Cambridge Gone Wild (warning: gross)

07Nov06

Fair warning: this is a gross post. Anyone of higher standards should avoid it.
John Walker of the Cambridge Varsity (“The Independent Cambridge Student Newspaper”) has written an article this week on the [Gonville and] Caius ‘superhall carnage‘ of two weeks ago after a formal hall that included “vomit and faeces” on the floor of the mens’ toilet.

First of all, ew, gross.

Second of all, meh.

Anyone who spent twelve years in public school in the Los Angeles Unified School District would not be too surprised. In junior high a group of students in the year above me once arrived at school early so that they could leave their “faeces” in various public places. Meanwhile, the state of restrooms in high schools in all but the poshest neighborhoods is so decrepit that one wonders if those students defecated in public space out of necessity. Seriously. (Note to LA voters: the LAUSD does not serve its students. For $300,000 a year, superintendent David Brewer had better get his act together or the district should be broken up.)

Even at Stanford, one of the favorite jokes of my dorm staff went something like this:

What did the freshman say to the other freshman? bleeeechhghghgh. [and other projectile vomiting noises]

I knew a student who was so inibriated that he walked into a dorm room and, mistaking it for the toilet, proceeded to urinate on three girls and their belongings. (For what it’s worth he was a nice guy who hadn’t chosen the most constructive way to deal with his recent break up.)

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Maybe American college students are just more disgusting than those at Cambridge. Maybe Cambridge students, in their ongoing attempts to best US universities (one in particular) in world collegiate rankings, have decided to strive to reach American levels of university filth. Maybe it’s just Caius students. (That’s a friendly jab at Marat.)

There really is no point, I guess. Maybe that’s just the way university students are. In a place as proper as Cambridge, however, I can see how such behavior sticks out a bit more when it’s brought into the limelight.

I can understand, however, how it’s a bit drastic to have students dressed in suits and academic gowns put up with “vomit and faeces” after a formal dinner.

On a much lesser scale, I have discovered the practice of ‘pennying.’ I was dressed up in a dinner jacket (that’s a tuxedo to Americans) and gown a few weeks ago for matriculation dinner; a rather special formal hall where all first year students (graduate and undergraduate) are welcomed to Trinity college. The event was well catered, with wine older than the undergrads (and just a little younger than me). I had the dubious pleasure of sitting with several ‘NatSci’ undergraduates who all assumed that I was also an undergraduate. One rather rude chap (he asked my Indian which caste she belonged to) tossed a penny in my wine glass.
I was completely dumbfounded by this, though I had been warned by an undergraduate friend some time ago. Apparently the idea is that once you’ve been ‘pennied’ you are obligated to drink the rest of your glass in a single gulp. Any American college student would immediate scoff at the idea of this as a legitimate drinking game (even relative teetotalers like myself), but apparently it did originate as a pub game of sorts. Of course, a formal dinner is not the pub and pennies are not meant to be sitting in glasses of wine that is older than its imbibers. Remarkably this happened twice to me, once for a glass of red wine and once for a glass of white wine. The MIT exchange student to my left excitedly said “ha ha! Now you have to drink it! It’s the rule! Now you have to drink it!” By then I was rather tired of them spoiling my drinks and I chose not to respond. (Meanwhile the fellow across the table was busy rolling his eyes at all the hubbub.)

Now I should pause for a moment to note that coins are gross. How many unwashed hands and dirty fountains have left their grime and grit on any given penny? So what really got me was when one of the NatSci students tried to exercise his authority in his discipline by explaining that wine contains alchohol, so the penny is sterilized in my glass. I wonder if Mr. NatSci has any clue about the relative alchohol content of wine versus, say, purell hand sanitizer?

Anyway, people tell me that I should hang out with the undergraduates at Trinity because they’ll be world leaders in a few years time (meanwhile the grad students will be Nobel laureates and Fields medalists). For now, I think, the post grads have a bigger television and slightly better manners.



2 Responses to “Cambridge Gone Wild (warning: gross)”

  1. 1 Alejandro Rivero

    Almost tautologically, wine contains enough alcohol to sterilize against common yeast, but not against bacteria (so wine evolves to vinegar). But then some cheap wines can get a small scent of antibiotic to attack such bacteria.

    I’d guess that strong spirits (for sure cask strength ones) can sterilise most of the agents you can attack with pure 98 alcohol.

    As for drink games, in Spain the penny must bounce in the table before entering the glass. Direct shots are not valid.

  2. 2 haha

    Alejandro, you don’t know the meaning of the word “tautologically”.



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