Tag Archives: safety

Splitting the Pole

Background:

Refusal to “split the pole” is a belief held by the informant that two people should never walk in two separate directions around a pole or an object obstructing their path. The informant adopted this belief from his father.

Context:

This belief was related to me by the informant after walking with him down a sidewalk in Los Angeles. We saw a light post ahead of us, and as I began to walk around the left side of it as the informant walked right, he shouted in a frenzy, “never split the pole!” After looking at him in confusion, he told me what “splitting the pole” meant.

Main Piece:

Me: What are you yelling about? What is splitting the pole?

PF: When you’re walking with someone down a sidewalk and there’s something like a light post or a traffic sign in your way, you have to walk around it the same way. If you walk in different directions, you split the pole, and you have to say, “bread and butter.”

Me: Bread and butter? What does that do?

PF: I don’t know man, it’s just what you have to say. My dad doesn’t split the pole neither. No one in my family does.

Me: Where does “splitting the pole” come from?

PF: No idea. It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. If you do split the pole and don’t say, “bread and butter,” you get bad luck.

Me: Like walking under a ladder?

PF: Yea, but way worse (laughs). When my dad and I are going somewhere, even if there’s a massive crowd, we’ll wait for people to pass and stuff just to make sure we don’t split the pole.

Thoughts:

Neither myself or anyone I’ve asked has ever heard of “splitting the pole”, so its origins remain unclear. It seems to be just one of those superstitions that a select number of people have heard and adopted. There is something to be said about the metaphysical gravity some allot to customs and beliefs despite having no rationale or origin to validate the belief. There is no utilitarian value in refusing to split the pole, yet the informant was driven to yelling in public after realizing we were about do so. Just like walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, it is a superstition that some adopt despite not aligning themselves with the culture or community it comes from. Despite not being part of the culture or community it comes from, people still act in accordance with the belief out of the potential threat that violating this belief will endanger them.

Money is first. Creativity is second. Safety is third

Text and Context

DO – Money is first, second is art, creativity, whatever, third is safety
Interviewer – Is this something that just you says?
DO – No, no. Safety third is like, grips will say it like all the time. Like carpenters and everything.
MI – Money comes first—you know getting paid, comes first. Being creative comes second. And being safe comes third.
DO – Right. Like the producers come in and will be like yeahyeahyeah! Safe first! Safety first! But then when it comes time, and it’s like no, no. You’re costing me money, get up on that fucking thing and get that done. Right? Uh, the director comes in, and is like, this is my vision! This is what we want to do! But its like, I can’t do that, I’d have to like— “I don’t care! Get it done!” y’know, kinda thing. And AFTER that comes safety. Like, what else, like what is fourth, I don’t know. So it’s be safe, unless it’s costing us money, or impacting our vision. Essentially
DO – So it’s something that people like us say, when we’re feeling like: alright, we’re putting our bodies on the line and not being treated well. We’re like, “Hey safety third!” Because they looove saying safety first. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
Interviewer – So it’s kind of an ironic saying.
DO and MI (at the same time) – Yes!
DO – It is very sarcastic. But it’s also very, very true. The number of times when we’re like, y’know, you’re talking about working like, sixteen hour days. You cannot work sixteen hour days and use a power tool safely. It’s impossible. Like if you’re sleep deprived, you cannot operate heavy machinery, power tools safely. Like you, you’re gonna do stupid stuff. We were talking about it, not so much as a danger type thing, but when you work sixteen hour days you get so—you make stupid decisions, and you do stupid stuff, and you come in the next day and spend the first two, three hours fixing the mistakes that you did at the end of the day before because you were just trying to get stuff done. Y’know? Uhhh, but given that fact—a lot of studies say, like if you’re driving on the road and you feel a little sleepy. What do they say? Pull over and take a nap. You know, like whatever. Because that’s the safe thing to do. But all the time productions go, like, sixteen hour days when it’s costing them money, like why don’t you just rent the sound studio another week or push for— nope, that costs money, we gotta get it done. We have to get it done. Or why don’t we cut this scene? No, no, director wants that scene, or whatever. Get it done.

Analysis

The informer(s) clearly had strong feelings about this saying, as they spoke extensively on the subject. I collected this saying while the informant(s) were sitting in the break room of their wood shop. We were talking about general wood shop sayings, so it didn’t come up in the context in which the saying would generally be used, such as during construction.
It is interesting that this is a response to another common saying, “safety first,” and would not stand so well without the popularity of “safety first.” It shows a folk group within set construction, while director and producers are the out-group, because the hierarchy creates a binary separation where the people in power (producers and directors) risk the safety of those they employ. The set construction workers are aware of the danger they are sometimes being put in, and understand the bitter irony of their superiors pretending to care, or caring until it interferes with their money and creative vision.

Superstition: Don’t Play With Matches, ‘Cause You’ll Pee the Bed

Main Piece: 

“Don’t play with matches, cause you’ll pee the bed. Yeah, that was a major way of disciplining me when I was a kid. So that I wouldn’t play with matches when I was a kid.”

Background:

My informant experienced this almost as a threat that his parents would make in order to make sure that he didn’t burn himself. He grew up in rural Virginia, the youngest of many much older siblings, so the potential to embarrass him was higher than if he had only younger peers. My informant describes his interpretation as follows:

Collector: “Was there ever any explanation of, like, why you’d pee the bed or…”

Informant: “No, I think it’s one of those things where, you know, it’s really embarrassing for young children to pee the bed. So, basically they’re saying don’t play with fire, but if you personalize it- attach this embarrassing situation to it, the child will be like ‘Oh, I’m not gonna do it because I’ll pee the bed.”

Thoughts:

This rides a blurry line between folklore and fakelore. My informant didn’t know where his parents picked it up from, meaning it could well be something they come up with as a personal solution for their son playing with matches. Regardless, the nonsensicality of it makes it an interesting case-study, because it’s clearly something aimed for kids that would only work on kids. However, it’s not something that kids would really be tempted to spread between each other. As such, it’s something of a targeted message that emulates the nonsensicality of children’s folklore that Jay Mechling observed, as well his statement that children’s folklore is preoccupied with “gross-out” effects such as peeing, but cannot actually fall into the category of children’s folklore.

The Valge Laev (The White Ship) Of Estonia

Informant’s Background:

The informant, in this case, is my mother, M, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Estonian family in the North-East of Canada. Her family had escaped from occupied Estonia, and had settled in Canada before she was born. She moved with my father to Los Angeles, in the United States, to take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.

Context:

I mentioned collecting folklore to my mother, who I regularly call on the phone now that I have moved out of our house, and she told me that she wanted to help. I told her yes, and she emailed me the following.

Performance (Written Over Email):

M: “This myth dates back to 1860 when a peasant preacher declared himself a prophet and called on his followers to leave Estonia to resettle in the Crimea in southern Russia. He went on ahead and promised that a white ship – the “Valge Laev” — would come to take them to this Promised Land. Several hundred families gathered on the beach to wait for the white ship, but it never came. Most Estonians were serfs, living under extremely harsh conditions, basically slavery, until 1811. Even after serfdom was abolished, life for the peasants was very hard, and there were several unsuccessful revolts against the German nobility who still owned most of the land. The White Ship was a symbol of hope, of escape to freedom and a better life.”

Informant’s Thoughts (Written Over Email):

M: “My mother was a young girl in Estonia during World War II, surviving two occupations, the first by the Red Army in 1940, the second by Nazi Germany, from 1941 to 1944. In the late summer of 1944, as Germany was losing the war and German troops were leaving Estonia, the “Soome Poisid” (“Finnish boys” – Estonians who had volunteered to fight with the Finns during the Winter War with the Soviet Union) came back to Estonia, ready to make a last stand for Estonian independence. My mother’s brother Rein was one of them. The situation was hopeless; the Red Army was closing in. But Estonians remembered that the British had come to their aid during the War of Independence (1918-1920). And so the myth of the White Ship returned.”

Thoughts:

I think this myth makes total sense given Estonia’s troubled history. The frequent invasions and occupations by foreign forces throughout Estonian history have no doubt led to many myths and tales created with the intention of spreading hope of freedom for the Estonian people. The fact that this myth was able to survive and be retold a century later speaks to Estonia’s dependence on folklore as a means of maintaining its cultural identity, and to the need for hope and resilience during it’s many occupations.

Car Rituals dealing with Hazard Avoidance – Automobile Superstitions

Description of Informant

PV (52) is a pharmacist and businesswoman from St. Louis, Missouri. Raised in a Persian household, PV spent some of her early childhood between the US and Iran, prior to the revolution. For the last two decades, PV has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.

— 

Context of Interview

The informant, PV, sits in her kitchen browsing Twitter, while her daughter, LK, snacks on french fries. The collector, BK, is PV’s son, and lives with her and LK.

Interview

BK: So tell me about these car games/superstitions.

PV: I think… my memory is… so there’s all these things, when I was a teenager, right? And we would be driving with friends, you started to pick up some of these, kind of, rituals that people had in their own— because, like, when you’re friends and you’re not driving in a car you never really, like, pick these things up. So it was more like when I turned 16 and we were driving, all of a sudden I noticed— we’d be driving and it would be a Friday night— and all of a sudden I remember a car went by and one of the headlights was out, and all of a sudden [my friend] went, “Perdiddle!” And I’m like, “What?” and she’s like, “Oh, don’t you guys do that?” and I’m like, “Don’t I do what?” *laughing* And we were like, so we were like, “Oh okay cool!” So whenever another car would go by that had a headlight out, then somebody would yell “Perdiddle!” So that became kind of a thing, right?

PV: And then there was this thing about if you go over a bridge… now that’s the part where I can’t remember. I think some people would tap the ceiling when you go over the bridge. I don’t know what that was about. But other people would lift their feet up [in the car] when they’d go over a bridge. Silly games, I guess.

BK: And LK you said you had something about…

LK: We’d just hold our breath. When we’d go through a tunnel. And see who could hold their breath through the whole thing. I don’t know really when it started but it’s— I feel like a lot of people know about it. Like whenever I’m with friends or whatever I’m always like, “Okay, ready? 1-2-3!” And we all hold our breath and like, everybody just does it and knows that it’s a thing, but we don’t, like, know how we all found out about it. Like, I felt that probably one time it happened and we all did it— like nobody was shocked when we all did it. It was like nobody was surprised.

PV: Oh, when I was with [my ex], they always honked when they went in the tunnel. 

BK: Honked… long? Or, was it just like a “beep!”

PV: Well, I will tell you. The idea was you were only supposed to honk when you went in the tunnel. Just a tap, I thought that’s all it was. But one time I got really mad because, we were in… believe it or not, of all things we were in, you know, like Monte Carlo? We’d gone from south of France, Monte Carlo, south of Italy, you know, like that area. And we were going through a tunnel. The whatchamacallit had been going on… the Tour de France. And we were in a tunnel and he’s going honk! honk! honk! honk! for the entire long tunnel. And his daughter starts crying cuz her ears are hurting and he doesn’t stop. He’s like “You’re supposed to honk in tunnels.” So like, his desire to do the honking in tunnel… was stronger. That ritual was stronger than his daughter crying.

Collector’s Reflection

Looking over each of these car games/activities, one may immediately suspect they are methods to keep yourself occupied on a long drive, especially pre-smartphone. However, upon inspection, a pattern becomes clear: hazard avoidance. Each of these games is performed in the presence of a potential hazard, and seems to be a superstitious ritual to protect oneself/the occupants of the vehicle.

Take the bridge and tunnel examples. Both present the threat of imminent collapse. Perhaps tapping the roof represents lifting the car over the bridge. If there’s water under the bridge, you may lift your feet to keep them from “getting wet”; otherwise, raising your feet may help you float above the bridge, or avoid adding excess weight so the structure stays standing. Holding one’s breath in a tunnel seems to be an act of prayer, akin to holding your breath in a high-stakes situation. Again, superstitious and intangible, but for good reason.

These car games can have more practical origins/applications too. Perdiddle (or padiddle as it’s sometimes known) can keep the driver and passenger aware of reckless drivers on the road. If a car approaches with one headlight, calling perdiddle ensures that your driver is aware of the potential risk. Such a threat posed by these single-headlight cars is their similar appearance to motorcycles in the dark. If the driver isn’t paying attention, they might get too close, not realizing the oncoming vehicle is much larger/wider than it seems.

Similarly, honking as you drive through a tunnel signals to oncoming traffic, much in the spirit of old trains. The auditory cue will allow any pedestrians or oncoming cars not yet in the vehicle’s line of sight to clear out, keeping everyone safe.