Hej allihopa! (“Hello everyone”!) Uppsala finally had some lovely autumn sunshine this weekend, which resulted in some lovely walks around the city, and hours spent exploring the Botanical Gardens in all their autumnal glory with some friends. When it’s so lovely outside you can really understand why spending time outdoors is such a big part of Swedish life! But with the weather closing in again, I thought it would be interesting to talk about another Swedish tradition, an example of which is taking place this weekend here in Uppsala – the gasque (or gask depending on which nation you are part of). The nations are like student unions, except instead of having one for all students as is the case back home, here in Uppsala there are 13, which originally had the purpose of being a ‘home from home’ for students from all over Sweden, and so take the names of different areas. Often Swedish students will choose to join the nation of their home area, but this is not always the case, and international students are entirely free to choose. I’m a member of Värmlands nation, for example, despite having yet to visit Värmland itself.
However, back to the gasques. These are formal, sit-down, three course dinners organised by the nations, and have quite an etiquette to follow. Gasques always have a dress code, stated as either kavaj (“blazer”), meaning men should have a suit and women a dress or skirt and blouse, or högtidsdräkt (“evening dress”), in which men are required to wear tails, national costume or uniform, and women evening dresses. Certain rules must also be followed throughout the evening. No-one may start eating before the first song has been sung. It seems that Swedes really like singing, but no-one may start singing spontaneously at a gasque, for all songs are led by the sånganförare from the nation’s sångbok or songbook). When a toast is made you first toast your dinner partner, the person on your other side, and then the person facing you before drinking and repeating the procedure; and it is frowned upon to eat or drink during the entertainment provided during the evening (usually the nation’s choir singing and perhaps performances by a spex grupp (variety or sketch group). Despite the etiquette, gasques are both a great way to meet people, thanks to random seating plans, and a lot of fun. I don’t think I really expected to be standing on my chair with a hat made out of my napkin on my head singing in Swedish, as we did in the first gasque I attended! Sweden is definitely a very forward looking country, but I’m really learning to love its traditions, and attending a gasque, or even a sittning (“dinner party”), is definitely one of my favourites and something everyone should experience if they get the chance – which I definitely hope you do! Vi ses!