9 Ways You Know You’re in St Andrews

St Andrews is St Andrews, and there has never been nor will there ever be another place like it. I love seeing the arms of each sign post naming the town’s various corners, from the Cathedral to the Old Course, which are somehow united in the place’s ancient identity. Apart from the landmarks, there are some things you can only hear and see in its grey medieval streets and on its iconic beaches. Here are a few signs that you are certainly in St Andrews.

  • “I’m having dinner with my mom.” — “Wait, like you’re mom-mom, you’re real one?”
    • Academic families are a truly St Andrean tradition. First year students, known as freshers, are “adopted” by third or fourth year students who act as their academic parents. Academic parents, traditionally, acted as academic mentors for their children, and their children, in their gratitude, would give them a pound of raisins as a present halfway through their first semester. Nowadays, however, academic families have a more social than academic function. Many families have family dinners or get-togethers and become close-knit groups of older and younger students. Naturally, having both real parents and academic parents can lead to conversational confusion.

image by The Daily Mail {link to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2800435/foam-sweet-foam-students-university-celebrate-freshers-week-messy-fight-traditional-raisin-monday-party.html}

  • Raisin only refers to a dried fruit 10% of the time.
    • Raisin Weekend is the most important event for any academic family. Halfway through the autumn semester, this weekend was when freshers would give their academic parents a pound of raisins. Eventually the gift of a pound of raisins evolved into a bottle of wine, and today the weekend has become the most notorious binge-drinking event at any British university (no, the administration is not please with this, and I must say neither am I!).
    • Events of the weekend include a “tea party” with your academic mother, which could involve drinking games and a town-wide scavenger hunt, and a dinner or pub crawl with your academic father. On Raisin Sunday, you visit your academic mother who dresses you up in a very silly costume. Then, you visit your academic father who gives you a “Raisin receipt”: traditionally this was a note written in Latin to attest to the gracious receiving of the raisins, but now it is whatever random object your father wants you to carry across town, from an ice cream sundae in a half of a melon (my receipt) to a slew of Harambe picketing signs and a man in a gorilla costume.
    • Once you have a costume and receipt, you process through town to St Salvator’s quad to participate in the legendary shaving foam fight. As a teetotaler (non-drinker), I didn’t enjoy the “tea party” and dinner aspects of the weekend nearly as much as I did the procession of hundreds of students in the funniest costumes carrying traffic cones, suitcases, and blocks of ice down the street. I can’t wait to watch this again next year, but I won’t miss dodging the shaving foam!
  • The wind
    • Is it so windy that you fear the wind whistling in your ear may have actually tunneled its way through your skull? You are probably in St Andrews. This is the only thing about St Andrews I would change, but I can’t actually do much about it. Fortunately, I have found alternative routes into town for windy days to avoid the seaside where the weather is always at its most blustery.
  • The golfers, all the golfers
    • St Andrews today is internationally known for two things, being the birthplace of the royal romance of Will and Kate and being the birthplace of golf. Hundreds of years ago, pilgrims came in crowds to the Cathedral carrying their crosses, today pilgrims flock to the Old Course carrying their clubs. It really is fun to see all of the tourists around town, and it is a special treat when celebrities turn up for golf tournaments. Hugh Grant is a notorious annual visitor, partially because he has been banned from the university due to a bit of a scandal with some star-struck female students a few years ago. I haven’t seen any stars myself, but I have heard reports of many sightings!

  • St Andrew, the man himself
    • All around town, you can find images of St Andrew in the architecture. He is commonly depicted with an X-shaped cross because when he was to be executed he asked to be nailed to the cross sideways as he felt he was not worthy to die in the same way as Christ. Since he is Scotland’s patron saint, his cross, known as the Saltire, has become a national symbol.
  • People eating ice cream, all the time and everywhere
    • Williamsburg is home to America’s second-busiest Baskin Robin’s ice cream parlour (the busiest is in New York City, but we are still proud of our accomplishment). Yet, I see far more people here actually walking around town eating ice cream than I did in Williamsburg. From East Sands to West Sands, people always seem to be licking ice cream cones. The most popular shop in town is Janetta’s Gelateria, which serves gelato, in truth, but it is easier to generalize and call it ice cream. Their flavours are extraordinary, including everything from the thoroughly Scottish—Irn Bru sorbet and Scottish Tablet gelato—to the thoroughly gourmet—strawberry with balsamic vinegar—and they even have some excellent holiday flavours—before Christmas I had white chocolate cranberry and gingerbread! I try to have something different every time I go, but I do love a scoop of their rose petal infused Turkish delight.

  • Ruins
    • If you have a taste for Romantic ruins, look no further. The three main roads of the town converge at the ruins of what was once the largest cathedral in Scotland and second only to the Canterbury cathedral as a pilgrimage site in the British Isles. During the Reformation, the cathedral was ransacked and destroyed by Reformers. Now a few of the main towers remain and a shell of the central wall with its windows void of stained glass. The cathedral grounds were later used as a cemetery. It seems that most of the graves after those placed there after the Reformation date from the mid-19th century onward.
    • But wait, we don’t just have one set of ruins, we have two! (Yay? Well, they are beautiful). Poised on a cliff at the northern peak of the town is the ruin of the St Andrews castle. I don’t know as much about the castle as I do about the cathedral. I do know that it was once the dwelling of the Bishop of St Andrews, and during the Reformation several scandals and murders took place there. Admission to the grounds of the cathedral is free, but admission to the castle is not. One of these days I will actually visit and learn more about its history!

image by University of St Andrews {link to http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/}

  • Red Gowns
    • You may see students sporting their iconic red gowns for a pier walk (a mind-clearing walk down the old pier which juts out into the North Sea), in a university ceremony, or to lead a tour group. The gowns really are very warm and comfortable with spacious inside pockets. Students wear their gowns with a class-specific flair: first years wear their gowns securely about their shoulders, second years let their gowns fall open a bit with easy nonchalance, third years drop their gowns from one shoulder, and fourth years let their gowns slip from both shoulders and hang about their elbows.

image by True. Sports. Movies {link to http://truesportsmovies.com/other-sports/chariots-fire-eric-liddell-harold-abrahams/}

  • *singing while running in slow motion* “Duhda duhda dadum duhda duhda dummmm…”
    • St Andrews’ West Sands beach was the filming location for the famous opening scene from the film Chariots of Fire. Re-enacting the scene is a common task for Raisin Weekend scavenger hunts, and just a fun thing to do any day.

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