Sunday, June 22, 2008

I have a blog so I don't have to think for myself

I have so many questions. So. Many. Questions. Which means it's time to enlist the wisdom of the internet.

First, one for the gardeners. It's the end of June. That's roughly equivalent to the end of December for Northern Hemisphere types, I guess. It's definitely winter. We've had a few frosts. We use the heating most nights. You have to wear a coat and scarf outside. The ski season is about to start. I have a tomato plant in a pot on the balcony that I gave up on around two months ago when winter was starting. We pretty much stopped watering it. But it's still producing flowers and tomatoes. And they are still ripening. I guess my only question here is WTF? And, when will this madness stop???

Secondly, I am going to a conference next weekend, and a colleague whose mother lives in that city has said her mother is happy for me to stay with her as well. I have never met the mother before. I will be staying two nights, and will hardly be there except to sleep. What is a nice little gift I can give as a thank you? My usual standbys are chocolates or a bottle of local wine, but my colleague says her mother is on a diet and doesn't drink.

Finally, Geekman and I often disagree on what is socially appropriate. Last night at a party, he polled all his friends, who he claimed agreed with him. So since I have no friends, I'm going to poll the WHOLE INTERNET and see if you all agree with me. (If you don't, you are henceforth banned from this blog.) Of the following list of things we have disagreed on the acceptability of lately, which do you think are okay, and which do you consider inappropriate?

  1. Bringing a half-empty bottle of wine to a party
  2. Asking to borrow someone else's nail scissors to fix a hangnail. (And does your judgment here change if the person is a complete stranger? If the nail is bleeding?)
  3. Helping yourself to food from the fridge in the middle of the night when staying with people you've only just met
  4. Cutting and eating a slice of a cake that hasn't been cut yet, without asking first
  5. Commenting on a woman's outfit (either favorably or neutrally, e.g. "I haven't seen you wear those trousers before"), when you are her male colleague. And what about if you are faculty and she is a student?


Jenny said...

Well, I wouldn't complain too much about the never-ending tomato supply. Make lots of soup or salsa?

As for gifts... I'm usually dreadful at this. My usual stand-by's aside from those you've mentioned are scented candles or nice tea's (but I'm a neo-pagan tea-junky, so it could just be me).

As for your poll, now this requires thought.

1. Depends upon the party. Being a student, if I were going to a spontaneous sort of thing where I knew there would be lots of other students, sure, no probs, I'd just say it was left over from whatever and people would hail me as the Bringer of the Holy Alc, and we'd merrily drown our sorrows together in the nature of students everywhere. If it was a dinner party, or anything that had been organised more than about two days in advance, a full bottle is much more appropriate.

2. Yeah, sure, why not. If a stranger... more hesitant. If bleeding, more urgent.

3. Not something I'd consider appropriate.

4. If it hasn't been cut yet, then no. Ask, Cut, Offer-to-everyone-else-in-the-room.

5. Well, I have a thing for pretty skirts, but that's more along the lines of where-did-you-get-that-so-I-can-go-stake-the-place-out-and-buy-everything, which tends to be rather limited to other women I think. From a male colleague... sort of ok but leaning towards not. From a faculty member to a student... less ok than from a colleague.

I'd be curious about which points you each disagree on.

EthidiumBromide said...

1) Totally casual thing with friends? I'd find it really hysterically funny and make some cheap-ass comment. Actual organized dinner party? Totally inappropriate.

2) Friend? Fine. Stranger? Is this like, a person in my house who came to a party who needs one, or a random person on the street? If it's a friend of a friend, then it's not a stranger.

3) Inappropriate. But if you're really hungry, I guess you do what you have to do.

4) Is this a birthday cake, or just a cake for the sake of a cake? If it's to celebrate someone, then that's definitely wrong. If it's just a dessert cake, then there's no rule that you have to wait for permission to start dessert.

5) I don't find it odd or inappropriate, but that's probably because my PI would say something to me like "Hmm, new shoes?"

Anonymous said...

I don't grow plants, so I can't help there.

for gifts: something in the candle/picture frame genre or possibly the lotion/soap/bath bomb genre.

as to the rest:

1. no no no. not unless you're related by blood and you've asked in advance is it ok if I just bring my half drunk wine.

2. only if you're bleeding and it's some kind of hangnail emergency. otherwise, no.

3. i'd say no but I will admit in the same breath that I've done that.

4. never under any circumstances.

5. please make it stop.

Grace Dalley said...

Regarding the tomatoes, that fact you're above ground level may mean the frost hasn't touched the plant. Would you consider bringing it inside? And then maybe cloning it for us all? :-)

Regarding the gift for your friend's Mum, edibles are a good idea, maybe something from the delicatessen, say a nice cheese or jar of olives or sundried tomatoes or pickle or relish? Or as Miss M says, nice teas? Maybe you could ask your friend if her Mum would like any of these things.

Regarding the social acceptability of the items on your list, I find them all pretty unacceptable!

BrightStar (B*) said...

ack! I think as a faculty member, I have commented on students' clothes! I didn't realize this was a problem! I liked the outfit or shoes or whatever.

I like Anastasia's ideas for the gift for staying with the mom of colleague.

ScienceGirl said...

I too want a clone of your tomato plant!

As far as your polling goes, none of these things are acceptable. The last one keeps happening to me (one of my committee members... every time he runs into me in the hall) - and it is sooo not cool!

StyleyGeek said...

Bright Star - in my opinion it's okay for you to comment, since you are female and the comment is therefore not in any danger of appearing creepy. For me, this one is kind of borderline (Geekman's friends all say it's okay). I don't like the idea that male colleagues or bosses are keeping track of what I wear. It just makes me uncomfortable. And the particular male colleagues who comment on my clothes EVERY DAY make me really uncomfortable, even though the comments themselves are generally flattering.

I'll do a follow-up post later where I detail Geekman's and my viewpoints on the rest of these things. (On the whole, he and his physicist friends think all these things are okay, and I think they are all inappropriate).

And thanks all for the gift suggestions!

~profgrrrrl~ said...

1. Not cool. Better to show up empty handed.
2. OK for a friend, not a stranger except for exceptional circumstances (those weird bonding on a long flight things) and not when bleeding.
3. Only if you were invited to make yourself at home and help yourself, and even then only shyly and when absolutely necessary.
4. Not OK.
5. That's a tricky one. Really depends on context, and when in doubt one should avoid.

Anonymous said...

Re questions 1-5: You're all freaks. As far as I'm concerned, they're all acceptable.

I was at a physicist party last night, and polled them on these questions, and with a few small technical caveats everyone agreed with me.

StyleyGeek has a theory about this. Apparently physicists are all rational, so when asked the difference between half a bottle of wine and a full bottle of wine they'll reply "about 350 millilitres." They'd find the idea that a half empty bottle acquires some mystical social aura beyond this bizarre. After all, two half bottles = one full bottle, yes?

Anyway, StyleyGeek's point is that the vast majority of people on this planet aren't rational, so physicists look out of place.

Luckily I have her to tell me how to act insane in socially acceptable ways so I fit in. Marginally, at least.

Anonymous said...

And my boss's curry party that I'm going to in an hour? I'm so taking the 2/3 full bottle of wine left from last night.

Just try and stop me.

StyleyGeek said...

No, you are not. Otherwise, I'm not coming with you.

StyleyGeek said...

Also? Most people don't HAVE 2/3 full bottles of wine left over from parties that weren't at their own house, because they don't take their half-drunk wine home with them when they leave.

Anonymous said...

Works for me.

Anyway, most of them will be physicists. Which makes them what? Oh, yes. Sensible.

Besides, this curry party was one of the examples I gave last night when polling people. And everybody was, like, "Joe's curry party? Yeah, that'd be totally cool. And by the way, why are you asking us these obvious questions? Freak."

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should get up and walk about five metres so we're in the same room?

RageyOne said...

I don't garden, so I can't help you there.

Candles/lotion or bath bubbles should work good for the gift.

I don't think any of those (5) actions are socially acceptable.

Anonymous said...

i must say, i think geekman and his physicist buddies are all secretly making crack and smoking it instead of doing their experiments. there is no other explanation. number 5 is especially bad, and usually only women students feel it from the awkward end, so i discount his opinion entirely on that one.

and on the hangnail, omg. i have been bleeding and *never* in my life have i or will it cross my mind to ask to borrow someone else's. I mean, gross. I wouldn't want to use someone else's! do you know what people do with their hands?! and the paltry-ness of the average washing frequency. Under the nails is like germ ground zero, i think. So if a close friend asks, I let them, but afterwards, when they are gone, sterilize with rubbing alcohol. And if it's someone I don't know or who is gross or something, I would lie and say I don't have one.

so, i wonder what happened with that 2/3 bottle of wine and the curry party. any resolutions?!

Anonymous said...

Right, as a female who used to study physics (at undergad level) and so knows a lot of physicists I say...

1) Fine. If it's someone you know/ student party/ whatever. A nice dinner party, um no. But if it's just a casual get together and you have some spare, why not? May as well use it. Especially if you KNOW none of the people there will care either. But this probably only applies to university physics type parties.

2) Acceptable. They are only scissors. A nail is dead. What exactly is it harming you to lend them?

3) Not really. Unless you brought the food yourself, or it's leftovers from a dinner you made the night before WITH them, and you clean up nicely so no one notices. But usually no. This rule doesn't apply to family.

4)Depends. As someone before said, if it's a bday cake no. If it's a special cake no. If it's on a table full of other desserts and someone has said: "dessert's ready" and you just happen to get there first, tis fine. Mmm cake.

5) Should be fine, unless it's everyday and seems weird. An occasional 'nice shoes' or "is that a new top?" is ok.

Liz Miller said...

Don't look a gift tomato in the mouth.

Hostess gift: Something that was made in your area...jams or jellies or other preserves/soaps/et al from a local artisan/farm/etc.

1. No.
2. Yes.
3. No.
4. Hells No. Ask first.
5. No --- unless you have previously discussed What Not To Wear or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy with this particular fella.

The History Enthusiast said...

I think they are all inappropriate, with these exceptions:

1) The half bottle would be ok, maybe, if it was an informal gathering of grad school peeps.
2) As for the nail clippers, I would only borrow it from someone I knew really well (i.e. mother, sister, best friend, etc.). Although, I've been known to ask about borrowing a nail file, but that seems less gross.

Geekman's explanation of rational physicists is priceless. I guess I'm just another irrational person ;-).

The History Enthusiast said...

P. S. When I went to visit my possibly future mother-in-law in college (who turned out to be absolutely EVIL), I gave her some nice stationery that came in a matching box with a matching pen. Nothing really expensive, but it looked really classy. It seems like people always need some blank cards or something similar for writing thank you notes.

She looked at it and then threw it on her couch without even a thank you, but I always thought it was a really nice gift.

The History Enthusiast said...

P.P.S. Yes, it's me again. If you are going to go with something scented, I would make sure that she doesn't have any allergies. People give my mom candles and things like that all the time, and she gives them to me because they make her sick.

I love candles though, and I think they would be very appropriate for this situation.

Bella Sultane said...

1. I can see how it wouldn't be crazy-inappropriate if it were an impromptu, very laid back deal attended only by close friends, but otherwise, absolutely not.
2. OMG, no (shiver). And, oh, YES, my assessment of the person changes. ICK.
3. Unless you're suffering from some sort of medical malady that requires emergency food intake... otherwise inappropriate and weird.
4. Inappropriate.
5. Definitely ill-advised, even more so when it's a faculty-to-student interaction. Those situations have made me uncomfortable in the past.

Flavia said...

I love having my opinion asked!

1. Not appropriate, except (as stated) with close close friends who weren't expecting you to bring anything anyway, or if that's literally all you'll be drinking. A half full bottle of hard liquor, if it's good stuff, might be acceptable, although again only with friends.

2. This doesn't seem objectionable to me. I don't know that I'd do it, but it wouldn't bother me if someone else did.

3. No.

4. No, though it seems less rude to me than 1 or 3.

5. With a colleague, it's likely although not necessarily okay. With a student--I wouldn't go there.

Grace Dalley said...

Geekman, social mores may seem arbitrary, but in most cases they have perfectly rational explanations, which have to do with consideration for others (and empathising with how they might feel). 2 half-empty bottles of wine might add up to same volume of wine as one whole bottle, but is the volume really the main thing? Most hosts would wonder, is this what you think of me, that you bring me your leftover dregs to share??

Number 5 is the most complex problem because it does depend on context and degree. While it's nice to be told you look nice, too much attention to your clothing or appearance, especially from a male in a position of power over a female, can seem creepy and leering even if that's not at all his intention. This is why a little empathy is so important!

michiexile said...

I'm with geekman here. Part principle, part patriotism (we Swedes need to stick together!) and part context-sensitivity.

You can try kicking me out! But I'll stay on stealthily reading (and enjoying) what you write! MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Anonymous said...

I'm a little suspicious when Geekman claims agreement apart from a few small technical caveats. Since, for a physicist, a 'small technical caveat' tends to involve taking an insanely complicated real world object and approximating it with a (mathematically tractable) sphere, this makes me wonder about exactly how much unanimity there really was among the physicists...

That said, I think the nail scissors thing is fine. They're only nails for god's sake - not sediment from a cess pit. There isn't really any more interchange of bodily stuff than if you shake hands with someone. Probably less, in fact. Otherwise, not so appropriate, but in varying degrees.

My head of department sometimes makes neutral or complimentary comments on my clothes (suitableness of shirt colour, that kind of thing) and I find it, not exactly inappropriate, but a bit odd.

Weekend_Viking said...

1. Half-empty bottle of wine? If it's for my own consumption, no problems. If for the general pot, not on, unless as for last night, when I brought a half empty cask of wine to add to the midwinter mulled wine.

2. Nail scissors? Fine. More so if it's bleeding/recent injury that needs the nail trimmed to allow treatment. It's polite to clean the nail scissors after, though.

3. Helping yourself to food from the fridge? Only if they've stated 'help yourself'.

4. Cutting and eating a slice of a cake that hasn't been cut yet? Definitely ask before cake-age.

5. Comment on woman's outfit? Generally fine, but would look a bit off if I was the supervisor/tutor/advisor thereof.

Weekend_Viking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geeka said...

1-4: NO
5: Well, we regularly talk about clothing in my lab. I have told instructors about their 'snazzy ties' as an ice breaker. My boss likes to comment about my ever expanding selection of red shoes (occasionally accompanied by song).

I would totally take tea or a something specific from where you are.

Anonymous said...

Everything depends on context, of course, but I would say that 1-5 all *require* a particular context to *justify* them. In their default state, they are inappropriate. Except, somewhat, 5. In general, I think favorable comments on strangers' clothes are fine, but context (such as that described by styleygeek) can make them not okay.

Re the mystical aura carried by an unopened bottle of wine, absolutely it exists.

A vaguely related funny: my sister's boss is working in development in Central Asia, long-term expatriate. When he leaves, he has a yard sale, at which one item FOR SALE is an OPENED, PARTIALLY USED bottle of Heinz ketchup, carefully hand-carried from some other country as all the ketchup available in that country is horrible. Universally agreed that this is tacky. Far tackier than the wine example.

Re house guest gifts---gift card for the local movies, enough to take a friend a couple of times? Some other "experience" gift certificate? Flowers are nice, also.

StyleyGeek said...

I think for a house gift for a two-night stay I'm looking at a lower budget than those sorts of things, Dance. (Movie tickets = around $15 per person, so enough to take a friend a couple of times is at least $60, and flowers are around $50. I was thinking more $20-ish).

Anonymous said...

1) Wouldn't do. Doesn't suprise me that Geekman can't see the issue though. I would also leave the half empty bottle at the person's place they have to have something to drink the next day :-)

2) Would never occur to me. Think I would be a little grossed out if a guest asked.

3) Not for people I have only jsut met. Old friends like Geekman and you, perfectly understandable...

4) agree with Wellygirl

5) Generally no. Unless the male collegue was a fashionata (I am thinking Carson from Queer Eye types). Slightly freaky from a lecturer/boss.

Anonymous said...

Oooo, an undead tomato plant.

On the quiz,:

1. Inappropriate unless you were right in the middle of drinking it when a casual invite happened and you merely relocated with bottle, glasses, and extra glasses for the people you're joining.

2. Ok if a family member you live with. Stranger not ok -- ask for a bandage if it's bleeding.

3. Never.

4. Never.

5. My prof does this all the time, and I have no problem with it, since it's part of our ongoing mutual verbal abuse schtick. That being said, it's a bad idea in almost all cases. I'm utterly sick of men feeling the need to tell me what they think of my appearance.

Anonymous said...

LOL. I posted my answers before I read the comments.

I laugh pretty hard when I run into these, "but my way is more RATIONAL than yours", because it's always a load of hooey.

For example,

Wine: Wine keeps best with the least air in the bottle (i.e. unopened) -- what kind of physicist doesn't know this?

Nail scissors: We're talking bleeding in the example, right? Someone else doesn't want a stranger's blood with goodness knows what pathogens on their grooming tools. Ask for a bandage already.

Fridge raiding: You're going to die before morning? If you're diabetic and the answer is yes, then if you're a rational person you'll have your glucotabs handy anyway.

The cake thing: If it's your cake, have at it. If it's not, helping yourself without asking is irrational, because it doesn't belong to you. We teach toddlers this stuff.

The comments on clothes: It's irrational not to realize that women get WAY TOO MANY unsolicited comments on their clothes without you adding to the problem. It's also irrational to think she wants to hear it if she hasn't been asking your opinion on what she wears.

Anonymous said...

Justme - the resolution was we didn't take a bottle of wine. The only possible solution to an otherwise intractable conflict :-)