‘guten Appetit’

Background on informant: Informant is a senior at USC, studying international relations. She is involved in many student organizations,

Informant: My dad’s side of the family is all German so whenever we would go to my grandmother’s house for dinner we would always have to say the normal dinner greeting things that are part of German culture. It’s basically saying thank you for the food and let’s eat. I haven’t said it in five years so I forgot the term.

Analysis: The informant later informed me that the term is “guten Appetit,” a relatively simple and self-explanatory phrase that means in English: enjoy your meal. To her however, this was folklore because she does not speak German and learned to say the phrase through a family, repeating it as a ritual before a dinner at her grandmother’s house. The most interesting part of this piece of folklore was that the informant forgot the substance of the folklore — what it is she actually said — but remembered the folklore and its purpose. Thus, the folklore for her was largely symbolic. It represents something and has meaning and value detached from the words that comprise it. Perhaps this is why folklore must be performed and is distinguished from authored literature. In essence, the informant remembered the performance but forgot the script. But that’s not what mattered for her. What mattered is what the folklore meant and what it represented, and she got it pretty much correct. “It’s basically saying thank you for the food and let’s eat” is not too far off from “enjoy your meal.”