Tag Archives: indian

Indian marriage jokes

Background: The informant (A) is the 20 year old daughter of two Indian immigrants. She was born and raised in the US. 

Joke 1:

Today if Ravan took your wife away would you still consider him evil?

A: So basically it’s like….since Ravan took Ram’s wife, would it be such a bad thing if he took mine? Since there’s always, like, “beef” between Indian husbands and wives it’s like he’s saying like “oh I wouldn’t even care if mine was kidnapped by Ravan and I wouldn’t even call him evil anymore”.

Joke 2:

The doctor (to the lady): any history of insanity in the family?

Lady: yes, my husband thinks he’s the boss of the house!

A: It’s like…commonly accepted that husbands always go into the command of their wives because they’re scared of their wives in Indian households. It’s a cultural thing, whatever the wife says goes and you just have to agree and say yes to everything. It’s a joke but it’s low-key true, like they’re all scared of their wives.

Context: This was told to me over a recorded FaceTime call. The characters Ravan and Ram refer to the legend of Diwali, where Ravan kidnapped Ram’s wife Sita. Ravan is a widely known villain character in Indian culture. “Beef” is a word used by modern youths to describe disagreements or rather unfriendly relations. According to the informant, husbands and wives disagreeing often, or the husband being submissive, are topics that many members of the culture group will often joke about.

Lemons for Life … or Death

Background provided by MN: MN is an individual who grew up in the Maharashtra state of India, where they learned 4 languages including Sanskrit. They recently moved to America for further education.

Context: In Maharashtra, where MN is from, it is customary for a meal to be accompanied by a slice of lemon to be used as a condiment. The lemons in India are almost circular (spherical) so the nub is hard to find unless one is paying attention.

Main Piece Transcription of interview (contains the context of particular performance and additional background information):

MN: In Indian food, you keep salt and a piece of lemon so that you can put it in anything like a curry or even rice, make it flavorful. And, so whenever you want to cut the lemon you always … you know there’s a nub (gestures to emphasize point) … on the side … you always cut it perpendicular to that. You always keep it flat and cut it like that because when someone dies in the funeral process, that’s when you cut the lemon parallel to the nub. Ummm … that’s because when you prepare a plate for the person who has died the lemon should be cut in that direction. And … like … my mother used to scold me because I didn’t pay attention, but it’s like a bad omen to cut it like this because it’s like you are invoking the dead. There’s just a fun (pause) little (even longer pause) fact that I learned that … always cutting … so like … now, I’m like … I am very like …. Always cutting like this (gestures cutting motion with hands). So on the plates for the dead, that’s when you cut the lemon with the nub.”

Me: “Can I interrupt you for a second? I just want to know, I just want to know, Do you know where your mom learned it? And do you think that’s like …only … to … um where … you’re from?”

MN: This is some item … it’s not like some book, I think. It’s like some, like knowledge that everyone knows this … it’s like. She learned it from … It’s just something that she was taught … and I was taught.

Analysis: MN is very enthusiastic about sharing their culture. I find it quite fascinating that this specific funeral right is extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates how much thought and effort loved ones dedicate when preparing for their departed loved ones. It is also interesting because this specific ritual is not written down but rather a tradition that is passed down in MN’s culture. The specific focus on the way lemons are cut reflects on MN’s character as well because they are considerate and detail-oriented. Although cutting lemons is commonplace, the symbolism for the Maharashtrian people is extraordinary. Lemons can bring some dishes to life by providing additional flavor and the juxtaposition between zest and the loss of life is also telling of MN’s culture.

South African Slang and Sayings (Voetsek, Sweet Like a Lemon, Yoh, Aiyoh, Shame)

Informant Context:

Otis’ parents immigrated separately to America from South Africa in the 1980’s, during apartheid. Otis’ extended family now lives in the Bay Area, California and near Johannesburg, South Africa. Otis often visits his family in South Africa.


OTIS: I can think of like, some slang that my family uses a lot. Um…


OTIS: A lot of it is like… [laughs] a lot of it will be like, toned-down South African swear words. 


OTIS: I don’t really know how most of them are spelled, but you could probably find… I don’t really know, but uh, one I thought of is… is “Voetsek!” [both laugh]. And that… it—it means “get away” in Afrikaans. And it… like, it’s mainly like, a thing that you say to dogs, ’cause there’s a lot of stray dogs in like, the kind of poorer areas where my family grew up. So they would be like, if a dog is coming near them, and if the dog looks dangerous, they’d like—yell “Voetsek!” And all the dogs *know* it by now, so the dogs—

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Wow! [laughs]

OTIS: —Scatter. 

INTERVIEWER: They all—they all scatter?

OTIS: But… so when you say it to a person, [laughs] it’s kind of rude. You’re like, calling him like, a dog.


OTIS: Yeah. And… like, my family will like, jokingly say it to each other. When like, one of my aunts is teasing one of the other aunts, they’ll be like, “Eh, voetsek” 


INTERVIEWER: Like, joking. Um… [both laugh] There’s this thing my dad like, taught me to say whenever I was visiting family in South Africa. But I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but my dad’s like, “Oh yeah, me and all my friends always say this”. It—It just means “cool”, but it’s “sweet like a lemon”.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Oh! 


INTERVIEWER: [voice broken by laughter] I haven’t heard that… either. Lemon’s aren’t really sweet!

OTIS: It makes zero sense! But, uh… my dad might be just like, messing with me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [both laugh]Do people respond when you… ’cause he—he told you to say this in front of other family. Did they understand it? 

OTIS: They’ll just be like, “Oh yeah OK” [laughs].

INTERVIEWER: Oh. [joins]


OTIS: And then like, there’s a lot of like, exclma—exclamations um [laughs]… there’s like, “yoh”! Which means [laughs]—and I-I don’t know how you gonna spell all this stuff so… 

INTERVIEWER: I try to spell it out phonetically, but [laughs].

OTIS: Y-y-yeah. It’s like “yoh”!—which means, uh… like “Whoa”! And then there’s “Aiyoh!” which is like, “that’s crazy!” And I’ll hear my dad say that stuff a lot when he’s watching his soccer games [both laugh]. And… um… Oh! OK, a lot of South Africans will say [elongated] “Shame!” But it like…! It means—it kind of means the same thing as like “it’s a shame,” like how Americans will say. But it’s kind of different. Like, they’ll mean it in like, a… they’ll say it when like, a kid does something cute. Or like, someone’s being naïve, almost? 


OTIS: Like, if they say like—if they say like, “Oh this… kid like my, my son like didn’t make the soccer team. He was too short.” 


OTIS: Or something. I guess that’s like “it’s a shame”. 


OTIS: But like, if they say something like, “Oh! The… the little kid made like, a… made like a fort, and told everyone that’s his new house.” They’d all be like “Uh! A shame, man!” They’s say that. [both laugh] 

INTERVIEWER: Oh interesting. So it’s around kids or something cute.

OTIS: Mhm.

INTERVIEWER: But also kind of something unfortunate. 

OTIS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So like… so like if I told somebody that I backed into a car in the parking lot, would they say “Shame” to that? Probably not? 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughs]. Whereas— 

OTIS: If you said something like… like, “Oh, I need to go get gas right now”. They’d probably said like “Oh, shame”.  


Informant Commentary:

The informant recalls two levels of folk sayings: one that appears cultural (or at least, regional to Pretoria), and one that appears familial. On a large scale, interjections with origins in Afrikaans or  Asian languages (in the case of “aiyoh”) are easily recognizable among those in the South African Indian culture. They might even be understandable to those outside this culture, given the right context. To use Otis’ example, the meaning term “aiyoh” might be decipherable by someone watching the same soccer game as Otis’ father. The term “shame” might be decipherable to someone watching a child build a fort in front of the family. Other sayings, such as “sweet like a lemon” are idiosyncratic to Otis’ family, in his experience.


A small detail Otis mentioned about the dogs in South Africa give the term “voetsek” a deeper significance. Otis stated that “all the dogs know it by now,” implying that over time, the dog population came to gather the same meaning from the word “voetsek” as humans. In this way, the dogs seems to be part of the in-group who understand this term. If the term was said to a group of dogs from the region and a group of humans from outside the region, in “scatter[ing]”, the dogs would demonstrate a better understanding of this folk term than the humans would. This is a post-humanist analysis of this one, particular saying: folklore shared among non-humans. As for the collection of sayings as a whole—there is a significant amount of evidence online to suggest that these are widely used terms, not only among South African Indians, but South Africans of other ethnicities as well. “Aiyoh” appears more idiosyncratic to Asian (particularly Indian and Chinese) cultures, and “sweet like a lemon” might have a wider usage than Otis suggests, but is obscure compared to the rest. 

“Atithi Devo Bhava” – Indian Custom

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.


My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.


SV: “Ok so… there’s this thing in India which is… predominantly for the Hindu culture, which is in one of the ancient Hindi texts called “Atithi Devo Bhava” which roughly translates to “guest is equal to God”. So the… in India the guest is considered holy and usually when they’re entering your house, when you invite a guest over there’s a kind of ritual kind of thing which is similar to like when your in-uhh… like you’re… when your inviting a God into your house there’s certain like religious things that they do. Like there’s something called an “Arti”, and then they usually like, uhh.. like light a lamp and then they sort of do a prayer and then they invite the guests over and then the guests usually are treated very respectfully and they’re given like as much comfort as possible, and like the host will adjust as much as they can. So that’s one of the common… I guess like, ideas or traditions that Indians have, mostly the Hindus, but I think that sort of permeated once India tried to make it like a tourism slogan so it sort of permeated through all religions so… in general that’s the common thing, so… but I guess more modern it gets and more people err-like become… less religious some of the things like they have the prayer when they’re entering and stuff gets turned down or completely removed but it’s still like a thing where you treat your guests well.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “Overall, I think its a positive thing, uhm… Like mostly it’s like treating people well, which is always good, because India has a lot of issues about like the caste system and there are other issues so at least this is one of the things that like helps reduce some of this inequality and like helps people treat others well.”


  • Original Script: अतिथि देवो भव
  • Transliteration: “Atithi Devo Bhava” or “Atithidevo Bhava”
  • Translation: “The guest is equivalent to God.”


I thought it was very interesting how what primarily started as a religious custom and practice has been so widely and readily adopted by India’s tourism industry. A quick search for the phrase brought up dozens of restaurants, vacation destinations, and the like that all state “Atithi Devo Bhava” as being their mission statement in order to please their customers. The adoption and outward marketing of what was initially an intimate and kind religious tradition, and it’s transformation into a promise of service to outsiders in order to make India appeal more to foreigners seems bleak, but not unexpected for the tourism industry.

Menstrual Taboos In Modern-Day India

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.


My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.


SV: “So… One of the kind of, er, traditions in India… are like women are considered impure when they’re doing their periods. So they’re not allowed to a lot of places, or they’re not, for example, like temples or a lot of holy places, or they’re not allowed in the kitchen and to cook food. So this is a tradition that is probably more prevalent in more rural areas which isn’t as prevalent in other areas where people are progressive and aren’t as strict with these rules but this, uhm, used to be a thing maybe in older generations where women would have their, like I guess rights limited when they’re on their periods and they have limited things that they can do and they’re sort of oppressed in some sense. Another thing through this is also the fact that sort of like talking about it is considered taboo. Like I guess when I was younger I didn’t realize it but then later when I got older I understood that like, because my mom’s on her period, that’s why she’s missing temple. Because when I was younger I would just think that she was busy or she was tired. And it didn’t make sense to me when I did understand it, because I thought it, to me, was just a normal bodily function, so uhm… I didn’t quite understand it but trying to talk to her about it wasn’t something she was comfortable with. Same at school, it’s considered very taboo to sort of like, openly talk about it, so for example sometimes at school a girl might be on her period, and she forgot her pad, so like she’d borrow it from a friend, and it’s sort of like they’re passing drugs or something it’s like… it’s so secretive. They’d cover it up with newspaper or with a plastic bag because it’s something that for some reason is considered embarrassing.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “It’s a normal human function, right? So I guess I still find it odd they treat it this way, but I guess that’s just how it is.”


Menstrual taboos are fairly universal, seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the ages and even up to this day. In this case, the informant notes that menstruating women are seen as impure, hence they are not allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen, as they are most likely considered to be contaminating the food by being in it’s presence or by handling it. Superstition often plays a role in the establishment taboos, in this case, the actual possibility of the women contaminating the food is negligible, yet the taboo lives on due to the superstition that the menstrual blood will somehow manage to contaminate the food and the kitchen, as well as the temple, in the case of this taboo.