Background: The informant is a 48-year-old woman who
was born in Estonia and immigrated to the United States, and currently lives in
California. She still participates in Estonian traditions by attending the
“Estonian House” which is an Estonian community located in Los Angeles.
Context: The folklore was collected during a scheduled zoom meeting in which I interviewed two native Estonians who currently live in Los Angeles and who are close friends.
Main Piece: “When we grew it was always: ‘Mõista,
mõista, mis see on’. Like here (referring to California) it’s like knock-knock
jokes. Like here its ‘Knock, knock, who’s there’, but in Estonia its ‘Mõista,
mõista, mis see on’. It means ‘Guess, guess, what it is’.”
- Mõista, mõista, mis see on. Talumees viskab maha, saks paneb tasku.
- Transliterated Riddle:
- Mõista: Guess
- Mis: What
- See: It
- On: is
- Talumees: Farmer
- Viskab: Throw
- Maha: Down
- Saks: Noble Man
- Paneb: Put
- Tasku: In pocket
- Translated Riddle: Guess, guess, what it is. The farmer throws it down, the noble man puts it in his pocket.
Explanation: The farmer blows his nose and the snot falls
onto the ground, whereas the noble man blows his nose into a nice white rag and
puts it back into his pocket.
- Mõista, mõista, mis see on. Kui kummuli, siis
täis. Kui püsti, siis tühi.
- Translated Riddle: Guess, guess, what it is. If
upside down, then full. If upright, then empty.
Explanation: When upside down on someone’s head, a hat is full of hair. But when upright, there is nothing inside of the hat.
Interpretation: It was very interesting to me that instead of telling things like knock-knock jokes, children in Estonia tell riddles and try to guess what the riddle is describing. The riddles are very simple and to the point. They are not overly elaborate or complex, they are simple yet still slightly difficult to get correctly on a first guess. I know I couldn’t guess correctly when told these riddles. However, even within these riddles you can see aspects of Estonian culture shining through. For example, in the first riddle the transliteration of the word ‘saks’ is noble man or squire. Estonian history deals much with foreign invasions. Many of these people were Saxons who invaded Estonian lands and proceeded to enslave and subjugate Estonian peasants. My hunch is that the word for nobleman, ‘saks’, is directly correlated to the Saxons who invaded Estonian lands and exerted dominance over the Estonian people, as native Estonians were rarely members of the upper classes, it was always the invaders (often Saxons) who comprised the upper classes.
Background on Informant:
My informant is a current student who has shared with me his experiences of childhood folklore and traditions that he grew up with. In a series of interviews he has shared with me his knowledge.
“Riddles are such a huge part of my childhood. We were exposed to them everywhere, I remember my school used to do a weekly contest where they would have us compete to solve a riddle and whoever got it first would win a prize. So you can say I might be a bit of an expert on them.
Some I remember are:
Riddle: If two’s company, and three’s a crowd, what are four and five?
Riddle: What begins with T, finishes with T, and has T in it?
Answer: A teapot.
I don’t know if this counts but
Why are ghosts bad at lying?
Answer: Because you can see right through them.
Riddle: I’m tall when I’m young, and I’m short when I’m old, what am I?
Solution: A candle.
I could go on for hours but riddles are always good fun, I remember the popsicles used to have them on the stick and the Laffy Taffy candies. See we’ve been exposed to riddles in almost every aspect of our childhood.”
Riddles are truly a giant part of growing up. From being exposed through family or school, riddles have played a major part in childhood. They are an integral part of children’s folklore and have continued to remain a major part of our childhood past. It was interesting to see the one’s he remembered because I could recall so many as well. Riddles have always been important, especially as society’s means of evaluating cleverness and intelligence, but for me I’ve always viewed it as good fun. These connections to our childhood past are important in order for this folklore to remain alive and continue to thrive for the next riddle experts to experience.
The following is transcribed from a riddle between the informant and interviewer.
Informant: A red guy lives in a red house
Interviewer: A red guy lives in a red house. Ok.
Informant: A blue guy lives in a blue house.
Interviewer: Blue guy in blue house.
Informant: yes, uhhh a green guy lives in a green house.
Informant: Who lives in the White House.
Interviewer: I know it’s not a white guy right?
Informant: Oh my god. I thought you would get this one.
Interviewer: What is it?
Informant: The president. The president lives in the white house.
Background: My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. She first heard this riddle about 5 years ago and says it whenever she’s saying any jokes. She tells this joke specifically to see if people fall for it and say “white guy”.
Context: The setting was in my room during the day. I asked her if she knew of any other joke or riddle and threw this one at me. After failing to find the joke in the first one (the pinecone and pineapple one), she was disappointed I failed at this one too.
Thoughts: I think I’m not a riddle or joke person. The answer can be right in front of me and I won’t be able to detect it. I can also deduce I’m not a very good listener. It seems like I take things literally and think logically. I followed the pattern of a color person living in the same color house but that’s not it. One has to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture.
The following is transcribed from a riddle the informant gave the interviewer.
Informant: A pine tree grows 10 pineapples.
Informant: Two of the pineapples out of the 10 fall. How many pineapples are left on the tree?
Interviewer: On the tree? Or are there?
Informant: Are there on the tree.
Interviewer: I would say ten minus two so 8 left. But it’s probably wrong.
Informant: Correct! You’re wrong. There are 0 pineapples on the pine tree.
Interviewer: How come? What do you mean?
Informant: Because pine trees do not grow pineapples.
Background: My sister was born in LA and she goes to school in Downey. She first heard this riddle about a year ago. She usually says when there’s “usually nothing to talk about”. She remembers it because “it was pretty good and easy to follow”.
Context: After giving me a myth, I asked if she knew of any jokes or riddles. She responded with “yes I know this one” and continued with the above riddle. This was taken from my room. Casual.
Thoughts: I fooled myself. I consider myself a numbers person so when I heard 10 and 2 I just did basic subtraction but I didn’t pay attention to the pine tree and pineapple detail. In a way, I guess it shows I’m not a good listener. All in all, it was a short and concise riddle that served its purpose. It made me say “oooh yeah” after getting the joke. I tried to fool my dad later on but he said 0 so he actually listens. This can be a listening test now that I think about it. A good listener would say 0 and a poor listener would say 8 just like I did.
O: There are 4 people in a circle house: A mother, a father, a maid, and a baby. One day the baby goes missing. During the interrogation, the mom said she was cooking, the dad said he was on the way to work, and the maid said she was dusting the corners. Who kidnapped the baby?
A: The Dad?
A: Ah, I get it! The wife was probably lying, so the mom?
O: No. It was the maid because a circle house doesn’t have any corners, girl.
This is a bit of a puzzle but the answer is laid in plain sight. The setup of the riddle gives you the answer. It’s only a matter of listening carefully and knowing your math. Anyone unfamiliar with geometry would be quickly pointed out. The informant communicated that all the riddles she knows now were ones she learned in elementary school which is why it’s so important for them to keep telling it. Riddles can be regional. O’s experience with these in elementary school allows them to tell who experienced a similar community during their formative years.