Hejhej! I attended one of the most Swedish university social activities that I know of– a ball. This was a very random experience with a lot of unexpected events and traditions, but I loved it. The ball I attended was hosted by my nation (large co-ed social club), Sydksånska, and was called Knävlingagille. Balls are a great way to meet new people, but it is also nice to go with a friend or two so that you have someone to talk to if your other neighbors aren’t social. Because of this, I had invited Komachi to come join me, which was really amazing. Komachi and I met at the Copenhagen Octoberfest in September, and have been close friends ever since. One of the best things about our friendship is that we will agree to attend pretty random events with one another, such as this ball.
Anyway, the Swedish concept of a ball is basically like the US’s concept of prom (or maybe a ball in the US, I haven’t attended one there) but with alcohol and some pretty random Swedish traditions. All of the women are expected to wear long ballgowns and the men wear tuxes. A couple hundred students all congregate in the AF Borgen building (one of the original LU buildings) around 5pm, where they all enter the large hall and find their assigned seats. Komachi and I were placed at one of the tables furthest from the podium, which I assumed was the international table based on the amount of other international students with us. I was seated next to a nice Swedish student studying political science, and a couple of seats down from me were some other international friends I’d made before. The ball was set up with the same general seating and table setting as a traditional sittning (I attended one in the fall), but there was a podium set up for speeches to be given during the ball. The actual ball started with a large screen coming down over the stage that was on the left side of the room and a short homemade 15 minute video being played. This video began with the Star Wars intro, then gave all of the main characters funny Star Wars-esque names. I feel as though the video would’ve made more sense to me if I spoke Swedish, but there were some context clues for me to get the general idea. All of the characters in the video were the executive board members of SSK that year, with the Qurator (the leader of the nation) as the central character. Despite having a Star Wars theme, the plot of the short movie they made was about a goose dying and them attempting to save it. They went to Copenhagen (I assume the dark side) to try to find someone to help. Near the end, it was apparent that the goose was a goner but the executive board members had to lead the ball so they got ready for the ball while they were sad. As they were walking up the stairs of the AF building (to the ball), they got a call that the goose was saved! Once happy again, the video ended and they all walked in to the hall to begin the ball. The video was really weird, but it was done nicely as a start to the ball. The next 5 hours were filled with lots of speeches being conducted by the executive board members as well as guests of the nations. I was very confused about what was happening, which, admittedly, may have been due to my lack of Swedish. Sometimes I bothered the Swede next to me for the general overview, but I found it more amusing to come up with my own impression of the speech based on the limited Swedish vocabulary I picked up. I would whisper my outlandish version to Komachi when we were supposed to be sitting attentively, which led to both of giggling a bit too much. Thankfully, we never got in trouble for being too loud or distracting.
At the ends of each table, there were marshals from the nation wearing the traditional graduation cap and sash whose entire job was to make sure that nothing got out of hand. In theory, this role makes a lot of sense. Students drinking and getting antsy during speeches sounds like a fast track for lots of noise and disruptions. However, our marshal was very uptight, and kept getting mad at us whenever our table made any noise or copied other tables. The table in front of us was much rowdier, and yet we got shushed substantially more. To be fair, one girl at our table brought bubbles that she kept blowing, so I suppose it was valid that she got in trouble. On the other hand, we were the table furthest from the podium and were the international table, so almost none of us knew what was happening during the speeches. Because of this, I think some distractions should’ve been okay. On top of the speeches, we had little songbooks we were provided and people would go up and lead us through songs. Almost all of the songs were about drinking, and finished with a loud “skål” around the tables and either a shot of schnapps or sip of our drinks. As I am sure you can already tell, there was a lot of drinking involved with this entire tradition.
One aspect of the ball that I found very strange was the fact that there were designated ‘pauses’ within the schedule for everyone to use the restroom and stretch their legs. While this is nice and makes sense, the weird aspect is the fact that we were not allowed to leave the hall except during these pauses. The marshals would stand by the doors and not let anyone out. Maybe I am too American, but this felt a bit controlling, especially for an event where people were heavily drinking. Right before one of the pauses, there was a part of the schedule called “Sydskånska Nation husband”. Even though the rest of the schedule was in Swedish, my brain read this as English. Some old man gave a speech, so I assumed that he was our nation’s ‘husband’. I thought it was kind of a cool concept, similar to sorority ‘house moms’ in the US. It turns out that the term ‘husband’ is not the same between Swedish and English. After the old man’s speech, a group of five students got on the stage with various instruments and microphones and proceeded to play pop music, including Lizzo and Abba. ‘Husband’ in Swedish actually translates to house band. I think it’s even cooler that the nation has a house band, but the lack of marital status of the nation was a bit of a let down. The house band was super fun, as everyone stood up on their chairs and spun their napkins over their head while dancing to the music (I realize as I write this now that this was potentially dangerous). After the house band, random Swedish songs everyone sang along to, speeches from middle aged people that included taking shots, and short Star Wars video with a near-dead goose, I thought I couldn’t be surprised by the ball anymore. It had reached the point where I was drunk enough and really random things had happened enough that it was starting to feel a bit like a fever dream.
Thus, when a marching band marched in playing pop music (complete with dance groups wearing cheerleader skirts) during desert, I wasn’t even thrown off. Of course the ball included a marching band and prepared dance numbers by the cheerleaders because why not? There was nothing stopping them from the very random traditions and music, so they included it. The ball was wild and had so many aspects that I was not expecting, but I loved it. The energy of the room was so fun, and you could tell that everyone (except the marshals) was having a great time celebrating. After desert, they served everyone coffee before we attended the Sexa (the dancing afterwards). A lot of people left before the Sexa started, but Komachi and I stayed to dance, and met a couple of other girls. Both Komachi and I had a wonderful experience with the ball and I am glad that I got to share yet another spectacular moment with her. The ball reminded me that it’s fun to get dressed up and celebrate, especially in the grey winter months. I was even able to appreciate the unique obsession with music that the Swedes have.