The British institution of the students' union reached its zenith during the late '90s and early Naughties. Students' unions are now multi-million pound affairs, such as the TIME nightclub at Bangor University, with huge turnovers and sponsors banging on the door to get to the captive student audience.
However, the students' union is still the most and familiar place to a student. As a student's living accommodation is prone to change from halls of residence to mouldy and distant terraced houses, and back again, multiple times during their university careers, the union remains a constant they can rely on.
So take a virtual tour of this prototypical students' union, and get inside the student culture...
This is where your average 'fresher' (freshman or first year student) rates their new union on first appraisal. Quantity first, then size, then quality. Huge long bars with plenty of elbow space are good, but the smaller cosier bars are eyed up on that first day for use later... possibly that evening.
Bars are where most of the interesting stuff in the famed university social life will take place: dares, drinking games, karaoke, general drunken revelry and embarrassment are the most common activities, and finally, 'pulling'. Pulling, being the major aim of many students, refers to the process of attempting to obtain intimacy with a member of the opposite (or same, as the case may be) sex. While high up the priority list for many students, it rarely occurs when (or with who) students want it to. This is the main cause of the aforementioned embarrassment.
The selection of alcohol served is also a factor in the appraisal of a union, and a good trade-off between cheap beer and spirits, and stuff that actually tastes nice is good. Also, something to be aware of is any drinks that aren't served due to the Union's stance on the health and well-being of its members. These should be (and regularly are) sampled at the earliest opportunity.
This is, in terms of activity, very similar to the bar, but is accompanied by loud music of different varieties and with more gyrating. 'Pulling' is more common on the dancefloor here than in the bar, probably due to the darkness and multi-coloured lighting.
There are many techniques in what can only be described as 'dancing' in student unions. Here are a few:
A very common sight. No conscious thought is given to movement, and limbs often flail out at obscene and unnatural angles to the body, which gives a great sense of enjoyment to the dancer and clears a space around him or her to a distance of about five feet. This dancing accompanies the music of the likes of S Club 7, 5ive, Backstreet Boys and most varieties of cheesy pop.
The Indie/Alternative Kid
The sight of a soul in turmoil greets the watcher of this breed of student dancer. The music is cool, no doubt in their minds about it, but how to dance? Is dancing cool? Oh no! These people are often seen in groups wearing dark, ripped and suspiciously stained clothing, swaying uncertainly or bouncing in a purely vertical fashion - a technique known as 'moshing'.
The Hard House/Trance/Dance Head
These three can be grouped together because, despite their musical differences, the technique is similar. Drawing elements of the previous two in that they dance wildly with no concern for their fellow man, but they do it smiling manically and with inhuman energy. This troubles many people, as do their vigorous jerking hand actions.
Moving out of the nightclub area, we come to...
The Union Greasy Spoon(s)
Yes, every union has one, and some unfortunate places have more. This place tries unceasingly to pass itself off as a cheap, friendly eatery with a healthy menu which students' parents would be pleased to hear their children choose from. This, however, is a futile notion. Every greasy spoon serves chips, burgers and other healthless foodstuffs in huge quantities, from facilities that could be generously described as 'conducive to the spontaneous creation of life'.
Chips form a large part of the student's diet if they spend a lot of time in their union. This isn't healthy, and students know this. They're students.
The Students' Union Shop(s)
The students' union shop is there to provide all sorts of useful student goods, such as stationery, pens and paperclips; as well as other necessities like cards, papers and stuff. Other shops may appear in some unions: pharmacies, banks, supermarkets and even employment agencies are sometimes found there. Normal people shop there.
The Nearby Pub
Although, not strictly a part of the union, this is an integral part of the student life. Seen as an alternative to the union, these are pubs used almost exclusively by students, apart from the old grizzler in the corner who's been coming here since before the university was built1. Bizarrely, these pubs are very popular with students on Quiz Night.
This is by no means a definitive guide! Every union is different so this is a generic model generated from the many unions the Researcher of this entry has visited2. It should also be noted that this is not written to encourage perpetuation of stereotypes. Unions really are like this, and students - several thousand of them all in one place - are as strange a bunch as you will find anywhere in the world.