Original Text Pt. 2: “I am a Jew, and before we get on a plane, we get on with our right foot and we say ‘dayenu’. If you don’t, the plane is going to blow up and you’re going to die. And that’s just always been the thing, I don’t know, I’ve done that every time I’ve ever gotten on a plane. Anytime I don’t do that or I forget, I spend the whole plane ride like ‘fuck, I’m going to die’. It’s just this cute little tradition we do in our family. My parents introduced it to me, and their parents probably introduced it to them.”
Context: The informant is 18 years old, a first year at USC, and a Jewish female. “Dayenu” is a Hebrew word that holds significance in the Jewish community. The informant says her “parents introduced it” to her, and that her grandparents probably introduced it to them. The informant still practices this ritual today and feels distressed if/when she forgets to do it. It makes her feel connected to her family when traveling far away and to the larger Jewish community.
Analysis: “Dayenu” translates to “it would have been enough” in Hebrew. It is the name of a song traditionally sung at Passover. The song itself references all the gifts God gave the Jewish people, and that even if he had given them just one gift “it would have been enough”. Saying “dayenu” before traveling is a tradition in Jewish culture. Perhaps it is a way of giving thanks to God before embarking on a potentially dangerous journey for good conscience and protection. The right side is associated positively, while the left is associated negatively in Jewish culture, explaining why using the right foot to step onto the plane would magically give someone protection. This ritual has ancestral wisdom and the weight of religion behind it, which adds to why the informant trusts it and continues to practice it.
Danielle Slutsky, and Misha Slutsky. “Dayenu with English Hebrew and Transliteration | Passover Haggadah by Danielle & Misha Slutsky.” Haggadot, https://www.haggadot.com/clip/dayenu-english-hebrew-and-transliteration.
Informant MW lived in America at the time of this collection. MW frequently travels to Zambia to work for her family’s ministry located there. Traveling to Zambia requires multiple flights. When speaking with MW, they shared with me a travel superstition that they learned from their parents.
The belief is that “you must touch the outside of the plane with your right hand or it will go wrong.”
As Christians, MW’s family regularly pray to God for protection and safe travels. Just as they were stepping into the plane to board, MW was raised to say a prayer of blessing and protection over the plane while touching its exterior with her right hand. Over time, MW explained how this belief became an almost enjoyable superstition. They told me how they would wait eagerly on the jet bridge until they could finally touch the plane.
After hearing about this belief, I have come to understand it as a way of self-identity and expression. MW identifies as a Chrisitan and believes that God hears their prayers and protects them. This travel superstition is an outward expression of identity that serves as a reflection of MW’s beliefs. In the Bible, there are several mentions of Jesus Christ’s powerful and healing touch. Additionally, the Bible mentions the right hand or the right side as being more righteous/holy than the left. I believe that it is likely that these mentions found in the Bible have contributed to crafting the belief in which MW’s family participates in.
Another version of similar travel superstitions can be found in the USC folklore archives. See here:
Wolf, Max, and Max Wolf. “University of Southern California.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, 20 May 2019, folklore.usc.edu/get-on-the-plane-with-your-right-foot-travel-superstition.
JM: “There was a plane crash. Every single person died, who survived? The answer would be every married couple because every singleperson died.”
This riddle was collected from my 11 year old sister who is currently in fifth grade and about to go to middle school. When I asked her where or when she would tell a riddle/joke like this, she told me that she would usually tell it to her friends on the playground at recess. I also asked her if it was every common for her to tell jokes or riddles in the classroom and she responded that she usually does not because then the teacher would get mad because it is teaching time and not play time.
One reason that children are passing along a riddle with such content can be explained by analyzing the environment that children are faced with at school. In elementary school all the way up to high school, many young kids and young adults are preoccupied with finding a boyfriend or girlfriend and all of the adolescent urges that are associated with this. The riddle plays off of the idea of there being a difference people single people and married people and for this to be a topic of discussion amongst young people is not really surprising. As said in chapter 5 of the book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres An Introduction, Jay Mechling says that people, especially children make jokes or base their folklore off of things that it has been taboo for them to talk about. Kids around 11 years of age are entering puberty and exploring new things about their body that come with puberty. In other words, one reason that this riddle is being passed around by 11 year olds and other kids in elementary school is that it takes about relationship status which kids themselves find as a constant preoccupation at school which is treated as taboo by most parents. It is also important to note that this riddle was collected from an 11 year old fifth grader who understand that this riddle is an example of a play-on-words and this kind of riddle would probably not be passed around by younger children due to its complexity.
Another main part of this riddle that can be analyzed is its focus on dark humor. Although the answer to the riddle has more to do with the play-on-words than on the subject of the plan crash itself, it is important to analyze why a plane crash would be the plot in the riddle in the first place. According to Peter Narvaez, the author of Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, many jokes and riddles are made to be dark humor. This means that the plot of the jokes and riddles are centered around many dark aspects of life like genocides, death, rape etc as a means to act as a release to those telling the jokes. People have been made to believe that they can not talk about dark experiences or occurrences, so as sort of a way to fight this oppression of speech per se, these jokes are created.
Coupled together, these analyses produce the idea that this joke was created and told among children as a way as addressing the topics that children have been made to believe that they are unable to talk about as well as a release of people’s beliefs on some things that are considered ‘dark’ in the form of humor. These forbidden topics hidden in the form of a joke/riddle allow this riddle and people to continue addressing these oppressed needs without repercussion from adults or other individuals, allowing the riddle to survive and continued to be told hopefully for years to come.
The story goes, which my informant learned from a friend sharing the story on facebook, an old white woman got angry that she was seated next to a black man. She kept getting upset, yelling at the flight attendant as the other passengers looked on in horror, no one saying anything. The flight attendant told the woman the only other option was to be seated in first class and then solves the woman’s problem… by moving the black passenger to first class. Everybody on the plane then started cheering, it is said. The story was one many of her friends were posting on facebook just a few months ago, and it had many thousands of likes.
My informant thought it was cool that facebook to quickly spread such a story, and she liked the story because it was inspiring. I think it’s interesting because of how it perverts expectations. It makes you angry and you want to keep reading to see what happens because it has evoked an emotion from you, and then, because you are already in an emotional state, it is able to flip the anger into joy when the unexpected occurs. We are so happy to see justice in the story then we have a greater attachment to the story. In an age of information where there are millions of stories at your fingertips, we seem more interested in those that are different or more complex (i.e. here the story flips expectations). The story may not be true, but because it is heartwarming, people like it anyway and may even want it to be true more.
Theres two blonde girls on a plane together theyre friends. The pilot comes on the intercom and says, we have lost an engine, but dont worry we have three more. We will just be an hour later to our destination. A little while later, the pilot comes on again and says, attention passengers, we have lost another engine, but its okay, we have two more, well just be another hour later. They sit for a while longer, and once again the pilot comes on and says, we have lost another engine, but dont worry, we still have one more. Were just going to be yet another hour later. At this, the blonde girl looks at her friend and says, wow, I hope we dont lose that last engine or well be up here all night!
The informant doesnt really remember where she first heard this joke, but says it was years ago and probably at school. Although blonde jokes seem to stem from a stereotype that is often associated with blonde women from California, the informant is from Texas, and also blonde. She made it very clear that she is not offended by blonde jokes, and knows she is smarter than most people who tell blonde jokes. She doesnt really understand where this stereotype that blonde women are less intelligent came from, but she finds these jokes funny, and knows many of them. The informant did mention that she has noticed that the stereotype does not usually apply to blonde men, which gives the stereotype a sexist aspect. Although these jokes have existed for years, the informant attributes their popularity to the media and dumb blonde celebrities, such as Jessica Simpson and Playboy Playmates.
I agree with the informant that recent depictions of blonde women in the media live up to this stereotype, which only strengthens the stereotype and leads to the further dissemination of these jokes. The most vivid example that really went down in pop culture history is from MTVs reality television show, The Newlyweds, where Jessica Simpson was depicted as a shallow, dumb blonde, saying things like, is it chicken or is it fish? (referring to the Chicken of the Sea tuna fish brand). This one statement still lives on in popular cultures representations of blonde women, and only helps perpetuate this stereotype and this form of humor.