Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

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Taboos and Tiger Time: Addendum

A few facts gathered from discussing the previous post with the Russian friends:

  • Some gers are fitted with curtains to provide at least a minimal amount of privacy
  • A red rag somewhere on the outside of the ger is the equivalent of hanging a tie (or a shoe, or a sock… while the tie is traditional, I’m sure we’ve all seen plenty of variations) on your door. Only useful during the day, though, given the lack of lighted hallways.
  • Irina confirms that children who grew up in gers have a lot more sexual knowledge than those who did not – which manifests in Mongolian children engaging in or imitating sexual behaviors at a very young age. The Russians find this disturbing and discourage it, but they say that their Mongolian counterparts think of it as normal.

I think this last point is the most interesting. Obviously, we have differing ideas of “normal” competing here, and this intersection is a good place to point out that not all cultures think of children as “innocents” from whom sex should be hidden. I’ve never lived in such a culture before – to the contrary, both of the countries I’ve previously lived in were mostly Catholic – so this is an interesting contrast for me. Anyone know what Buddhism has to say about sex?

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Taboos and Tiger Time

October 18, 2012

Dear younger cousins (and for that matter, anyone else not yet in high school), if you’re reading this, please stop. I’m sure you’ve all had Sex Ed by now, and nothing in this post is especially racy or at all personal, but all you’re going to do is make yourselves uncomfortable. And me, thinking about you reading this. Go on, shoo.


Last night, I was intrigued to see some familiar taboos about sex in operation here. By this, I mean that I was sitting in the living room playing cards with my roommate and her brother, who was flipping through the channels until he landed on Game of Thrones. It was dubbed and I’ve never seen more than a few minutes of the show, but it’s kind of hard to mistake for anything else. The brother obviously wanted to watch it but didn’t seem to think its content suitable for the audience at hand; he changed the channel every time something sexual happened, only to flip back after a few minutes. I’m not sure whether he was intrigued by the outlandish costumes or the dialogue or what, but he clearly wasn’t familiar with the thoroughly NSFW nature of the show. We’d watch for a few minutes, and then he’d hurriedly change the channel, wait a minute or two, and then change it back. But because it’s Game of Thrones, it was never very long before he had to change it yet again.

My assumption was that he judged the sexual content to be inappropriate for his eight-year-old daughter, who was doing her homework next to us (albeit facing away from the television). But I suppose he could also have been uncomfortable watching it with his younger sister and her roommate. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, I was surprised to see this particular taboo in operation, because a lot of America’s puritanical expectations don’t exist here. Women have absolutely no qualms about breastfeeding in public, for instance. If the baby’s crying, then they feed him – on the train, in the park, at dinner with their coworkers. They don’t cover themselves while they’re doing it, either, much to the discomfort of any American men present. The fidgeting and carefully averted eyes are pretty funny to watch.

Obviously, there’s a distinction between maternal and sexual nudity here. But to me, prudishness still feels like a privilege restricted to those with large houses. Don’t get me wrong, here; it’s not like I’ve seen Mongolians having sex in public. I’ll bet that’s pretty taboo in most cultures. But there’s only so much privacy when your entire house consists of one round room you could cross in about ten steps.

I think that’s one of the questions that occurred to all of us after visiting a ger – perhaps not the first one, but probably among the first few. Most families have multiple children, and once you’ve had the first, your privacy is pretty much shot. And unlike in college dorms, it’s not like the residents have the option of sexiling their roommates (or in this case, children). So, how do you…?

Most of us probably keep this question to ourselves, but one of the Peace Corps Volunteers actually posed it to a counterpart. She replied with the scenario dreaded by every dorm resident whose roommate has had overnight guests: you wait until the kids are asleep. “And when it gets really good,” she said, raising her hands to demonstrate, “you cover your mouth.”

She also introduced him, and by association, us, to a term too good not to share: “tiger time.” Gers are all traditionally set up the same way: the door faces south, the stove is in the middle, the shrine is in the north. But you can also section them off by signs of the zodiac, as well as directions. Which, according to Adam’s CP, puts the parents’ bed squarely in the “tiger” section.

But no matter how quiet the parents try to be during Tiger Time, sleeping children are far from a perfect solution. The logistics of the thing remain: they are, at most, ten to fifteen feet away. So I’ll bet that the percentage of kids who have witnessed their parents in the act is a lot larger here than in the US. One third of the population still lives in gers, after all, even well-employed city dwellers like Namuunaa’s parents. And even most apartments probably aren’t large enough to give the kids their own rooms.

Given all that, I hadn’t expected kids seeing sex on TV to be as big a deal. But apparently it’s something Khaliun’s father, at least, doesn’t want her seeing. Then again, one of the offending scenes was pretty much an orgy of painted people. So I suppose that could be it too.

Not Okay

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I think we’ve all seen this by now, be it on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. What we haven’t seen is an official communication–one sent directly from the University itself to the students who attend(ed) it–that explains the incident or what Miami’s response was. From the radio silence of the past week, I’ve had to assume there wasn’t one. As of today, I learned that there were; the details are here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2217259/Outrage-Miami-University-flier-advising-students-away-rape.html

UPDATE: Received an email from Dr. Barbara Jones regarding what actions Miami is taking. Copying that here, so we’re all working with full information:


After learning of the anonymously posted flier, Miami officials called a mandatory meeting of all males in the hall.

In addition, these actions were taken with respect to this incident:

• The flier was immediately taken down and reported to authorities.

• The Miami University police department (MUPD) and Miami’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) received a copy of the flier from Miami’s office of residence life

• A police report has been filed and Miami University continues to investigate.

• Miami’s Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR) is investigating. The OESCR can take action if a student is found to have violated Miami’s Student Code of Conduct. Potential code of conduct sections violated by the creation and posting of this flier and related damage in the corridor include section 103B – mental abuse or harm; section 104 – damage to property; and 113 – disorderly conduct.

Potential sanctions for a student found responsible for violating these sections include removal from the residence hall, mandatory educational programs and suspension.

• Miami communicated with residence hall staff to gather any relevant or additional information • Miami’s police chief, with agreement of the dean of students, has increased campus police presence in the hall

Communication with male students in the hall: Staff who spoke with students at the hall meeting represented the Miami University police department (MUPD), the office of residence life, Miami’s student counseling service and a student representative of MARS – Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

They spoke with students in the affected corridor about how the flier represents the residents as men in our society, their families and friends, their views on women, and Miami University. Further, they discussed with all male students in the hall how to stop such behavior, the effects of vandalism, creating and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for everyone, and the bystander effect of actions on a community. They also provided information on relevant programs and actions.

Ongoing resources: Miami University’s women’s center, MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault), and WAVES (Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault) offer programming, information and support. The goal of these resources is to educate, create awareness about and prevent sexual assault and violence.

The university is continually evaluating strategies and educating students about these issues.


Even so, I’m profoundly disturbed at having to wait a week for the details, and even more so at having to get them from an overseas newspaper, or having to ask a school official for them. Below, you’ll find the email that I am sending to President Hodge and to Barbara Jones, the vice president for student affairs. I encourage you all to write and send your own so that this message can’t be ignored. (Please don’t just copy and paste – it will be more effective if the letters are different, and since mine is alumni-specific, it would sound silly coming from a current student.)


Dear President Hodge,

I am writing to convey my dismay at Miami University’s response to the “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flyer that was posted in the men’s room at McBride Hall. As of today, I have learned (from a UK-based online-newspaper) that Miami’s reaction included an investigation and a mandatory meeting for the male residents of the hall. I’m glad to hear that something is being done.

Unfortunately, that “something” isn’t nearly enough, and I am outraged by the way Miami mishandled the information regarding the incident. I learned of this flyer’s existence via Facebook, as did many others – current students, alumni, and even people with no relationship to the university. This flyer has gone out on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr; you name it, people have posted it, and most have included their feelings of shock and disgust. While I am heartened by the number of male students who find this attitude reprehensible, it is difficult to see this flyer posted with such captions as “F*ck you Miami, F*ck you and everyone who attends your school” and not be able to defend my school by explaining what Miami’s actions were. If we have no information about what consequences were enacted, how can we offer a believable argument that Miami did not stand idly by and let this happen? How can we fail to be disappointed in “our Miami” when a week of repeated searches turns up no evidence that this incident was even investigated?

We – students and alumni alike – deserved to hear about this from university officials themselves, and in a timely fashion. Reading the official accounts in an overseas newspaper a week later yields too little information, and far too late. While this flyer may not have posed an immediate physical threat to the students of the school, it still made students and alumni feel unsafe and unsettled. Miami’s refusal to notify the student population about the incident only made this worse. Such things cannot be swept under the rug in this era of social media, and attempting to do so only supports the rape culture that makes it possible for some students to consider this kind of thing “funny.”

Unfortunately, this is neither the first time, nor even the second or third, that I have been disappointed by Miami’s failure to notify students of security threats and recent crimes. I can only hope that the university will do a better job of fulfilling its duty to keep the students in future. In the meantime, I am glad that my safety no longer rests in Miami’s hands.


Katelin Burke

Class of 2012


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French Innuendo and Vulgarity 101: Things Not to Say Unless You Really Mean Them

In case any of you ever go to France, here is a list of thing of which you should probably take note. Some of these blunders have actually been made by people I know personally; others, I’ve just heard about elsewhere. Regardless of where/how I learned it, here is a handy-dandy list of things to bear in mind.

  • “Hot” and “cold” have the same sexual connotations in French as in English if you use them with être. To say “I’m hot,” as in “I’m sweating profusely and would love to sit in a building with A/C… except it doesn’t exist in France,” it’s j’ai chaud. Similarly, j’ai froid means “I could really do with one of those scarves you sell everywhere in France.” By contrast, je suis chaud means “I’m horny,” while je suis froid means “I have no sex drive.” Or “I’m dead.” Take your pick.
  • You can turn some French verbs into nouns and vice versa quite appropriately; others you cannot. Un baiser is a kiss, but if you try to make it into a verb, it means something quite vulgar.
  • Pronunciation matters. A brasserie is a bar; a brassière is a bra. Beaucoup (a lot) and canard (duck) can quickly become “nice a**” and “a**hole,” respectively, if you’re not careful.
  • There’s a good chance that any word beginning with “chi” is a reference to sh*t.
  • Everyone knows someone who tried to say “I’m embarrassed” in Spanish class and ended up announcing that they were pregnant, right? Some equivalent French scenarios:
  • Jam = confiture. While jam, jelly, and preserves are basically the same thing to most Americans, note: preservatif means “condom.” NOT jam.
  • If you are enthusiastic, thrilled, or delighted by something, say that you are impassioné(e)Je suis excité(e) is not the kind of announcement you make in public.
  • So you’re on your way somewhere and will be there shortly? Then use arriver. Sure, je viens translates as “I’m coming,” but it’s got a dirty meaning in French too.