Swaps may be a Cambridge tradition, but we all need to take responsibility for our actions

Grace Murray 12 November 2015

Michaelmas is the ultimate swap season, in which the fresh-faced first years are introduced to Cambridge’s cardinal social tradition. Being a Girtonian with virtually no extra-curricular commitments, swapping is a steadfast way to meet people from down the hill, and they’re usually pretty fun too. Although being a drinker is not paramount, getting one-bottle drunk is the perfect ice-breaker for these strange ‘dinners’, unless you are strong-stomached enough for the terrible food followed by an episode of sober cindies. The choice is yours.

It’s exactly that which needs to be remembered if you are going to have an enjoyable swap experience. If you don’t mind drinking from your shoe, drink from your shoe, but nobody is going to make you ruin your brogues (or Doc Martins if you’re an arts student) if you aren’t up for it. Nor does it follow that because the person next to you whipped off their shirt for somebody to do a shot from their belly-button, you should do the same thing, or that because you did it last time, it’s on you to do it again. Every decision made is yours. Swaps can be outrageous, and that’s fine, so long as every individual’s exercise of agency is not undermined.

When on a swap, it is important to be mindful that you are in fact in the public sphere, most likely being hosted by a business that works very hard to deal with Cambridge’s rowdy lot. It is your duty to be respectful of business owners and their other customers, just as it is their duty to be respectful of you. Some of the worst swap experiences of mine have actually been instances of restaurant-staff taking advantage of drunk students, both financially and sexually.

Whilst swap behaviour is no way near akin to dinner-date conduct, swaps are not a situation in which harassment violations are tolerated, amongst students and non-students alike. The only way to avoid such problems is to choose swap venues with a reputation for looking after their customers, and do your best to ensure that you are swapping with decent, respectful, and fun people. After all, when swaps go wrong it is not the swap itself that is the problem, but the people.