Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Working a Gasque on New Year’s Eve

Updates on Working at Kalmar

So I have been working at Kalmar Nation a lot this semester, probably about once or twice a week since October.  It has been awesome. I mostly work in the kitchen where I have become an efficient burger grilling machine. I mostly work because of the social aspect. Working at a nation is a great way to meet new people and eat free food. It is also the only way that I managed to meet any Swedish people. It seems like it is a common problem with studying abroad is that exchange students are usually isolated socially from the native student population. On top of that Swedes tend to be quiet people who keep to themselves. The nations break down these barriers. I think that pretty much all of the Swedes that I know I have met through working at Kalmar.  

As the first semester was drawing to a close I was encouraged to apply for a position in the pub called “klubbvärd” or club worker. These are the workers who manage and run the day to day operations of the pub and kitchen; they were the ones who would tell me what to do when I was frying fifty burgers. I decided to apply for one of the positions next semester because I really enjoy working and working as a club worker is one of the best ways for someone who doesn't speak Swedish to get involved in a nation. There will be nine other club workers that I will work with next semester. What is interesting is that of the ten club workers only three of them are Swedish. The other seven are from Estonia, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Australia, The Åland Islands and of course The United States. It is pretty amazing to have such an international workforce, especially with this year being the 350th anniversary of Kalmar Nation. I don’t think the founders would have thought that in 350 years their pub would be run by mostly non-Swedes. I am really excited for the next semester despite the amount of work I will have to put in I think it will be a unique experience.

Working the New Year's Eve Gasque 

Anyways on to New Year’s Eve. I decided to work on New Year’s Eve because I usually don’t enjoy going to New Year’s Eve parties they are usually overhyped and anti-climactic. I wanted to make my only New Year’s Eve in Sweden more memorable than drinking excessively in Flogsta and lighting off fireworks. I figured working was the polar opposite of what I usually do so I volunteered to work at the Kalmar New Year’s Eve gasque. A gasque is a Swedish student tradition. Basically it is a formal dinner where you sit down for a three course meal sing songs in Swedish and slowly get drunk off of Swedish schnapps. You can read a more detailed explanation of a gasque here.This was my first time working at a gasque, it was also my first time being at a real gasque. I went to the international gasque in October, but that didn’t really count. It was all in English and none of the internationals knew the procedure, the vibe was all off. So I was excited, it was my both my first time working at a gasque, being at a real gasque, and the gasque was to count down to the 350th anniversary of Kalmar.

The work was pretty standard. We set the tables which was harder than you would think because the setup had about six glasses and eight utensils along with napkins, songbooks and decorations. This made the table space extremely limited but it worked out fine. Once the guests actually arrived we brought them food, water and wine at set intervals. Everything was scheduled. That lead to a fair amount of downtime in between brining out food. During this time we would sit in the kitchen and twiddle our thumbs or ate delicious left over food. Since I usually eat noodles eating well marinated lamb was a welcome change. Towards the end of the dinner it is traditional for the guests to sing the kitchen staff a song of which we sing the last line and toast back. The line was in Swedish so I do what I always do whenever I have to sing in Swedish; I provide melodic humming in order to create a truly harmonious song. It is pretty bizarre experience having one hundred and fourteen people drunkenly sing to you. I didn't really know where to look or what to do. After the song we had to hurry to the entrance hall and fill glasses of champagne for our guests we had fifteen minutes to set up the tables and fill the glasses. We pulled through with time to spare.

The guests were ushered outside to the courtyard in order to bring in the New Year and the wait staff began the long task of cleaning the ridiculous number of dishes that we had laid out earlier that night. But at eleven fifty five we took a break to grab a glass of champagne and went out to the courtyard to countdown to 2013. The countdown was definitely the coolest New Year’s Eve countdown I have ever experienced.  Everyone was dressed formally in the courtyard. Atop the steps of Kalmar a top official dressed in a tuxedo adorned with a medal which signified his position in the nation was addressing to the guests of the gasque. He was passionately speaking, yelling to have his voice heard while gesturing madly with his hands. As it drew closer to midnight fireworks began erupting all around us. There is no coordinated fireworks show in Uppsala, rather anyone who wants can purchase fireworks and shoot them off. This is Sweden everything is permanently wet anything that is outside will never catch on fire. Because it is uncoordinated this gives the fireworks a random chaotic feeling. We were surrounded by the pops of fireworks. This coupled with the speech and the suits made me feel like I was in the eve some sort revolution from the 1870s. I was waiting for hoards of the working class to come and destroy the bourgeois feast of excess that had just taken place.  Of course this didn't happen and I was forced to pick up dishes rather than participate in a workers revolution.

We finished cleaning the dining hall at about one thirty in the morning. This meant that we could go downstairs and participate in the last hour and a half of celebrations. So I changed out of my work shirt and into my t-shirt and went down to the pub to celebrate the New Year in a wonderfully under-dressed fashion. It was a nice party afterwards. Since most of the people at the gasque were involved with Kalmar I probably knew about thirty percent of them. Overall I had a great time. It was definitely the most unique New Year’s Eve I have ever had and it was definitely my favorite New Year’s Eve.