Shaving Cream and Champagne

There were white patches on the campus sidewalks today.

I noticed them as I walked from my office to go check out the gymnasium fitness center and sign up for a membership. I still haven’t worked off my “Cairo 10,” the flab that glommed onto me during my year of rich food and poor exercise habits in Egypt.

The white patches seemed to be everywhere – on doorways and walls. They looked sticky, and I avoided contact, stepping carefully on the walkways.

“What the heck is that stuff?” I wondered to myself.

As I made my way toward Dillon Hall, I saw a young man in a Princeton sweatshirt, walking backward in front of a group of 20 or so young Asians. He was apparently their guide for a campus tour.

“I smell like champagne and shaving cream,” he said as he sniffed his own sweatshirt. “I just got accepted into the eating club I wanted to get into.”

So today was the day of the process called “bicker,” a kind of hazing when Princeton’s famous eating clubs choose new members. In celebration, newly accepted members are dowsed in champagne and smeared with shaving cream.

The eating clubs are particular to Princeton. Though they are private clubs, they are where the majority of upperclass students (both men and women) take their meals. They aren’t fraternities, but the row of houses serves a similar function, and most of them are on Prospect Avenue, better known as “The Street.”

Strangely enough, I had just heard about this thing called bicker earlier this morning when I read a writing sample from one of my students. He profiled a young man who was not selected for his favored eating club (about 250 sophomores a year are “hosed,” according to the student’s article), and was truly bummed about it. The parade around campus, snagging selected members, is a public snub to the unchosen, and I imagine it’s quite humiliating for the “hosed”.

I’m told that as students get to know me better, I may get an invitation to dinner at one of the clubs. In the meantime, I’ll have to take a stroll down to The Street some evening and see what all the fuss is about.

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