Bottom of the barrel

23 October 2008

Last week, as a member of my college year’s male drinking society, I had the pleasure of attending the traditional “freshers swap”. Having been invited for a similar affair by my college’s female drinking society during my first week, I thought it nothing more than an excellent chance to meet some attractive girls (the invitees having been hand picked by our President).

I was delighted to be sat between two very pretty foreign students, and began attempting to impress them with witty anecdotes of my drunken escapades. However, both girls were obviously perplexed, both as to why the rugby team at the table next to ours insisted on chanting “who are ya?’ who are ya?'” at someone they obviously knew, and furthermore as to how they’d been invited to this swap, given they knew none of us.

During the lull in proceedings just before the curry arrived, they began to press me for answers as to their selection, and encouraged by their responses to some of my anecdotes, along with the effects of several pints, I leant forwards and confided (with a knowing smile and a wink) that they had in fact been picked straight from the fresher’s facebook group, by virtue of their aesthetic qualities and whether or not they looked “fun” (translate: easy).

Needless to say this did not go down well. I was promptly informed this was “disgusting”, and was forced to spend the rest of the meal sheepishly poking at my food while trying to avoid eye contact with either girl.Although it was a sorry end to a curry, it did get me thinking about the ethics of drinking society culture.

It strikes me that if I’d been sitting next to two English girls who already knew of Cambridge social culture, perhaps through an older sibling at another College, they’d likely have accepted my explanation as the natural order of things, and may even have been pleased to be the “chosen ones” of their year group.

It is only when you view Cambridge from an outsider’s perspective that you see how ridiculous this aspect of our culture can be. There’s something distinctly tribal about the banding together of blokes into exclusive clubs, with the purpose of taking part in a form of ritualistic speed dating.

Since the swap, I’ve been debating with friends whether or not these kind of things should be acceptable, and am yet to decide whether picking solely attractive girls is sexist, chauvinist, elitist, or just plain unpleasant.

No one can deny that drinking societies and swaps are a lot of fun, but the point is that for those not on the invitation list, be they the marginally less attractive friends of the fresher girls invited to our swap, or those being barred entry to their own college’s exclusive drinking societies (I know several guys in this situation), the set up can cause a lot of upset.

Cambridge gets away with a lot under the pretence of tradition, and perhaps we could all do without this bizarre and laughable need of some people to set themselves apart as the social elite within an already elite university.

Ben Pinter is a pseudonym