Columbia University, an Ivy League college in New York City, asks each of its graduating seniors to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire is titled ‘Senior Wisdom', and students are asked a series of questions, such as ‘What 3 things have you learnt at Columbia?' and ‘Where are you going?' They also ask: ‘Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?'
‘It's a clear choice,' I told my friend, when she asked me what I'd do. ‘And I'm pretty sure the statistics will back me up. (There's a particular sense of smug validation that arises from being in the statistical majority. I like numbers which show me that I don't think outside the box). There are statistics available: 42% would give up oral sex, and 30% would give up cheese. It's not at all what I was expecting. For a start, the numbers don't add up. I mean that literally: 42%+30%=52%. Which means that for 48% of the students, the choice is clear – avoid. ‘That hardly seems fair,' I protested to my friend, who was wondering why I wouldn't talk about anything else. ‘You can't have your cheese and eat it.' My friend, who had taken the survey herself when she graduated, pointed out that individual answers were Googleable. This possibly explains the proliferation of cheese quotes: “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” — Charles de Gaulle, 1962. I can't think of an employer who wouldn't snap up the graduate who answered with that.
‘It might not be socially acceptable to let your employers know your choice,' my friend continued. ‘The dinner party cheese board would become a social minefield,' she added, with the firm belief that she had closed the discussion. ‘The cheese board is already a social minefield,' I retorted. ‘All those people scooping away at the camembert before you, your anxiety increasing as they leave only the forlorn-looking cheddar. Last week, I was at a dinner party where someone, noticing my face as the Epoisses was devoured before I got there, told me ‘not to worry', went to the kitchen and then put out parmesan. Parmesan?! Our friendship has scarcely recovered.'
Equally, the statistics change when looked at along gender lines: for women, 46% would give up oral sex, and only 26% would give up cheese. The male statistics are more equitable: 36% would give up oral sex, and 32% would give up cheese. I like to think that the even-handed male responses point to an irrepressible optimism about both outcomes. (Or perhaps a university life spent subsisting on pizza).
The survey has good intentions, I think (although it being America, it is possible that the whole thing is sponsored by Kraft), but I'm not sure it has been as effective as it could have been at getting to the answers we all want to know. A particularly troubling side-effect of giving up cheese, which I think is not receiving enough attention, is the fact that we would all have to yell ‘oral sex' when smiling for photos.
Returning to the survey, the question itself is ambiguous. As one of the students asked: ‘Am I giving or receiving cheese?' And there have been far too many students ‘avoiding the question'. After all, cheese is everywhere. Columbia University has a ‘grilled cheese club'. I find it hard to believe that its NYC students manage to avoid it. Refusing to participate is below-the belt, but as one of the participants pointed out, when choosing whether to give up oral sex or cheese, it all depends on the consistency.