There seems to be this sense of discomfort, this tendency toward hesitation, whenever a situation arises where we are prompted to disclose the name of our university. This is true not only for Princeton students, but for students of every school that has gained a prestigious reputation. However, to keep the focus on us, there is a Princeton-specific phrase that one of my classmates once used for this sort of university disclosure that I will use henceforth, and that phrase is “dropping the P-bomb.”
When entering into a conversation with a stranger of the non-Princetonian variety, the accepted protocol is not to first ask what res college the person is from, what they’re planning on majoring in and the other banal college questions we like to ask each other, but to start off more broadly. Introductions do usually include information about what people do with their lives, however, and it is a normal convention to ask college-age-looking people if and where they go to school.
When this question arises, we have two viable options: the straight P-bomb route or the New Jersey route. Many of us, I’ve learned, like to first choose the New Jersey route, where we simply answer the question of what college we go to with “ I go to school in New Jersey.”
This is a ridiculously nonsensical way to answer that question. It’s comparable to answering with “in the spring” when someone asks you what day your birthday is. It does not answer the question and is almost unanimously a failed attempt to divert the conversation elsewhere. People like asking follow-up questions, and when that happens they either peg you as a Rutgers student or they flat-out ask, “Where in New Jersey?” At this point the jig is up, for the name of our school and the name of the town in which our school is located are regrettably homophones.
Why do we do this? Why do we engage our conversation partners in the New Jersey shuffle when all they wanted to know was one piece of factual information about us? This question has plagued my mind for a bit over a year now, and out of the numerous possible reasons for acting this way, I will present the two that seem most likely.
The first possibility is this: We are not uncomfortable with dropping the P-bomb at all. In fact, maybe it’s our favorite thing to do. Maybe we love that moment when people ask us where we go to school so much that we draw it out, make it last longer, make a production out of it. They ask what school we go to, we name a state instead. Answering in this vague way effectively doubles the number of questions we get to answer about where we go to school, and we love that. And the suspense! We create this awesome level of suspense so that when they ask question number two — “Where in New Jersey?” — we can really drive it home with a nice, resounding “Princeton!”
If this sounds nothing like you, then perhaps this is a misinterpretation. The majority of us are actually quite humble, and to show off is not our intention. In fact, maybe my second theory is more correct: We do it for the very opposite reason, to avoid showing off, which is a very noble motive indeed. People obviously need to be shielded from the knowledge of our unattainable level of success, so we do them the favor of throwing out a thinly veiled attempt to avoid answering the question. Dropping a P-bomb on their fragile little egos would simply devastate them, and we wouldn’t want them to feel bad about themselves, after all.
On closer inspection, both of these explanations for why we avoid providing a straightforward answer to the simple question of where we go to school seem to rest on a single faulty premise: that people, especially complete strangers, actually care. We did sufficiently well in high school and got lucky enough to win the crapshoot that is the college admission process. While dropping the P-bomb might get us treated a bit differently sometimes, I find it necessary that we do everyone the favor of getting over ourselves. We are not some league of superhuman beings, and we do not need to protect others from our greatness. I mean, come on — it’s not like we go to Harvard.
Richard Daker is a sophomore from Evergreen Park, Ill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/21/31185/