Tag Archives: heritage

Oyster stew on Christmas

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 48
Occupation: Mother
Residence: Texas
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/01/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):



INFORMANT: We had a nasty tradition growing up that I absolutely hated.


ME: What was it?


INFORMANT: Well papa was really German and, I guess, proud of his German heritage, and it’s an old German tradition to eat oyster stew at big meals, so he made us all eat the stew at Christmas dinner even though none of us liked it. I don’t even think he liked it at the end of the day.



The informant’s father’s grandparents were the ones who raised him and were from Germany. This close line to Germany made the informant’s father extremely proud of his heritage, especially because of the immense respect he had for his grandparents.



The informant currently lives in Dallas but grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 people).



Tradition plays a crucial part in how one identifies one’s self. The informant’s father clearly identifies heavily with his german heritage, and wants to hold onto all German traditions, even if he does not necessarily like the tradition itself. These traditions give him some sense of being apart of a group and, therefore, being apart of something bigger than himself.


Italian Proverb: “Old Age is Trouble”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 55
Occupation: Optometrist, Professor
Residence: Port Washington, New York
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): None

Is there something of a proverb that comes to mind from home?

J.A. – “La vecchia e una rogne; ma si non l’arrive, e una veregogna.” (Italian)

Translates to: Old age is trouble; but if you don’t get there, it’s a shame.

J.A. – “My parents’ people were farmers in Italy.  This saying has a fatalistic humor that resonates with me.  I feel closer to people I never knew hearing the clever play on words in the original Italian.”


This being a dark proverb, it brings to my mind the mortality of those I’m close with.  I got stuck for a few minutes on the first half of that sentence; “old age is trouble.”  What does that mean?  Are you going to die?  Is disease coming for you?  It’s interesting – this person thought of the proverb as an example of “fatalistic humor.”  I’d disagree with that, actually.  I’d argue that it’s a blatantly depressing proverb, explaining that any life is better than death.  The inevitability of what’s coming for you may be frightening, but – hey, at least you’re alive.

Recipe for Matzoh Brie

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student, Actor
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/19/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hebrew


– Matzoh bread

– Eggs

– Salt & Pepper



D.F. – “Some people do it differently, but my family – you start with one board of matzoh per egg, so – if you have two boards of matzah, that’s two eggs, and a bowl of warm water uh:

– First you need to crack the matzoh boards to reasonable sizes

– And then soak them in the water; wait until it’s, like, not super soft, but you could see some mush there.

– Then drain it from the water, make sure there’s no water left, and then:

– Go mix your eggs (usually while the matzah is soaking), put some salt and pepper in there

– And then, you pour the egg on top of the drained matzoh,

– Mix it within the drained matzoh, prep your stove,

– YOU CAN scramble it or have it pancake style, (my grandpa likes it pancake style, but I’m not about that life, I like it scrambled.

– You must wait for the matzah brie to fully cook.

– I hate it when the brie is like eggy and not cooked, it’s disgusting, so wait until it is fully cooked.

– When it’s done, serve it however, but make sure you have some good jam.  I’m a big blueberry jam person, but you do you.


This is a good way for this person, D.F., to get in touch with her own culture.  Her being Jewish has always been a huge part of her identity, and she externalizes that identity whenever she can.  If that means preparing this dish, along with others she likes, as often as she can, then that is how she portrays herself to the world.

I found this very interesting, because; while my family on my father’s side is jewish, I had never heard of this recipe before this person’s interview.  The ingredients in the dish remind me of my own family, and the times I spent with them during the holidays, but that combination of ‘foods’ was totally foreign to me.  So, n0w that I’ve heard about it, I feel almost as if I’m more encouraged to explore my own identity, and ask the people I’m close with how they portray themselves to others, including me.


The Story of “Pile o’ Bones”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Canadian
Age: 64
Occupation: Mom
Date of Performance/Collection: 4-26-17
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Main Piece: Canadian Story (Pile o’ Bones)


Full Piece –

“The transformation of the Canadian provincial capital of Regina, Saskatchewan, over the past 130 years has been nothing short of remarkable. Back in 1882, it was little more than a pile of bones – literally.

The location, near a creek, had been a stopping point for buffalo hunters and gotten its name from remains left at the site. The mounds of buffalo bones, some left by Cree Indians, were staggering.

The bones remaining from the hunt were laid out into cylindrical piles about six feet high and about 40 feet around at the base, with the shin and other long bones protruding from the center to make stable and artistic piles.

Because of this, the city was called “Pile o’ Bones.” It was also referred to as “manybones”, “bone creek”, all of which hurt the local chamber of commerce trying to promote the area.

In 1882, Pile o’ Bones was renamed Regina, after Queen Victoria, and the name change resulted positively. It was much easier to attract immigrants to the newly named town as opposed to “Pile o’ Bones.”




My mother told me of this story, with some help from the internet to refresh her memory. My mom grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, and this story is a big part of their heritage as is explains how a town that used to just be an old post for hunters returning from the hunt where they would discard the animal remains. My mom heard this story from her parents, and was told it in school as well.

They take pride about this in Regina, because it is now the capital of Saskatchewan in Canada. This is more so of a creation story in a sense as opposed to a myth or a legend, because it tells of why the city has such an out-there nickname, “pile o’ bones.”




Of course, the name Regina sounds oddly similar to another word that would get elementary school kids to giggle (and even the occasional adult), so when my mom would tell people where she was from, she would often give this story as a background to what the city used to be known as, so as to keep the inner 3 year-old of everyone at bay.

This isn’t the type of story that would be told around the campfire or as a bedtime story, but it does give a good idea of how certain places came to be. In this example, it shows how a simple name change can affect the overall attractiveness of a location, and without it, it would most likely never have become the province’s capital, as well as be nearly as populated.



My thoughts:


My mother said that still to this day people refer to Regina, Saskatchewan as “Pile o’ Bones” and unless you were from there, odds are you’re going to wonder why this is. I feel like this story is more so one that is going to be told on a tour of the city right at the beginning as they begin to talk about the history of the city, but could also be adapted and stretched to get a little more interest from the audience.

I like this piece in that it is a cultural heritage type of thing, and the natives to the town have something to hold onto as their own, and like I said not everyone who goes to visit will know why it is called Pile o’ bones, but the citizens will always have that in common with eachother.

“Sir Nikolai” – Russian Joke

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian-American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: USC
Date of Performance/Collection: April 30, 2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

Sir Nikolai

(The attachment contains the joke spoken in Russian, an additional translation, as well as some commentary by both the informant and collector.)

Transcript of audio file (condensed and edited):

Informant: This  one is what my grandpa always used to tell me. [Joke in Russian]. It means, “A man named Nikolai sitting at home doesn’t go outside much. Girls are gonna come over to your place and you’re gonna fart and they’re going to leave.” It’s a crude joke but it’s a lot funnier in Russian just because of the word play there. It’s just a little rhyme that my grandpa used to say to get my mom mad.

The informant heard this joke when he was around 10-years-old from his paternal grandfather who had learned the joke during his time serving the Russian army back in the ’40s. As the informant begins to explain in the recording, the “joke’s a lot funnier in Russian because of the word play.” While the translation may convey the “crudeness” that the informant’s mother may have found upsetting (i.e. the reference to flatulence as well as the possible sexual impotence of the main character), the translation preserves neither the pun nor the rhyme, which in this case is also the former. The word for “to come over” in Russian roughly transliterates to “preidut,” and “to fart” to ” perdut.” If one listens to the audio file again keeping both the cadence and the words in mind, the rhyme is more apparent than in the first listen.

When I asked the informant if he ever began performing the joke himself, he replied that he’s only ever done it with his grandpa when his mother was around. Even when he didn’t quite understand the exact word play when he was younger, he found the rhyme entertaining because he knew it was inappropriate based on his mother’s reaction and because of the pleasure his grandfather got from seeing him recite it. In a later part of the conversation with the informant, after having shared a few other jokes from his grandfather, the informant expressed deep veneration and affection for his grandfather who had always been present in his life. He then revealed that just that morning he had received a call from his father (the informant’s grandfather’s son) that the grandfather had to go back to the hospital because of a kidney failure. He went on to share that in more recent conversations with his grandpa, he began noticing that the man who was once so energetic and whose voice seemed booming had diminished into frailty from his illness. Along with being an incredible touching encounter with the informant, the experience also illustrated the continuing role of folklore in interpersonal relations. In this particular relationship, the informant is a first-generation Russian American. “It’s hard being Russian-American because I’m not fully American but also not Russian. My grandpa is my farthest tie to Russian culture.” And by “farthest tie” the informant intended that his grandpa goes the farthest back into the history of the culture; in other words, the grandpa is the informant’s closest tie to the deeper roots of his heritage, which he identifies through the folklore his grandpa shared with him. But of course, in addition to the association with ethnic identity, this particular piece of lore connects the informant on a personal, affectionate level with an influential figure in his childhood. If we are to follow the belief that humor reveals what lies below the surface of mundane vernacular, it would seem that in this particular performance of the folk speech, the informant, in the midst of his current grief over his grandfather, was letting surface the pleasant memories that he shared with him.