According to various photos posted into my Facebook feed, this past weekend I missed my 10 year high school reunion. I knew this would be the case when the Facebook invite was sent around with a date of early October – only a few months after my most recent return home to America for my brother’s wedding. And as much as I’d love to spend $2,000+ just to see how far some people have fallen while simultaneously demonstrating that I am now smart, successful, and socially well-adjusted, I can think about 3,648 other things I’d like to do with $2k.
Whenever the topic of high school comes up, my Aussie and English friends here in Sydney excitedly quiz me about the experience, with the first question usually something along the lines of, “How much is like Mean Girls?!” My usual response is that it isn’t quite that dramatic, but now that I have insight into the UK/AU high school experience, I’ve found that it actually might be, in comparison.
High school in America can be cutthroat – academically (depending on the school), but so much more so socially. It’s an environment where the masses are desperate to put everyone into a group so they can easily classify each individual. There is the ever-desired “Popularity Quotient” that is then applied to each group, and this determines who you are allowed to sit with at lunch, who you try to sit next to in class, etc. And no matter how much you pretend you don’t care, when you’re 15 you really want your PQ to be high, because the higher the PQ, the hotter the boyfriend/girlfriend you can have, the easier it is to get asked to Prom, and the more you get invited to house parties instead of having to crash.
Just last week at a boozy work lunch, the topic of high school in the US came up, and I was posed this question: “What group were you in?” I hesitated before answering, at which point the asker rushed in with “You were definitely in the Mean Girls group, weren’t you?” I can see how he may have made that assumption based on who I am now (power bitch), but no. I actively avoided pushing my PQ in high school after particularly socially cruel treatment from the “Mean Girls” in middle school (yes, it starts early). When you get a smackdown that hard, you don’t really bother putting yourself in a position to let it happen again. So I mumbled out something about how I participated in theater in high school which probably aligned me most closely with the Drama Nerds (of which 100% are legit kicking ass at life – go you!), but the truth is I was a Drifter. Sometimes I hung out with my close friends from middle school, sometimes I hung out with the drama kids, but mostly I hung out with my closest friend, who was also a Drifter. And, when given the choice, we usually hung out with people who didn’t even go to our high school.
When I compare this to the high school experience of Australia and England, I find that the playing field there is generally much more level. No rush to badge and be badged, no panicked race to increase your PQ. You had your mates, but nobody was generally outright mean to anyone else, except the standard asshole bullies and troublemakers. None of the subtle slights and social maneuvering required of American high school. So what is it about the US that makes it so different? A capitalist government? The huge divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’? Hollywood perpetuating 80s stereotypes? My guess is a mix of several factors. My American friends, what do you think? And if we went to high school together and you actually read this (thanks!), what group would you say I was? I didn’t get to go to the reunion to find out, so…