Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

As the Oxford University website explains: ‘Students currently come from 138 countries around the world and study a wide range of subjects. [International students] make up one third of our student body, including 14 percent of our full-time undergraduate students and 63 percent of our full-time postgraduates.’ Arguably the least interesting of these countries is the good old U. S. of A. I hail from that land of the almost free with its purple mountains and Big Macs.  However, I do not technically fall into this category of full-time international students. I, along with a motley crew of somewhat undesirables, inhabit the strange limbo that is the life of the “visiting student.” To be more exact, I am an associate student at Hertford College, not a visiting student at Oxford University. We are not merely Americans, which, let’s be honest, is bad enough, but Americans here for that brief interval between one term and one academic year—a year sans finals and lectures. We are frauds leading half-lives, sentenced to live in social siburbia.

Siburbia is a term I have proudly coined for those of us with silly pink Bod cards, bad accents and houses on Botley Road. We live in some combination of suburban landscape and Siberian social standing. We huddle together at necessarily incestuous house parties to stay warm. The advice given to us at our orientation, on the ever-important subject of how to “integrate” with British students, was to sit next to them in hall and strike up a conversation with a stranger in this confined and comfortable social setting. However, after having eaten a stewy dinner whilst crouched on the end of a table populated by Goth kids effectively ignoring this fact, one realises that this is awful advice. You must understand that we want desperately to “integrate.” Botley road just plain sucks. The term “integration” itself, in all its official implications of otherness, really says it all.
Luckily for me last term some fairy godmother, incarnated for god knows what reason as my brother-in-law, led me to a coffee date with a “real student,” as we outsiders must call them. Somehow, in this crazy, mixed-up world, something resembling genuine friendship blossomed under the rather adverse circumstances. This tenuous position as friend-of-British-girl made me particularly able to assess the strange social anachronisms between you Brits and those less cultured masses—i.e. us. 
Well, let’s start by saying I went to my first ball a few weeks ago. I realise to you people both the term “ball” itself and the party it refers to is part of the normal university experience, but to us it’s still synonymous with a Cinderella type event. I go to school in what is effectively a mud pile, populated by philosophy students in flannel and frye boots. I do not own cocktail dresses, let alone a ball gown. We wear jeans and dirty shirts to go out, if with a little mascara. Here girls have several ball gowns, and they aren’t even royalty or anything. 55 pounds out on a ticket, 60 on a dress, 20 on heels, some more on makeup and body lotion, and I was ready for a princess moment. It didn’t really come. 
The ball consisted of burnt and cold hamburger meat and oh-so-much alcohol in tiny plastic cups. The champagne bit at the beginning was a classy mislead really. The night ended, if we’re going to be honest, with friends crying on my floor and me crouching in the toilet. But I did like the dress – you know, the one I’ll never wear again. 
The not-so-strange difference we can point out here is that you guys can drink. More than water. This makes a big difference on the way social gatherings manifest themselves. (However, my college back in the states has a sum total of 2,000 students and a reputation as the “biggest dinner party school,” so, hey, what do I really know?) While going to clubs is entirely legal for y’all, us Americans are less than lucky. We are the frequenters of house parties, equipped with too much booze, no mixers and red cups. There is no kind of temperance or middle ground with us. There is a lot of rolling around on someone else’s un-vacuumed floor — or, as I once experienced, walking inebriated and dazed through someone’s living room whose only decoration was a small camping tent. Liberal arts schools and Universities perhaps differ in this way. Regardless, we’re kind of a mess, and old habits die hard. Any chance we get, those of us Americans — lumped together, left out of the regular Oxonian loop, intentionally or otherwise — have thrown parties at every semi-decent opportunity. They were all themed. 
This is a weird thing about Americans. Perhaps to compensate for the unconscious perception of the parties’ pathetic-ness we feel the need to add some extra pizzazz in the manner of thematic rapture. This rapture is, of course, just a means for public nudity. (Interesting, because another strangeness involving our perception of British lifestyle is that many American ladies find British club style a bit naked. Yes, we’re asking for it, but you guys wear sheer blouses. I don’t know why, but apparently we can’t cope.) Some themes of American people parties include: ‘golf pros and tennis hoes’, ‘hoes and bros’, and ‘ABC: anything but clothes’. If you noticed unlike the generally ambiguous themes of the bops, ‘jungle fever’ and what not, ours have an unavoidably chauvinistic tinge. Note that ‘ho’ was used twice. I am a feminist. Pro-choice and all that. But still I donned a trash bag top for ABC. To be fair some men showed up in towels. Even less subtle. 
In some way, however, I’ve come to realise our house parties and the balls aren’t really all that different. I don’t mean to go all ‘we’re really all the same on the inside’.  No need for kumbayas. But really they both involve relatively small groups of people who know each other, wearing costumes that will allure the opposite sex and drinking until somebody passes out. My mother keeps telling me that the difference between American and British students is that over here the kids don’t get ‘blado’. But I know some people, lovely, posh, and conceivably brilliant, who have weed on themselves. 
I can’t tell which group takes themselves more seriously. Because this, I think, might be the real reason there is no cross -over between the two dimensions, why we exist as denim-clad ghosts haunting the Rad Cam without ever really being seen.  All of us like to dress up: to be, in some ways, someone else for the evening. I am going to a bop tonight where we are all to dress like cowboys and aliens. It is strange because in reality here I feel as though I am a bit of both. Perhaps there should be a bop where the Americans must dress as Brits and visa versa. Let’s just get all the stereotypes out on the table, and then start making out on it. 
This feature has turned out a lot raunchier than expected, a lot more about underage drinking as well. But when it comes down to it, we have better bagels. Trousers are pants, chips are fries, crisps are chips, and a fizzy drink is a really awful name for a soda. We really aren’t so very different, and yet we seem very intent on pretending that we are.  Kids these days.
Next time you’re in the library, look for me. I’ll be wearing red white and blue. You know that our flags both have those colours, right?

As the Oxford University website explains: ‘Students currently come from 138 countries around the world and study a wide range of subjects. [International students] make up one third of our student body, including 14 percent of our full-time undergraduate students and 63 percent of our full-time postgraduates.’ Arguably the least interesting of these countries is the good old U. S. of A. I hail from that land of the almost free with its purple mountains and Big Macs.  However, I do not technically fall into this category of full-time international students. I, along with a motley crew of somewhat undesirables, inhabit the strange limbo that is the life of the “visiting student.” To be more exact, I am an associate student at Hertford College, not a visiting student at Oxford University. We are not merely Americans, which, let’s be honest, is bad enough, but Americans here for that brief interval between one term and one academic year—a year sans finals and lectures. We are frauds leading half-lives, sentenced to live in social siburbia.

Related  Ready, Steady, Cook! Uncle Ben’s Sweet and Sour Rice Time

Siburbia is a term I have proudly coined for those of us with silly pink Bod cards, bad accents and houses on Botley Road. We live in some combination of suburban landscape and Siberian social standing. We huddle together at necessarily incestuous house parties to stay warm. The advice given to us at our orientation, on the ever-important subject of how to “integrate” with British students, was to sit next to them in hall and strike up a conversation with a stranger in this confined and comfortable social setting. However, after having eaten a stewy dinner whilst crouched on the end of a table populated by Goth kids effectively ignoring this fact, one realises that this is awful advice. You must understand that we want desperately to “integrate.” Botley road just plain sucks. The term “integration” itself, in all its official implications of otherness, really says it all.

Luckily for me last term some fairy godmother, incarnated for god knows what reason as my brother-in-law, led me to a coffee date with a “real student,” as we outsiders must call them. Somehow, in this crazy, mixed-up world, something resembling genuine friendship blossomed under the rather adverse circumstances. This tenuous position as friend-of-British-girl made me particularly able to assess the strange social anachronisms between you Brits and those less cultured masses—i.e. us. 

Well, let’s start by saying I went to my first ball a few weeks ago. I realise to you people both the term “ball” itself and the party it refers to is part of the normal university experience, but to us it’s still synonymous with a Cinderella type event. I go to school in what is effectively a mud pile, populated by philosophy students in flannel and frye boots. I do not own cocktail dresses, let alone a ball gown. We wear jeans and dirty shirts to go out, if with a little mascara. Here girls have several ball gowns, and they aren’t even royalty or anything. 55 pounds out on a ticket, 60 on a dress, 20 on heels, some more on makeup and body lotion, and I was ready for a princess moment. It didn’t really come. 

Related  Glastonbury: A Virgin's Tale

The ball consisted of burnt and cold hamburger meat and oh-so-much alcohol in tiny plastic cups. The champagne bit at the beginning was a classy mislead really. The night ended, if we’re going to be honest, with friends crying on my floor and me crouching in the toilet. But I did like the dress – you know, the one I’ll never wear again. 

The not-so-strange difference we can point out here is that you guys can drink. More than water. This makes a big difference on the way social gatherings manifest themselves. (However, my college back in the states has a sum total of 2,000 students and a reputation as the “biggest dinner party school,” so, hey, what do I really know?) While going to clubs is entirely legal for y’all, us Americans are less lucky. We are the frequenters of house parties, equipped with too much booze, no mixers and red cups. There is no kind of temperance or middle ground with us. There is a lot of rolling around on someone else’s un-vacuumed floor — or, as I once experienced, walking inebriated and dazed through someone’s living room whose only decoration was a small camping tent. Liberal arts schools and Universities perhaps differ in this way. Regardless, we’re kind of a mess, and old habits die hard. Any chance we get, those of us Americans — lumped together, left out of the regular Oxonian loop, intentionally or otherwise — have thrown parties at every semi-decent opportunity. They were all themed. 

This is a weird thing about Americans. Perhaps to compensate for the unconscious perception of the parties’ pathetic-ness we feel the need to add some extra pizzazz in the manner of thematic rapture. This rapture is, of course, just a means for public nudity. (Interesting, because another strangeness involving our perception of British lifestyle is that many American ladies find British club style a bit naked. Yes, we’re asking for it, but you guys wear sheer blouses. I don’t know why, but apparently we can’t cope.) Some themes of American people parties include: ‘golf pros and tennis hoes’, ‘hoes and bros’, and ‘ABC: anything but clothes’. If you noticed- unlike the generally ambiguous themes of the bops, ‘jungle fever’ and what not- ours have an unavoidably chauvinistic tinge. Note that ‘ho’ was used twice. I am a feminist. Pro-choice and all that. But still I donned a trash bag top for ABC. To be fair some men showed up in towels. Even less subtle. 

In some way, however, I’ve come to realise our house parties and the balls aren’t really all that different. I don’t mean to go all ‘we’re really all the same on the inside’.  No need for kumbayas. But really they both involve relatively small groups of people who know each other, wearing costumes that will allure the opposite sex and drinking until somebody passes out. My mother keeps telling me that the difference between American and British students is that over here the kids don’t get ‘blado’. But I know some people, lovely, posh, and conceivably brilliant, who have weed on themselves. 

I can’t tell which group takes themselves more seriously. Because this, I think, might be the real reason there is no cross -over between the two dimensions, why we exist as denim-clad ghosts haunting the Rad Cam without ever really being seen.  All of us like to dress up: to be, in some ways, someone else for the evening. I am going to a bop tonight where we are all to dress like cowboys and aliens. It is strange because in reality here I feel as though I am a bit of both. Perhaps there should be a bop where the Americans must dress as Brits and visa versa. Let’s just get all the stereotypes out on the table, and then start making out on it. This feature has turned out a lot raunchier than expected, a lot more about underage drinking as well. But when it comes down to it, we have better bagels. Trousers are pants, chips are fries, crisps are chips, and a fizzy drink is a really awful name for a soda. We really aren’t so very different, and yet we seem very intent on pretending that we are.  Kids these days. Next time you’re in the library, look for me. I’ll be wearing red white and blue. You know that our flags both have those colours, right?