The informant, in this case, is my father, F, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Ukrainian/Scottish family in Canada in 1950. His family was poor and working class, and he lived in Canada for many years before attending schools in England, and eventually moving back to Canada before moving with my mother to Los Angeles, in the United States, so she could take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.
My father told me this joke at dinner once. He asked me if I wanted to hear a Ukrainian joke and I said sure.
F: “You are a Ukrainian soldier in the trenches, the Germans coming from one side, the Russians from the other. Who do you shoot first? Answer: The German. Business before pleasure.”
I think this is probably considered an offensive joke. It has a certain historical context, I suppose, but my father never provided any of his own thoughts on the joke, so all I can really do is to provide the joke in it’s original form. I do not think my father learned this joke from his father, I think he probably picked it up somewhere later in life. I tried to search online for traces of this joke, and I was able to find it but with the Ukrainian soldier replaced with a Polish one, so I guess it is re-told in that way and adopted by different cultures with a similar wartime history.
My informant, AK, is a undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He is a first-generation immigrant, and the child of Ukrainian and Russian parents.
I am a close friend of AK. I asked him if he had any folklore he could share and this was what he gave me.
AK: “I guess like you can make a story out of this, but essentially, like, my whole life, when I try and get food from my parents or my grandma or my grandpa and like I come over as a guest or something and they want to cook me food or something they like put it-like every Russian… uhm, and Ukrainian like puts this, like does this, so say like I want some food that you made or I’m offering you some food that I made, like (*laughs*) I don’t give it to you in Tupperware. I give it to you, like I give you some Russian soup in some like old yoghurt container that like I bought, that literally had my yoghurt in it and like now I’m using it as a container to put other food in it and store other food in it. Obviously like its washed, uhm, before like any other different new food is put in it, but it’ll be like a yoghurt container but what will actually be inside will actually be some like, uhm, leek soup or something. And that’s like pretty typical like classic Russian stuff that you’ll get. More so with older generations, I don’t think like anyone who’s Russian or Ukrainian now would do that.”
AK: “I think the reason why is that there was just a time, in Russia, where you had to be really resourceful, uhm, and that’s because of World War 2, and like, I don’t know, just when there was winter and stuff and you kind of have to bunker down and just use what you have, and like no one was really rich in Russia uhm back then, there was a lot less rich people, and a lot more poor people that were like struggling and stuff. So a lot of people were resourceful, and I think that just like became embedded into like their-their DNA and their way of life. And so it just bleeds through in this small little funny way.”
I think AK explained this quite well. This example demonstrates how people adapt their way of lives to the times that they grew up in, and to the situations that surround them. In this case, this resourcefulness is likely no longer necessary in the case of AK’s relatives, due to better living conditions, and the lack of a harsh winter to diminish resources, yet the traditional way of life the person grew up with is still performed, even if it will not carry on to AK’s way of life.
NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends.
Context of Interview
The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.
BK: How about folk objects? Often these are handmade crafts, with a long tradition.
NM: Well, my mother is almost a professional Ukrainian egg [maker]. You’ve seen her eggs?
BK: Can you speak to those a little bit?
NM: I think she picked that up completely on her own. It was not something her family did. I think one of her friends introduced her to it. But yeah, I mean, the way it works is you’ve got these small little, little scooping tools that you heat up in a candle, scoop up a little bit of wax. And then if the metal of the scooper is heated up there’s a small pin for coal at the other end of the scoop. So then you’re drawing on an egg with that melted wax in a pattern, and then you’d dye-in a particular column. Let’s say you wanted to dye it blue, and then you wanted to heat up your little tool, the wax melts, and color in the triangle [with wax] that you wanted to remain blue. Then you’re dipping again in another color, so you’re losing whatever didn’t get covered in wax.
NM: So you’re starting off, you know, there’s some planning obviously going on if you’re– if the base color, the whole thing is red, you started with the red egg, and then you’ll have to cover the whole egg with wax and leave a couple [sections open to be re-dyed]. Yeah, like I know [my mother] has one that’s like red, white, and black. So she would have needed to make parts that she wanted to stay white. Make that design. Dip the whole thing in red. Then color all that in, in, in wax to keep the red and then leave little strips if she wanted those black and then dip that last bit in black.
NM: That’s my basic understanding but she’d do it with a full egg, not hard-boiled. And then after it was the way you wanted it, you would take this little contraption that would poke a hole in the bottom and suck out the goop, and put a shellac on it. And then hope the cat doesn’t jump up on the table and knock the basket onto the ground and break them all. Because it happened a couple times.
BK: Oh my gosh, how long would one take to make?
NM: Yeah, I mean, it depends on the time she had. But I think if you were dedicated to it on just the weekends. Yeah, weeks. Yeah, cuz it’s, I think, yeah, because it’s slow. It’s kind of slow work getting the wax. And they would actually, my sister would know, too, because they both did it. But my mom was, you know, [my sister is] pretty good at it, too. But my mom was really good at it. And I was little, so I wasn’t really ever paying attention to how long it took. But I think it would take a while. And maybe she’d have a couple going at once, where you’d get a basic pattern going. And what made it easier, were a lot of thick, elastic, rubber bands, so that you could create, you know, you put a thick elastic rubber band around, then you would have a guide that you could follow with your wax. So I think that helped a lot in some of the patterns. But it’s still very time-consuming. I don’t know if that’s big in New England or if she just took a little class on Ukrainian egg making.
The process of Ukrainian egg making is laborious and time-consuming, but the end result is more than beautiful. Their traditional nature adds to their value, but NM’s mother’s involvement calls the value into question. As NM mentions, his mother “picked up” Ukrainian egg making. Their family is mostly Irish; this was not a tradition that was “theirs” or passed down. So, are her Ukrainian eggs still “valid”?
In the case study of the New Mexican Natives selling traditional jewelry at the portal, the courts decided that such “appropriation” would not be supported or protected. But in that case, non-natives were looking to sell native-passing works. NM’s mother does not sell her eggs, though she may gift them. Though I, a non-Ukrainian, take no issue with her hobbyist involvement, I am curious to hear a Ukrainian perspective.
Pictured Below: Two of NM’s Mother’s Ukrainian Eggs
The following is a transcribed interview between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as MT.
MT: We are Greek Catholics, so that’s basically between Greek orthodox and Roman Catholic and so we celebrate on the Greek Orthodox Easter, which is a week after the popular Roman Catholic Easter.
Me: Ok, and how do you celebrate Easter in your village in Ukraine?
MT: There are a lot of things that just have to be done on Easter, it’s kind of a big deal. So, one of the biggest things is this special bread called “Pascha.” My mom, and all the women, typically spend lots of time and make sure they have all the ingredients to make this fresh holiday bread. They also make sausage and jams and all sorts of stuff like that. But the bread is really the main thing – that simply cannot be substituted. And then when the food is done, usually it’s like a day or two in prep, they put a small bit of each kind of food and sometimes some other stuff, depending on how religious your family is, in a basket. Like, just a classic woven basket.
And then they send one person from the family to the church with the basket so it can be blessed by the priest. Now, this part where us and our food gets blessed by the priest is like a game. So basically everyone waiting to be blessed by the priest stands in a large circle and the priest goes around blessing everyone and their stuff. And everyone makes room for everyone else like a large rotating circle like as soon as the priest blesses someone that spot gets switched out for someone else in the circle if it’s crowded. But no one can leave until the priest goes back to the center and blesses the cross and positions it perfectly. And so sometimes the priest goofs off and like takes his time doing that because everyone wants to rush, I mean like truly run home because supposedly the first one to get back home will be lucky the whole year. So the priest plays with them, if he’s fun, and then everyone fights to be the luckiest man of the year. It’s really funny but yeah we have to do that every year, the whole town gets involved.
Me: Wow, cool. Do you also do colored eggs like in many other traditions?
MT: Oh, yeah. We do the colored eggs and stuff too, it’s a very busy time of year with lots of running round and food. Just so much food.
Interviewee, MT, is from LViv, Ukraine. His family is from a village called Rodatichi in Ukraine. He immigrated to America at age 13, but returns home for occasions. He has lived in Sherman Oaks, CA for the rest of his life thus far and has been happily married to my mom for 11 years. He has been a part of and seen this easter tradition happen all growing up.
This interview was conducted over lunch at our family home, so it was very casual. He has many stories about the customs of his country that he usually shares with me so it was just like any number of our usual conversations.
Thoughts:This bread and blessing ceremony is interesting. The bread is pronounced pas-ka and in some languages, it is just the name of Easter. By collecting various Easter traditions from different countries, I’m learning that food and eggs typically play a big part in Easter festivities, no matter the region. What is interesting is that everything in this custom must be home-made. This must be because there have been minimal resources in villages and so women became the homemakers and chefs, especially for holidays. I liked the idea that this custom has grown and changed in order to have humor and recognize the simplicity of being blessed with holiday cheer. I’m sure not everyone can actually know if they were the first person home from church, but I bet it’s nice to think you are.
Informant is a 19 year old college student who grew up to the age of 11 in a small village outside Kiev, Ukraine. He speaks in a mild Ukranian accent and currently attends Rutgers University. This is a joke he tells which according to him “only makes sense if you grew up in Ukraine.”
“In other countries, the sober driver goes in a straight line and when you drive drunk you swerve. In Ukraine, the drunk man goes straight and the sober man swerves!….. Get it? Because of all the potholes.”
Although I didn’t get the joke at first, I do like it. I assume the joke is a bit of an exaggeration, but already I have some idea about the quality of infrastructure in his birth town. Informant says he got the joke from his dad, who is sitting in the other room and does not speak English. Although my informant was not very old when he left Ukraine, he says he was old enough to remember “sights and sounds” from when he was younger.