Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Things That Make Me Feel like I’m at Hogwarts: Gasques

Now that I’ve explained the student nations, it’s time to talk about the thing that really, I mean super makes me feel like I’m studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry rather than Uppsala University: the gasques.

So you know in the beginning and end of the books, or pretty much whenever Dumbledore needs to give some big announcement to school, and they all gather in the big hall and sit down at those long tables with all of the fancy food and the candles and they’re all in their wizarding robes? Well, that’s basically what a gasque is – except the fancy food comes in significantly smaller portions and is supplemented with beer, wine, and schnaps (most people are buzzing pretty hard if not outright drunk by the end of the gasque, which bodes well for the inevitable after-party with all of its dance tunes).

The nations put on the gasques, so instead of sitting under your house banner you’re sitting in the ballroom at your nation’s house, and instead of your wizarding robes you just have to dress kind of fancy. At the fall and autumn balls, which I have not been to but which I understand to be gasque-to-the-max, the dress code consists of cocktail gowns for women and tuxes (complete with tails – motherfuckin’ tails) for the men. Though most of them aren’t that fancy, they do atypically call for nice dresses, preferably about knee-length, and suits and ties.

Once you’re dressed up all nice and proper you head to your nation’s house for the gasque – well, first you go to the “pre-drink,” because that seems to be an important part of these dinner parties. This usually consists of free champagne or sparkling wine and mingling with fellow nation-members before heading (in the case of Östgöta Nation) upstairs to the ballroom, where all of these long tables are all laid out with nice white table clothes and these elaborate candleholders all alight with flickering candles. If, like me, you are unaccustomed to such things, you feel quite special walking in all dressed up and waiting to be served delicate portions of tender deliciousness.

Mmm. Fancy. Photo yoiked from ÖG nation's facebook page.

Alas for non-extroverts, you don’t get to pick where you’re sitting, though when you buy your tickets you can request to be seated next to so-and-so to avoid having to make awkward conversation with the unfamiliar and stern Swede across from you who you really want to speak Swedish with but you really are just too embarrassed by your child-like Swedish skills…I wasn’t aware of this option until quite recently, after having been to a couple of gasques and floundering through some awkward dinner conversation, also being rather unaccustomed to and not a huge fan of small talk (how on earth do I function?).
The gasques even come complete with various speeches, though not from a wizened man in a pointed hat. Periodically senior nation members stand up and chime their spoons against their glass, or bang bottles together depending on how loud folks’ chatter is at the time, and give a speech. Usually that speech is in Swedish so, historically, I’ve understood about a third of any given speech, but the ones given at the gasques I’ve attended (which were early in the year) were all welcoming new members and talking about nation membership and the importance of the nation to student life and culture. Or some such thing.

Anyway, the speeches are less intriguing than the singing which traditionally follows every speech – which is followed by skål or a toast, which has very specific rules that I am still not sure I understand. Raise your glass to the person to your right (make eye-contact) then to your left (don’t forget eye-contact) then across from you (eye-contact damn it, it’s bad luck not to make eye-contact!). I think that’s the order you go in, but I always fuck up the toast so the probability that I’m wrong is pretty high.

Photo yoiked from ÖG nation's facebook page.

You actually toast after every song – and there are many. There’s a specific traditional song after each speech – and a traditional song you sing after the folks who cooked your very fancy meal come out and give a speech themselves. This song which is sang after them as they retreat to the kitchen, basically imploring them to come back and take part in the song. They usually comply, but make a show of how irritating the whole process is before booking it back to the kitchen – at least, I should say that’s true of the one lovely cook who has cooked every meal at every ÖG gasque I’ve been too. This didn’t happen at the international gasque, presumably because it was much larger.

Aside from these post-speech songs, there is also a song book containing all of the songs the nation collectively sings ever. Some item (at ÖG it’s usually an old broken phone) is passed around and whoever gets the phone gets to pick the next song to sing before passing it on. And everyone sings – or makes their best attempt, which is always quite silly for us international students, who barely know what we’re doing. Then, once the song is done, we skål once more. Oh, and it’s also traditional for the song books to be passed around so people can write in them (I have a note in mine that is accompanied by a drawing of a duck, done by someone who, to this day, I have never actually met).

Finally, after dinner and dessert and much alcohol, the final song is sang: O, Gamla Klang. It involves all sorts of glorious strangeness, including hooking your arms with your neighbors and swaying back and forth, then standing up and sitting back down repeatedly, finally culminating in standing up on your chairs to sing the final bit. In the middle somewhere there’s even a portion when specific people stand up and sing while others remain quiet (specifically there’s lines just for philosophy students, judicial students, theology students, then medical students).  Oh, and after singing this song it’s bad luck to sit back down. The superstition goes that if you sit back down after singing this song you won’t graduate. This song is probably my favorite in the entire song book because of the line de gamla gudar leva än (“the old gods still live”).

So, now that you can’t sit back down lest you not graduate, you head down to the after party, where there is more drinking to be done – and dancing, too. Don’t forget the dancing with those rocking tunes. Unfortunately this does also mean leaving behind all the fancy long tables with their fancy candlesticks and the illusion of being a witch-in-training at Hogwarts. Oh well. I mean, I guess we all have to move on eventually, right?

Now, if you’ll please pardon me, I have some spells I need to practice.
Songbook...or spellbook?!

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