Oxford Etiquette: Freshers’ Fair

Ah, remember these? When I became Deputy Editor in Chief for The Oxford Student last year, part of the job was writing our ‘OxStuff’ section, a less informal bit of the paper, best described as the raw id of the senior editorial staff unleashed onto the page at one in the morning. Oxford Etiquette was prime fodder for this section, so I ended up writing eight columns in one day at the start of term, which were then released one a week for the next eight weeks. These have never appeared online before – as flawed as they are, I had fun with them, and I hope you do too. This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 6 October 2015.

The experience of attending Oxford University Freshers’ fair is best equated to being thrown into a rugby scrum involving several thousand people for approximately two hours, with said scrum taking place in a combined meat market and stately home, whose wares consist entirely of free pens and tackily-produced leaflets. Freshers’ Fair can be a disorienting experience, and it’s very easy to get caught like a deer in the headlights, which in this analogy stand in for the rather tasteless chandeliers of the Oxford exam schools. Horribly over-the-top, those things. And you know those paintings aren’t even real? Amateurs.

Freshers’ Fair is a unique experience, involving such a confusing array of information and freebies shoved in your face so rapidly that, if you’re not careful, you can find yourself planting seeds on the local rugby pitch in honour of Karl Marx with the support of a number of fellow enthusiasts of the works of C.S. Lewis. And everyone’s wearing a bow tie. How, then, is one to navigate this labyrinth of the sublime, the ridiculous and the frankly alarming? As someone with a grand total of one Freshers’ Fair under my belt, I feel fairly well-qualified to answer.

Firstly, be aware of those around you. Don’t stand perfectly still in the middle of a busy lane, gawping at the giant portrait of George V on the wall. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to look at it when you’re bored out of your mind in your first lecture.

Also, while the objective of a student at Freshers’ Fair is to grab as much free shit as possible, do try to be courteous as you do it. Try and look interested in what people have to say as you steal all of their pens. Other than that, I recommend relaxing and letting yourself enjoy it. You might even see me out there this year. I’ll be the one in the bow tie, looking as confused as you probably feel. But it’s not such a bad thing, confusion. You’re at Oxford. You’ll soon get used to it.

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