A pepper flipping tradition
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:10AM
I’m not terribly surprised when I enter Thorne Dining Hall and see a 6-feet, 4-inch tall male student eating dinner only wearing a diaper. It doesn’t shock me when two guys stand on a table, unsheathe their imaginary swords and engage in a dual. I’m not even slightly startled when a girl leaps onto her chair and belts out the latest Lady Gaga song.
Over my three and a half years at Bowdoin College, I have developed immunity to these oddities because I have come to understand that the school values tradition and, more specifically, the tradition of the pepper flip.
I have to admit, I can’t tell you when this tradition began. I’ll take a wild guess and say that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, two notable Bowdoin graduates, did not engage in pepper flipping back in their college days, although I don’t know for certain. I can tell you, however, that I was quickly introduced to the tradition as a freshman during one of my first dinners on campus. I vividly remember the air of seriousness that surrounded my proctor as he explained what he deemed to be “essential to our Bowdoin education.”
“In order to pepper flip properly,” my proctor began, “one must grab a pepper shaker and clearly articulate a challenge to a fellow diner. However,” he emphasized, “before proceeding, the fellow diner must agree to the challenge.”
This rule, I would later learn, is easily forgotten and therefore the source of much contention.
“After the fellow student has agreed to the challenge,” my proctor continued, “the challenger grabs hold of the top of the pepper shaker between his or her pointer finger and thumb and flips it into the air. If the pepper shaker lands right side up, the fellow diner must complete the challenge.”
At the end of his explanation, my proctor clarified that a student may only attempt a pepper flip once during a meal. And, “don’t even think about trying to flip the salt shaker,” he finished.
Since my freshman year, I have witnessed and attempted many pepper flips. Despite my years of practice, I still get nervous when all eyes turn toward me as I swing the shaker back and forth, lining up my flip. I will always remember, and agonize over, my terrible two-year drought; this past fall, as a senior, I had not successfully landed the pepper shaker since my sophomore year. However, after many embarrassing failed attempts, my luck recently changed.
I distinctly remember the image of the pepper shaker flying into the air, completing two beautiful and complete rotations, and landing right side up. An Olympic gymnast could not have done it better. The successful landing of this pepper flip sent a freshman on my tennis team crawling under the entire length of the men’s lacrosse team’s dinner table. As she progressed down the table, the confused and startled look on each of the players’ faces was priceless.
In all honesty, pepper flipping has not been, in the words of my proctor, “essential to my Bowdoin education.” However, I will always remember the tradition. It’s traditions like these that give Bowdoin character and make it a unique place. Although I will not be pepper flipping in Thorne Dining Hall next fall, I may try my luck at a pepper flip, wherever I am, every once in a while in honor of my time at Bowdoin.
Emily Lombardi of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist for The Doings