Cracking the Fortune Cookie

"Talk to me, cookie."

Each week, I find myself at the Chan An Chinese restaurant suffering from a serious General Tso craving. And each week, I crack open a fortune cookie and read its post-lunch message.

No, let me rephrase that. I crack open a fortune cookie... read its post-lunch message... and then promptly forget about it, leaving said fortune on the desk by my computer.

Where it sits. And accumulates with other fortunes. Where they have a caucus, and talk about things like Confucianism. And the Lucky Numbers of the Day. And the Cantonese word for "fish." And tricks of the trade like that.

I wasn't buying their jive the first time around, of course. But now, taken as one collective, overall Mega-Fortune, I'd say they break down into three basic categories:

  • Vague Predictions
  • Vague Predictions With Metaphors
  • Advice from Mom

Vague Predictions:

"Your dream will come true."

Really? Which dream? I mean, I'd like to know. The one where I get a major exciting book deal? The one where I go to dinner with Johnny Depp, Will Snow and John Corbett, and I somehow lose my shoes and hope no one will notice?

Or the one where vampire zombies start chasing me around an old warehouse which eventually turns into my elementary school, and then I don't know where my classes are, and I'm late, and still the zombies follow but they don't have the class schedule, either, because I ask them, and...

Well, which one, O Cookie? It does make a difference. Footwear is at stake here!

Or how about:

You will soon meet the person you admire.

And once again, the cookie is delicious and crisp, but light on the details. I mean, I admire a lot of people:

One of my friends' dads for his kind-hearted patience....

Screenwriter William Goldman for his ability to transfer books effectively to the screen-- while Stephen King only thinks he can...

Mother Theresa for her charitable efforts...

And the Dyson Vacuum Cleaner guy for single-minded devotion to 'never loses suction' vacuum cleaner technology... Just to name a few!

But the cookie, the cookie doesn't care. The cookie just tosses out its vagaries, looking for some schlump, some maroon, who'll give it an easy out and make the fortune fit for it. But that's baked goods these days, I guess. They want all the credit, but none of the responsibility.

Vague Predictions With Metaphors:
"The wheel of good fortune is finally turning in your direction."
"Doors are opening for you in many areas of your life."

So we've got wheels and doors now. And gosh, with all these opportunities headed my way, I imagine pretty soon I'm not going to even have time for fortune cookies. I'll be too busy wheeling, dealing and door-opening!

Of course, what good fortune is headed my way, and which areas of my life, the cookie is strangely mum about. I guess there's only so much space on that slip of fortune paper to dish the dirt. Sort of like Twitter, or a Classifieds Ad. You work in what you can with a limited number of characters.

Advice from Mom:

The third category of fortune cookie messages seems to think we'll be so wow-ed by its sage advice, we won't even notice that it hasn't given a fortune at all.

This is the type of fortune that has our best interests at heart. It wants to make us a better person. And it's a bit abrupt in its style of expressing itself.

This fortune might as well be from Mom. The advice you didn't want. Contradictory messaging. A little bit pushy.

"Be careful! Bees with honey in their mouths have stings in their tails."

Yes, yes, Mom, I know-- he couldn't possibly like me for me, blah, blah, blah...

"Take advantage of your great imagination. It will serve you well."

Well, gee, Mom, thanks! I'm touched. You know, I really appreciate this uncharacteristic show of support for my work, and--

"Be tactful: overlook not your own opportunity."

Okay, I mean I wasn't trying to be rude, Mom, I just--

"The successful man waits for no one; the lazy man waits forever."

Well, gosh, I mean, I've got two blogs and a full time job and--

"Those who make excuses, find little reward."

I wasn't trying to make excuses, I was just explaining--

"Be patient in one moment of anger and escape a hundred days of sorrow."

I didn't think I was being especially impatient with you, but you're sorta getting on my n--

"Those who stand up straight today, will not go crooked tomorrow."

Are you still on about my posture, Mom? Geez Louise, you've been nagging me about that since I was eight-frikkin'-years-old!--

"A filthy mouth will not utter decent language."

What?! I wouldn't even qualify that as swearing! I'm just really starting to get frustrated now and--

"Hair that follows the trends, follows fools."

Are you kidding me? Hair comments now? I'll have you know, I happen to like my hair just the way it is, and--

"Wait-- you have something on your face. Let me just get that."

I'm outta here!

(PS--Have a great weekend, folks!!)

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Rebecca said...

I've gotten some pretty strange fortunes in my cookies over the years! The most interesting have been a bunch of English words thrown together that don't make any sense at all! It's always fun trying to guess my "fortune" out of those.

Maybe there should be some sort of Fortune Cookie Manual or Codebook where we can look up the meaning of these vague fortunes! :)

Unknown said...

Rebecca- Heh- that's a good one! Do you think the random words were some manufacturing error, or that the cookie folks really felt they were putting a fortune on there?

I get a kick out of fortunes where the grammar needs a little help. Of course, if I were forced to write in Chinese and condense wisdom into seven words, I'm sure I'd NEVER get it right. So credit to the cookie folks where it's due.

Rebecca said...

That's a good question! And I'm sure it's not easy to keep coming up with different fortunes all the time.

Hmmm...that just made me wonder if fortune cookies always have to be positive?! Could you imagine getting a "doom and gloom" fortune cookie? LOL

Unknown said...

Rebecca- Heh, I can't say I've seen one. Which makes me additionally wonder, is it because someone could SUE for a gloom-and-doom fortune?

"My husband Steve got a bad fortune and got so upset, he jumped off the bridge. Now little Timmy and Susie and I have no financial support, and all the funeral bills. I'm suing you, Cookie People!" :)

Da Old Man said...

We had Chinese last night, and to be honest, the cookie was downright rude. It said "You really need to lay off the sesame noodles, big boy. Try eating some vegetables."

And the Chinese word on the back was "Diet."

Unknown said...

DaOldMan- See, that is not only rude, it's bad marketing.

That cookie might be contributing to a loss of sesame noodle sales in the future. I wonder if it thought about that before it got all high and mighty with the helpful hints!

PS- everyone knows that sesame noodles are blissfully delicious. How can you say 'no'? :)

Rebecca said...

DaOldMan - There ya go! You should sue the fortune cookie company for harming your self-esteem!

Unknown said...

Rebecca has a point, Joe. That cookie got too personal. It crossed a line. Just because it's sweet and yummy, doesn't mean it has the right to defame your character. :)

Anonymous said...

"A filthy mouth will not utter decent language."

Soo ... let me get this straight. I mean I don't do fortune cookies so the logic of this one might possibly have escaped me, but ...

Could that daft cookie be trying to say that if you don't brush your teeth properly, you'll end up saying rude words?

ROFL! That was a great post! :)

Unknown said...

Jay- Yes, possibly you're right-- it might be a Confucius-sponsored toothpaste commercial/advert. I'm not entirely sure.

Or maybe something for Orbitz gum. What do you think? :)

B said...

Those are chinese fortune cookies, I much prefer the Irish Catholic sort.

You crack it open and it always reads "You're going to hell, you gluttonous swine".

Unknown said...

B- That made me actually laugh out loud.

I'd guess perhaps that Irish Fortune Cookies, then, need to be enjoyed with a pint or two of Guinness. I mean, since you're already doomed, you might as well just finish enjoying your dinner. :)

Greg said...

When we get Chinese, I always make sure we get a few extra fortune cookies, so there's one for the dog...sounds ridiculous, I know.

One time, we each opened our cookies to find the typical, mundane advice/metaphor fare...and then cracked one open for Em. Her's read "Your star shines just a little brighter." and that's when we knew what we were up against.

For another perspective on the insidious, secret meanings of Fortune Cookies, you should visit here:

Have a great weekend.

Unknown said...

Gregoire- The dog likes fortune cookies... If her star shines brighter, wouldn't that be the Dog Star, Sirius? :)

You have a great weekend, too, my friend!

Anonymous said...

Here's my favorite:

"All is know - flee at once"

I would argue that the second part of that statement is redundant


Kathy said...

Oh, Jenn. Can I just say this post is sheer brilliance?! I especially love your arguments with the "mom" fortunes. Thoroughly enjoyed! Also, now I have to get some Chinese food today, but I'm staying away from the cookies. They're evil.

Unknown said...

Doug- I must say, the Fortune Cookie Folks surpassed themselves with that fine example of fortune copy.

It really has it all, doesn't it? Grammatical errors, redundancy, and the fact that the first half of the sentence doesn't QUITE make sense with the second half.

Thank you for sharing! :) (And PSSST- I hope you fled in a timely fashion.)

Kathy- Ah, glad you enjoyed. The best part is, now I can finally get rid of all these fortunes floating around my desk! :) Say "hi" to General Tso for me... and tell him how much I love his chicken!

Anonymous said...

If you are tired of generic fortune cookies, go to and write your own and share it with others. You can get your random virtual Chinese fortune cookies submitted by others as well. Have fun.

MYM said...

Last time I went out for Chinese food ... we all opened our fortune cookies and mine was EMPTY!


Unknown said...

Fortune Cookies- Well, it's spam, but at least it's themic spam...

Drowsey- Empty!? What does this mean, you've been dissed by the Fortune Cookie People or the cookie needed a vacation?! :)

Chat Blanc said...

I just realized that my mom has been writing fortune cookie messages! (or stealing their sayings, whichever) Holy crap! :)

Unknown said...

Chat Blanc- Funny how Confucianism and Momism has so much overlap, huh? :)