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The Nobel banquet – Sweden’s equivalent to the Oscars. Posted by on Dec 11, 2009 in Culture, Swedish Language

Stockholm City Hall where the Nobel Banquet is held

Reading time: 2 minutes

I originally planned to publish Part II of the Swedish Christmas vocabulary film today, but Nobeldagen (the Nobel day) popped up yesterday and I could not avoid writing about it. Nobeldagen consists of a prize ceremony in the afternoon, followed by a banquet in the evening.

And, nope, Obama wasn’t there. The Nobel Peace prize is awarded in Oslo, in case you are wondering.

Nobeldagen is a major event in Sweden. Bus traffic in Stockholm is rerouted and streets are shut down. National newspapers print out diagrams of the honnörsbordet (the table of honor) where the royals and prize recipients sit. And it’s all covered on live TV so you can follow play-by-play.

I haven’t been invited yet to the Nobel banquet, so every year I watch it instead on TV. All day, royalty, high society, politicians and business leaders honor these geniuses by throwing them into a televised orgy of opulence and tradition. TV viewers get to sit back in the comfort of their own homes to see what happens. The big hype this year was that Queen Silvia nodded off. Oh, it’s great entertainment (underhållning).

The TV commentators, as if reporting on the Olympics or the Oscars, dissect every last detail of the evening. They discuss the evening gowns and the flower arrangements, the special ginger used in the dessert and the princess’ cleavage, or lack of it. They even interview the Swedish Prime Minister and other politicians (politiker) and do background features on the prize winners.

The Nobel banquet is a great way to learn about the deep and traditional world of Swedish party etiquette where bordsplaceringen ( the seating arrangement) is the king of all rules.

Pay attention now. You may need to know this some day.

Women have their bordsherre (table man) on their left and men have their bordsdam (table lady) on the right. The bordsherre needs to follow a few rules. He is required to be the first to toast with his bordsdam, then he must make sure the conversation flows, and when it comes time to dance, he will be the first to dance with her.

There are other rules which are even more strict, and crazy. You’re not supposed to go to the bathroom (toaletten), so experts recommend drinking very little fluid during the long dinner. When you toast, you must make eye contact with your assigned bordsherre or bordsdam, next connect eyes with the person on your other side and then finally the person across from you. And after you drink, you again look at them all in the eyes, in the same order.

I especially love to watch the Americans fumble their silverware as they learn on-the-fly how to use a knife while wooing their table ladies and trying not to break the Swedish rules of etiquette.

This event is Sweden in a nutshell. The traditions and rules, gowns and tuxedos, the Royal Family, and the etiquette (etikett), strewn together with the celebration of knowledge, discovery and all things new and cutting-edge.

And – it’s democratic – out in the open for everyone to see, scrutinize and psychoanalyze. That’s Sweden.

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  1. Carla:

    I’ve been on a tour of the Stadshuset and I didn’t get this fantastic explanation, tack! A dinner party without bathroom breaks!?!

  2. Luke (Sydney):

    Ha, I like the “ingen toalett (toilet?)” rule. I can run more parties this way—just think about the money I can save on beers.