Am I An Arrogant Shit?

ISOBEL PRITCHARD questions whether Cambridge students are as pompous as everyone seems to believe we are.

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Shouting, “I propose a general fine for anyone who has got with a member of their family!” is apparently "not acceptable behaviour at the Sunday dinner table". Or, so my mother informs me.

I hadn’t realised that incest was such a taboo with my generally liberal-minded parents, and my fine was intended as a joke. But, it’s when I request (and am denied) a fourth glass of wine and my protestation “but when I’m at Cambridge…” is met with stony glares, that I realise what the real issue at stake is; it’s because I go to Cambridge.

I should have known. Any argument that begins with, “but when I’m at Cambridge…” is bound to be met with downright hostility from my family. It seems that, rather unfairly, my nearest and dearest attach the same negative stereotypes of pomposity and elitism to this educational institution as everyone else. In fact, any reference to it merely serves to reinforce their pre-conceived idea that I am an arrogant shit.

Facing such hostility seems to be a problem shared by many Cambridge University students, and it remains a cause of conflict throughout the difficult adjustment period of returning home for the holidays. This seems grossly unfair. It all begins so promisingly; parents inevitably feel immense pride and joy in boasting to Mr and Mrs Timmons next door about how their little Bertie has got in to such a prestigious university. But, as soon as Bertie returns home from his first term, they are sure to let him know that he is not, in fact, special; certainly not too special to do the washing up, walk the dogs and hoover the sitting room. They expect Bertie to be humble and modest. They expect Bertie to exhibit the very same qualities that, in boasting to Mr and Mrs Timmons, they fail to demonstrate. In essence, they clearly show double standards.

This poses the question: does Cambridge really change us? Does it turn us into the conceited pricks that the world at large, and even our families, seem to believe we are? I argue that it does not: we are merely the victims of powerful, negative stereotypes.

Furthermore, these stereotypes are highly entrenched in society. Oxbridge graduates are considered to dominate the banks and, as such, their greed is blamed for bringing the economy to its knees. They are considered to control Westminster; take for example the criticism launched on the Conservative party for its ‘elitist’ background. Oxbridge graduates fill TV screens everywhere, from the ferocity of Paxman to the offensiveness and hilarity of Borat. Countless modern day villains were once Oxbridge undergraduates – Rupert Murdoch for one, Peter Mandelson another; I need not list the countless politicians. But, of course, these high flyers have an impact on the rest of us. When we return home from university, we are not just judged for our own behaviour; we are tarred with the same brush as these highly successful, but often highly unpopular, figures. And it’s all because we go to Cambridge.

It is not unreasonable for me to politely ask my mother to buy ‘Rachel’s Organic Yoghurt’, rather than Sainsbury’s own “because I do at university” (it is exceedingly creamy, particularly the rhubarb flavour). Yet, apparently Cambridge has made me all “la de da”. Nor is it grossly out of line to suggest that my bedroom is my own space which I can order (or disorder) as I please. Surely it is not a consequence of my elitist education that I require occasional control of the family TV in order to get my weekly fix of ‘Snog, Marry or Avoid’?  Yet apparently all these polite requests are now conceived as demands. And, it’s all because I go to Cambridge.

In the holidays, I don’t expect a smiling porter in my household hallway to welcome my drunken self home at 3 o’clock in the morning. Nor do I expect a pre-paid chauffeur driven taxi service to take me to my hospital appointments. I do not expect to have formal, three course meals prepared for me, and I don’t anticipate my bathroom being cleaned for me daily. I certainly do not expect my mother to sit down and listen to me express my opinions for one hour every week. But the very simple fact that these things are done for me at university means that I must have become a “spoilt and demanding little toad”.

My sister, who goes to Leeds University, does not receive the same persistent criticism on her homecoming, and so this problem cannot simply be a matter of reasserting parental control in the ‘flying the nest’ trauma. It is because I go to Cambridge.

All in all, I am left to wonder: am I really an arrogant shit, or do they just think I am?

In reviewing this article, I think I can safely conclude that I am not arrogant. Maybe, occasionally, I can be a little pompous; perhaps this has some bearing on the impression that my family has got. But, surely that’s not my fault: it’s just because I go to Cambridge.