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Issues | Multicultural Manners

The Theory of Like Follows Like

May 10, 1997|NORINE DRESSER | Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley, 1996). Contact her at Voices or via her new e-mail address:

After Sally returns home from the hospital with her new baby, her upstairs neighbor, Anna, phones to congratulate her. When Sally invites Anna to come down and see the new arrival, Anna asks, "Has anyone else been there yet?" "You'll be the first," Sally answers.

Anna hesitates, then says she can't make it that day. She'll come over sometime soon.

Several days later, Anna calls again, asks about the baby and if anyone has visited yet. Sally tells her she has had no guests and once more extends an invitation to Anna, who gives an excuse for not being able to visit.

A week later, Anna calls to inquire about the baby and asks if there have been any visitors. When Sally says that some friends have just left, Anna hangs up the phone and appears almost instantly at Sally's door.

What does it mean?

After Anna enthusiastically admired the baby, Sally asked why she hadn't come over before. Anna apologized and explained that like many other Italian Americans, she held on to the belief that the first stranger over the threshold where a newborn resides will be the next one pregnant. Anna already had four children and did not want more. Anthropologists and folklorists might label Anna's belief "like produces like," a common concept worldwide. Analogously, Cecil tells how a barren neighbor in his native Guyana borrowed his newborn baby brother to sleep overnight in her bed so that she would become pregnant and have a male child. She did soon bear a son and credited the infant's sleepover.

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