Nationality: English (U.K.)
Residence: London, UK
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/16
Primary Language: English
“This story is called Soup on a Nail. It’s an old Norwegian folk story. OK, so the story goes that there’s this village and there’s this woman in the village that’s known as being very miserly. She doesn’t give at all to the poor, she’s very very selfish, um, and things like that.
So one night a man comes and knocks on her door and he’s a beggar. He’s really really poor. And he says “Um, excuse me, is there any way you can spare me maybe just a pot of soup or something. I’m so so hungry,” and she says, “Absolutely not, I hate beggars. Just please go away.” And he says, “Oh, well, could I possibly just have some water. Maybe you don’t even have any water but that’s OK.” She says, “Oh, of course I have water” and he says “Ok let me come in and just boil the water,” and she says “Ok fine”.
So she lets him come in and he boils the water and he says “Now this soup tastes pretty incredible if you just have some bone marrow but you probably don’t have any bone marrow or anything like that.” And she says, “Of course I do, what are you talking about?” and gives him the bone marrow.
So he takes the bone marrow and he mixes it in —
OH and I forgot to mention earlier the point of this story is that he says “I can make soup on a nail; all you need for this soup is one nail,” and she says “Ok, I have a nail, take it.” Not like a fingernail, like a nail for the wall. So he puts the nail at the bottom of a pan then boils the water and then adds the bone marrow.
Then he’s like “You know what works really well with this whole mixture? If you just have some vegetables. I know you might not have some vegetables and they’re hard to come by, not many people have them.” She says, “Well of course *I* have vegetables.” So she gives him the vegetables and he mixes this in.
And this goes on and on, like he adds meat, all these different things and flavors to this soup, and makes this really delicious soup, and in the end he says “There! I’ve made soup on a nail!” And he takes it away, and she’s given him a meal without realizing it. It’s about, like, it’s not that hard to give to people, and it’s bad to miserly and selfish and not give to the poor.
“It was taught to me by my grandmother, and i haven’t heard it since I was maybe five.” The informant said she doesn’t know why she remembers the tale so well, but it always stuck with her. Her grandmother told a lot of tales to them when they were kids, and always tried to impart wisdom through fun stories. She likes the story because charity is something she’s believed in her entire life.
Informant: “This story would probably be told to a small child. Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a simple story and isn’t too long or anything, and um, like teaches good lessons, so yeah. I know my grandma is the one that taught me it, but I wouldn’t tell the story to my friend or something, yeah.”
Tales are often told to children to teach them lessons, and there’s no lesson more important than the golden rule: treat people the way you would like to be treated. The informant comes from a family that is generally wealthy, but she says that her grandmother did not grow up with as much. In telling this story, her grandmother is teaching her that not only is it important to help those less fortunate than you, but also that it is not that difficult.
In the story itself, the rich woman is described as selfish and rude. She also can’t see what the beggar is doing despite the listener being able to pick up on it fairly quickly. It was interesting hearing the voices that the informant gave the characters in the story, which can not be translated over text. The tone of the woman was snobby and rude, while the beggar was cunning and shifty. Without this intonation, one might read this story as the woman acting like a complete and total fool for no reason, but with the tone that the informant used, it’s revealed that it is the need to display her wealth and capabilities that makes the woman susceptible to the trap.
Hearing tales like this are always interesting to me, because I was never told many tales as a kid. However, my mom would use folklore to instill the values of being kind to others, and helping those less fortunate than I am, but it was typically done through proverbs.
I researched this story a little bit further, and found out that I actually had known this tale all along, despite thinking it was brand new. The variation that I am used to is called ‘Stone Soup’, and I believe I learned it in school growing up. Other than its title, the story is almost exactly the same. It’s interesting that even a change as simple as one word can lead to such different recollections of stories and tales.
For one of the most popular variants, which includes a group of tricksters gathering ingredients for a soup that does not even exist, you can check out the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown.
Brown, Marcia. Stone Soup: An Old Tale. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947. Print.