Ceremony and Celebration

It has been the yearly Academic Festival at the university, and I was invited to hobnob with the honorary doctors, other illustrious guests, and members of the university staff, being the wife of the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

When I was very little, we had a neighbour, an octogenarian widow who called herself doktorinnan. That´s the feminine form of doctor, like actress to actor, but I have never heard the form doctoress, or any other feminine variety of doctor. She was not a doctor, her husband had been a doctor. She had been a very successful owner and manager of a large hotel. However, her status was all about her husband´s work and title. Similarly, the wife of a major would be called majorska, a general´s wife would be generalska, and so on, exept in the fields where women actually worked, like teaching and nursing. A teacher´s wife was called just that, a teacher´s wife, while a "teacheress" (lärarinna) was an actual teacher, who happened to be a woman.

These days, neither women nor men measure their status by what their significant other is doing for a living. We are much more individualistic and focus on our own careers or jobs or whatever we choose to do and however we like to define our identities. Still, at times, we are required to do duty as wives and, increasingly, husbands. It can be challenging to go to a function where you know no one, where no one will be particularly interested in who you are or what you do, where you are likely to be not very interested in what the others are and what they do, that will require fancy dress and uncomfortable shoes, long hours without food, long hours eating fancy food served in small portions while listening to long-winded speakers talking about things you have no idea about, trying to make small-talk with strangers you are likely to never see again. And your husband or wife is more or less officially working the entire evening and not particularly focused on your needs.

I know that plenty among the significant others are not particularly amused, and some do eventually refuse to go, or perhaps they will go to the ceremony but skip the dinner, or skip the ceremony and go to the dinner. Some enjoy it, of course. I personally never look forward to it, but I am usually surprised that I´m having as much fun as I´m often actually having. It´s a bit of a lottery who you are going to sit next to, but I have been lucky most years. And the older I get, the more philosophical I become about the slow bits, the dodgy singing, the unsmooth behaviour of some, and my own occasional awkwardness. And these days, I often bump into people I know a little.

This year, one of the Honorary Doctors was a proper celebrity, a Major International Superstar, in fact: Benny Andersson, of ABBA, Chess &cetera-fame. In all the years I have attended, I can not remember the atmosphere having been more charged than this time. My own husband bestowed him with the honors during the ceremony. Personally, I only came within speaking distance very, very briefly twice, barely managed to say hello in a civil manner and say my name, and then was pushed out of the way by all the people wanting to have their piece of him, a look, a chat, an autograph. I find it all baffling, since people of his magnitude, people who have had, in different ways, a profound influence on my life (I know all the songs by heart, as I´m sure you do), make me dumbstruck. He is, of course, very nice, very gracious, very generous. And I imagine even he sometimes cringe about things he said, or failed to say.

Since my husband´s term as dean is up at the New Year, it may be a few years before we get to go again. I am both relieved and a little sorry. I have some great memories, and some interesting experiences. And a few very nice dresses.

No comments:

Post a Comment