A Great British Tradition

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In March this year Londoners flocked to the Thames on a a typically grey Saturday afternoon in the capital. The tranquility of Putney Bridge, with its churches uniquely facing each other from opposite banks, was disturbed by groups of friends and families with babies rushing to get a good spot along the river. This was the 157th Varsity Boat Race disputed annually by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, a tradition that only the two World Wars have been able to disrupt.

On my way to the race, this is what I envisioned: loud music, balloons, food stands everywhere, cheering crowds, enthusiasm, excitement, youth, constant announcements, smiles, more loud music, hours of anxious racing...You get the idea. The atmosphere, however, was not exactly like the one I had imagined. First of all, there was no music, at all. People were really quiet except at the beginning and the end of the race. Also, the race lasted only 17 minutes! After the eights' boats took off, my friends and I literally had to run to be able to watch the end on the many big screens set up in the nearby Fulham and Furnivall Gardens. There we witnessed the Oxford Dark Blues achieve increasing distance from the Light Blues. By the time the first boat passed Barnes Bridge, the numerous Oxford students that had come to London for the occasion broke into cheers: Cambridge had no chance.

In many ways, the Race epitomized what is [stereo]typically considered "British". Quiet celebration, Oxbridge rivalry, fanfare by the Thames, after-parties at the pub, and grey skies. But there was one feature that could easily compete in representativeness: multiculturalism. Can you believe that my group of friends alone represented over seven countries? Our laughs and conversations in accented English over a burger lunch made all the difference on that Saturday afternoon.


Maria is a Harvard graduate and a guest blogger for Foreign Students. She posts regular updates of her experiences as a postgraduate student at LSE in London. Click here to see her older posts.

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