Author Archives: Tiffany Chang

Superstition – Chinese

Not finishing every grain of rice will result in not finding a husband.

Christina’s parents and grandparents moved over from Taiwan to Los Angeles and brought over many superstitions to pass on.  Even though Christina was born in the United States, she is still acquainted with these superstitions and follows it in front of her family.  At the dinner table, she remembers that she could not leave the table until she finished every single grain of rice in her rice bowl.  If she did not, then her mother would always say that she would not be able to find a husband in the future.  Christina also recalls being a particularly picky eater; she proved her mother wrong when she got married, despite the fact that she did not always finish her rice.  Christina simply thinks that this superstition was a tactic for her parents to make her eat more and to not be wasteful with her food, but does not think that it is true.

This approach toward Chinese superstitions shows that the second-generation children do not fully understand and accept their parents’ beliefs.  This is very common with the “Americanized” children who think that the parents make up beliefs to get their way.  However, this superstition can be explained in two ways.  First, each grain of rice in the bowl can be symbolic of the selection of husbands in the future.  When one is picky about which person, then one will never find a suitable husband.  Second, the Chinese like to be frugal and to not throw away leftovers.  In this manner, the idea of wasting the rice in the bowl is equivalent to not being a good wife.  Therefore, a husband will never come.  Regardless of the origin of this superstition, this belief focuses more on the values of the Chinese culture. If one does not find a good husband, it is equivalent to having bad luck, emphasizing the value that the Chinese puts on a good husband and family.  This superstition points out that the Chinese Americans do not always accept the beliefs of their culture, as well as the importance of a husband to a young woman.

Superstition – Chinese

For good luck, never flip a fish over.

Growing up in a family-run Chinese restaurant where his dad was the chef, Carl learned this superstition from his parents from when he was young.  At a meal, a fish is usually served family style, but there is an accepted way to eat this fish.  He says that one is supposed to eat the meat from one side, then remove the bone to eat the other side. Carl once asked his father where this superstition came from, and learned that it came from the ancient fisherman culture.  According to this story, if one flips the fish over, then it symbolically flips the fisherman’s boat over.  This flipping over of the boat is bad luck, thus flipping the fish over is bad luck as well.

The Chinese culture, which includes the Cantonese culture, is filled with various superstitions that one learns while young.  These superstitions originated in Asia, but as the immigrants came over to America, these beliefs were brought over with them.  In this way, Carl is brought up with the same Chinese beliefs that his father grew up with, even though he is in a completely different country.  The effect of the 2nd generation Cantonese-American does not rid one of a culture, but rather integrates the Chinese culture with the American culture.

Since Chinese fishermen have a long past, it is expected for them to have many superstitions about luck.  Thus, these beliefs are transferred to modern habits of dinner etiquette rather than a struggle with good luck.  In other words, the superstitions of the past are now acknowledged as good manners and not simply for luck.  Though it seems as if the bone is being removed for ease of accessing the meat of the opposite side, this is actually a superstitious act to get good luck.  Chinese society revolves around luck and is believes that it will help achieve a successful life.


“What did the Mexican gardener say when he sat on the grass?”  –Gracias

Justin came up with this joke during high school when he was with his friends.  He says that this joke is not meant to be racist, but is more a play on the words in Spanish and English.  He later explains this joke into more detail, saying that the Mexican gardener got grass on his behind when he sat on it.  He meant to say “grassy-ass” in English instead of saying “gracias” in Spanish.

This simple joke is humorous because of the double meaning of sounds in two different languages.  This use of puns is an example of an appropriate incongruity, which is an equivocation of two meanings under one sound.  We have this within the English language, but using puns across languages makes it even funnier.  The punch line is the answer to the joke: gracias, which means “thank you.”  It is possible that the gardener is thanking someone to let him sit on the grass, but the joke was made so quickly that this connection was probably not made at the time.

Even though this is a very simple joke, it also says a lot about the stereotypes that Southern Californians have of Mexicans. The humor of the joke actually comes from the illegitimate connection between “grassy-ass” and “gracias,” yet it is possible that one can take this joke in an offensive way.  Because Mexicans are very large part of the population, they are commonly employed as gardeners or maids.  Thus, the use of a Mexican as a gardener in this joke is expected and partly related to a racist idea.  The jokes that people have about Mexicans are due to the fact that they are just across the border of California and Mexico.  It is easy to make fun of the differences of language, especially because there are so many Mexicans in the area that the two languages are often used together.

Tradition – Hindi

During a Hindi wedding, there is a tradition that the bride’s side of the family tries to hide the groom’s shoes.  At the end of the wedding, if the groom still has not found his shoes, then the bride’s side will bid a certain amount of money for the groom to buy them back.

Trisha has learned this tradition from India where she was mainly raised.  She says that the girl’s side of the family usually hosts the wedding, meaning that they pay for most of it.  It is commonly the bride’s sisters who hide the shoes and ask for the money from the groom.  Done in a playful manner, the bride’s side of the family gathers together to collectively decide how much the groom should pay for them.  Trisha says that money in Indian culture is considered a blessing to the newlyweds.  It is meant to pass on good omens so that they will have a bright future.  In addition, these acts are very traditional and are crucial to an Indian wedding.

The Indian culture, like every other culture, is guided by many of these traditions that are passed down.  In ceremonies that exhibit a rite of passage, there are commonly many rituals that are done and not questioned.  Because money symbolizes a blessing, it indicates their perception of the influence that money has on a couple’s future.  Money is always an important aspect that guides a culture’s actions, also shown by the bidding of the shoes.  A further interpretation of this tradition is that the groom should have enough money to support his wife.  Thus, if he is able to afford the bid of the shoes, then he will be financially stable for the future to protect the girl.  Although Trisha said that this was originally a Hindi tradition, this act has spread throughout Northern India and has been infused into the wedding festivities.  It is still mainly Hindi and is usually not followed in Southern India.  It is known to be a light-hearted act, which shows that the period of getting married is intended to be a reason to celebrate.  This celebration of the union between two people is a very important time in their lives, and the ceremonies are a way of passing down folklore during this rite of passage.

Proverb – Chinese

Mandarin:                                ?        ?        ?        ??    ?        ?        ?        ?   ?

English Literal Translation:    Ice        freeze  three    feet      not       one      day      chill

English Proverb: One day of cold weather will not result in three feet of ice.

Mrs. Chang heard this phrase in Taiwan, but does not remember exactly whom she heard it from.  She says that this proverb means that a problem does not come overnight, but accumulated over time.  One has to be patient with things and not blame problems on one specific time and place.  She says that the imagery of three feet of ice freezing over comes from the mountains of Taiwan where the farmers used to live.  In the winter, it was not possible for the ice to freeze that much in one night, but if the people did not take care of it, the problem grew until it was not manageable.

This proverb is a way to communicate that problems don’t arise overnight but are created over time.  This proverb is very popular in the Chinese culture and is also very practical in use.  It shows that problems have to be handled from the very beginning or else it will compound and be impossible to handle.  It concentrates on the problem itself and its origins, getting to the bottom of the problem to fix it.  Also, a series of events has to build up to a dilemma.

Another way of looking at this proverb is that one has to stop a problem from getting out of hand or else it will result in something bigger.  The imagery of three feet of ice is like a blockade on anything—too cold to grasp and too hard to break.  With this block of ice, any solution is hindered and slowed down.  Because it takes so long for the problem to build up, the only way to get rid of it is to give it time and let the ice melt.  Thus, the time that it takes for the problem to build is the time that it takes for the problem to end.  This proverb is passed down to show the importance of handing one’s problems from the beginning to avoid more conflict.