Oxford Etiquette: The Union

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 6 November 2015.

The Oxford Union is everything about Oxford as a whole, concentrated in one building and cranked up to eleven. Everything wonderful, infuriating, innovative, archaic, stupid and brilliant about Oxford University is perfectly embodied in that slightly strange little mini-castle tucked down one of Oxford’s side-streets like a mildly embarrassing book, shoved down the side of the bed but still pored over and adored when no-one is looking. But with such an old and self-important institution, it can often be tricky to decide just how one should act within its walls.

First of all, as I discovered when I attended my first debate, it is generally considered bad form to loudly boo and insult the members of the opposition you don’t like. I was roundly expelled from the debating chamber, and shortly thereafter offered a job in Parliament. I declined. A man must preserve some dignity. Suffice it to say that healthy debate is best conducted with a certain degree of respect for the opposition, and one should reserve shouting for less important events, like college football matches or the Magdalen Ball.

On a similar note, the Union library also demands a certain amount of respect. I learned when I first visited that it is very bad manners to sit at the tables staring up at the frankly ludicrously gorgeous ceiling, and that flash photography of said ceiling is in strict contravention of the library rules. And that however appropriate it may seem, blasting Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ at full volume from your laptop speakers is a sure-fire way to get yourself forcibly expelled from the premises.

Having said all that, try not to get too carried away with Respecting the Institution. The Union is just another Oxford student society, after all, and the fact that it has a few quid does not mean it deserves more or deeper respect than one would pay any other society. It’s just a bunch of rooms that people talk in, which are maybe slightly over-decorated. In that regard, it is a note-perfect embodiment of Oxford as a whole. Right down to the ridiculous entry fees.


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