Fortune Cookies

Posted by bob on July 24, 2018

I have always enjoyed reading the little slips of paper embedded in “fortune cookies” commonly available at Chinese-food restaurants in America.  It is important to note that these have no historic connection to China or ancient Chinese culture: they were definitely a creation of U.S. entrepreneurs, although there is some dispute over the true “first” offering.

After some reflection, I have decided that my interest in fortune cookies is mostly because I enjoy truisms—statements which will basically always be true over time and circumstance.

Perhaps the most mundane of these is something like, “You will soon make a journey.”  Of course you will.  If you only walk out of the restaurant, you will have taken a very small trip going home.  It is difficult to imagine a scenario that does not fit this description.  Even if a person read that fortune and keeled over dead at the table, that person’s body would soon make a trip to the morgue.

Perhaps one of the most famous truisms was supposedly created for an ancient king, who requested a saying that would always be true.  The wise men responded with, “This too shall pass.”  Even in an apocalyptic context, the saying remains true.  I might not survive, but the event itself, will pass.

The best fortunes sometimes include a play on word meaning, or perhaps a small joke.  I received one today that said, “Excuses are easy to manufacture, and hard to sell.”  A quick Google search did not lead me to a specific origin for this quote, but it does seem associated with fortune cookies in several references.  It sounds to me like something a sales manager or motivational speaker might say, and indeed, it shows up in many references to selling excuses.

As many Internet searches, this one led to some interesting side journeys.  Goodreads listed more than 300 quotes tagged with “excuses.”

Once upon a time, just before a large layoff at a company—that everyone knew was coming—I received a fortune that said, “Find a quiet place to contemplate your future.”  I was not laid-off that time, but the advice was good in either case.  The eerie part was that the cookie also told me my lucky number was 23 and indeed, the layoffs happened on the 23rd of that month.

One of my favorite fortune-cookie sayings was opened at a local brew-house that offers the unusual combination of craft beer and fortune cookies.  This one said,

“If your friends are not making fun of you, they are not really your friends.”

If you get a great fortune-cookie saying; or another truism, please send it my way.