Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cross-dressing at the Gap

Now that it's stopped raining, and that the graduation-and-wedding festivities have concluded, the Belgians returned to the land of superior food quality, I've up and caught a bizarre cough-first cold, and have lost my voice. (Possible germ source: the adorable bichon who lives in our building, who ran up to me recently and gave me a surprise big kiss on the mouth. I did not mention this theory at Student Health, for fear of them putting "Another Insane Grad Student" in my file, if they hadn't already.) The whole seeing-NY-friends-and-profs bit will have to wait.

What has not waited: a quest for jeans that are not stretch pants. (Also: that don't leak dye even after many washes, and that don't show too much in the rear when I sit down.) Apparently all jeans on the market today have spandex or similar in them. Jeans made for women, that is. All-cotton exists for men and children - the Gap men's ended up fitting me better than kids' - oddly enough, the latter was a bit too big, the former, in the size I tried, a bit too snug. Overall, men's seemed the way to go, until, doing that test one does with jeans to make sure they're not too low in the back or tight in the waist, I sat down in them and discovered that there was indeed some, uh, extra fabric. No thanks. The only women's jeans in the entire universe that are not "stretch" come from American Apparel, and they were, I promise, the least flattering item of clothing I'd ever tried on, ever. (A.P.C. also has all-cotton, also - how lovely - without those streaks added to make jeans look worn, but $175...) In principle, I favor clothes that can be kept even when one changes size. In practice, I'd rather approach this by owning a pair a bit on the large size and not worrying about perfect fit than via jeggings.

Also: it's been years and years, so my once-vivid memories of going to elementary and middle school with the rich and famous are now a hazy blur that even the slice(s) of Pintailes I had the other day was not enough to summon all madeleine-like. Speaking of literature, one of my classmates from those days has a new novel out, with a co-writer, yes, but any book that takes the Fifi Meltzer of the Upper West Side approach to autobiographical fiction is surely from the heart. Things like this make me think I should follow through on those rare occasions when book agents read this ol' thing and think there's a book in me yet - one other than my dissertation, that is. I even have a new idea! It's about a young woman named Fifi who... no, it's actually just a popular-audience-intended version of one aspect of my dissertation, which is only vaguely autobiographical.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

They all look alike

-I know one's French and one's Texan, but same difference?

-Ombré hair, so last season, so my plan all the same, now that looming wedding photographs and a fear of DIY using unknown hair color (aka that which is sold in Frahnce) are no longer concerns. Ricky's bleach, here come the tips of my hair. From platinum tips may come temporary neon tips, either of which can be conveniently chopped off with my next haircut. Big plans.

-"Ses cheveux noirs faisaient ressortir la blancheur de sa peau." Ladies with my coloring, we would have been ever-so-hott in 1846.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All over the place

What do Galliano and Sheen, DSK and the I-P conflict, have in common? OMG Jews. That's about all I got out of Stanley Fish's latest. I mean, I always appreciate it when an academic study of representations of Jews and gender in literature reaches a broader audience, and will now have to check out Matthew Biberman's book, so there was that going for it... but otherwise?

-The piece is very much about, here are some tangentially connected thoughts, don't they make you think? There's not really any argument. Is Fish saying anti-Semitism's worse than it once was? That Jews are more powerful than ever before? That time is one, Jewish power and anti-Semitism unchanging facts across place and age?

-Or maybe it's more of a, hey, anti-Semites say Jews are rich and powerful, why, Jews are rich and powerful... just saying.

-We learn of "67 percent of Reform Jewish households in the United States making more than $75,000 a year; only 31 percent of all households hit the same mark." Is this the relevant comparison? Not Reform Jews and whichever demographic of Protestants is equivalent on the one hand, Jews and Christians generally on the other?

-Yes, yes, there are some overlapping key words - "Affaire," "French," "Jewish," and "conspiracy," but DSK=/=Dreyfus. DSK at best did a whole lot like what he was accused of, but might be innocent of the precise crime in question. Dreyfus was a fairly straightforward scapegoat. And, other than Jews concerned with whether there is a Jewish angle, no one in America thinks of DSK as a Jew. He is, like BHL, zee French.

-We have the following quote, in parentheses: "'You can insult any ethnic group and get away with it, except for the Jews.'" Who, exactly, is saying/thinking this? Fish?

-"Those who offer the criticism can never quite be sure that their distaste for Israel’s actions with respect to the Palestinians is entirely innocent of the influence of centuries of vilification." Just... just... what? Obviously, if you've decided I-P is the only issue of any significance in the world, and that Israel=the unequivocal villain, if you're incapable of differentiating between Jews and Israelis, Israelis and the Israeli government... But obviously if you're criticizing something specific (say, Bibi not being all that cooperative with Obama), you're not doing anything remotely sinister.

-What a crap title! I know, I know, these are typically chosen by editors, perhaps even for articles that are really blog posts, but seriously. What exactly does Galliano hurling anti-Semitic epithets at someone who isn't even Jewish have to do with "the Jews"? Was the point to bring charmers like this out of the woodwork? (Also the well-meaning-ish-but-staggeringly-ignorant.)


Are those stand-mixer things useful, and if so, for what? I didn't think we'd have much use (beyond latkes, that is) for the hand-me-down food processor we got a while back from my parents, but it's now how I make pizza dough, making it the most useful thing ever.


-Essie "nice is nice" is, well, nice. Lavender-lilac, but not too chalky, as white-based nail polishes often are. Also nice is Laura Mercier Sheer Lip Color in "baby lips." Also Korres mango butter lipstick in "frost pink." I still have some leftover/pent-up primping impulse stemming from my pre-wedding sense that I should care more about such matters, culminating in the frizziest weather imaginable, as well as my hair's decision to turn blond in the front every spring, something I understand women pay for but that does not suit my coloring. Lip and nail color, this can be controlled.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wedding fashion recap

-It felt funny being at Dos Toros last night, trying not to get guacamole on the somewhat intricate (and surprisingly modern) wedding band that had been my grandmother's. Between the manicure and the shiny, my left hand is unrecognizable. As is Jo's, my goodness!

-It felt delightful waking up and realizing breakfast=cake.

-Jo's family met mine, and by all appearances everyone got along. Woohoo!

-Let's talk accessories. I wasn't up for a veil or, apparently, doing anything whatsoever with my hair beyond flat-ironing it, putting two different anti-frizz products in it, and hoping against hope that humid-and-rainy would not immediately reverse this. (Normally with such weather, I'd have not even begun such a process.) I also don't know how to much extend makeup application beyond a more careful version of my normal eyeliner-concealer-lipstick routine, other than some added blush and mascara, so there was a limit to how much primping I could fit in, to how radically different-than-usual I would look for the occasion. My mother and I did get mani-pedis on the glamorous Upper West Side, at a place I'd read online would be both sanitary and affordable, which is apparently an unusual combination, so there was some symbolic "how is this day different from all others" grooming. This was my second-ever "pedi," and it confirmed that I am in fact too ticklish for this to constitute relaxation for me. But my toes look amazing.

I at any rate had some very "Botticelli, look at you!" moments with the shoes, which were twice commented on by women after the ceremony, once on the street and once on the subway. Paris, Repetto, yes, yes, I know, I buy all my shoes like that, and if you have to ask... They were so very comfortable, but also, in that they're so very shiny and potentially scuffed, something I'll be saving for other at least moderately special occasions. The bag, meanwhile, was my "something borrowed," borrowed from my mother last-minute and a testament to her handbag expertise - it went just right with the outfit!

-The earrings were my great-grandmother's, maybe? No one's sure, but I had them cleaned for the occasion. They look very Dreyfus-era, or something. Photos, again, to follow.

-The dress was this. Remember that the model on whom the dress is shown is five feet taller than I am. This is a dress made for a short person.

-And now, back to normal life. Well, as normal as life can be when they've decided to house DSK in a building next to one of our local subway stations.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

ABD now also Mrs.

Look what just happened! 

It's been a busy week! More photos to come, but here's one that gets the point across.

We still need to figure out celebrations with NY friends and Belgians, as well as the apparently complicated process of turning a maiden name into a middle name, but official and unofficial-but-delicious celebrations have happened with Belgian and American family in New York. That man in the photo, he's my husband!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Congratulations Dr. Bovy!

-One of the convocation speakers, a professor, described the "idle" part of grad school to perfection. Replace "daytime TV" with "'House'" and "Pacman" with "fashion blogs," and... yup. But we do work hard the non-idle times, we promise.

-On the way to the ceremony, Jo's mother and I spotted none other than Abs M., less than 24 hours after the last sighting. Either a) he's a ballet dancer who works in the Lincoln Center area, or b) he's totally obsessed with us.

-And there was a physics party! I wore my galaxy shirt for the occasion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Deep physics"

This evening, I was out with Jo and his family, at the oddly-cheap-for-Tribeca Japanese place whose Grade is no longer Pending and now a respectable B. Yum! We'd just tucked into our meals, and amidst the Flemglish, I notice a familiar face not far from our table. Abs Millepied himself! I wasn't sure, so I (discreetly) asked Jo, who speculated that She might come in, which would, of course, confirm the first sighting. And who should then enter but a very pregnant woman-whom-all-men-who've-ever-found-me-even-OK-are-lusting-after.

In my last unmarried moments, I suppose I did risk being left for Natalie Portman, which I of course would have been kind of OK with, considering. This was all the more risky given that Jo had just gotten an especially good haircut at Astor Place, and considering an alleged shared interest in astrophysics (sustained, apparently* - I'd have been stuck talking French intermarriage with the Gallic beau). But a variety of factors - her being about to give birth, the presence not only of Abs and myself, but also the Belgians, created a buffer.

* Ha! "It would have been great if we had seen Jane fall for Thor, not because of what he looked like without his shirt on, but because behind the gruff exterior he knew more deep physics than she did."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The back-ness continues

-Hamburger, hipster-made cappuccino, me-made cranberry muffins, ramps, green garlic. The food re-tour of NY is complete, or will be once scapes are in season. 

-Gobineau as pdf on the couch > the equivalent as microfilm at the BNF.

-Clothing, however, is so very uninteresting compared with how it is in Paris, where it glows in store windows in its exchange-rate-aided inaccessibility. I'm still taken with all the clothing I already own (even though 90% of it never fit and/or is stained to the point of unwearability), less so with what I saw during a 10-second trip to the GAP. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back, forth

-A Metrocard with a photo on it is apparently enough ID to bring to serve as a witness at a City Hall wedding. A tight ship indeed.

-Tacos, iced coffee, bagels, all lovely. Even better: access to a non-communal kitchen (and bathroom!). Made poached eggs and toast this morning without locking a door or greeting any neighbors in French.

-Also novel: having options when getting dressed in the morning. I packed very light for the semester, and am really enjoying having more possibilities than the part of the suitcase space I'd allotted to clothing allowed.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Dear libraries I have used or may one day use:

The book I "never returned," I did return it. Yup. I may not be the neatest of all people - clean, but not neat - but I always keep library books apart, in their own neat mini-universe, apart from the general chaos that is whichever space I'm inhabiting.

Here's what I know did happen. You know that "ding" that's supposed to happen when the scanner and barcode meet? It never happened. Either the staff member whose job it is to do this didn't at all, or, more likely, it didn't register. (I used to love scanning when my job at the library was shelving, probably because scanning wasn't shelving - variety!)

Either way, I get it, it's so obviously my fault, I obviously keep my library books under a pile of unfinished baguettes, the dorm mouse-or-is-it-a-small-rat using them to build a scale replica of the Osama McMansion. But yes, I will go look for the book, even if you're a library with a bizarre call number system and many gratuitous flights of stairs, and a rule that only those physically incapable of taking stairs can use the elevator, which would at any rate only cover some of the many flights involved. I will accept it when you express surprise that I had, in fact, returned the book a couple days before and, what, there it is! On the stacks! Or, if need be, I'll walk the miles upon miles across a certain vertigo-inducing research library because the problem was that the "ding" needs to happen with my card, not just the book, and my card being on my person, I myself have to show up even once it's been established that the book is in, thus, despite being fern,* not my fault!

*I may have called "un millefeuille" "une millefeuille," thinking "feuille" but thinking wrong, and yes, I may have seriously considered eating said item on the street around 7pm, but I'm not a barbarian! Not when it comes to library books.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

That which is French is sophisticated

The year in sports (got your attention!)

Since making the decision that French grad school - yes - seemed a better bet if I was going to be a self-supporting adult then did journalism, I have not given the field as much thought as I did way back when. (Still think I made the right choice! Just this morning I paid for my very own pain au chocolat that I ate at an outside table at Le Boulanger des Invalides while writing the diss...) But I've been semi-paying attention to the recent debates about why girl-journalists are so underrepresented. And I'll admit to having read Conor's list of top non-fiction essays of the past year in that light. Not knowing the gender of the writers mentioned who go by initials, I did not Google them all to get to a final count, but we're not looking at 50-50. Of the six he lists as "bloggers of the year," things are definitively not 50-50. 100-0, all six being dudes.

These are, Conor explains, his "personal picks," and I don't think we're obligated, in our personal reading, to reach demographic utopia ala elite college admissions committees. (Elderly or long-dead Jewish men are so very, very overrepresented in my own book-reading, young female grad students and academics in my blog-reading.) That the list appears not on a personal blog but in the Atlantic, with its six male bloggers to one female, does, however, change the context. It's now both a list of general-interest recommendations and one that tells readers, if you read these, you can hold your head up high.

What I noticed, in looking at the list, was that the question of whether more men than women cover Real News and the opinion field closest to it - the way this is always framed, as in, not enough women are following/confident in their opinions about the news - was kind of irrelevant. More to the point was the inclusion of sports (in the article and blog section) and the exclusion of fashion (again, not an issue if this is how an individual's reading tilts, but we're left with the impression that one is serious-person-acceptable, the other not). The "Food" category seemed like it might make up for that somewhat, but we get nothing to do with gender, women-in-kitchen-or-not, body-image, who actually does the farmers'-market shopping, etc. This is both an individual's list - subjective in a way that's interesting and a good thing - and a man's list, which is where things get more complicated.

While the list is in no way intended as a representation of what Journalism values these days, and is indeed the opinion of one journalist, I think it's fairly consistent with what is and is not viewed as important in the field. And, to reiterate, the issue is not even whether we have as many women as men out there with profound and informed thoughts on whether Pakistan knew. (I, for one, can't help you here.) It's that the fluff that gets covered under the banner of Acceptable Diversion tends to be the kind of fluff smart men follow, whereas the fluff even really, really smart women keep track of is defined as just too silly to be put in respectable publications.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Unnecessary find of the day:

An ad, from 1884, for a "Maison de santé pour névrotiques israélites." That's my next vacation figured out!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Further vindication: the self-flagellating edition

Part of me is thrilled to see that sanctibullying (YPISing*) is currently under attack. (See here, via/as well as here, via Scott Lemieux's twitter.) Another part of me is all, but I came up with these terms! I'm responsible for the definitive anti-YPIS writing of the blogosphere! Yet another part of me is well aware that I did not comb the internet searching for whether anyone else had ever had the same complaint before I launched mine, so I'm back to "thrilled." Full circle. Moving on...

Courtney Martin sees YPIS as a first step, a step in the right direction. She wants us to "move beyond" the calling-out of privilege, the guilt, oy, the guilt, but does not seem entirely convinced. Jill Filipovic, meanwhile, can't say enough how well-intentioned she believes the YPISers are. So close! Not quite there.

So, to rerereiterate:

-Sanctibullying is not poorly-executed social justice. It's not about wanting desperately for the world to be a more equitable place and, in one's enthusiasm for that noble cause, hitting a nerve. It's about killing two birds with one stone and claiming to be a good person as well as a self-made person in a meritocracy.

-Broader social-justice concerns can lead to increased self-knowledge, to a greater understanding of one's own privilege, and to a decreased likelihood of making clueless statements. What they can't do is tell you diddly-squat about the experiences of someone else, in particular a stranger on the internet, and how lucky they've been.

-Especially because people tend not to open up so readily about genuine suffering, or even just a not-so-well-off background. So you get to hear from the proverbial child of the Brooklyn Heights townhouse that he grew up in an outer borough and is thus hardcore, whereas the kid who grew up in East New York or even Flushing would rather talk about something else.

*For new readers (as if!), "YPIS refers to the accusation, online especially, that someone else's "privilege is showing," as in, "Why don't obese poor people just shop at Whole Foods and go to Equinox, I lost 10 pounds that way!" Except that normally, the cluelessness was less extreme, but is exaggerated by the accuser.


Along the same lines...

No, it's not normal to tip at least a dollar (via) for a cup of regular coffee to go. Remember that this means $1 on a $1.75 drink. It's normal that people who make above minimum wage but not much above would want this - I certainly did when I worked that job - but it's far from expected. Claiming it is confuses people who need to understand that certain service-industry workers don't get minimum wage because of an assumption of tip income. I get that a lot of New Yorkers are ridiculously wealthy and feel a sense of guilt at the fact that they make a trillion times more than their barista. But this has all led to some kind of cultural assumption that anyone who ever goes to a bar or coffee shop, ever, is clearly enormously well-to-do, because anyone who isn't is living exclusively off home-soaked legumes. When there is, I promise, a lower-middle ground in which legumes play a prominent role, yes, but so does the occasional pre-teaching coffee. I could go on, but this has, I think, been more than enough on this topic.


Perhaps never before has such a big Style news day been followed by a larger-still real-news one. Immediate-ish thoughts:

-I did tear up when I went to the NYT home page this morning and saw the firefighters watching the news ticker in Times Square. Contrary to what my Facebook friends and their Facebook friends think, the official WWPD word on the matter is yes, it's OK to cheer this death, even if as a rule, one is not a death-cheerer. And as a rule, one should not be a death-cheerer. It's not some kind of slippery slope to cheering whenever civilians or low-ranking soldiers in enemy countries (well, on the other side of the "war on terror," with its non-geographical boundaries) are killed.

-Allow me one Palin-esque moment (aside from the shared resemblance to Tina Fey, which is continuous): I think part of the wariness re: the cheering is that it's so crass, all that chanting of "USA! USA!" Meanwhile, reading the news I felt much the same sentiment, even if, for cultural reasons, I'm unlikely to drape myself in the flag and get hoisted onto someone's shoulders under any circumstances, even those that most call for it. A momentary lack of nuance in displays of patriotism is not a sign that the country has turned into one of fascist automatons.

-Or, if this seems less morbid, we can think of it as cheering the, well, accomplishment of the many people involved in the process. Seems a mission was, in fact, accomplished. And the American people united - conservatives b/c War on Terror, liberals because look which president this happened under. And if anyone's going to be a scapegoat for that purpose, how about the man responsible for 9/11?

-What will the Obama-hating wing of the right make of this? (Not sure where this comes from but it gets the point across.)

-If there is/was cheering through the streets of Paris, it's not audible from my dorm room, which suggests there isn't/wasn't any.

-Obviously this is not the End of Terrorism, of al Qaeda, etc. Why do commentators and politicians keep pointing this out as if they're arguing against something? Does anyone think this? Or, do the people who do think this matter in the conversation, in that they have clearly not been paying attention to the world around them and are unlikely to start doing so now? The more relevant question - which, to be fair, is also being asked - is, is this going to reignite the passion of his followers, making the world a more dangerous place? Is this a stupid question to ask because only time will tell?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Vindications and more


-A prominent fashion blogger declares, wistfully, "Thoughts I ALWAYS think when I look through runway: '(fashion) Life must be SO DOPE when you're flat-chested.'" Another fashion writer greets the royal wedding as an end to "porno chic," which seems to amount to it being socially acceptable for women to have large breasts and not feel terrible about it. A vindication insofar as I'm always going on about how frustrating it is that a woman who wishes to look chic/understated/fashionable/whatever can't have much on top.

-Not to relaunch a debate, but this (via) is what I was trying to get at here, but far better-explained.


In the spirit of Anglophilia and romance... The "Blind Date" feature in the Guardian is spectacular. At least if you're the sort of person who finds the glimpse-into-real-lives genre, in its myriad forms (letters to Dan or Prudie, alumni magazines, wedding pages, 19th C French-Jewish newspapers, Facebook-following the not necessarily fascinating lives of acquaintances, not tuning out when someone starts a cell conversation on the bus... and, sometimes, although it's insufficiently real-person, reality TV.) The gist of it seems to be that the newspaper sets up (willing!) readers at random (or is it a dating site?), and pays for them to have a meal and then answer a series of questions about how it went.

-As with the alumni mag entries Flavia highlights, the parts of these questionnaires about which topics were discussed on the date really do, in the aggregate, paint a portrait of a subset of London society that I wouldn't know how to classify, but that does seem to get at a certain sort of person. This, despite a great deal of professional, racial, and age diversity. I guess The Guardian Reader? There's a bit of a high-cultural-capital, low-economic-capital (or presenting one's self as such) thing going on - "What did you talk about? Books, PhDs, travel, having brilliant sisters, and how posh the restaurant was."

-Who/what are they rating out of 10? How smoothly the date went? How good-looking the person was? And wouldn't it be an odd start to an otherwise fine relationship if one had gone with 8, the other 9?

-The most baffling aspect of this - and is it a British thing? a Guardian-reader thing? something specific to the fact that they're reporting back to a major newspaper? - is that almost invariably, the blind-daters do not feel a "spark," yet when asked if they'd see each other again, say some variant of, "Yes, as friends." ("Sure, as people," says one. "For a laugh, sure," another.) Why, unless they're new in town and don't know anyone, would they go out of their way, in a big city, to see people they'd had so-so blind dates with? Or is it some kind of "manners" thing, where it would be rude to say "no, never," as though it implied that they'd cross to the other side of the street if they ran into the person? A romantic equivalent of female acquaintances insisting they'll get lunch soon, when neither is interested in rounding it up to friendship? Or is it, in some cases, that the person did feel a spark, but is too embarrassed to admit it in case the other didn't, and so is playing it cool while leaving open the possibility of a second date?

-Many of the "awkward" moments stem from what seem to be logistical failures the newspaper could and probably should deal with. If the paper is paying, there should not be mysteries around who picks up the bill, nor should restaurant staff be chasing the couple out for not paying. Unless, of course, the point is to see how the daters will react to this sort of challenge...

Bonjour, Bonsoir, Bonne soirée

It is rude in Paris, as it apparently is in Real America, not to say hello and goodbye in all manner of contexts that, in NY, could go either way. Entering a store, fine, fair enough, mostly true in NY as well, if not a major issue in my life as the main store I frequent in Paris is Monoprix, which is not a "bonjour" kind of environment. You can - and I do - say "bonjour" to the cashier ringing you up, but whether you get one back depends, presumably, on how annoying it was to work in Monoprix ringing people up on that particular day.

Where it's more of a complicating factor is in the dorm. Every time one crosses paths with someone else, there must be a greeting. This, I realize, sounds like a complaint from a "Seinfeld" monologue - Jerry describes having worked in an office and not known how many times/ways to say hello - as well as a "Seinfeld" episode (Leo! Helllllooo!!!). What's different in the dorm is that it's 24/7 (unlike the office) and involves perfect strangers (unlike Uncle Leo, R.I.P.). Anyone in your hall for all you know might be a neighbor, and the rule appears to be that you greet when in your own hall - other halls, it depends.

The difference between this and, for example, saying hi in a normal apartment building (another episode, the polaroids in the lobby...) is that we do not have our own kitchens or bathrooms, which means a whole lot of time coming and going from our rooms. So whether it's 9am and you're off to the kitchen or midnight and the bathroom has beckoned, bonjour, salut, bonsoir, bonne soirée.

Let's say you're cooking the following: an artichoke (they're so cheap and delicious here! not like the major-investment and inevitable-disappointment California imports at Whole Foods back home!), pasta, and pasta sauce. Using one pot only, this means several trips back and forth, to and from the kitchen. Bonbonbonbonjoursoirwhoknows. Sometimes, you just want to get the pile of awkwardly-arranged, hot, potentially messy food items back to your room - which is locked because otherwise people will, apparently, steal everything in the minutes it takes to cook something - and unlock the door, while somehow still balancing the saucepan, etc., before the timer-set hall light goes off at precisely the moment you've gotten out your key, and you're not feeling especially bon-.

Sometimes you're returning to your room from the shower in a precarious wrapped-in-towel, carrying-shampoo-and-soap situation (after refusing, at 27, to buy one of those shower caddies, and thus admit to one's self that one really does live in a dorm), and are... once again, hoping to make it into your room before the lights go out. You will say it, but you won't mean it.

Other times, the greeting culture is friendly and delightful. It depends.

The only time, as a rule, one is excused from the bon- is when one has assessed that all nearby bathrooms are out of toilet paper, and one has returned to one's room for tissues. Then, I think - and I don't know the official French regulations on this - you're allowed to pretend you didn't see the person getting the tissues or, if you're the one getting the tissues, that you were not seen doing so.

The high level of civility functions, I suppose, to mask the fact that the living conditions are... location-location-location. Short of being a servant at a palace, you're not going to find too many greater discrepancies between standard of living and standard of surroundings. Everyone's in a tiny room a paper-thin wall away from somebody else, and if not somebody else, from a construction site complete with welding, drilling, the works. Everyone's sharing far too few toilets and more tragically, far too little toilet paper. For a variety of reasons having to do with labor disputes I'm semi-following and the general tendency of college students, even nerdy ones, to be not the most tidy people ever, the kitchens are in a permanent state of garbage-heap. But! Center of Paris! Center of Paris! Proximity not only to necessary microforms, but also the Seine, the pastries, the wine, and the cheese.

Despite Paris being Paris, and none of us having exactly the right to complain, the dorm lifestyle has a way of making people, especially the pushing-30 sorts who are the substantial grad-student population, a touch on-edge. Dorm life works for those excited just to be living away from home for the first time - less so for those for whom that's no novelty. But the bonjour/bonsoir/bonne soirée gives the impression that everyone up and decided to live communally voluntarily, out of camaraderie, and not because a free room in Paris (or close, for the French undergrads) is a free room in Paris.