ask a scientist



dear scientists,
in less than 72 hours i will be on a plane for tanzania (NOT tazmania) for an entire semester, away from the bubble that is the claremont colleges. i'll learn to speak swahili and have a homestay with a tribe. i'm getting a wee bit nervous. they made me buy all of this camping equipment, and let's just say that i am not known for my "roughing it" capabilities. being the world-travelers that you are with all of those big, multi-billion dollar tours, do you have any advice for me on how to survive such a long trip and not step on any cultural toes?

a devoted fan,

p.s. if i can get a picture of a tribesman wearing a we are scientists t-shirt, will you guys play a show between the 16th and the 19th of may when i will be in new york on my way back to sunny san diego? i've never been to NY and that would be really cool...

p.p.s. some of your songs will be travelling with me on my pitiful low-memory mp3 player. feel honored.

Tawny bo-Bawny,

Tazmania, eh? We’ve heard good things. Good things about Tazmania, boy. Yes sir. Seriously, rest easy. Consider yourself blessed not to be going to Beirut or Tanzania or something.

First, foremost, most important thing to remember: put people at ease. And how do you do that? In the manner demonstrated by this little note’s salutation: append a rhyming “nonsense” version of your foreign buddy’s name to the end of her actual moniker, bridging the real and the rhyme with “bo”, “fo”, “lo”, etc., depending on how you’ve spelt (rhymes with svelte) the invented portion of the new nickname. Let’s try a few together.

Exercise A. You meet a man, name o’ Pierre. He is a Frenchman of almost boundless romantic appeal. ALWAYS, the right thing seems to be coming out of his mouth at the right time (you get the feeling that if your sleeve caught fire, he would produce a generous outflow of flame-quenching French spittle, so reliable is his right-thing-at-right-time characteristic). You are seduced and “lain to the satin”, as the French say (there is no meaningful English translation). After a fortnight of intelligent, gallic lovemaking, you are at the breakfast table with Pierre and his mother and father, who are roughly your age. For whatever reason, a moment of awkwardness – unprecedented in your short history with Pierre – drifts over the McCroissandwich-littered table. Perhaps dad makes a pass at you. Perhaps you accept. How to engineer a détente? “Oh, we’re all being so silly! Let us laugh again, as we have so often before this moment done! [Note that you should speak in the tone-deaf grammar of a foreigner, that they might feel at ease with you.] Let us rejoice in the company of each other, in the wealth of familial comfort that is here! Oh, Pierre bo-Bierre, never would I assent to the laying of me by your father to the satin! Do not be silly, Pierre Robespierre [go ahead and freestyle on the rhyme at this point, and if you can bring in popular cultural references relevant to the addressee, all the better].

Exercise B. During a layover in Lisbon, en route to Transylvania, where you are studying abroad, you meet a young woman who fits, at least superficially, into your demographic. After nearly 12 hours of lonely travel - if you include the drive to LAX - and a hermetic, friendless two and a half years of dereliction at college in Claremont, you are CEO-greedy for a little conversation. How to break the ice: “Excuse me, but would you mind my asking your name? … Ah, Janet, is it? Janet. Janet lo-Lanet. Janet – stop me if this bothers you – Janet fo-Fanet. Heh heh. Funny. That’s funny, huh? Janet fo-Fanet. Funny. How ‘bout this one: Janet cro-Cranet. Heh heh. Janet… Janet splo-Splanet. Gah-haaa! That’s rich.” Voila. You’ve got her attention, guaranteed. Now make friends. “Janet” is a good example because it shows how you can do some pretty interesting permutations. “cro-Cranet”, for example, or maybe “bro-Branet”. We don’t recommend straying very far from “bro-Branet”, however. At “bro-Branet” you’re already pretty far afield. For example, “splo-Splanet” was obviously too out-there. You saw how Janet reacted to that one. She looked like a very controlled person who can usually supress her emotions, who has just got a big gulp of expired, tofu-chunky milk and, though she’s trying to be polite and control any showy gagging or vomiting, is nevertheless pretty obviously experiencing tremendous revulsion. Janet sto-Stanet.

Other than that, Tawny, we’re not sure what to tell you. Except, maybe, that you will be going into this adventure with a distinct advantage over the average neophytic traveller: your admiration for and familiarity with the we are scientists. WAS, you may not realize, is the basis for a surprisingly extensive, predictably heart-felt global fellowship, a fellowship that, frankly, we never intended. Because we’d be lying if we told you this fellowship has increased the value of our defense contracts. WAS has always suggested and practiced violence as the best way to derail a conflict. But the point is that wherever you go, you’re going to find WAS fans, as sure as you’ll find wind, fire, and Coke brand snack drinks. On arriving in your semi-permanent new home, consider joining the local chapter of the WAS fan club (note: in many areas of the world, words resembling “worship” liberally pepper the meetings of such clubs; don’t let this seeming extremism, which is actually just a cultural difference, bother you – what they mean by “worship”, Americans and Europeans tend to describe more casually as a powerful sexual lust). Volunteer for one of the less-desirable offices, such as Purely-Platonic Friend to The Band; you will thereby immediately gain the respect and gratitude of your new community.

Lastly, may we suggest that you keep in mind the following helpful aphorisms, which each of us has tattooed both forward (for the world) and backward (for the mirror) on our chests:


The width of our chests has, to an extent, been a factor in determining the maxims we choose to follow. So has almost total moral lassitude. But that is not to say that we’re anything less than 100% behind the wisdom and usefulness of these four concise and witty prescriptions.

Good luck to you, Tawny. You will be fine. Confidence here at WAS HQ is high. Bets have been placed, and – without putting any pressure on you either way – let us just say that we will make out handsomely if you survive this journey. Again, no pressure, but, so you know, our winnings will be maximized if you return alive, yes, but without your legs. Without either leg, Tawny. Keeping specifics to a minimum, let’s just say that we’ll be generous with you if you’re generous with us, Tawny. So, something to think about.

we are scientists

p.s. – show us a photo of a tribesman boasting our t-shirt and we will do everything in our power to book a show during the specified period. Should we fail, we’d be more than happy to give you a private show consisting of us popping your favorite WAS album onto the CD turner and lip-synching a couple of songs, maybe even miming some guitar strumming and drum-beating and kazoo-blowing, for those solos.



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