Expect the Unexpected: The Wisdom of Fortune Cookies

Giant fortune cookie

Image via Wikipedia

As an aspiring writer earning minimum-wage at a local Chinese restaurant, I am often surrounded by foreign languages, steaming (and sometimes flaming) piles of food, and the crackling sound of fortune cookies popping open, bestowing quirky single-sentence fates upon hapless customers.

I must say, as someone who wants to make writing a business, I tip my hat to the writers of fortune cookie messages.  Every one of us has experienced that one fortune cookie that has said something utterly ridiculous, utterly flattering, or utterly accurate.  A message that affects the reader enough to be recalled weeks, months, or years later.

Myself, I remember getting a fortune three years ago that said simply, “You are pretty.”  I was half amused, half flattered, and those feelings were persistent enough to create a long-term memory.

Many customers of the restaurant enjoy regaling me with their own fortune cookie memories, including one that reads “Oops, wrong cookie.”

The success of these fortune cookies rely on several abilities.

1. The ability to create meaning in the mind of the reader.  They approach broad themes (such as rumors) and discuss them in general terms, yet take a defined side in the situation.  “Rumor is a by-product of an unthruthful conversation”.

Some of them are rather epic.  “In the end all things will be known.”

Others are more instantaneous.  “Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”

Have you reacted strongly to any of these?  Have you been surprised?  The element of mystery, suspense, and surprise is often the most effective element, something that immediately grabs at any human and draws them in.

2.  The element of mystery. There are many people who don’t even eat the fortune cookie, but just break it open to read what’s inside.  Though, to be truthful, I suspect that many people only eat the fortune cookie afterwards because it exists (I, personally, love the eggy crunchy fried cookie).

3.  The universal application. Most fortune cookies can be warped to shape any situation, lifestyle, or otherwise affect a living, breathing human being.

I think that most novels can be distilled into fortune cookie phrases.  Or an excerpt.  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”  (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice).

I’ll leave you with a final note, a message that I rather think would be an effective way to imagine life will be.

“Your eyes will be opened to a world full of beauty, charm, and adventure.”


One thought on “Expect the Unexpected: The Wisdom of Fortune Cookies

  1. The one that stuck with me I got way back in high school:

    “You are the shining star of his existence”. I wanna know how they got the gender right.

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