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The Proust Questionnaire

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Few things ring of pretension moreso than invoking the name of one Marcel Proust. Especially since the advent of Little Miss Sunshine, the French novelist's references in pop culture have flourished (and often incorrectly). Still, those who have tackled bits of his seminal work, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), will know why the memory of his description of a madeline moistened by herbal tea remains an unequivocally descriptive tease for famished writers everywhere (not to mention a reminder of our literary inadequacies). Though he lived a short life (1871-1922, dying of pneumonia) Proust's "definitive" work with evolving the novel influenced many other respected and talented writers, such as Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Wolff. For the rest of us (the unwashed masses), Proust's influence has become perhaps more pervasive than we think, with a version of his "infamous" Questionnaire showing up in various forms all over our cultural landscape.

The origin of the questionnaire

By no means the inventor of the form, Proust did manage to keep its popularity alive. A typical parlor game of the Belle Epoch that was said to help delve into the true expressions and aspirations of those answering it, Proust was first introduced to a form of the questionnaire entitled "An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc" when he was merely 13 years old. By responding once at that age and again to a slightly different version at the age of 20, Proust was able to chart his own growth and change, and allow us to get a deeper understanding of the man and his preferences. A complete list of his answers to both questionnaires can be found here.

Other versions

lipton.jpgThe Proust Questionnaire, as it is now called, has enjoyed three major rebirths. The first was from French television host Bernard Pivot, who used a version in the 1970's-90s at the end of his broadcast Apostrophes, (a show similar to Book TV) in the hopes of allowing writers to reveal parts of their personalities while discussing their own work.

More famously for us Americans is James Lipton's version used on Inside the Actor's Studio (where certainly the questions have never been asked with such intensity, I'm sure). A list of his condensed 10 Questions can be found here, and a very special version with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (of the UK Office and Extras) asking the questions to the indescribable Karl Pilkington is also available for free download.

Additionally, since July of 1993, Vanity Fair has published its own version of the questionnaire in its back pages as an interview piece for celebrities, questions from which can be found on this site.

Fun for the whole family

Bored on a rainy day with friends? Looking for something to journal about? Seeing whether your date is worth your time? The Proust Questionnaire is still an interesting way to get to know people better. Anyone willing to share a few of their own answers here?

Here are five questions to get you started...

1) Where would you like to live?
2) Who are your favorite characters in history?
3) Who are your heroes in real life?
4) What is it you most dislike?
5) What natural gift would you most like to possess?

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5 Subtle Cues That Can Tell You About Your Date's Financial Personality
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Being financially compatible with your partner is important, especially as a relationship grows. Fortunately, there are ways you can learn about your partner’s financial personality in a relationship’s early stages without seeing their bank statement or sitting them down for “the money talk.”

Are they a spender or a saver? Are they cautious with money? These habits can be learned through basic observations or casual questions that don’t feel intrusive. Here are some subtle things that can tell you about your date’s financial personality.

1. HOW THEY ANSWER BASIC MONEY QUESTIONS.

Casual conversations about finance-related topics can be very revealing. Does your date know if their employer matches their 401(k) plan contributions? Do you find their answers to any financial questions a bit vague—even the straightforward ones like “What are the rewards like on your credit card?” This could mean that your partner is a little fuzzy on some of the details of their financial situation.

As your connection grows, money talks are only natural. If your date expresses uncertainty about their monthly budget, it may be an indicator that they are still working on the best way to manage their finances or don’t keep close tabs on their spending habits.

2. WHAT THEY’RE WATCHING AND READING.

If you notice your partner is always watching business news channels, thumbing through newspapers, or checking share prices on their phone, they are clearly keeping abreast of what’s going on in the financial world. Ideally, this would lead to a well-informed financial personality that gives way to smart investments and overall monetary responsibility.

If you see that your date has an interest in national and global finances, ask them questions about what they’ve learned. The answers will tell you what type of financial mindset to expect from you partner moving forward. You might also learn something new about the world of finance and business!

3. WHERE THEY GET THEIR FOOD.

You may be able to learn a lot about someone’s financial personality just by asking what they usually do for dinner. If your date dines out a lot, it could be an indication that they are willing to spend money on experiences. On the other hand, if they’re eating most of their meals at home or prepping meals for the entire week to cut their food budget, they might be more of a saver.

4. WHETHER THEY’RE VOICING MONEY CONCERNS.

Money is a source of stress for most people, so it’s important to observe if financial anxiety plays a prominent role in your date’s day-to-day life. There are a number of common financial worries we all share—rising insurance rates, unexpected car repairs, rent increases—but there are also more specific and individualized concerns. Listen to how your date talks about money and pick up on whether their stress is grounded in worries we all have or if they have a more specific reason for concern.

In both instances, it’s important to be supportive and helpful where you can. If your partner is feeling nervous about money, they’ll likely be much more cautious about what they’re spending, which can be a good thing. But it can also stop them from making necessary purchases or looking into investments that might actually benefit them in the future. As a partner, you can help out by minimizing their expenses for things like nights out and gifts in favor of less expensive outings or homemade gifts to leave more of their budget available for necessities.

5. HOW THEY HANDLE THE BILL.

Does your date actually look at how much they’re spending before handing their credit card to the waiter or bartender at the end of the night? It’s a subtle sign, but someone who looks over a bill is likely much more observant about what they spend than someone who just blindly hands cards or cash over once they get the tab.

Knowing what you spend every month—even on smaller purchases like drinks or dinner—is key when you’re staying on a budget. It’s that awareness that allows people to adjust their monthly budget and calculate what their new balance will be once the waiter hands over the check. Someone who knows exactly what they’re spending on the small purchases is probably keeping a close eye on the bigger picture as well.

REMEMBER THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TALKING.

While these subtle cues can be helpful signposts when you’re trying to get an idea of your date’s financial personality, none are perfect indicators that will be accurate every time. Our financial personalities are rarely cut and dry—most of us probably display some behaviors that would paint us as savers while also showing habits that exclaim “spender!” By relying too heavily on any one indicator, we might not get an accurate impression of our date.

Instead, as you get to know a new partner, the best way to learn about their financial personality is by having a straightforward and honest talk with them. You’ll learn more by listening and asking questions than you ever could by observing small behaviors.

Whatever your financial personality is, it pays to keep an eye on your credit score. Discover offers a Free Credit Scorecard, and checking it won't impact your score. It's totally free, even if you aren't a Discover customer. Check yours in seconds. Terms apply. Visit Discover to learn more.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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