Wine and Cheese: decadence, pretence or delight?

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Illustration: Flo McQuibban
Illustration: Flo McQuibban
Illustration: Flo McQuibban

Alcohol, façades, pretence and decay. Ring a bell? Perhaps a vision from The Great Gatsby is what comes to mind; images of guests putting on their finest show of class and elegance, to later in the night reveal their true colours through the breakdown of their immaculate personae. In fact, similar words were spoken at my first wine and cheese in St Andrews, about a year and a half ago. As a wide-eyed fresher, I attended the wine and cheese society’s first event of the year at the Hotel Du Vin, somewhat mesmerised by the champagne reception and delighted by the array of wine bottles (and cheese) laid out for all to see.

The president of the society took to the centre of the room, where he gave a speech more than slightly reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s words. With my first glass of wine in hand, his words rang through my head: “decadence and true colours.” I looked around me to see students embracing each other with formal kisses; a hubbub of small talk echoing off the walls. In all honesty, I felt myself teetering on a line between the epitome of class, and the epitome of pretence. Though I was thoroughly enjoying my wine and small talk, I could not help but look around and see a group of lost students, somehow pretending to be dignified adults. Or was playing make-believe simply part of the game?

In St Andrews, we have all come to acknowledge our love for ball gowns and champagne, fashion shows, polo tournaments and of course, wine and cheese events. Though most of us also enjoy a casual/rowdier night out on the town (and I’m sure many would contest me in saying they actually prefer this), all of our big events run a common theme: make-believe, the idea of putting on a show; a display of our finest attire and taste in alcohol, whilst pretending to be more than just mere food and money-deprived students.

Obviously what I am saying does not apply to everyone. I, for one, do not usually see myself as “putting on a façade” whenever I don a new ball dress and shoes, or indulgently splurge on a bottle of champagne at DONT WALK. I acknowledge the slight excessiveness of the event and my actions, yet seldom think of myself as pretending to be somebody I’m not. However, I will never forget my first wine and cheese event, and my awareness of this idea of falsity and decadence.

As the night unravelled, formal embraces evolved into PDA, wine glasses were shattered, drinks spilled, and emotional expletives replaced our previously reserved small talk. Such a scene was enough to give me a weary eye for such events. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d only had two glasses of wine, or that I felt intimidated and lost as a fresher, but at that specific moment I knew that I did not want to participate in the game of make-believe.

After a year and half in this town, I can most definitely say my view on the matter has changed. Though wine and cheese might ring a chord with adulthood and some kind of dignified lifestyle, it also rings a chord with socialising and having a good time. Over my time here, I have learned to look at events with less of a critical eye and more of an appreciative one.

I am no socialite, I do not own a closet-full of expensive dresses and handbags, and I do not spend glorious amounts of money on fancy alcohol every night, rather I appreciate the opportunities that I have to encounter aspects of a lifestyle that I do not live.

I enjoy buying a nice dress once in a while, and sipping on Moët et Chandon with my friends, and honestly, I thoroughly enjoy my chances to play make-believe by dressing up for a ball, or attending yet another deliciously satisfying wine and cheese.

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