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A serving of British tidbits

Geoff Johnston | Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Your friendly Notre Dame columnist is here again to serve up a few morsels of British life, and since it’s British, do not blame me if its indigestible. I have a whole list of stories to relate, all of them totally unrelated, so feast away. The Oxford-Cambridge ski trip was a blast. We skied at the glacier (which British pronounce glay-sEEr) resort of Kaprun, in the Austrian Alps. The buildings and houses were straight out of “The Sound of Music” (wooden base with whitewashed top, reminiscent of some hearty mountain mushroom), the Austrians spoke excellent English (even the cashiers), and when I ordered a “root beer,” I got a huge stein of German lager instead. Oh, and the food … well at least in comparison to British cuisine (if that is not an oxymoron … ) there is no comparison. A local tobacco-pipe themed restaurant served us the Austrian National Dish, groestl, consisting of spicy ham, potatoes and a soft boiled egg garnishing the top. We also patronized what I affectionately term the “Meat Palace” or “Vegan’s Hell,” at which raw plates of meat are served, followed by a spiked, sizzling iron column, upon which said raw meat is skewered, sizzled and then devoured by tired ski racers.As a consequence of this trip, and a few well-placed calls, I have finally started to meet a few honest-to-goodness British students. If you have heard from your friends who went to London about how hard it is to meet British students, then you know the magnitude of the accomplishment. I have noticed a few interesting facts, some of which I will relate: I have finally, after much searching, met a student who uses the word “crikey” in conversation. Also, I played a few games of Texas hold-em with a kid who has played with the world-famous Phil Helmuth, who apparently attends the Oxford poker tournaments for relaxation.Similarly, I have also met a fair number of British professors, with whom I had a conversation about, among other things, the Mars missions, robots mining asteroids and the Anglican Church. I was struck by a few of their remarks. While we were discussing the impact of the EU on Europe’s future, one professor suddenly declared that Europe does not exist. He explained that there is a common fallacy, especially among Americans, that Europe operates as a unified community. According to him, Europe’s existence as a political unit is a fiction; Europe’s member states do not owe any real allegiance to one another. Now, I knew that the Middle East, though referred to as one unit, possesses no real political existence, but I had never considered Europe as such. I am not saying that I agree that the Europe/Middle East analogy holds, but there is some truth to it, and it is certainly something for Americans to think about when viewing Europe as a political unity.Heard the Dean scream yet? Apparently so has every Oxford student. Many of the students and professors I know are interested in American politics – America is everywhere, from news, to burgers in the Dining Hall, to the Simpsons and Seinfeld quotes which pepper conversation. Not too many people here like Bush, and some are disturbed by his religious references. I myself do not appreciate religious views being proffered as justifications for political action; I can appreciate moral reasons, and the two are not identical. But Oxford is getting its fill of America: there are so many Americans running around here it’s not funny. Just today three Americans joined the New College soccer team, and I met three new arrivals in the Dining Hall. To be perfectly blunt, Americans are desired because of Oxford’s economic situation (the top-up fees debate is at a fever pitch): Oxford needs cash, and Americans can afford to pay. As a last comment, I would like to congratulate Oxford on its pro-nerd environment. As a nerd, I appreciate the fact that students here embrace anyone, including nerds, whether they have thick-rimmed glasses, constantly talk about Ovid, or view physics as an interesting discussion topic. (Have you heard the one about the proton who sat down at the bar? Bartender: Why so glum? Proton: Well … I’ve lost an electron. Bartender: Are you sure? Proton: I’m positive.) As an indicator of the general level of nerdiness, note that that at a recent bop, someone remarked that I’m a good dancer – ’nuff said.

Geoff Johnston is a junior currently studying at Oxford University and he wishes to remind all of his readers to beware of Tabs (Cambridge students), Marmite (a salty, bitter British food-additive), and Magdalene College’s white deer.The views exressed in this column are those tof the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.