Party in the USA?

Worlds Collide

A typical night out at my home university consists of the following few things: First is a choice of one of three rather pitiful nightclubs in the area, all of which promise an average night out at best but can’t be faulted for their consistency in delivering mediocrity. After getting dressed up and having the “Are you wearing heels? I don’t know if I should wear heels” talk with your girlfriends, next is the meet-up for “pre-drinks.” The aim of the game here is to drink as much as is necessary to avoid actually having to purchase any alcohol inside the club. A lot of this includes a collective attempt to energize the group for a night of songs you’ve probably heard a trillion times before, a cocktail mix of any of the drinks closest to you and cries of “wait, I’m not drunk enough!” when your friends are getting ready to leave. Last is the aftermath. Liquid courage allows you to share your best moves on the dance floor in front of a group of people you hope won’t be able to remember in the morning, and the lack of air-conditioning in the club means you’re horrifically sweaty and incredibly hungry. Thus, the night ends with a greasy kebab that will probably rear its ugly head in the morning, if not to upset your stomach all day then to remind you of the terrible mistakes you made once you see the empty box upon waking up.

Indeed, that is a typical night out as a student in England. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? I knew the night life would be different at UC Berkeley, the main difference being that nightclubs are not an integral part of being a student here. Of course, the drinking age skyrocketed to 21 once I arrived in the United States, and because I was only 20 years and 9 months on arrival (yes, I was counting months), I found myself wondering what the hell people actually did for a “night out” here. No sooner did I ask that question than I was reintroduced to the glory of house parties. For someone who knew no one and still found the use of red cups a novelty, it was great. However, I soon found myself missing the student life I was used to. Keg stands and beer pong get pretty old after a while (especially because I don’t like beer), and I yearned for a dance floor that wasn’t squeezed between two sofas. Don’t get me wrong — I have a lot of fun at UC Berkeley, and one of my favorite memories was at a co-op party, but coming from a place where there are more options for those 18 and older, the nightlife here (or lack thereof) is strange to me.

When I asked my friend Kirsten what she thought of the night life in Berkeley, she simply replied, “If you’re not 21 and don’t enjoy frat parties, you’re screwed.” Cynical though her comment was, I see where she’s coming from. Random horror stories and my own laziness mean I’ve pretty much avoided frat parties, and the fact I’m finally 21 makes little difference because many of my friends are not, so options are somewhat limited. Admittedly, nightclubs are not the be-all and end-all, and as you can tell from that earlier description of the night life in England, they can be impressively boring. However, what they say is true — you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. While I appreciate a good (free) house party and the size of the alcohol in this country is beyond remarkable (I’d never seen a handle of vodka until I got here), I still feel like there’s something missing. It’s big and dark with a giant dance floor, strobe lighting and a decent DJ. After all, who wouldn’t miss the prospect of going to tackily named clubs like “Smack” and “Moo Bar” on a Friday night anyway?

Gena-mour writes the Tuesday blog on cultural exchange. Contact her at [email protected]