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Why are Swedish teens in white hats singing and drinking on trucks?

Sweden's streets are filled with jubilant high school students. Why are they there, and what are they doing? The Local looks at the background behind this tradition.

Why are Swedish teens in white hats singing and drinking on trucks?
Students at Malmö Latinskola run out of the school building celebrating. 2022 was the first year since 2019 where there were no rules or restrictions on gatherings for student parties. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

I’ve just been in town and seen all these young people in white hats milling about on the backs of trucks and tractors. They’re screaming and shouting and listening to loud music. What’s going on?

All over Sweden, students are celebrating the completion of their final year of secondary education. What you have witnessed is the annual outpouring of emotion and champagne that is widely known as studenten. As Swedish rites of passage go, this one marking graduation from gymnasium is by far the most exuberant.

Students at Kungsholmens Gymnasium in Stockholm write messages in each others’ studentmössor. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

I see. But what are those silly hats that make them look like they’ve just got off on shore leave?

The stylish white caps worn by school graduates are in fact a relic from bygone days. In the middle of the nineteenth century students at Uppsala University began wearing the sort of headgear that had already become popular in Denmark and Germany.

The fashion took off and for university students the general wearing of white peaked caps persevered for more than a century until the revolutionary spirit of 1968 deemed them antiquated and bourgeois.

But the studentmössa, as it is called, refused to die, and has retained its popularity among school-leavers. In some schools Gymnasium students don the caps for the first time at a graduation ceremony at the end of April. They are then worn with pride until that joyous day when school’s out for summer and, indeed, forever.

What else happens that day?

The graduates often start the day by singing a traditional song about happy days of youthful abandon, all rounded off with a hearty ‘hurrah’. The ‘hurrahs’ get heartier still for those who choose to indulge in a champagne breakfast with their classmates.

Then they board the tractors and trucks?

No, not yet. In a throwback to pre-1968 days, when Swedish students had to complete a final exam before finishing school, the students now often gather in the school building before rushing out to meet their extended families in what is referred to as an utspring. The jubilant youths then get all manner of gifts hung around their necks on ribbons and everyone says ‘hurrah’ a lot again.

Students from a gymnasium in Västerås ‘springar ut’ (run out of the school) in June 2021. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

But what about the parade floats?

That’s the next bit. Groups of students often club together to hire floats for the day, which they then deck with balloons and bundles of birch twigs. Having successfully given their parents the slip, the students proceed to honour the occasion with a display of unbridled hedonism.

No passer-by can remain oblivious to the excesses of studenten, as an endless stream of party music comes blaring from the floats and students knock back champagne as fast as they possibly can, seemingly mistaking it for lemonade.

Students in Malmö celebrate on the back of trucks on June 7th, 2022. The trucks are often decorated with rude puns or the names of the students riding on the back. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

So they laugh, sing and make merry. Then what?

Then they get ready for the evening ahead when they do it all again. Except in a bar or nightclub rather than on the back of a truck.

Which is when I can start breathing a sigh of relief.

Yes, until next year, when a fresh batch of graduates reminds you once more of the distance between yourself and the joys of youth.

First published in 2007. Updated in 2022.

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Swedish Schools Inspectorate: English school must abolish dress code

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate have given the Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) in Täby until January 27th to abolish its dress code, stating that it limits students' individual freedoms.

Swedish Schools Inspectorate: English school must abolish dress code

The Schools Inspectorate initiated an inquiry after reports of strict dress codes at IES in Täby. In interviews, students told inspectors that they were not allowed to have their bra straps on show, wear low-cut tops or wear skirts or shorts shorter than “a student’s fingertips when standing with their arm by their side and fingers straight”.

Those who did not follow the rules were given warnings, with students telling inspectors that the rules affected girls more than boys, newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) reports.

DN reports that during a presentation, school leadership went through a dress code stating, among other things, that students were not allowed to wear a certain type of leggings, and that trousers should be high-waisted as students were not allowed to show their hips or underwear.

The newspaper also reports that some girls said they were forced to buy different clothes so they could be used at school and that they used different items of clothing in their free time.

According to the school’s headteacher, school leadership has never implemented a specific dress code, although the previous leadership was “stricter” on clothing, which may have affected the environment at the school.

However, the School Inspectorate’s assessment of the situation is that the school’s rules in practice mean that students are not allowed to wear certain clothes. This goes against Sweden’s skollagen or ‘school law’, which states that schools have a mission to convey the importance of an individual’s right to freedom and integrity.

IES in Täby has until January 27th to show the Schools Inspectorate evidence that the dress code has been scrapped.