September 22, 2015 by kittynh
I think everyone in the Western World agrees that Fortune Cookies are “just for fun”.
The history of the fortune cookie is one of ingenuity and cleverness. It’s certainly a cultural import from China!
There is no traditional religion or culture that promotes fortune cookies as part of their history. Sometimes people take the fortune given by a cookie to heart. This happened to spectacular results when it was discovered just how many people do use those “Lucky Numbers” at the bottom of the fortune.
March 30, 2005 had 110 people almost winning the lottery. They won the second place in the lottery because the fortune cookie that inspired their number choice had the number 40, instead of the winning number 42. This payout was over 19 million dollars, since second place winners don’t split the prize. First place winners, with perfect matches split the award. Lottery officials investigated and found people had just played their fortune cookie lucky numbers! In this case, so many second prize winners cost far more than if they had all been first place winners!
But does anyone really believe fortune cookies have magical powers? A life time of eating the US version of Chinese Food has shown me most people laugh at the fortunes. My best friend Mary would paste fortune cookies in her photograph album (yes it was that long ago). Every special event in her life had a fortune next to photographs of that time. Everyone would laugh as some of the fortunes were a great match to what was going on in her life. Marriage had fortunes about “love” and “Happiness”. I think everyone understands though that fortunes are written to appeal to a broad audience.
Recently though I met someone that had never had Chinese food. She is a scientist from Africa. Her first visit to the United States was to do important research work. She also wanted to sample American culture. She was introduced to Mexican food, which is not made by people of Mexican heritage here in New Hampshire. Thankfully the food is authentic even if the person cooking it is not.
Then she was introduced to Chinese Take Out.
She enjoyed the food, her “I’ll try it!” approach to visiting the United States is one many US tourists should follow for their own trips overseas. Then I pulled out the FORTUNE COOKIES!
We did have to explain to her what we meant by “fortune”. Her English is excellent, but fortune has different meanings. Her first thought was this had to do with money. As in, the cookie had a fortune (money) inside. Sadly, the explanation given her by the group eating the Chinese food did not go far enough. We mistakenly gave her the impression this cookie was going to do a psychic reading.
I read my fortune cookie and had to laugh, because it was the typical one of “You will meet new people soon” variety. However, I noticed the scientist from Africa was very silent. She was even shaking a bit.
Finally she looked up and said “What is this fortune? Explain it to me please! How does it know these things about me?”
It took a few moments for me to realize she really was upset by the fortune. The group I was with kept explaining to her “It’s just for fun, it’s not real. NO ONE believes the fortunes!”
We finally had her share her fortune. It was the very typical “You will be traveling and have many new opportunities.” version. I think about 1/3 of fortune cookies mention travel. Since she was traveling and learning new things, plus having many new opportunities, to her this was MAGIC. She is a scientist, but even a scientist can be blown away when it appears a slip of paper knows all about you.
She asked “How does it know I am traveling?”
The problem was the group did not explain the very modern history of the fortune cookie. She saw smart people, fellow scientists, were taking this thing seriously. Everyone was ending the meal by reading their fortunes.
It took a lot of explaining but she soon understood this was really just for entertainment. I had to put myself in her shoes. If I had travelled to Africa and at the end of the meal had a mysterious “Fortune” tell me something personal, I would be very impressed. I would have also perhaps been a little afraid. I would have wanted to know all about this “fortune paper”.
This impressed upon me that more information is the key to understanding almost anything. A psychic reads your future, and after you read a book about cold reading, such as Ian Rowland’s excellent book on the subject, it’s not impressive anymore.
Magicians often work hard to keep their tricks secret, because the response to knowing how a trick is done is often “Well that is so easy!” It isn’t easy at all. It takes skill, practice and also the ability to captivate an audience to make even the “easy” trick a success. I happily watch magic performances knowing I’ll never know “how it was done”, yet also knowing it’s not paranormal. The entire performance, not just the trick, is why I enjoy magic.
A skeptic has an innate knowledge that if it’s too good to be true, there is probably more to the story. There is the fact that “paranormal” is just not a choice. When people talk to me about UFOs and aliens, I point out it’s a poor choice because aliens and UFOs have never been proven. Only the flimsiest of photographic and video exist, and also some first person accounts of interaction with aliens that is very suspect. Until we prove aliens exist, they aren’t a choice.
Often I hear “I don’t know what it was, so it must be aliens.” Well, as with anything from a strange light in the sky to a furry creature in the woods, your choices should be limited to what is known. You can’t make up a new choice. You can’t latch onto a new choice someone else made up either. If you don’t know, the answer is always “I don’t know.”
But, I’m hoping sometime in my travels, I’ll come across something new that will have the ability to awe and impress me- until I hear the rest of the story. It’s fun to get goosebumps, even if it is only for a short while.