Tag Archives: education

Paper, Feet, and Buddha in Nepali Culture

Context: I is a middle aged Nepali man working as a banker. He told me about the importance of keeping feet away from paper in Nepali culture while at a coffeeshop.

A prevalant Nepali tradition or belief is not stepping on paper. Paper, since it is the basis of writing, represents education as a whole. Many of the Nepali gods are also manifested in a physical sheet of paper, as it symbolizes the god of knowledge in a nation where education is highly valued. It is therefore regarded as very pure and respected by the people.

Feet, on the other hand, are very often seen as the dirtiest part of the body. Coming home, it is not uncommon for people to wash their feet straight away. Therefore, touching anything with one’s feet is often seen as disrespecting it, and moreso for a piece of paper. It is highly frowned upon to touch paper with one’s feet.

If one does somehow manage to touch a piece of paper with their feet, there is a way to reconcile this disrespectful act. In Nepali culture, it is commonplace to touch your head to someone that you deeply respect, almost like a more physical bow. So if one accidentally steps on a piece of paper, they must take it and tap it on their head to atone for their mistake. This concept of touching one’s head to something in respect is seen in other places as well. In the presence of very respected elders or royalty, it is traditional to bow and touch their feet with one’s head to signify deep reverence for them.

Med Student’s First Coat

Main Description:

RA: “One of the most exciting, I remember, things in medical school, other than graduation, is getting the white coat and stethoscope before beginning clinical rotations, the first time we’re allowed, as med students, to start practicing basic techniques on living people. These weren’t the long coats that go down to your feet, but shorter ones that only went down to your waist. They were embroidered, of course. They came with the schools embroidered, but we would also get our names if we could afford it. I don’t remember if I got mine embroidered or not, but I probably did. We would wear them everywhere, so everyone knew you were a med student. We wore them on our clinical rotations, obviously, but we also would sometimes wear them out to bars and pubs so everyone would know we’re real med students. They got dirt super quickly of course, because their white, and I remember washing mine all the time so I could wear it. Eventually when we got our scrubs, once we’ve made more progress with our rotation, we didn’t wear the white coats as much. White is a really bad color for doctors, really, because it shows stains, especially blood, really well. It’s funny, we get another white coat (the foot length one) when we graduate, also embroidered, but we rarely wear it because it’s white. That coat’s much less exciting to get. We also got tools with our first coat. We would get the basic tools used at checkups, like the reflex hammer, the thing you use to look in people’s eyes and ears and throat (can’t remember what it’s called), tongue thermometers, and really whatever else we could afford. We didn’t need them, because tools are usually provided to you during the rotation, but they were fun to practice with on ourselves and each other. They were also fun to show off to our friends and family. I definitely don’t have my tools any more, they all broke or I lost them or gave them away. I still have my first coat, though of course I don’t wear it anymore because it’s kind of ratty looking, but I used in a Halloween costume as a mad scientist once.

Informant’s opinion:

AB: “Why were the initial white coats and tools so exciting? Why did you wear them so often?

RA: “We wore them everywhere because they were the first things we had that really showed we were med students. I don’t know why they were white, but there was something so exciting about having something to show to my parents that I’m really becoming a doctor.”

Personal interpretation:

The white coat seems to mark an important rite of passage for medical students. Being able to work with live patients, usually about two years in, is wear students first begin to practice being doctors. For the first time, the students’ actions will have consequences on living people instead of anatomical dummies, so the coat allows students to celebrate the greater degree of responsibility they’ve taken as growing physicians. Tellingly, the coats are primarily for social performance, and not intended for use during actual work with patients due to their color.

College/Education Proverb


Informant: “I went to college to get a diploma, it would have been just as easy to get an education.”


The informant learned this saying from his grandfather upon graduating from high school in Ohio. He found it highly impactful, not only in the context of college, but as a general life lesson as well, and took care to heed this advice going forwards.


This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting that took place at my home in San Diego, CA.


Although on the surface this saying may seem very specific, I think the lessons it implies can be applied to all walks of life. It stresses the importance of finding value in all aspects of an experience, as opposed to seeing something simply as a means to an end. It is certainly an expression I will remember and perhaps help spread in the future.

Learning and Loving


My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.


“It goes: ‘learning means loving your country.’ I probably heard it from my Dad, since he’s a teacher, but I can’t really remember. It sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say ‘dissent is patriotic.’ Like, question everything, due your research, don’t just sit there and be complacent. Like, you’re only your best self and making your best contributions to, um, society, if you’re out there bettering yourself and asking questions and being aware of everything. Super important right now, with all of the fake news and stuff like that.”


Like my informant said, this proverb seems to be of great significance in our current political climate. It speaks to the importance of education and knowledge in a political context; interestingly, it values the individual and the individual’s contribution over the state itself, which is unusual in the folklore we’ve studied. Generally the state and its glory, collective wellbeing and legacy are the focus of folklore.

Work with your mind

The informant, C, is an 18 raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents are both Mexican and he considers himself Mexican as well. He is studying Astronautical Engineering.



C-“An old family saying is ‘trabaja con la mente y no la espalda’ (Work with your mind and not your back)”

When did you first hear this?

C-“My dad used to tell me when I was younger so that I would try hard in school”

What does it mean to you?

C-“It means that you know you really have to invest in your education so that one day you can be working with your mind rather than your back”

Have you heard it other times besides from your dad?

C-“yea, I’ve heard it many more times”

Do you use it?

C-“Yea I use it from time to time. I add my own twist to it. I don’t know it depends on the situation”

Could you give an example?

C-“If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t want to try hard in school versus someone who is struggling in school. One has the motivation to do well and the other doesn’t. You just have to adjust it”

Analysis-The Mexican culture is a hard working culture that many times focuses on getting the children to work to help support the family rather than earn an education. The father of the informant clearly grew up experiencing some of this mentality, which he does not want to pass on to his children. The proverb is a way to encourage getting an education especially at a young age.