Tag Archives: Community

Sitting Shiva

The informant is a 20-year old Jewish student attending USC. She was born in Venezuela but has lived in Miami since she was eight years old. She is majoring in Engineering. The information she shared with me is about Jewish funeral custom.


Informant: “Everyone goes to the funeral home or the synagogue, or wherever the funeral is taking place. There is a service; the Rabbi says some prayers in Hebrew and in English and some kind words about the deceased. Then usually some family members will speak about the person who has passed.”


Interviewer: “What kind of stuff do they say?”


Informant: “Well it varies. Sometimes they will talk about the person’s accomplishments, sometimes they will tell funny stories about the person, or their fondest memories with them. I was at a funeral about a month ago where one of the deceased’s grandchildren read a portion of a school project she had written about her grandma when she was a kid. She had interviewed her grandma for the project. It was really cool.”


Interviewer: “That sounds really cool. What happens next?”


Informant: “Well, everyone goes outside where the burial takes place. I don’t know if it is Jewish tradition everywhere, but at least at the weddings I’ve been to, there are shovels around the burial site, and everyone who wants to can shovel some earth onto the grave. It’s really beautiful. Then there is a shiva.


Interviewer: “What’s the shiva?”


Informant: “The shiva is when everyone—the family and friends of the deceased’s family—goes to someone close to the person who has passed’s house. There is lots of food and drink (usually non-alcoholic though) and people eat and talk. It’s a big gathering as a sort of celebration of the person’s life and as a way to comfort the family.”



Often rituals surrounding death double as celebrations of life and a reason for social gathering. Death is a rite of passage and like other rite of passage rituals, it is a rite of transition, mainly for the family and friends of the deceased. The shivas I’ve been to aren’t typically sad events. The funeral itself is generally a somber, teary-eyed event, but shivas I’ve attended often involve a lot of conversing and even a good-deal of joke-telling.

3 Greek Proverbs

Informant A is a 17-year-old Sophomore at USC studying Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on Neuroscience. She is ¼ Greek Cypriote, ¼ German and ¼ Argentinian but she strongly identifies with the Greek side of her. She spent 9 years in Greek school and goes to Greece every summer. She speaks Greek with her grandparents.

“So when I was younger my grandparents wanted to stress on me, not only my ancient Greek heritage, but also the important Greek proverbs that everyone learned in school. So one of the big ones you actually hear a lot in English is

En eetha otee uu then ee eetha

which is Socrates when he was pronounced the smartest man in the world. It actually means ‘I know that I know nothing, which is why I’m the smartest man’. He knew that there was so much more that he needed to learn. So that was basically their way of saying ‘Don’t let your head get too big’. Like even though you may know a lot there’s still so much more to explore so don’t treat this world like you’ve done everything it has to offer because there’s always so much more. I learned this when Grandfather sat me down and started talking about the history of Greece and he told me to remember that. You know everyone has an opinion on everything even if they know nothing. This proverb was like a self-reminder for me. A lot of the proverbs my grandparents told me were supposed to be for you internally, they’re something you think of when you’re struggling. Another proverb my grandparents told me is ‘Nothing easy is worth it’. So when I was telling them how hard my Physics class was last semester, they actually told me this. They asked me, ‘Do you think it’s worth it, are you learning a lot? Because that’s what’s meaningful and it’s good you’re working hard. If it were easy you probably wouldn’t actually like it and that you like the challenge.’ I think this proverb was from one of the ancient Greek philosophers like way back when. This last proverb is definitely one you’ve heard in English. But the original Greek is not what the actual translation is in English. The original Greek is

Pan metron ariston

which means “always measure absolutely perfectly” but what you’ve heard in English is “Everything in moderation”, that’s what that was translated from. It says you can have everything you want, but make sure you measure it well. Make sure you understand what’s moderation and what’s excess. A lot of these proverbs they’ve said have been for my physical and mental strength. And a lot of these proverbs have been passed down to the people who lived in Cypress and Greece. When some of these people came to America, some tried to teach the lessons and morals rather than the myths and the proverbs. That may be why there’s this divide between Greek-American culture and traditional Greek culture. Most of my friends and family in Greece though would definitely recognize these proverbs. They actually teach them in the Greek schools. These proverbs really shape the Greek culture and unite us in our values of work hard, be kind to strangers… You don’t see the kind of similarity in values in the US because there are so many different cultures here. I think something is lost when you move away from the land and aren’t surrounded by the people who share the same history and the same values. You’re not in the community anymore.



Informant A mentions 3 proverbs here and how they are important to her. She emphasizes how she thinks of them in times when she is struggling and uses them as bits of advice. The Greeks seem to stress learning these proverbs, they actually teach them in their schools, and A explains how they are less emphasized in the US. The Greek people value working hard, self sufficiency, and humbleness, as most of their workforce depends on agriculture which requires hard work and determination.  The informants family also primarily works in agriculture.  She talks about how the US not emphasizing proverbs makes some of the values that these proverbs teach less prominent in US communities because the people are in such a mixed environment.  Generally people in the US want the shortened version and just the lesson rather than the long story, even if this may be less effective at communicating the lesson.

Turkish Fortune Telling

Informant C is 20 year old and studies Journalism. She is half Turkish and speaks Turkish as well. Her mom is Turkish and is from the Eastern Turkey area, about 200 miles west of Syria. Her entire family is scattered over Turkey and have resided in Turkey for many generations. Many of them are involved in agriculture.

Fortune telling is actually a big deal in Turkey. They do it with Turkish coffee, which is really like fine ground black coffee and its very dark. You get in a little tiny cup and you have a saucer and you flip the cup over onto the saucer and all the little grounds trickle out of the cup and you can read the different things. My mom and my grandmother can do it really well, like everything my grandmother says comes true. She said that I’ll find a tall blonde guy whom I’ll really like, which is true, and then that there’s one class I’ll really like and one that I’ll have to work really hard in. And she said about water she said something you love like the ocean could turn dangerous for you but then it’ll come back and be really good for you. So me and my little brother were surfing over Presidents Day weekend and he actually got caught in a rip current which was kind of scary and luckily he got out but he’s like 14 so he’s pretty little. But then after all that happened we ended up having a really good day surfing and he actually just got his lifeguard certification which is really cool. And I kinda think a lot of it is made up but I don’t know I’m actually starting to believe in it a bit more. And my family really believes in it.



Informant C tells here of a traditional Turkish custom and folk belief that her family participates in. The fortune telling is an entertaining way to bring the community together and connect generations all over Turkey, while for many providing an insightful view into the future. H says she may have participated in the fortune telling just to bond with her grandmother and mother, but then she adds that she is starting to believe in it more.  For many, knowledge of the future is valuable, and something like the more chance based way the coffee grounds are running down the cup provide a good medium for this fortune telling.

Military Acronyms

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

In the military we have a lot of acronyms we use throughout like AR, PT, APFT, UCMJ, MJP, EAS, basically ROTC and the army is just full of acronyms. I feel like when we get together we talk about these things and we know what they all stand for and the abbreviations but other people really don’t and there’s this specific one called the CNN. And CNN is like a news network and we call it the Cadet News Network so its basically like the rumor mill you know like what only the cadets know. And so in the military there’s the cadets and then there’s the cadres who are like the people in charge of us and then there’s the NCOs, Non-Commissioned Officers, that’s an acronym right there, and none of them are aware of the CNN. That’s only within like our group. Especially when its something so tailored, it can really exclude everyone else and they have like no idea what’s going on. So we might say like, ‘Oh did you hear about cadet so and so doing this on the weekend?’ then we’ll say like oh I heard through the CNN that he was over here or here and like none of the people above us will understand what were talking about. It all stays within the CNN. We all kind of know what’s happening on the outside all within this professional setting, and to us its almost like an inside joke and were not supposed to talk about this outside occurrence. Were supposed to be integrating into the actual army so if someone found out about the kinds of stuff we talk about it could be really bad. They expect us to be professional and its kind of hard to balance that, you know like being a soldier but also a college student too. We try to keep them separate but we all live kind of the same lives and its funny when these mix and someone usually gets in trouble, which is why we try and keep it usually within the CNN. It happens though.

So we have this thing too, its kind of vulgar, called the Blue Falcon and the B in Blue stands for Buddy and the F in Falcon stands for…you know…basically and we use that acronym to label or address people who get their friends in trouble. Especially in the military when were doing stuff that we would be evaluated on, the Blue Falcon would be like ‘hey you forgot to do this’ like right in front of everyone and so we would address them as the Blue Falcon. Everyone else then would understand that this guy is like a Buddy uhhhhh, and everyone would understand what that meant. And the person would probably know that they’re the Blue Falcon like someone would say to the person like ‘Hey you’re being a Blue Falcon right now’. It’s kind of a universal military term, like everyone knows what that means. The military is about the group, and they use mass punishment too. So like if one person does something wrong then we all have to do like pushups and so we would call that person who got us all in trouble the Blue Falcon because they screwed their buddies over. In the real world you don’t see much of mass punishment where everyone hates on 1 person for getting everyone in trouble. It’s a specific military thing.



Here informant E talks about some of the specific vernacular that the military uses. Some of these acronyms may have come out of the need in the military to do specific things quickly and efficiently.  She explains how it separates the out-group from the in-group and also helps them balance the 2 different sorts of lives they live. The military expects them to be extremely professional while often college students are casual and crude.  These acronyms allow them to remain professional, while alluding to some other crude things, like maybe what the did on the weekend, or even just in the acronyms itself.  She also talks about how they can call out members of the in-group, which actually serves to bring the group closer together. Community and support are extremely important in the military, which explains this strong emphasis on the in-group and not getting their friends in trouble.  The military emphasizes unity and cohesion which is why the term Blue Falcon might be so popular across the military, because someone who is a Blue Falcon is deviating from the norm of unity and should be called out for doing so.

The Legendary Cadet

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

There was this one cadet and his name was Cadet D. So we have these FMs, which are Field Manuals, and it’s where all the army rules and regulations are and it literally has everything. And its very thick and detailed, there’s so many different aspects. So Cadet D, and I don’t know if he memorized the entire thing, but he would always know what to address. So we would be talking about like ‘Oh this is the right way to do this’ and someone would say ‘No its like this’ and he would put his little finger up and say ‘Well according to FM bla bla bla dash blab la, it says,’ and he would recite it off the top of his head. And he had this really nasally voice. And so today even some of the cadets that don’t know him if they’re having like a smart aleck moment they’ll put their little fingers up and say, ‘Well according to blah blah balh,’ and they’re being sarcastic but everyone knows who he is, even if they’ve never met him.   I knew of him, I didn’t know him too well though. But everyone has heard about him and will all do the same mannerism as him. It’s a fun, teasing thing. Its remarkable he memorized the entire thing and knew what to reference but it was also sort of funny because who has time to do that as a college student? No one really wants to have no life and memorize the entire manual, it’s not negative but it’s a joking playful kind of way. When things get stressful or tense sometimes someone will say ‘Well according to…’ and everyone will bust out laughing because they know who he’s all referring to and everyone will take a step back, laugh about it, and then come back and compromise and agree to do the specific thing. This legend will keep going through I think. People below me have carried on his tradition.



Here informant E talks about a legend in the military about a cadet who went above and beyond the already large demands of the military to memorize the entire field manual. She talks about how the stories of this cadet have already taken a life of their own and are likely to continue even after she’s left USC. Imitating this person also serves to lighten the mood and release tensions while fondly remembering a cadet who went above and beyond.  The military can be very tense and stressful, and its important sometimes to have a way to lighten the mood so everyone can work more effectively, and it also helps to bring the community together through humor.