Swedish Language Blog

Nollning Already? Posted by on Aug 27, 2008 in Culture

Earlier this week I was sitting in my bedroom, reading a book and trying very hard to ignore the party going on outside. My apartment building is surrounded by student housing (or “corridors” as they’re called here), and if you want to keep your sanity, you learn very quickly to ignore whatever is going on outside during the university year, or you move elsewhere.

And I was doing just fine with this ignoring bit that night until someone outside started screaming as if he was being skinned alive. And kept screaming. THAT I had to check out. I stuck my head outside and saw a butt naked man running in circles in front of my building shrieking like a banshee. Sadly, it was too dark to take a photo. Other banshees were doing a mosh pit dance some distance away.

My neighbor also stuck her head out. She nodded at me, mumbled “nollning” and retreated to her apartment.

Nollning? Already? Dang, where did the time go! I’m so out of it this year. A sure sign I must be getting old.

But yes, apparently it’s nollning time again. In various places around the world it’s known under different names (hazing, orientation week, student initiation, etc) but the basic principles are the same – to humiliate new uni students by making them perform a series of ridiculous tasks while consuming copious amounts of alcohol.

In Sweden nollning seems very well organized however, probably due to the fact that the activity is managed by the many student unions in conjunction with university personnel. And membership in a student union (studentkår) is mandatory by law.

As all unions in Sweden, student unions hold a great deal of power. In addition to organizing goofy initiation rituals, they also represent the student body in the decision making process within the universities, provide all sorts of services for its members (such as counseling for example), publish their own magazines and newspapers, and run shops, cafes and nightclubs on campuses.

The Swedish National Union of Students (Sveriges Förenade Studentkårer, SFS), is the main umbrella organization of most students’ unions in Sweden and here’s their website, sadly only in Swedish.

  • nollning (def. nollningen, plural: nollningar, def. pl: nollningarna) – aktiviteter för studenter som just har börjat på en ny utbildning (t.ex. ett universitet) = activities for students who have just begun their freshman year (for example at a university)

Here are some photos taken during last year’s nollning. I was having fika with a friend and we just stumbled upon it downtown.

One of the humiliating tasks last year was for a guy to try on dresses and high heels and parade around the department store. And dressed like that he was charging random shoppers 1 SEK for hugs and kisses.

Another exercise in public humiliation – asking random bystanders to shave their legs or facial hair.

Tags: , , ,
Keep learning Swedish with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!


  1. Adam:


    Great blog. I just wanted to add, that student union membership costs money in Sweden (and is obligatory, as you said), which some might consider weird. Especially that it’s not peanuts, something around 200SEK as far as I remember.

  2. Anna:

    Hi Adam!
    Yes! You’re absolutely correct. The membership costs money. It was around 150SEK back in my day, but quite possibly now it’s closer to 200, just like you said.

  3. ters:

    I want to add that Nollning does NOT mean humiliation. It may be like that in some unis in Sweden but at Chalmers in Gothenburg there are strict rules: Humiliation is definately NOT allowed. Nollning at Chalmers is a time of voluntary social activities for new students. The aim is for the new students to get to know eachother at parties or doing teambuilding games. The problem is that stupid high school kids have started calling their initiation acts “nollning” which has given the word nollning a bad connotation.