Oxford: the column

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April 20, 2007

1:48 AM

For the remainder of this semester, my duties as a staff columnist will mostly consist of gushing (and/or whining, and/or demonstrating to astute readers the classic signs of homesickness, and/or substance abuse and/or exhaustion and/or quietly disappearing from these pages after failing to write yet another paper because of my unfaltering allegiance to The Flat Hat) about Oxford, that venerable bastion of academia, a place so old that it makes the College look, well, not as old; though when one considers the age of the universe they’re both comparatively young, these so-called “universities.”

p. Yep, I was miraculously admitted to the place without even needing to bribe them, unless that was included in the pulse-stopping tuition bill. (If you’re interested in subsidizing these columns, e-mail me. We’ll talk.) After a few months of puttering around Williamsburg with next to no responsibilities, here I am, in England. As Forrest Gump once said, “It’s this whole other country.”

p. Of course, if I’m not careful, these columns may start to read like those rambling and interminable e-mails that everybody gets from friends who’re studying abroad, except that I have the distinct disadvantage of not being your friend. You know the e-mails — you really want to read them, because, hey, they’re from your friends, or they are from people who regard you as a friend, and they’re off in a foreign land discovering the innermost secrets of selfhood, coming of age and getting into international trouble. But somehow, after the fourth or fifth picture in which the main point seems to be, “the drinking age here is 18, sucker,” you’ve had your fill.

p. To stay safe and a little bit lazy, I’m going to let Oxford speak for itself this week. Below are excerpts from various encounters I’ve had in the past few days, all of them demonstrating the unique character of this area. If you get bored, you don’t even need to push “delete” — just tear up the newspaper and frown at passers-by. If you want to read the other columns, well, then you’re on your own.

p. I. Oxford’s I.T. website, on how to pick a password for your e-mail address:

p. “We ensure that [your] password is not a word or name by checking a very large dictionary which includes proper names, words from several languages and many non-words such as ‘qwerty’ and 3.14159.”

p. Because if you’re a math major, hackers will guess pi right away. And confound that O.E.D. — I couldn’t even think of using “absquatulate” or “upendizi,” the Swahili word for “love.”
II. A conversation at dinner: A W&M student asks, “Can I Facebook you?”

p. An Oxford student replies, “Well, you can try.”

p. III. A College nurse, on staying healthy at Oxford:
“I don’t know if you’re aware, but this town runs on alcohol. It really does. You’ll be offered it everywhere: at pubs, at meals, by your friends, by your tutors. I worry about it, because — especially with the young ladies — it can lead to some, well, ‘compromising situations.’ But do try to stay healthy. I’m sure there are all sorts of viruses here you haven’t got back in the States. Sure, you’ll come down with the sniffles. But really, wash up, eat right. Do try.”

p. IV. The tail end of a conversation at an orientation luncheon about punting, a type of boating popular in Oxford and Cambridge: A social club president says, “So, yeah, pints and punting, it’s all a lot of fun, and we hope you’ll come out and join us.”

p. An older female professor replies, “Oh, but, not to bring down the spirit or anything, it can be dangerous. Yes, we’ve actually had students die while punting when they’re not being careful.” (Awkward silence.) “Needless to say, they had been drinking.” (Another awkward silence.)

p. Another professor says, “Well, I suppose we should all be heading back to our offices about now.”

p. V. Overheard at “The Old Tom,” one of at least 10 pubs claiming to serve “the best fish’n’chips in Oxford:” An anonymous patron to the bartender, “Have you ever been threatened by the IRA?”

p. That’s quite enough for the moment. From these snippets, it should be clear that I’m in for an interesting term — one for which you, dear reader, will be privy to every second.

p. Of course, Oxford might turn out to be little more than bizzaro Williamsburg. There’s a Richmond Road here, too, and I’ve already seen my share of Gene Nichol look-alikes. More on this theory next week — assuming I don’t drown during an episode of tippled punting.

p. __Dan Piepenbring, a junior at the College, is a staff columnist. His columns appear on Fridays.__

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