The Bises Problem

So when I idly posed the following math problem in my last post, I wasn't really thinking about it, but it's actually a little bit interesting. 

The Question: If a party of nine people is breaking up, in which there are five girls, four guys, and no relations, how many kisses will be exchanged?

The Assumptions: Any pairing involving a girl (that is, girl-girl or girl-guy) will result in two kisses (one on each cheek). Since none of the guys are related, any pairing of two guys will result in no kisses.

To warm up, let's consider the Handshake Problem: If a roomful of n people all shake hands with one another, how many handshakes will be exchanged? For simplicity's sake, let's say n in this case is 10. That means each person in the room shakes hands with 9 other people, so you might be tempted to multiply 10 by 9 and arrive at 90 handshakes. Actually, though, you've double-counted each handshake, since A shakes hands with B and B shakes hands with A, but that's only one handshake total. So you divide by 2 and arrive at 45 handshakes. Or, more generally, in a room with n people, you will have [n*(n - 1)]/2 hanshakes.

My problem is a little more complicated, since the guys don't faire les bises among themselves and instead of one handshake, we have 2 bises. If you look at the picture (sorry, it's not the most beautiful graph ever, since I drew it by hand and photographed it with my webcam, but it will have to do), where G = girl, B = boy, and each line = 2 bises, all the girls are connected to everyone else but the boys are only connected to the girls. For the moment, let's pretend kisses are like handshakes, i.e. one between two people. All you have to do is calculate the number of kisses for a normal group of 9 and then subtract the number that aren't being exchanged by the group of 4 boys, in other words:

(9*8)/2 - (4*3)/2 = 36 - 6 = 30

Now, remembering that each exchange of bises actually involves 2 kisses, we multiply by 2 to arrive at 60 total kisses in the above scenario. In other words, Elizabeth wins!

(Is it glaringly apparent how much I miss math?)


Les Expressifs

Starting yesterday, there's been some sort of street fair going on on downtown Poitiers called Les Expressifs. The idea seems to be to get together a bunch of street performers, plus some musical groups. I heard very loud rock music coming from the tent in the square in front of the Hôtel de Ville this afternoon, and this morning I watched a guy engage in pseudo-juggling (à la Renfest, rolling them down his arms and around his body and such). I'm pretty sure the story he was telling to go with it was some sort of political allegory, but a) I couldn't hear very well and b) I don't know enough about politics to get it even if I'd understood. There were a lot of crunchy-granola types (or whatever they're called in France) in attendance; in fact, I have a feeling this whole festival would be very at home in Vermont.

The actual point of going into town today was to get my receipt for my application for a titre de séjour (residency permit), which took all of five minutes but required an hour of waiting in line at the Préfecture. Everything administrated by the government, from drivers' licenses to citizenship applications, goes through the Préfecture - not very efficient, in my opinion. Waiting at the DPS is bad, but at least you're only waiting behind other people wanting their drivers' licenses. So that was a pleasant way to pass an hour's worth of my afternoon. On the other hand, I bought a nice scarf in order to blend in more readily with the French population (staying warm being a secondary motive).

I went to Bible study again last night, which was great fun (much more lively discussion/analysis of the text this time around), involved another dinner of crepes (never a bad thing), and was like a miniature cultural education in and of itself. I think I've finally properly decoded the ritual of les bises (cheek-kissing). If there's a female involved, two kisses are pretty much automatic (but occasionally just one; for example, you've boarded a bus and see four or five of your friends and are trying to greet them all while not falling down or knocking anyone over). When two guys greet each other, if they're related, they'll probably kiss on one cheek (more on greeting people you're related to later); if they're not related, they'll shake hands, varying from a warm clasp to a manly grasp depending on the age of the parties involved (manliness being inversely proportional to age, amusingly enough). That being established, the question is obviously when this ritual is necessary. It doesn't appear to be normal to thus greet people you live with (hence the two-related-men scenario only occurs if, say, Bruno's older son who lives in an apartment comes over to visit), unless you haven't seen them in a few days and/or they're leaving for a prolonged period. On the other hand, anyone you have even a passing acquaintance with is fair game, which means you'll probably end up faire-ing les bises with half the students in any given class every time it meets. People you don't know at all are equally fair game, sometimes as a precursor to an actual introduction, sometimes just to be friendly (several girls in my history class greeted my like this three weeks in a row before I actually figured out their names). If it's obvious you're foreign (like me), there's more likely to be hesitation on the part of the other party, though usually they can't overcome the impulse. Other foreigners are the trickiest, especially if you have no idea what part of Europe they're from: to faire or not to faire, is always the question. And the most tiresome manifestation of the habit is when leaving a gathering, whereupon you are morally obligated to kiss everybody in the room, which takes absolutely forever if everyone is leaving at once.

I leave you with a math problem: if a party of nine people is breaking up, in which there are five girls, four guys, and no relations, how many kisses will be exchanged?


Those who cannot write, translate.

Due to the interesting scheduling habits of the university, all four of my translation classes meet on Monday and Tuesday, which is fine and all except for the part where I have three translations due at the beginning of every week. Ah well. Today we looked at the extract of Toni Morisson's Song of Solomon we had to do over the weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'd made a lot of the same choices as the native French speakers in the class. (Today's the day to get a bit of a morale boost before M. Fryd's class tomorrow, in which I will undoubtedly discover that I can't speak or write French.) I spent most of the class period wishing that everyone but the ten or so of us who actually cared would just go away (I haven't seen a teacher have that much trouble keeping a class quiet since the year I read to the kindergarten class every week), but the professor had some interesting insights (including one spot where she'd actually understood the English better than several of us anglophones...that was slightly embarrassing). After class, I checked out a copy of Le chant de Salomon from the university library, and discovered that the translator had rendered most things the same way we had in class; in some cases I even think we did a better job. So, yay for us.

In between classes, I went into town with Elizabeth to attempt to pick up the books we'd ordered for our literature class. First the bookstore was closed over lunch (only on Mondays - I'd understand if it were everyday, but what about Monday particularly necessitates a long lunch break?), and when we returned, the saleswoman told us one of the books was indefinitely unobtainable; no, she didn't really know anything, would we please hurry up and go away. So that was frustrating. In the interim I tried to procure makeup, having had a clumsy moment with my powder that ended with it everywhere except in its container, but a) the color Matte Ivory doesn't exist in France and b) when the saleswoman found another color that would work for me, it was out of stock. Today hasn't been my day for shopping.

My second translation class (French to English) was predictably frustrating, since the professor and I do not speak the same version of the English language. It's doubly frustrating because she will commend all sorts of approximate, even verging on ridiculous, translations from the French students, but she has no problem shooting down reasonable suggestions from the anglophones in the class if they don't match her specific idea. "Approximate" is probably the best way to describe her style of translation. Given that, it's fortunate she doesn't have us tackling canonical French literature the way my other professor is going after serious English/American stuff (Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Garrison Keillor...oh wait). Instead, we've been translating excerpts of murder mysteries and newspaper articles, though I disagree strongly with some of her pronouncements about journalistic style. Can you tell I'm really a fan of this professor? I'd like to poll the audience: is "a pressure cooker ready to explode at any moment" a legitimate metaphor for a tense situation (think riots, racial conflict, etc.)?

I don't mean to give you the wrong impression; despite wanting to engage this professor in argument after every sentence, I think I'm learning a lot from the class, probably exactly because I disagree with her so much. I'm also learning how to keep my mouth shut and carry out these arguments in my head. I'm coming to the conclusion that translation is something I really could enjoy as a career.


At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender...

So tonight I went to see a movie with my host family. Mamma Mia, in fact. Dubbed in French, except for the songs. It was incredibly bizarre, partly thanks to the French, but mostly just on its own merit. For one thing, Colin Firth is getting old; for another, Pierce Brosnan really can't sing. And is a lot sexier as James Bond. Meryl Streep was pretty good, as was the girl playing Sophie. Much as I hate dubbing, they did a decent job finding French voices that matched the actors' voices, so it wasn't as jarring as it could have been when they broke into song. But dubbing as a concept sucks. I have no problem watching subtitles. Still, ABBA music is infectiously cheerful, so it was a pretty nice evening.

Other than that, I spent the afternoon wrestling with my translations. I made a decent effort at appropriately rendering the dialogue in the Song of Solomon excerpt, but I'm not at all satisfied. Apparently there are at least two different translations of the book in the university library, so I'm hoping to check those out after class. I'm very curious about how the professionals handled it. When I finished, I turned to my other French to English translation...which is an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's The Fisherman and his Soul. All sorts of fancy old-fashioned language. They aren't messing around with these classes. Really, I'm enjoying myself immensely.