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According to folk belief, what is the cause of aging? Why do people get old? What happens to the soul as the body ages?

What is the average life expectancy? What is the attitude toward old age? What age is considered “old”? Are the elderly honored? Are they considered wise? Are they considered burdensome?

What living arrangement options are there for the elderly? What responsibility is taken by the members of the family? Who makes the decisions concerning their living arrangements? Are there nursing homes or retirement centers available as options? Are these government run or private institutions? How are they financed? What happens to old people who are childless, who have no relatives nearby, or are financially destitute?

What responsibilities do the elderly have in family life? in village life? at festivities or ceremonies?


At what age do boys and girls become ready for marriage? Describe the method by which marriage arrangements are made. Are the arrangements made by the parents? If so, how much say do the boy and girl have in determining who their marriage partner will be?

What characteristics are looked for in a potential husband? in a potential wife? Ask about physical, educational, financial, religious, political aspects that need to be considered.

Is courting allowed? Do the boy and girl get to know each other at all before the wedding? What standards must they follow if this is allowed. How is courting initiated, and by whom? Are there different expectations if the prospective pair are from the same neighborhood or from another town? Is a chaperon needed?

Are there kinship restrictions as to whom a person can marry? Clan or tribal restrictions? Can two persons marry if they have nursed from the same woman even though they may not be related by blood line?

When marriage is considered, which side takes the initiative in making a formal proposal? Is there an engagement ritual? Who takes part in this? How long is the period between engagement and the wedding? What activities take part in each home (the groom and the bride) during this time? What preparations need to be made by the girl? by the boy? How binding is the engagement? What happens if the engagement is broken? Who takes the initiative in breaking the engagement?

Is a dowry expected? or a bride price paid? If so, what are the expectations? Who does the negotiations? Is the immediate family responsible for the payment (or preparation), or does the extended family also contribute?


When is a child considered to be a real person (from birth? by some physical change? by attaining a certain age? at a naming ceremony?) How does a child get its name? Why is a certain name chosen?

When and how is the child weaned? What happens if the mother’s milk is insufficient? Are there wet- nurses? What relationship does a wet-nurse then hold in the family? to the child? How does the child receive toilet training? By whom? At what age is this begun? At what age do children of either sex habitually wear lower garments?

Are children generally treated well? How is love shown to a child (by the father, by the mother, by siblings, by the grandparents or other relatives)? How are children instructed in the society’s customs and history? Is this done as a situation presents itself, or is a specific program followed? How can a child be protected from illness and injury?

How are children taught proper behavior? Are they told frightening stories to encourage good behavior? or are heroes held up as models to follow? How may they be punished? Are girls punished differently than boys?

Are children of either gender treated preferentially? If so, how and at what age does it begin? At what age are girls treated differently than boys? Are there different expectations for behavior in boys and girls? What qualities of character are considered desirable for each?

With whom does the child have the closest relationship? Does this change as the child gets older? Who seems to love the child most? Who helps care for young children?

At what age are children expected to begin doing chores? What type and are these gender- specific? When are they expected to take part in religious observances and rituals?


Are there local midwives? Are they trained? If not, how do they get their knowledge? Are they contracted beforehand to be on hand for the delivery? How much do they get paid for a successful delivery? for an unsuccessful one? How long after the delivery do they care for the mother? What are their services? What must the mother do after childbirth?

Where and how is the baby delivered? Who may be present? Who is in charge of the event? Who cuts the cord? How? What is done with the afterbirth? What must be done for the child physically and ritually? Who does this?

What is the father’s role before, during, and after the birth? At what point does he see the baby? Who announces the birth to the rest of the family? to the community? How is this done?

What is the meaning attached to events occurring at the birth of a child (guests present, cord around the baby’s neck, etc.)? What is done in the case of twins? What practices and beliefs are associated with death in childbirth?

Is the birth of a child, whether boy or girl, a time of rejoicing? Are gifts given in either case? To whom?

What religious or folk customs are observed at birth, as baptisms, charms, circumcision, etc.?


Make a chart of your own family tree and ask your language helper to help you put the kinship terms for each in your new language. Ask your helper to do the same for his/her family. Compare the charts. Make a combined chart, filling in the spaces from your two charts. Are there still relationships you do not have a kinship term for? Have your helper assist you to name those.

Ask three separate families or households near where you live about their families. Do some of their close relations live in the immediate neighborhood? How far do members of their families live? Are some still in a rural situation and supply milk, grain, vegetables to the family in town? Why have some chosen to live close together and others further away? How often and under what conditions do relatives come to visit? Are some of these visits obligatory?

What obligations do family members have toward the benefit of the whole? Which relatives help with work projects? Which family members borrow from and lend to each other? Who is called on to assist in raising orphans or caring for the elderly? Which are expected to help in case of illness? Who is responsible for making wedding and funeral arrangements? Who carries out ritual obligations for the family?

Who is considered the head (patriarch, primary decision maker, etc.) of the family. Does the oldest son automatically step into this position? At what point in time does this transfer occur (at the death of the patriarch, when the son reaches a certain age, etc.)? To whom and in what proportions does property pass as inheritance? Who controls the money in the family? How is it distributed? In any of the above, what part do women play?

Under what circumstances would a family member be avoided or thought ill of?

What is the status of daughters-in-law? the mother-in-law? girls over boys?

What is the cultural attitude toward adoption? Is it widely practiced within the culture? If so, who holds priority for adopting a child, as an orphan? Do adopted children have the same rights as children born into the family? What is the attitude toward foreigners adopting out of the culture?

Look further in your neighborhood and check if the three families you have studied are typical of the area. How are the households in the neighborhood related? Is there any pattern to the location of related households in the village or town? In what other villages do households have relatives?


What patterns of visiting do you observe in the village or around your neighborhood? When do people generally visit each other (time of day, slack times in the year, special occasions, etc.)? Which people tend to visit each other often? Are they friends, neighbors, relatives? Do they give prior notice before visiting?

Do people visit from out-of-town? Are they friends, relatives, strangers? Are they people of the same ethnic group? Do they give prior notice of their arrival? How often do they come? What do they come for (business, social call, visit a sick person, attend a ceremony, etc.)? How long do they stay? Do they bring their own bedding or food, or is it the duty of the host to provide those?

What is the host’s responsibility to visitors? Is there a difference if the visitor is a close friend or relative in the same village, a friend or relative from another village, a stranger of the same ethnic group, a stranger from a different ethnic group, a person with status no matter where he is from, a woman, etc.?

Looking at these same categories, what is expected of each type of visitor? Should he/she bring a hostess gift? If so, what kind is acceptable? Are these gifts given in kind (same kind of gift you received)?

What words of welcome are used? What are the first topics talked about with visitors? Is this dependent on the reason for the visit (funeral, illness, etc.)? How does a host indicate to a visitor that he is not welcome or that it is time for him to leave? How does the visitor indicate that he/she is ready to leave? Are there certain actions that indicate the termination of a visit?

How soon after arrival is something to eat or drink served? Are visitors ever left alone, or is there always a family member present?


Take a walk down the street and take note of what you see people doing (children going to school or playing, women shopping, someone cleaning the street, people going to work or sitting in the sunshine, shopkeepers selling their wares, craftsmen doing their work, etc.) Other possibilities may be house building, rope making, car repair, blacksmithing, office work, beggars, or musicians. Take pictures if appropriate and use them as conversation triggers with your language helper.

Where are the activities taking place? in or by a home? in an office? in a store? on the street?

Are certain activities done by people generally (e.g., window shopping), by recognized craftsmen (e.g., blacksmith, shoemaker, silversmith), restricted by sex (e.g., embroidery, knitting), limited to a specific area (e.g., working with wool or with cotton, styles of caps), or to a certain season (grass cutting, tapping trees for resin, shoveling snow)?

Are any finished products for sale? For personal pleasure or for the benefit of others? Is the activity essentially individual or cooperative? If the latter, who does what? Is food or payment provided for workers or helpers? Try to join in one or another of the activities and tell about your experience. Note the people’s reaction and their instructions to you.


What things have you observed around the house and neighborhood that help the residents accomplish tasks? Find out what they are called and what they are used for (e.g., field or garden work, food preparation, weaving, hunting, home maintenance, car repairs)? Note especially tools which are new to you.

Who uses what tools when? Are there role expectations or restrictions on which sex uses which tools?

Try to use some which are appropriate to your sex and role. Are they easy to use? Mimic the instructions people give you while you are using the tools.

Are the tools bought commercially or home-made? Are some of them used for a quick job and thrown away? or are some of them permanent items? When they break, who fixes them?

Are there specialists available for certain jobs? What jobs do they do? Where are they located? How are they repaid for their labor? How is the price negotiated and by whom?

Do they only work in their store or shop, or will they come to the home to do work that is needed? How are they contracted? Who does the negotiations? What else needs to be negotiated besides the price?

Is there a period of time in the day when work is not usually done, as a “rest” time? What is the expectation of the local people? How graciously do they respond to an interruption? Would the request be acted on at that time, or put off to after the “rest period?”


Make copies of a chart with times of the day (morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night) with space for writing in activities done during those times. Fill in your own activities for each time frame and give one to some of your friends. Have your friends fill in their own chart with their activities. Compare charts as a conversation exercise. What adjustments would be allowed in the daily routine? Do these tasks get done each day, or is there variety during the week?

Which activities are personal, and which ones involve the whole family? How are bathroom schedules organized and monitored? Are there washstands outside of the toilet area, or is everything enclosed in one room? How often is bathing done, and where?

Have each of the members of one family you know well fill out the charts. Compare the schedules for each and note how they differ, how they augment each other, and how adjustments are made. Note how much of their time is taken in doing their various tasks. What problems do they face during the day and how do they deal with them? Which tasks are done on a daily basis? Does the work vary from day to day (some tasks done one day, some on another)?

Arrange with a family you know well to stay overnight in their home and participate in their life for a whole day. Perhaps you could suggest that you would like to tell your relatives in your home country what a day in the life of a local family is like. Participate in their work as much as possible and try to get a picture of both individual differences and interpersonal relationships. If you have a fellow-worker, split up to follow family members to different tasks. Compare notes later to get a composite picture.

Examples of questions to note:

  •  Who gets up first?
  • What is the first task each member of the family performs?
  • Who wakes up the rest of the family? in what order?
  • Is face-washing enough, or is a complete bath in order in the morning?
  • Who gets the clothes ready for wearing?
  • Who cooks the breakfast?
  • Do the children get walked to school?
  • When does the father leave for work, and when does he return?
  • Does the mother also work? If so, what are the arrangements for child care?
  • What arrangements are made for cleaning the house, washing the dishes, gardening, marketing, etc.?
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