Tag Archives: culture

Laughing in the face of death

Last night Olivier and I watched a television documentary which described a recent French research project which reconstructed the Milgram experiment. I was so thrilled to watch this documentary, I don’t get much sociological titillation here, and it was fun to revisit an experiment that American sociologists talk about so often.

The research, which was re-framed as a television game show, with the same number of participants as Milgram, chosen in the same manner, and told that they would be participating on a game show pilot test. In each “show” there was a “questioner” and a “subject” that would receive shocks. Of course, the “subject” was an actor, who pretended to be shocked out of his consciousness by the “questioner”. The “subject” was placed in a small chamber, away from the view of the “questioner,” and strapped into an electrical chair. The “subject” was then given a list of words – two words on each line, each set of words associated with one another – which the “subject” had to memorize in a span of 30 seconds (impossible), asked 30 questions to tell the “questioner” the correct pair of words, and, therefore, the “subject” obviously got each question wrong and received a shock – increasing in value with each question.

You can watch a clip of the show here (don’t worry if you don’t speak French, it’s pretty clear).

One result that was very interesting to find is that as the shock intensity increased, the “questioner” would laugh, in an attempt to externalize their nervousness and to reach the “subject” to let him know that the situation was supposed to be all “fun and games.” The laugh most commonly occurred around the “middle” shock amount and subsequently decreased as the shock (and the cries of the actor) became stronger.

This nervous laugh is extremely fascinating. Normally, the laugh is reserved to demonstrate joy, pleasure, amusement, but it has been reappropriated to express nervousness as well. The first logical explanation for this nervous laugh is that expressed in the experiment – an attempt to bring a light-heartedness to the situation. But it is still a quite disturbing image to watch someone laughing (sometimes hysterically, to the point of tears) while they believe they are shocking someone to unconsciousness, even death. Of course this brings a lot of questions to the surface, such as sadism, an innate aggressive nature of human beings, etc…I’m not sure how much I agree with either of those principles (thought I do think that humans are by nature relatively aggressive beings due to the need for survival), but I don’t think that anyone on this show consciously took pleasure in knowing that they were causing potential pain to the “subject.”

I’d love to hear your opinions about this! I’m eager to read what you have to say.


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Last Speaker of Ancient Language Dies

This is absolutely amazing and tragic. What does this mean for our world, on a long term scale? How many languages will we lose? How many races and ethnicities will disappear? How much rich culture are we destroying/overlooking/taking for granted? But, then, what can we do to prevent this from happening? I do not have the answers for this, nor do I know where to start thinking. Do you?

The last speaker of an ancient language in India’s Andaman Islands has died at the age of about 85, a leading linguist has told the BBC.

Professor Anvita Abbi said that the death of Boa Sr was highly significant because one of the world’s oldest languages – Bo – had come to an end.

She said that India had lost an irreplaceable part of its heritage.

Languages in the Andamans are thought to originate from Africa. Some may be 70,000 years old.

The islands are often called an “anthropologist’s dream” and are one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world.

You can find the rest of the article here.

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The other night a few friends came over and we all made sushi. And, who, you might ask, taught you to make this wonderful sushi? サー Yuki Eriguchi!

Here are some photos from the night. There are no photos of the final result (although I think Yuki might have one). We ate them all too fast!!

Yuki fanning the rice with his grandmother's fan, Jasper observing.

Our master watching over the ingredients: cucumber, avacado, salmon, tuna, egg, rice

...roll your sushi with love and zen...


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Les Françaises

When someone says to you “French girls” what comes to mind?

Style, class, cigarettes, Brigitte Bardot? One friend (a Frenchman) once said, “I don’t date French girls. They are crazy.”

On the contrary, I don’t think French girls are crazy at all. I think they know exactly what they’re doing. Their bedhead hair is extremely calculated, the way they clutch their cigarette is poised but fanatic, they slur their words until it sounds like they are purring, and their leather boots clunk to a perfected rhythm. In fact, it’s their quirkiness that makes them so unique.

Often when I take a glance at a française trundling down the street I think, “Mhm, interesting.” Unlike Scandinavian girls, where their beauty is sometimes downright blinding, French girls have a beauty that takes time to acclimate oneself to. That is not to say that French girls are frog-like creatures who you have to kiss to make them turn into the beautiful princess. Nor is it to say that French girls who are blindingly gorgeous do not exist. Quite the contrary. It is rather that there is a certain twist, an alluring twirk of the nose, a furrowed brow, or a piercing glance that throws you off at first. Then, after a while, you realize that the creature before you is not directing their eyes towards me and thinking, “I hate you,” or turning their nose up at you. But I suppose it is rather, “Pfh…this world…,” “Putain, I have no more cigarettes,” or “God, it smells bad in Lille today” (which it really does sometimes). Ah, so French.

When I first moved here I felt very self-conscious, not only because I was in a new place but because I do not look like French girls. I have short, dirty-blonde hair, and blue eyes, which some French women do have, but most are a gorgeous, flowing brunette with molasses eyes. Damn, that’s the opposite of me. I’ve lived in places where I was overwhelmingly in the minority and overwhelmingly in the majority. But somehow, living in a place where you can blend in but still don’t look like the inhabitants was a little unsettling. Somehow it’s easier to be one or the other, but never in the middle.

After the first month or two I got over my self-consciousness and was glad that I stood out. I’ll never be able to do the bedhead look. I don’t want to smoke cigarettes. I will never be able to speak French like a cat. And I’m very happy to have my own klonk-klonk of my leather boots. But, you have got to give it to them. They are magnificent.


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10am: Just ate the leftovers of a peach tart for breakfast (uhm…fruit, that’s healthy right?) and waited for an hour for a friend to Skype with me (no luck) so I’m now getting off the couch and going to check out the madness of the sales. (YES, you heard me, Sale Season here in France!) I didn’t go out yesterday on the first day of sales because, honestly, I didn’t want to get killed by the stampedes of psychos – and, yes, that does really happen. But I promise myself that I’m not going to buy anything, unless I need it, and it’s a really good price (ha, good luck Lise, courage and restriction!). No, but seriously, it’s just after the holiday season and I’d much rather keep my money for more important things, so we will see how this goes.

3pm: Drum roll please…I bought…Pyjamas, which I actually did need. One pair of pants and one nightie. One pair of black tights. And one nail polish (gotta splurge someway). The really ironic thing is that originally I had the intention of going out to buy new underwear and…low and behold…as I was walking I felt like there was something trailing behind me, I look down, and a pair of MY underwear was caught in my pants. Sweet. Classy! Does everyone have some sort of nightmare about nudity, underwear, etc? I don’t really feel inhibitions towards those sort of things, so this was just very funny to me. But for a second there, I was really embarrassed to be walking through the Grand Place – the main strip in Lille – with a pair of my underwear dragging behind me. Yessss…nice way to start of the New Year – exhibitionism!

On a more serious note (for the ladies, and dudes if you have education in this department you can pitch in some advice too) what is up with French lingerie stores? Why can’t I find my size? Does anyone have recommendations for buying bras in France? I thought you guys were supposed to be experts here.

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La Grande Bouffe

The Christmas season this year was The Marathon Of Joy and Good Food.

December 20th: Olivier and I made our way through the perfect layer of snow to Paris, kicking off the celebrations with a Depois family lunch. Everyone welcomed me so warmly, made me feel like a part of the big bustling festivities, and we all ate our hearts out with delicious cuisine. And I was overjoyed to finally meet people I had heard so many good things about, and the talented Marion, who makes beautiful, kwirky jewelry that I love. Then, after lunch, we brushed off our sedation and all the kids, plus Maminic of course, joined us for a vicious snow ball fight in the back yard. Maminic and Papili are two of the most wonderful, gracious people and I thank you both so much for everything, for the soup blender which I have already used and laughed the whole time (very fun! kind of messy, I have to perfect my skills) and for the fun sleepover! Foie Gras Count: 1.

December 21st – 25th: After saying our goodbyes to Maminic and Papili around mid-day, we packed up our things and trudged through the metro and snow to the apartment my parents and the Semnachers had rented – which was massive with lots and lots of art by Cocteau (Cocteau EVERYWHERE). It was a gay man’s fantasy, with all that phallic art, but worked just as well for our crazy families of 7 people total (maybe not big for you, but HUGE for me, my family is tiny tiny), running around, cooking, jumping into the bathrooms to take showers when you had the chance. We saved every bottle of wine we drank (not my idea, nor Claire’s, but our parents) and had a fine collection running the span (and maybe more) of the gigantic mantle piece by the end of the stay. And we cooked up some of the most exquisite dishes (thanks mostly in part to my mother and Paul), things like: bouillon base soup with gorgeous cockles, scallops, shrimps, fish, tomatoes and saffron, a beautiful fat goose for Christmas day, you can imagine what a good time we had! And for Christmas, we went to the midnight mass at Saint Eustache, which was highly impressive with red candles sprinkled all over, the high ceilings lit up with carols, and the most beautiful organ in Paris. Foie Gras Count: 2.

December 26th: The day after Christmas the Semnachers and the Morrish/Dvells/Kvan clan wrapped ourselves tightly in our coats, gloves, hats and scarves jumped quickly into two cabs and made our way to the Eiffel Tower. After taking elevators to the 2nd floor, my mom, Claire, Paul, Mikaela, and I jostled our way onto the elevator to the tippy-top. I got a big woozy because for some reason I now sort of dislike heights but the view was amazing (ahhhh….puke) so I liked to stay on the upper level with the glass and the photo maps where you can identify landmarks. Then, after making our way back down the tower (phew, thank god…) I ran off to take the train to meet the Clairouin family. It was so wonderful to meet the other side of the family and to finally put so many faces to names I had heard so often, and finally the Clairouin grandparents, who were so warm and kind to me – and gave me a brilliantly blue scarf! Thank you so much, it’s my perfect color! I am just absolutely overwhelmed by how welcoming, generous, and affectionate the entire Clairouin and Depois family is. I cannot thank you enough! Foie Gras Count: 3.

December 27th: The Clairouin family (except for JB and Angelique, I wish you could have been there!) came over to the apartment for an enormous lunch: champagne, red wine, porc filled with figs and encrusted in fennel, roast potatoes, salad, magnificent cheese from Normandie, and a beautiful apple tart made by Mikaela. So much fun, so many laughs, and perfect to have everyone together. Then we went for a long walk across the Seine, while the sun set, and attempted to walk off some calories from the past week.

December 28th-29th: The last days in Paris were filled with running around, buying the last bits and bobs, checking out a vintage store where everything was imported from the USA (oh, well…), and a Jonak stock store (Ah! Cheap leatherrrr…puurrrrr, meow). Our goodbyes were said to the Semnachers on the 29th as we made our way to Lille.

December 29th-30th: Bill, mom, and Mikaela loved Lille. We split up so we could cover our own territory: Bill heading off to check out Rem Koolhaas’ buildings and the rest of us to poke around Vieux Lille. It was cozy to have them here to see our apartment, to cook some good meals, and to forget about the forever grey skies in Lille.

December 31st-January 1st: After saying goodbye to my family in the morning, we went off to the grocery store to stock up on champagne and food for the evening and at 5pm the gang arrived: PARTY TIME! It was so much fun to see all our friends again, to joke around, cook, and eat drink eat drink eat drink eat drink drink drink. It was an amazing and relaxing New Years. In the morning (no, actually, afternoon), despite what I think must have been negative temperatures, we took a walk around town, ate roasted chestnuts, and came back to the apartment for a cup of tea. After everyone left, Olivier and I watched a classic French film from 1973, recommended by Bruno, about four best friends who decide to kill themselves by overeating and having sex with the same women (no, no, not killing themselves by having sex with the same women, that was just another part of the plot), anyways, really 1970s French artistique. Seriously, either the best way to end this marathon or the worst…either way, I don’t feel like eating ever again 😉 (but you know that I’m only 1/4 kidding when I say that!). Foie Gras Count: 4 (And we still have some in our fridge. Please call me if you would like it. Seriously, call me.)


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The Anthropology of Youtube

I’ve been casually watching Youtube as a sociologist-in-training for two years now and am astonished that I never found this video sooner. If you have even watched one video on Youtube, or even if you don’t know anything about Youtube, you need to watch this! It will freaking blow your MINDDDD.

(and even though it is long, it’s definitely worth watching the whole thing!)


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