Bridging the Gap: A Bluffer’s Guide to Being a Cambridge Student

Naomi Gardom 3 June 2014

As previously chronicled, taking a Gap Year and sticking around in my hometown has been a funfair of delights. But when that hometown is Cambridge, it can be hard to ignore the fact that pretty much everyone you know is at uni. On some days, cycling across Parker’s Piece or through the centre of town, I’ll be surrounded on every side by that peculiar breed, students – people my age, with much of the same interests as me, but who dress differently, speak a particular language, and whose preoccupations and desires seem altogether alien.

So, having spent 8 months glaring enviously at these creatures, and even attempting to pass myself off as one (as a purely anthropological experiment), I am able to reveal my Bluffer’s Guide to being a Cambridge Student.

This is actually Oxford…                                                        Credit: Richard Barrett-Small

1. Obtain a gown
This is the distinctive black plumage of the Cambridge Student (or studens cantabrigiensis, to identify the species formally). Some scientists believe that there are subtle social signals associated with the precise details of gown (viz. length, colour, velvet stripes etc.) There was not scope within this study to put these claims to the test. However, it is recommended that a Batman costume is insufficient, except at a very great distance.

2. Get language coaching
The patois of the gownies can be difficult to follow, and even minor slips can cause suspicion; if you ‘pidge’ where you should have ‘plodged’, it'll spell the end of your CS aspirations. Best to get a trusted veteran bluffer to help you out with this.

3. Select a college and subject
If you’re going to have any kind of credibility in your initial encounters with genuine CS’s, you’d better get your story straight. Some bluffers choose the stealth approach, and opt for courses and colleges that sound so obscure that no one you meet is likely to call you out on it. Those who declare with supreme confidence that they are studying ‘Akkadian and Coptic at St Edmund’s Hall’ are likely to be met with slightly embarrassed acceptance; no one wishes to admit that they have heard of neither the course nor the college. Other bluffers choose a more flagrant tactic. ‘I’m a Trinity NatSci, didn’t you realise?’, if delivered with enough careless abandon, can silence any sceptic.

4. Do your homework
Or, more importantly, talk about doing it. The average CS can rack up 27 hours in the library per day, if the humble-bragging is to be believed. There is space for ingenuity in this one: rather than simply declaiming with faux-anxiety about how you ‘only managed to do 5 past papers this morning', and how 'a couple of them might have slipped down to a low First’, you could instead wander around in your pyjamas conspicuously at around 4pm asking people if they want to go and get breakfast with you – ‘I mean, it’s very silly really, but I was doing an all-nighter and just got carried away!

It's intentional, honest.                                                                          Credit: Matthias Rosenkranz

5. Forget how to punt
This bluffer has very nearly given herself away on a number of occasions by neglecting this simple maxim. Remember, the purpose of punting is a catalyst for Pimms drinking, and for at least one member of the party to fall in and look very foolish. Under these circumstances, competence with a pole is deeply suspect. However, it is also vital to have plenty of disparaging remarks up your sleeve, to make about tourists, and boats of townies. All of the above also goes for riding a bike.