Initiation Rites

Street View
I was up early this morning and found myself wondering if the annual student invasion of the street was going to be tomorrow or next weekend, since they didn’t seem to be around yet. I’ve been expecting them all week. A little later, I heard some noise and saw someone walking past wearing a morning coat and carrying a walking stick. Aha! I was simply up before they were!

So yes, today was the annual induction/introduction/initiation/something-or-other at one of the student associations. Unitas, perhaps? I still don’t know exactly what they get up to or the reasoning behind this little ritual, but it always amuses me nonetheless. The (new?) students line up along the street with bags and sleeping bags and slowly work their way down the street to the back entrance of one of the associations. They’re watched over by upperclass (?) students — although only male students, even though the ones in line are both genders — and are occasionally given instructions by these well-dressed guardians. Every year they wear morning suits and drink champagne throughout the process. I don’t think all associations are quite so glamorous.
The Guards

There were a few things this year that were either new or that I just hadn’t noticed last year. For one thing, some of the students seemed to be singing the national anthem (multiple verses) throughout part of the morning. Secondly, toward the end of the morning, some of the last ones still to go started pulling out matching white tablecloths/sheets and started going through their bags and putting various items out on the sheet on the ground. It looked a bit like Queen’s Day, the national yardsale day.
Hobos
There didn’t seem to be much rhyme nor reason to what they pulled out, although it did sound like they were given a list of items to put out. The upperclassmen seemed to be reading of cards of certain items. Whether they were contraband or simply a silly game, I have no idea. There seemed to be toilet paper and plastic plates among the items set out, so maybe the association was trying simply to stock up on some necessary items.
Bits and Bobbles
From what I saw last year, similar events are going on around town for various student associations. It’s a bit warm and humid today, but hey, at least it’s not raining. 😉

Student Un-Greening

Quadrant
I had a bit of a eureka moment last night as I was discussing the student societies here in town with a local and he described the initiation as ontgroening. I was happy to realize that I had both properly heard the Dutch word and that I was able to understand the meaning of it. Ont is a Dutch prefix similar to the English un- prefix. Groen is the Dutch word for green. So ontgroening literally translates to ungreening. When you consider that someone young/inexperienced is considered green, an initiation process makes sense, because they are un-greening this person.

All of that is a long way of saying that the students are back in town. Today begins the UIT2010 (Utrechtse Introductie Tijd/Utrecht Introduction Time). We’ve been watching parent/child combos unloading cars all weekend as they move in to their new homes. Now the parties begin. I’ve been hearing music and a lot more voices all afternoon and they’ll be continuing all week. The various student organizations near us have been dropping off various explanatory letters to let us know the full schedule of events. Forewarned is forearmed, I guess!

All sorts of inflatable figures, pools and stages are going up over on Lucasbolwerk. The photo above is from our first year here when they had a ferris wheel. I’ll be heading out tomorrow to get shots of the latest fun and games. Hopefully it remains just fun and games. Every year, a few students die as a result of the unofficial hazing. Some of the student associations here, although often mixed-gender, are similar to the fraternities and sororities in the U.S., with many of the same pros and cons of each. I enjoyed the open parties when I was at university, but never did like the idea of actually joining. Some of us had a running joke about a fake sorority, using the Greek letters to serve as an acronym for something along the lines of not giving a damn about joining. I’m hoping some of my friends will remember what the pseudo sorority name was, because it’s starting to drive me crazy.

So if you’re heading off to your first year at university, congratulations and good luck, and don’t do anything stupid! Oh, and buy used books and use protection if you’re having sex. That was the advice I received (and followed).

Different Donderdag: English

There’s a newish bartender at the Potdeksel these days. He’s very charming and friendly, and despite having a very Dutch name, he has a very English accent. If I didn’t know he was Dutch, I would have thought he was from England.

It’s not unusual for Dutch people to have a touch of an English/British accent when they speak English, because they are often taught “British” English rather than “American” English. However, with the numerous American films and television programs available to them, their accent becomes fairly neutral, other than any residual Dutch accent. I should point out that movies and television programs are almost never dubbed into Dutch here; they simply have Dutch subtitles.

Last week, while complementing Ruud on his excellent English, we found out that English is his major course of study at university. It turns out — and this is something I find fascinating — that when you choose English as a major here, you can also choose whether to have a British or American emphasis. Now I’m curious if they do something similar with other languages, especially those that have some differences depending on which part of the world they’re spoken. For example, if someone is studying Spanish, do they have the choice to learn the version spoken in Spain or the version spoken in the Americas?

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting approach to take when teaching a foreign language, perhaps especially when it’s such a widely used language. I’m curious if this is fairly universal in Europe these days or if it’s a Dutch/Utrecht thing.

They’re Here


(photo is a detail of the Academiegebouw, one of the original buildings of the university, located next to the cathedral)
It’s that time of year again. The students have returned. Utrecht is the home of the largest university in the Netherlands, which makes us a university town, especially when you consider the relative small size of the city. We also happen to live down the street from one of the fraternity/sorority-type buildings (for lack of a better description). For the next week or so, we’ll be seeing an influx of young people carrying duffel bags and backpacks and sleeping bags (not sure why they have the sleeping bags). I can hear them already. I’m hoping to get another shot like this one: