【Voice of the World】vol.1 Drinking beer as cultural heritage? (ビールを飲む行為が文化財に?)






* * * * * * * * * *

Drinking beer as cultural heritage?

―The story of Dutch student associations―

In what context can drinking beer and yelling while wearing a suit be seen as cultural heritage? In the context of Dutch student associations. Unlike Keio University, Dutch universities do not have any clubs or circles. Instead, Dutch students gather in so-called student associations. Every Dutch city with a university has at least a few of them. The main goal of joining such an association is to make new friends in the city you study in. The student associations are widely regarded as a crucial aspect of the Dutch student life, and are therefore even part of the Dutch Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

But what makes these student associations so special? The tradition of the Dutch student associations is very old, dating back to the end of the sixteenth century. Just after the foundation of the first Dutch university (Leiden University, founded in 1575), Dutch students started to gather with peers from the same region in nationes. The university boards opposed such nationes, as they often led to conflicts, which sometimes even included arms. From the 19th century onwards, students started to gather in student corps, the first one of which was Vindicat atque Polit, founded in 1815, which still exists today. These student corps are the cradle of the Dutch student associations that we know today.

After the Second World War, the student associations became so large in number of members, that the students started to organize themselves in small sub-groups of 10-20 people, in Dutch called a ‘dispuut’. Today the largest student associations have approximately 2700 members, so you can imagine that having a smaller social group within the association is nice for the members. A dispuut can be seen as a group of friends within an association. Members of a dispuut meet each other at least once a week to eat together and to have drinks. Over the years, many members of the same dispuut become very close friends.

All of this might sound strange enough to you already, but it gets even stranger, because the culture within student associations is what makes them so special. Before saying anything about the culture within student associations, it is good to note that the culture varies much per student association, and even per dispuut.

The first remarkable part of the culture of most student associations, is that it is quite elitist. The student associations use Latin vocabulary. For example, the functions within the Senate, which functions as the executive board of the association, are denoted by Latin names. To mention one, the secretary is called ab actis. Also, the members of a student association are obliged to dress very neat. By tradition, the guys all wear suits. Furthermore, the student associations can be very hierarchical. As a freshman, you are obliged to adhere to all kinds of rules that do not apply to long-standing members, such as buying beer for the older members.

The second remarkable part is the customs and conventions of student associations. These are called ‘mores’ and can be seen as unwritten house rules. The mores are different per student association, although some mores do apply virtually everywhere. A common one is that you are not allowed to turn your back to the bar. Also using your mobile phone and looking at your watch while having drinks is often taboo.

Last but not least, probably the most controversial part of student associations are the rituals the freshmen must go through to obtain membership. These rituals are called ‘ontgroening’, which means getting rid of the green. The members of student associations are obliged to keep the ontgroening secretly, they may not tell others what happened. The ontgroening often lasts multiple days and entails drinking a lot, getting dirty, and not being able to take a shower. It sounds harsh, and it is. The student association Vindicat, which was mentioned before, is infamous for its brutal ontgroening. One student died, while others ended up in the hospital during these rituals.

Not a very positive note to end with, but let’s not forget that such incidents at one student association do not define the student association culture in the Netherlands. A lot of students have an awesome time and make friends for life at a student association. Student associations have way more remarkable traditions, rules and features, the one even more bizarre than the other, than mentioned here. Maybe that is the fun of your time as a college student, doing all the crazy and bizarre stuff you will not be able to do anymore once you start working full time. Oh, I have to stop writing, apparently my laptop was not allowed near the bar after all.

Author: Koen Le-Huai Donatz