The ox finished second. Tiger was third. The rabbit jumped across and was fourth. The dragon came next. And then, I think, the snake like, hitched a ride on the horse and scared it. So then it was sixth. The horse came after the snake. And then, the sheep, the monkey, and the chicken, also made it across. And then the dog decided taking a bath was more important, so it finished eleventh. And then the last was the pig because it stopped half way to have a meal and rest.”

The informant heard about this piece of folklore from a taxi driver in Taipei, Taiwan when she was about 8 years old. This story is based off of the way that the current Chinese zodiac is formatted. She says that she believes that this story isn’t true but was made up for children to learn about the zodiac in Chinese culture. I think it’s a creation myth of the Chinese culture, as the zodiac is a very prominent part of the culture. It is obviously a myth as it is not fully a tale where it is obviously not real, but it is not a legend where things could have been necessarily true. I think that although it is not sacred to the informant, this story would be sacred to many Chinese people who put a lot of faith in the zodiac and therefore, would tell this story to future generations with a sense of revery.

Vietnamese Full Moon

Transcribed Text:

“A full moon is like good luck. Cuz like the way they see it, it lights up their night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. The informant says she learned this folk belief from her parents when she was younger and visiting Vietnam. She says that contrast to American belief that a full moon is bad, as it is often associated with werewolves, she says a full moon in Vietnam is good luck because in their perspective, a full moon lights up the night. She thinks it’s interesting how the two folk beliefs completely contrast each other in the two cultures with which she has grown up in. It is interesting how different folklore can be across regions, even when they are basing their beliefs on the same object; in this case, the moon. Many cultures have very different interpretations and beliefs about things such as the moon. Each culture bases their calendar on a different cycle or different concept. In Vietnamese culture, they base their calendar on the lunar cycle, which could be a large reason why the full moon is a very positive and big deal there, as they even have the Full Moon Festival in the fall, according to the informant. In contrast, Western culture focuses more on the solar cycle for the calendar, which could be why the moon isn’t represented in a positive way.