« | Home | »

At the Tram Stop

Tags: |

It’s the season of the sere and yellow leaf, the fig hangs heavy on the bough, and here in Belgium it’s the rentrée académique. Down at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the bright yellow waffle van on the corner fills the air with the smell of ‘chocolate’ waffle additive, and makeshift blue canvas booths line the main campus boulevard. Student societies are offering newcomers various inducements to sign up. A free Bic seems a dubious swap for being spammed for ever by the Zombie Society, though it’s better than the carrot I remember one club offering when I was a student, a raffle ticket with a 1/nth (for n≈∞) chance of splitting a yet‐to­‐be­‐built cabaña in the Canaries for 37 minutes every February. It didn’t take long for some joker to add a large M at the end of the society’s ‘Win a Timeshare Condo’ slugline.

So the bleus and bleuettes are in the throes of their baptême, a ritual with all the trappings of its Christian precursor, though the ULB was an avowedly secular establishment set up by liberal freemasons in the 1830s to break the Roman Catholic stranglehold on universities. Why blue? One story is that new police recruits in the 19th century wore blue smocks; another that the freshers have to dunk a hand in a jar of methylene blue as part of the cruel, unusual and degrading treatment to which initiates are subjected. As part of the pervasive narcissism of small differences, new Flemish students are groentjes, ‘little greenies’, though the clash of cultures is rarely more than notional, since Flemish and francophone campuses, like most things Belgian, occupy parallel worlds.

At the ULB, students dressed as wizards can be seen pelting one another ritualistically with florets of broccoli. It’s all largely a pretext for getting pissed, though it is seldom framed in those terms. In Princeton, where state law bans boozing in bars for under-21s (though 18­‐year-­olds can get a licence to sell it), the lengthy sequence of porticoed brick and stone mansions along Nassau Street hosts the university’s ‘dining clubs’– speakeasies in all but name, private premises where 18-year-olds can get as bladdered as they like. Their Belgian counterparts, however, have to make do with the ULB tram stop, which at 5.45 this morning was awash – or rather not – with bone-­dry Smirnoff and Absolut bottles. Since Belgian undergraduates pay only €827 a year in tuition fees, there’s a bit more change in the booze tin than for (non-­Scottish) UK students, who have to stump up £9000 annually, early beneficiaries of Whitehall’s wheeze to get youngsters off benefits by urging them to enroll in tertiary courses without extra investment, and getting them to pay for it all instead of the state.

Comments on “At the Tram Stop”

  1. echomikeromeo says:

    I was an undergraduate at Princeton all too recently: they’re ‘eating’ clubs, and they’re located on Prospect Avenue (with one outlier on Washington Road). But speakeasies they certainly are.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • name on Who is the enemy?: Simply stating it is correct doesn't make it so, I just wish you would apply the same epistemic vigilance to "Muslim crimes" as you do to their Hebrew...
    • Glen Newey on Unwinnable War: The legal issue admits of far less clarity than the simple terms in which you – I imagine quite sincerely – frame them. For the benefit of readers...
    • Geoff Roberts on The New Normal: The causes go back a long way into the colonial past, but the more immediate causes stem from the activities of the US forces in the name of freedom a...
    • sol_adelman on The New Normal: There's also the fact that the French state denied the mass drownings of '61 even happened for forty-odd years. No episode in post-war W European hist...
    • funky gibbon on At Wembley: If England get France in the quarter finals of Euro 16 I expect that a good deal of the fraternity will go out the window

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Stephen W. Smith:
    The French Intervention in Mali
    7 February 2013

    ‘Depending on what counts as military intervention, France changed the course of history by force in sub-Saharan Africa about thirty times between 1945 and 1990.’

    Bruce Whitehouse:
    What went wrong in Mali?
    30 August 2012

    ‘The Republic of Mali has long been seen as the exception to the dictatorships or civil wars that have seemed the rule in West Africa since the end of the Cold War.’

    Jeremy Harding: Algeria’s Camus
    4 December 2014

    ‘Camus liked to hector the settlers, whose behaviour reflected the structural injustices of colonialism. All the same, he felt that certain misconceptions in metropolitan France needed straightening out.’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement