Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

January 22, 2013

Slate: Is your electric fan trying to kill you?

"Is it really true that if you clip your fingernails while your relatives are flying somewhere," the radio producer asked, "their plane will crash?" I was being interviewed about my new book, "Because I Said So!," which fact-checks 125 classic parental cliches: breakfast is the most important meal of the day, don't sit so close to the TV, don't swim right after you eat. You get the idea. During the commercial break, a producer asked me about this particular bit of wisdom, passed along by her mom.

 I took a long look at her; she seemed to be in dead earnest. "Where does your mom, uh, happen to be from?" I asked as innocently as I could.

"She grew up in Russia."

I told her I'd never heard that one before - maybe it was more of a Slavic thing. I wasn't surprised at all to find out that Mom, in this case, had been raised outside the United States. In writing the book, I'd spent the past two years soliciting parental nags from friends, acquaintances and Internet strangers, and I'd learned very quickly that these bits of folklore tend to be extremely culture-specific. A classic Mexican momism might bear no more resemblance to a Scandinavian one than huevos rancheros do to lutefisk.

In China, for example, it's widely believed that sitting on a seat recently warmed by someone else's behind can give you hemorrhoids. The Brits, on the other hand, attribute hemorrhoids to sitting on cold surfaces. But sitting on that same cold concrete would lead to a different lecture from a Ukrainian mom: She'd be sure it would make you sterile.

Some Peruvians are told that lingering too long in front of the fridge can cause cancer. In the Czech Republic, everyone knows that drinking water after eating fruit leads to painful bloating. Filipino kids can't wear red when it's stormy out, since that would attract lightning. Germans and Austrians live in mortal fear of drafts, which get blamed for everything from pneumonia to blocked arteries, so summertime commuters routinely swelter on 90-degree trains and buses rather than cracking a window through which a cooling - but lethal! - breeze might pass.

In South Korea, however, the concern about ventilation is exactly the opposite. Koreans will only use electric fans if a window is cracked, because leaving a fan on in an enclosed room, it's almost universally believed, can be fatal. The mechanism behind the threat is a little vague: Sometimes it's said to be a lack of oxygen that kills you, sometimes it's a chill. But either way, you won't care. You'll be dead.

I actually grew up as a child in Seoul, South Korea, and fans were no laughing matter. Everyone took the Great Fan Menace for granted and had a hard time believing that other cultures were ignorant of it. An apartment of Americans I knew teased their lone Korean roommate by going to bed one summer night in an enclosed room with six electric fans turned on. He pleaded with them not to throw their lives away and slept in the hallway. When, in the morning, all three had survived the ordeal, the Korean roommate was still not convinced. Obviously, he said, they had been playing a practical joke on him and had cracked a window as soon as he was out of the room.

              

Jennings was a 74-time Jeopardy! winner and is the author of three books, most recently "Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids."

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • weightloss.jpg The scales of injustice: Weight loss differs between men, women

    You're not imagining it: There really are differences between the way men and women diet, lose weight and respond to exercise.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drug dealers going corporate

    A top federal official on Tuesday said that 105 banks and credit unions are doing business with legal marijuana sellers, suggesting that federal rules giving financial institutions the go-ahead to provide services to dealers are starting to work.

    August 13, 2014

  • wwimemorial.jpg The benefit of World War I omission on the Washington Mall

    By 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened on the National Mall, something had shifted in the way we remember our wars. A national memorial, prominently placed on the nation's most symbolically significant public space, came to seem like an essential dignity offered to veterans, their families and the memory of those who gave their lives. But there is an exception.

    August 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • In Japan, ramen aficionados worry their favorite dish is coming off the boil

    "The ramen boom has ended," said Ivan Orkin, a New Yorker who first traveled to Japan in the 1980s and now owns two noodle-soup restaurants in Tokyo. "A boom implies that there are new avenues and new growth to pursue, and that's not the case in Japan anymore."

    August 11, 2014

  • Ronnie Ellis: U.S. Senate race trail long and interesting

    By Ronnie Ellis/CNHI News Service

    FRANKFORT — Last week was a long one, endured under the onslaught of an awful summer cold and played out across the commonwealth. It began in Fancy Farm and ended it in Corbin with a trip to Hazard in between.

    August 9, 2014

  • Senate race becomes family affair

    By LANA BELLAMY
    CNHI NEWS SERVICE
    PAINTSVILLE — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got personal on Friday while calling a report inaccurate concerning his wife’s role as a board member in an organization that funds anti-coal efforts.

    August 9, 2014

  • Dennis Beighley led out of courthouse Mother, grandparents face attempted murder charges in starvation case

    Cheers and applause erupted in a courtroom when a pregnant mother from Pennsylvania accused of starving her then-7-year-old son was remanded to jail, along with the boy’s grandparents.

    August 8, 2014 2 Photos

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks