The other evening we were sitting on the terrace of the Potdeksel, trying to wring out the last bit of gezellig from the too-short terras seizoen, when I saw a well-dressed young man approaching the café’s entrance. Recognizing the morning suit and the red and white ribbon on the lapel, I threw shyness to the wind and decided to ask this lone student just what the hell they’re always doing a few times a year early in the morning. A bit surprised, but happily enough he answered a few of my on-the-spot questions.
They do represent Unitas, one of the student societies here in Utrecht. The early-morning event I’ve witnessed for the past few years is an introduction/initiation for new students. The students in the morning suits — and it’s sherry that they’re drinking, not champagne — are there to essentially keep the new students in line and quiet. That was an easier job on the rainy Thursday morning than on the sunny Saturday morning. As to why the older students dress up so formally, he didn’t really know specifically why they do it, but they are, in fact, the only student association here in Utrecht that does so. The white blankets I saw this year are to neatly gather up the various items that the students will be donating to the association. The students have to provide their own white sheet, and there is a list of items to be donated, including the candles and plates and toilet paper I saw. As they make their way down the street and are eventually allowed to enter in to the back entrance of the association, they deposit their bundled items into boxes during the check-in process.
It turns out that they spend the rest of the day doing various initiation activities, and even camp out — rain or shine — later that evening. That probably explains the number of yoga mats and sleeping bags I’ve seen each year. Supposedly, the students at Unitas are fairly good in their initiation process, not going to the extremes that can cause injury to the initiates. That’s certainly nice to hear.
I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I limited my questions, but it was nice to get some confirmation on what I’d figured out over the past three years and to learn a few more details. It was nice of him to take a few minutes and explain it all to the curious buitenlanders.