I need various reagents for my research project, for which my home institution needs to sign a “Material Transfer Agreement” (MTA). No big deal, a simple administrative formality. Or so I thought. But this is France. And French administration is… well, French administration. I could try to put in words what the experience was actually like, but the excellent French cartoonists, René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo have already done it so perfectly in their 1976 (!) movie The Twelve Tasks of Asterix:
There are certain norms that should not be questioned. I mean, take birthdays. Personally, I love my birthday: it’s in early May and normally there’s beautiful spring weather. Sometimes it overlaps with a May Day bank holiday. All in all, pretty good. However, I know people who really hate the date of their birthday, and so, a couple of years ago, I came up with a great idea: what if we could choose the day we celebrate our birthdays? Every year you could pick a different date (or the same, if you wanted), and obviously, you could pick only one day per calendar year, not to deflate the value of birthdays, as with unbirthdays:
It seems a simple and practical solution to the birthday problem to me, but when I pitch this idea to people, many are up in arms about it. There seems to be a widespread belief that celebrating your birthday on the anniversary of the day you were born is a custom set in stone, which must not, under any circumstances, be changed. Of course, this is not true. For refugees who cannot prove their date of birth, immigation officials often put 1st Januray as a placeholder. Some immigrants embrace this new birthday as a symbol of a fresh start. Then there are religions, where celebrating birthdays is not part of the culture anyway. So, really, if you look at the bigger picture, birthdays don’t have to be on the day you were born at all. But if you’ve grown up following this tradition, normally you don’t question it.
Similar set-in-stone “norms” and traditions are also abound in science. Continue reading