Knowing how a student gala will end five minutes after it has started? That seems impossible, certainly for an outsider. Nevertheless, the hostess of Aldendriel Castle, the medieval castle in Mill, Gelderland where RSG was holding its lustrum gala, had a useful tip.

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De mooie jurken zijn niet op twee handen te tellen, maar je hebt toch nog altijd baas boven baas.

“You have to look at the length of the ladies’ dresses. The longer the dresses, the more refined the evening. We know that there may be trouble if every lady who walks in is wearing a short dress, so we were reassured when we saw the dresses this evening.”

De avond begint met een uitgebreid driegangendiner. Ideaal om bij te praten met de date van een ander, maar wellicht ook het moment om de eerste hengel uit te werpen.

It remains to be seen whether dress length is indeed a predictor of outcome. Be that as it may, the beautiful long dresses of the ladies immediately catch the eye during the first tour of the dining room, where the sixty students are enjoying – very quietly, it must be noted – a three‑course dinner. The attire of the ladies makes it possible for a few gentlemen to immediately distinguish themselves as knights in shining armour. “My dress is ten centimetres too long”, Jojanneke explains while her date Toine sits next to her on the ground with a handful of safety pins. “Fortunately, he’s come to my rescue.”

Traditions and customs

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Naast alle tradities en gebruiken die bij zo’n avond komen kijken, blijft er natuurlijk genoeg tijd over voor de sterke studentenverhalen.

When everyone goes to the other room after dinner and the two hundred evening guests arrive, another clothing detail catches the eye: the identical ornaments that the dates have pinned to each other’s chests. It is part of the gala’s extensive dating ritual. Karlien explains that “dates can always recognise each other and everyone knows who is with who. There’s sometimes an entire history behind the ornaments – a story about how the dates met or about something that they’ve been through together. But they can also just happen to have been readily available.” The chest ornaments rang from toy excavators (“I just happened to have them at home”) and Gamma discount cards (“we both work there”) to USB sticks (“she always forgets everything”) and Flügel bottles (“good to have something to drink with you in case the evening goes flat”).

The pinning of the ornament is not the only hurdle that a gentleman must overcome to accompany his date to the gala. A gentleman must ask his intended gala date by means of a letter written in silver on blue paper. The lady must give her reply in a letter written in gold on pink paper. The date is confirmed while drinking a cup of tea, during which time the lady also determines the kind of evening that it will be. A biscuit with the tea means only friendship, a slice of pie or cake means possibilities and a slice of pie or cake with whipped cream means that the gentleman is in with a chance of hitting a home run. But there are ways of keeping the gentleman in suspense. “I ate batter treats,” Anna says. “Nice and vague. I’ll see what happens this evening.”

'Rather not dead drunk'

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Preses Tony Jordan (midden) ontpopt zich tot de dj van de avond. Zijn specialiteiten? ‘Het billenschud-halfuurtje’ voor de vrouwen en de meezingers als afsluiting.

What is most striking during the evening is that this student gala does not descend into a bacchanal. With an open bar and a fountain of instant “Japie” (a mix of Dutch gin and apple juice; according to everyone one present the drink for an RSG gala), one would expect students to start taking their chances. Nothing of the kind happens. There are no drunken guests rolling over each other and the men at the bar are also having a very quiet evening. Instead of drinking like fish at the bar, at least fifty students are standing in line for the photographer.

“Everyone’s probably somewhat quieter than they are at a normal party at the association,” Sander, who also stands in line, explains. “It’s the most important party of the year, so you don’t want to be dead drunk at the bar. And of course you also want to look presentable for the photograph.” Nora, a first-year student making her debut at the gala, is using the same tactic. “This year, I’m just observing. Having a pleasant evening is the main thing.” And are you having a pleasant evening? “Very much so. Everyone is beautiful and the atmosphere’s great.”

The switcher

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Een anonieme bron vertelde het ons al: “Je bent toch een beetje de koning als het je lukt om andermans date te regelen.” De mannen-wc blijkt een onverwacht, maar uiterst geschikt jachtterrein.

Time to address the elephant in the room. Do the dates faithfully stay together or are there opportunities to get jiggy with someone else’s date? Opinions are divided. “Every year there’s a switcher, but that kind of conduct is not really appreciated,” says Tony, RSG’s president. “It’s tradition to stay with your date, so switching is the exception rather than the rule.” A glance at the dance floor seems to confirm Tony’s words. While the couples are clearly having a good time (“They’ll take their chance, the rule ‘no hanky‑panky at the association’ does not apply here”), RSG’s real Casanova’s have not yet shown themselves.

Nevertheless, other sounds are audible in the caverns of the castle. “No man, I’m about to go on the warpath,” says a boy who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “You’re a bit of a king if you succeed in getting someone else’s date, even though most won’t actually say so.” Luca also thinks that there will be some switching. “That’s kind of the clandestine objective.” Will she also be switching? “No, I think I’ll go look for my date. It’s not nice to leave him alone.”

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The conclusion after our debut at a gala is that the event was nice but much more refined and restrained than expected. Although all ingredients for a full escalation are there, the event never gets out of hand – at any rate this RSG one did not. A few members of the debating society engage in singing on the toilet and furtive glances are cast at other people’s dates. It does not get more unruly than that. Perhaps other excesses are kept hidden. In any case, throughout the evening, the queue at the batter treat stand is longer than the queue at the car or the “Japie” fountain. The theory of the hostess of Aldendriel Castle is therefore incontrovertibly confirmed.