From Town to Gown: bridging the gap
Sleeping with the Enemy
Since Michaelmas I’ve been having a serious identity crisis. I’m a student-townie crossbreed, caught between town and gown.
Before I applied to Cambridge, on a ‘local night out’ we would sometimes encounter the brave few students who dared to venture away from Cindies. Though (thankfully) there was not usually an actual gown in sight, the Gownies would still stick out by a mile.
They were discernible by dinner suits, blues stash, chino-tank top ensembles or ludicrously pretentious fancy dress. Their initial mating call was predictable: “what College are you at?” and upon discovering your townie status they would back away as if threatened by a ferocious wild animal.
Now that I’ve donned my own gown and joined the exclusive other half, I can’t help but wonder whether the ‘Cambridge student’ is a self-fulfilling stereotype leaving no room for any traits of my townie heritage… or are we not so different from the rest of them?
The divide initially seemed to be more of a canyon than a small rift. I didn’t really have an upper hand in terms of local knowledge: I knew very little about the strange, alien world of the Cambridge student. For the first time in my life I finally passed through the ostentatious and imposing gateways to John’s, Trinity and King’s.
Drunkenly hurling myself down the padded slides at a Funky Funhouse swap was punctuated with disturbing flashbacks to childhood birthday parties at that very same venue.
After driving lessons filled with fear of manslaughter when encountering wayward student cyclists laden with folders or Sainsbury’s bags, I now swerve through the traffic in the swarms of bikes, confident in the knowledge that we own the road.
Walking around in a gown, wine in hand and listening to yet another impassioned feminist verbal onslaught, I sometimes think back to my old townie status and realise I’ve become everything I mocked the posho students for.
It’s just all too easy to fall into the preconceived stereotype. Over Christmas, with a slip of the tongue I mentioned Spoons to my townie friends. This was met with uproar and confusion: how could I deny Regal of its proper, majestic name? Being bilingual in one location is hard.
But after experiencing both perspectives the town-gown contrast is not as stark as it first appeared. The prejudice is actually decidedly misinformed. I’ve come to realise – upon living with them – that Cambridge students aren’t all snotty twats.
We don’t talk about politics, recite poetry or tell anecdotes about playing polo with royalty over dinner – in fact, everyone I’ve met is pretty down to earth. I’ve even encountered the odd Gogglebox or Take Me Out viewer.
As for the townies, they might just know something you don’t – after all, they have pioneered many mystical, far away locations like the Beehive Centre and Orchard Tea Garden. They’re ten times better at dealing with flocks of tourists than your average gowned resident who escapes during peak seasons.
During the summer it’s impossible to take five steps without bombing a tourist photo and subsequently being displayed on family mantlepieces as far afield as the Guangdong province.
So as much as I’ve now embraced Cambridge student life, there still remains a sense of identity with these locals. Strange as they may seem, I’m one of them and these polarized halves of the city really aren’t so different – the townies know their stuff too, and I remain loyal.
I guess you can’t take the townie out of the gownie.