Tag Archives: hair

North Dakotan German-Russian Proverb

Text

“You can’t pull hair from a frog”

Context

The country of Germany as we now know it is of course a relatively modern sovereign state. Prior to the unification of the German states in the late 19th century, Germany existed as a myriad of different “mini-states” all with their own governing bodies and economic models. Unfortunately, this led to many Germans becoming demoralized due to religious, economic, and political hardships, and many emigrated to Russia in the 18th and 19th century. To make try and make the historical background as succinct as possible, many of these Germans living in Russia were eventually forced to leave Russia, with many settling in the northern plains of the United States.

This was the case for my ancestors on my mom’s side of the family, with my great-great grandparents settling in North Dakota. In North Dakota, there’s a heavy concentration of German-Russians living within the state, who through a combination of their prior ethnic and national heritage, as well as an amalgamation of their new American life created a unique culture and folklore.

According to my informant, she first heard this proverb uttered by her siblings, but also occasionally heard it from other family members including her mother and aunt. This particular proverb is one my informant says she rarely uses personally, but still hears every once in a while when with friends or family members. Her analysis of the proverb is basically that one shouldn’t waste time bothering themselves with fruitless tasks. Like the proverb implies, there’s no hair on an amphibian creature like a frog, and thus one’s only wasting their time trying to “pull hair” from one. My informant said she often heard this proverb being by family members in regards to other persons. If a person was being difficult or steadfast in a particular view or belief, it was often said that “well, there’s no use pulling hair from a frog” or “you can’t pull hair from a frog.”

My Analysis

My analysis of this proverb mirrors my informant’s. There are times when it’s simply impossible to get through to another person. While it would be nice for everybody to see things through one’s own personal perspective, that’s not always possible, and thus as the proverb goes “you can’t pull hair from a frog.” The wording of this proverb is similar to other German-Russian North Dakotan proverbs in its relative uniqueness and bizarreness, both in terms of the subjects of the proverb (frogs and hair) as well as the sentence structuring of the proverb itself.

Haircuts and Lag Ba’Omer

Background: Informant is a 51 year old Israeli American. They grew up in Israel and hold a lot of Israeli culture within them. They immigrated to the Chicago area of the United States in the late 90s. They live in a largely Jewish area where access to Jewish religious services and resources are plentiful. 

Informant: Jews from… I don’t know if it’s European I think it’s Hassidim. Like, religious Jews. They don’t cut their hair because of the payas. You know what I mean? To leave payas? They do it in Lag Ba’Omer. So in Lag Ba’Omer all the kiddos, the babies like up to age 3 are coming and they get their haircut. It’s called, Ushkilin or something like that? And that’s it. 

Me: But like, why? Why do they wait to cut their hair?

Informant: It’s a tradition! Yeah, but I wasn’t too much into it. First it looks cute and second it’s in the religion. It’s a tradition to… I don’t know if it has anything like, health related or a purpose? Or you cut the hair because they are now a toddler? 

Reflection: This tradition was interesting to hear about because it involves the preservation of young kids hair in Jewish tradition. I found it funny how my informant described the tradition, as they inserted some of their own opinions into the description. They were also a bit hazy on the specifics but what is important is they knew the tradition and followed it themselves. It shows how sometimes we follow traditions blindly, without knowing why, just because we feel comfort in them. This piece also shows a ritual celebration called Lag Ba’Omer, where the cutting of the boy’s hair is done. This is to mark a change from being a baby and becoming a child.

For a mother’s experience with this ritual, look here:

“First-haircut, common at Lag B’Omer, can be mom’s rite of passage, too.” Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 31 March 2008, https://www.jewishchronicle.org/2008/03/31/first-haircut-common-at-lag-bomer-can-be-moms-rite-of-passage-too/. Accessed 29 April 2022.

Indian Custom: Hair Cutting on First Birthday

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: Indian people will shave the head of their baby when they turn 1, on their first birthday, because it’s believed that that means that their hair will come back stronger. My mom didn’t do it to me, but almost all my cousins and my dad did. 

SW: So is there greater significance to that or it’s more aesthetic? 

NS: It’s tradition. Thicker hair makes you beautiful, especially like, long, thick hair on girls. There are hair rituals, like before you go to bed your mom will oil your hair.  It’s like the longer your hair is, the more beautiful you are because it’s associated with wealth. So like if you have super long well-kept hair that’s a sign that you can afford it. I remember when I cut my hair short my grandpa was like devastated and I didn’t understand why until my dad told me about it.

Thoughts:

I think it’s super interesting how we as humans can come to associate different things with beauty for reasons other than pure aesthetics. Sure, long and thick hair looks nice, but the fact that it can be associated with wealth and status as a subconscious trait of beauty or attractiveness is interesting. It reminds of the way that the “ideal” body shape for women has changed over time. Centuries ago, it was not trendy to be thin, as thinner bodies were associated with not being able to afford food. Consequently, people who were a bit more curvy were considered more desirable, such a body type implied a certain level of wealth and status that could afford more than the bare minimum amount of food required to stay alive. 

Swim Team Bleaches Their Hair

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: Every year, the guys on the swim team would bleach their hair. I’m not really sure why, but no one ever questioned it, it was just kind of what they did. Maybe it was so they looked more unified before league finals. 

Thoughts:

I hadn’t realized until after I came to college, but the swim team bleaching their hair at the end of the season was not unique to AK and I’s high school. In fact, it was common practice all across the country. Others I’ve spoken to about this can’t explain the reasoning either, but they all do it. While I would like to know the reason why, I think it’s kind of special for this tradition to be so widespread. This is something that anyone who swam in high school can relate to and remember and bond over. This is an excellent example of how folklore connects people who may not connect otherwise. 

Socks are DIY hair curlers.

Grandma used to curl my hair with socks. They have to be nylon knee socks so that they can be crushed and tied, and you sleep in it. When your hair is just a tiny bit wet out of the shower, you stick all those socks in, and you wake up very curly. I think I did it to you, remember? I kept doing it, because it stayed so much better than regular curlers, it would stay for days. I would do it all the way until I got married. I don’t know anyone else who would do that. I learned it from grams.

Background and context: This was told to me by my mother, who is a white baby boomer. She is close with her mom, who is from the Great Generation. My mom grew up in Pittsburgh.

Thoughts: This is likely from before hair curlers’ existence. I have seen the style, and it looks more old-fashioned. I think this is people figuring out a way to curl before they had the technology, and it could be swapped out easily for another method.