The light in the sky is different these days, stronger and more persistent. Wind sweeps through the streets and the weather can change faster than a footstep, transforming the air from a muggy heat to a crisp freshness. The almost-transient population of Oxford undergraduates migrated away to warmer climes weeks ago, and now they have been replaced by an altogether more sinister posse. The Invasion of the Americans has begun, just like it does every summer.
If you walk down any street in central Oxford for five minutes, you are guaranteed to cross paths with a gaggle of young Americans, and even if you couldn’t hear their voices (which you certainly would do) you’d still be able to spot them. There isn’t a single defining characteristic of these Americans, but rather a combination of characteristics. They travel in groups – just like other tourists – but they tend to be larger groups and more numerous. They wear American clothing – just like all the European tourists – but theirs is in some vague sense more ‘up to date’. During the early afternoon and evening, they invariably carry large quantities of fast food, which I have to confess isn’t a characteristic shared by others but then you can’t rely on this one all the time.
As most people should know now, I have no particular beef against Americans, and sure, I detest tourists in Oxford but frankly that’s just part of life here than I’ve come to a wearying acceptance with. But this invasion I describe isn’t about American tourists. It’s about American students.
It turns out that every summer, huge numbers of American high schoolers and college students – I estimate at least a thousand – fly the wrong away across the Atlantic and converge upon Oxford to, I suppose, take some classes, soak up the legendary Oxford atmosphere and have some fun (and not necessarily in that order). Free from the constraints of their parents and absurd drinking laws, they spill out onto the streets and into cafes, ice cream parlours, bars and restaurants. Strangely enough, they don’t tend to go into pubs, a fact I attribute to a little-known genetic aversion the North Americans have to authentic ale (much like the fair folks’ aversion to iron).
Happily ensconced in their familiar-but-different social haunts, they proceed to take full advantage of being in a different country by meeting as many of their fellow countrymen as possible and regaling them with stories about their colleges back home and swapping precious tidbits of Oxford lore, e.g., “Oh my gawd! Did you see those guys over the road wearing those clothes? I found out that they always get dressed up for exams! That’s so cool! We’d never do that at home!”
As you can imagine, all of this loud enthusiasm grates heavily on the already deeply cynical graduate population whose emotions have long been burned away into a twisted husk of thesis-writing flatness. Not only are we daily confronted with groups of A&F and Gap-wearing teenagers insouciantly lounging around our ice cream parlour, but we have to deal with the knowledge that in the coming weeks, it will only get worse, not better. I can only hope that in between providing McDonalds with a temporary spike in profits and liberating our cafes, they are actually gaining something important and useful out of their expensive time in Oxford other than the right to say, “Yeah, I studied in Oxford over the summer.”