As those who know me will readily testify, I hold a blind predilection towards all things European. I am enchanted by the melodic languages, the various delightful cuisines, the elegant fashion and, of course, the seductive men. Last week, as I sat in my Anthro seminar, lost as usual in daydreams of Paris and Milan, I was struck with a peculiar epiphany. Surprisingly enough, my biased idealization of European culture translates quite nicely into a self-serving comparison between Europe and the Quad. Though initially you may scoff at this unlikely analogy, it is a convenient means to convince myself and others that my life in Currier is second in glamour only to life in the City of Lights. Really, the evidence abounds.
Mimicking the attitude of most provincial Americans with regards to Europe, typical River-dwellers marginalize the Quad as "a nice place to visit--but I wouldn't want to live there." The Quad, like a stereotypical European town, has been pastoralized as a picturesque locale lacking the modern conveniences of urban (Square) life--i.e., 24 hour drug store, cash machine, parking garage. In actuality, the absence of these so-called amenities promotes a more relaxed lifestyle. In Europe, as in the Quad, a sense of community flourishes at a safe distance from standard consumer hubbub. Out here on the margins, our residential society supports a plethora of family-owned businesses and small restaurants, rather than the massive chain stores that dominate and corrupt the capitalist cosmopolitan environment.
The aforementioned sense of community, doubted among outsiders, is a very real and powerful kinship arising from shared experience. Whereas the River Houses lack continuity, the Quad is a united federation like the European Union. On one hand we are composed of autonomous nations--Great Britain, France, Spain--and distinct and independent Houses--Currier, Cabot, Pforzhemier. On the other hand, we are linked by the documents we carry in order to travel: the common Euro passport and, in our case, the indispensable Shuttle schedule. We also, therefore, tend to identify ourselves in this supranational context; one often says "I live in the Quad" before specifying a particular house. Point in hand: There is a annual Quad Formal, but alas, no yearly River Formal.
Those who live along the River, like the vast majority of under-educated North Americans, are generally ignorant of the geography of other lands. As a result of this apathetic attitude, they are unable to navigate north of Garden Street. (Some especially foolish River people will go so far as to declare their pride in never having been to the Quad, or brag about their intentional avoidance of the place.) Like tourists befuddled by directions in a foreign lingo, most River residents who are willing to venture abroad are unable to hold their own in a discussion involving geographical terms like Linnaean, Shepherd and Walker.(How easily could you map the Loire, the Po and the Danube Rivers?)
It is believed by people from the River that despite our isolation across the Atlantic divide of Garden Street, we should appreciate our home because "the food is better." Contrary to this myth, Quadlings are equally dissatisfied with identical HDS offerings.
This culinary misconception, a paradox widely known but rarely admitted in polite conversation, is a carbon copy of the European counterpart. In the US we adore fresh Italian pasta and rich French desserts to no end, while Europeans, especially the youth, flock to crowded McDonald's for the phony Le Big Mac and outrageously overpriced American soft drinks. As far as we are concerned, River folk should indulge their xenophobia at the over-commercialized Friday's Americana Bar and leave us to enjoy traditional European pub life at Christopher's and Cambridge Common.
Among the more obvious similarities is the fact that Europe and the Quad both experience some ambiguous delay in receiving new developments. For example, it is said that European music is stuck in the '80s. Though perhaps we're not a full decade behind, the Quad is surely last to be hit by Harvard's emerging trends. It takes us longer to receive University mail, hear gossip and contract flu epidemics that strike the River weeks before. When things eventually arrive on our distant shores, they are never quite the same as the original product. For example, Temple Bar can't compare to Grafton Street any better than Euro Disney can compete with prototype theme-parks in Anaheim or Orlando. Maybe this copy-phenomenon explains our latent insecurities, which oftentimes induce an inferiority complex hidden by rampant self-justification or over-inflated egos (as exhibited in this article). Like the Academie Francaise, clinging to an exaggerated notion of French linguistic purity, Quad residents are prone to overcompensate for self-doubt inspired by the general consensus that our locale may not be as ideal as we might wish.
Lest I diverge from the virtuous nature of Euro-Quad life, I now call your attention to the fact that our residents are , on the whole, better looking. I must confess that I have a vested interest in this assertion, but I do believe that it's true. Perhaps our good looks are a benefit derived from all the exercise of walking and/or cycling. The bicycle, by the way, is not only a popular mode of transport but a veritable sport in these parts (Tour de Quad?). On the other hand, maybe our mysterious physical and intellectual appeal results from a feeling of alienation which elevates our existentialist sensitivities. During our leisurely strolls to and from the Yard, our minds ponder how these sentiments were expressed by European literary geniuses from Unamuno to Malraux. Which brings me to my next point: Quadlings are undeniably well-read. But really, how could any Quad resident resist frequenting the Hilles scene, its penthouse teaming with well-suited recruiters and sultry social studies concentrators?
Nevertheless, there are some stubborn souls who refuse to recognize the superiority of life on this detached continent. They try to deny their Quad affiliations by spending all their time beating inter-house dining restrictions and other such discriminatory legislation meant to exclude these poor uprooted souls. Isn't their equal treatment guaranteed by their universal human rights as Harvard students? Tired of fighting for what they are clearly entitled to, each year a sizable population of Quad affiliates applies for transfer visas in order to emigrate to the New World if River houses, where the streets are paved with Crimson Cash. The few lucky ones, when their transfers come through, will quickly assimilate into the melting Pot of other houses. In fear of being unjustly shunned and branded with a Euro trash stigma, their Quad origins are forgotten and suppressed. But inevitably, late at night when a shuttle bounces down Mt. Auburn Street, these deserters will remember the community they left behind, and they will miss the unique cultural experience of life Abroad in the Quad.
Shara R. Kay '00 is a romance languages concentrator living in Currier House. She's converted all her dollars into Euros and traded in her Blahniks for walking shoes.