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Etiquette for the modern frosh

Is his anti-perspirant off-limits to you? Can your girlfriend move in? A few simple rules.

LIANNE GEORGE June 5 2006
THE BACK PAGES

Etiquette for the modern frosh

Is his anti-perspirant off-limits to you? Can your girlfriend move in? A few simple rules.

LIANNE GEORGE June 5 2006

Etiquette for the modern frosh

help

Is his anti-perspirant off-limits to you? Can your girlfriend move in? A few simple rules.

LIANNE GEORGE

It’s that time of year when soon-to-be high school graduates begin to imagine what their new, grown-up lives might look like come fall. For many, the fantasy involves packing up and moving into a university dorm—more euphemistically called residence—where they will be blissfully out of parenting range, perhaps for the very first time. Preparing logistically for university is easy enough. (Bring milk crates and beanbag chairs—it’s the law.) The emotional transition, however, can be difficult. Adapting to residence life is an unnerving experience, and anyone who believes otherwise is clearly abnormally well-adjusted. In her new book, The College Dorm Survival Guide, teen-self-help author Julia DeVillers valiantly attempts to address the common concerns of freshman students who plan to live on-campus, and, perhaps more importantly, those of their neurotic parents.

For parents, there is really only one rule: when you drop off your children on their first day, don’t humiliate them. Don’t drill your daughter’s new roommate on her position on premarital sex and substance abuse. Don’t tell funny stories about how your “little man” wet the bed until he was 12. And don’t linger. The family of one student DeVillers interviewed stationed their RV in the campus parking lot for three days in order to “help” their daughter adjust to her new home. “Parents might want to help unpack, or set up the room,” says DeVillers, “but it can be difficult or embarrassing if they don’t want to leave.”

Clingy parents aside, without a doubt the No. l fear incoming students have, according to DeVillers, is that they will be stuck with a dud of a roommate. “That blows everything else away,” she says. Some students

choose to avoid this possibility altogether by rooming with an old high school friendsomething DeVillers advises against. “College is a nice time for people to try on new identities and really discover who they want to be,” she says. “It’s hard enough without the baggage of somebody who knew you when you threw up in class in second grade.”

When students meet their roommates for the first time, they should be open-minded, and not be put off by apparent differences. To avoid conflict later on, DeVillers advises new roommates to establish some ground rules upfront. For example, one could ask, Is it okay for me to listen to music while you are studying? Do my Anne Geddes prints offend you? Is your anti-perspirant off-limits to me? Can my boyfriend move in with us?

She also points out that at some point, two strangers learning to live together in close proximity are bound to clash. “Common complaints include roommates who are messy, who keep different hours, who are too loud, and have too many visitors,” says DeVillers. Another common annoyance, she says, is being repeatedly “sexiled” (i.e. “being banished from the room because your roommate is engaging in intimate relations”).

The author devotes an entire chapter to the communal washroom, which for many freshmen is among the hardest things to get

used to—especially if it’s communal and coed. “Some students were really not fazed by it,” she says, “and others were so freaked out, they never really got used to it. They would find out what times the washrooms had the least traffic and they worked around it. I had one girl who only took showers at 4:30 a.m. Which can completely screw up your life.” As for who is technically responsible for cleaning up vomit on the bathroom floor, DeVillers will only say that the residence cleaning staff is not there to clean up after anyone. (If memory serves, the answer to this riddle often turns out to be nobody.)

Hygiene aside, much of DeVillers’ advice will bring comfort to the hearts of parents everywhere. For instance, she cautions against intra-dorm dating. “If you get dumped or if you dump them,” she says, “you still have to see them day in and day out and watch them go out with other people. And sometimes you’re the centre of the rumour mill for a while.” Also, she warns freshmen against the temptation to engage in “negative bonding”—that is, connecting with people over negative things such as alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism, and skipping classes—just because you want to fit in. Instead, she offers some wholesome and rather optimistic examples of positive bonding: sharing good memories of high school, having a study night in the study room, and doing “sneak attack” nice things for people on your floor. Your mother would be proud. M