Tag Archives: schoolyard stories

A Big White Van

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American (of Indian heritage)
Age: 12 (parent consent given)
Occupation: Student
Residence: Cupertino, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/20/214
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Spanish, Polish

Item and Context:

“My seniors in school – the eighth graders – would always tell us to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’ We were all really interested in why, especially because my friend Evan thought that white vans were pretty cool. Haha, no… So he, bold as he is, went up to one of the many eighth graders repeating this warning and asked them what the story was. When he returned, he informed me that it was because this one kid from our middle school had been kidnapped by a man in a big white van and held for ransom! So when a friend of mine asked me about it, I repeated to him exactly what Evan had told me. After a few days, there was a rumor spreading around the school that the man in a big white van had taken away one of the students many years ago, and that student had been held for ransom, and when the parents failed to come up with the cash, the kid was murdered and his spirit was the one telling the eighth graders to ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’! I did not understand how this happened. I assume that it traveled from Evan to me to A to B to C and so on, finally resulting in this wild exaggeration. How strange, no?”

Analysis:

The proverb/superstition that this story is based on is an example of children’s lore. However, what is most interesting is that while it is an example of a type of folklore, the story the informant provided is also a perfect depiction of exactly how folklore happens. I doubt that his friend was even told about a “ransom”, and instead added that detail just to spice up the story. As the story went around the middle school, everyone freely added their own details to it, resulting in something starkly different than what these eighth graders were probably talking about, much like the game ‘Telephone’, which is also an excellent example of the process of folklore creation. The belief that the warning is based on is that large, white, unmarked vans are usually driven by creepy pedophiles who offer little girls candy and then whisk them away. Hence, according to the informant and his seniors at school – ‘Never trust a man in a big white van!’