What is Szalagavató?

The rather large doormen were checking invitations or tickets or something.  I didn’t have anything.  I figured I would either be able to walk right in, or I would know the person at the door.  Neither one of these were true.  This would be interesting.

Climbing the wall like a ninja and sneaking in through the roof seemed like a pretty cool option.  The odds of success seemed pretty low, but it would certainly be a topic of conversation on Monday morning.

“Alex, you can come in here.”

Oh good, someone recognized me.  It was fortunate that she knew me because I didn’t recognize her.  Should I feel bad about that?  Maybe I’ve met her, and maybe I haven’t.  It’s weird being such a recognizable, out-of-place person.

I walked into the sports arena, waded through the crowd, and saw a group of teachers waving to me and pointing at a seat.  The mystery that had been plaguing me for weeks would finally be solved.

What is Szalagavató?

I’ve been told the closest translation to English is “ribbon ceremony”.  I’ve also been told the closest comparison to American culture is the prom.  Neither of these facts helped me.  It was obvious I’d have to see it for myself.

Knowing what I know now, a ribbon ceremony seems like an accurate description, but these ribbons don’t exist in America – perhaps they’re unique to Hungary, I’m not sure.  Also, it seems similar to the prom in the same way that football (American football) and football (soccer) are similar.  By that, I mean they can be compared, but probably shouldn’t.

The event started at six o’clock at night, and was held in the town sports hall.  The stars of the show were the school-leavers (seniors).  Family, friends, and one confused American teacher sat in the seats so they’d have a good view of the handball court where the ceremony and dances took place. 

My students told me that this event is traditionally their last big hurrah before they have to buckle down and study for all of their difficult school-leaving exams.  They also told me that it isn’t actually their last big hurrah, they keep partying every weekend.  So much for tradition.  I’ll remind them of this if they’re disappointed in their final grades.

Now let me summarize what happened by explaining the three different parts of the night:

First, all of the school-leaver classes marched in.  They were dressed in formal attire, and each group had a sort of uniform.  The national anthem was played, the headmaster gave a speech, some other students read something in Hungarian, and then the ribbon ceremony started.

One-by-one, the students’ names would be read, and they would have a ribbon pinned on by their form teacher – the teacher who has been in charge of them for 5 years.  There were smiles and tears, hugs and high fives, and a lot of proud looking people.

Next, they all left the court, and many returned in different clothes.  Rather than wearing suits, the boys were now wearing tuxedos and the girls were wearing fancy white gowns.  It was time to waltz.  They cancelled my lesson multiple times to practice for this, so I was ready to be impressed.  Their choices were simple, blow me away or have a lot of upcoming homework.

They did very well.  Two different groups danced and I didn’t see anyone mess up.  Phew, I don’t have to grade a bunch of papers.

Finally, they got to the fun part – no more fancy clothes.  They had all kinds of dances to modern songs, and many of them were funny.  My favorite was group of Arab men chasing away a stereotypical tourist who was attempting to steal the belly dancers.  I’d explain more, but you had to be there.  Words won’t do them justice.

They capped off the night with glow sticks.  Every student had one, and all of the lights went out.  For about ten minutes, they made different formations in the pitch black arena.  It was awesome.

I was told that that each group goes out for a fancy dinner afterwards, and rumor has it that the party then moved on to the pubs and the discos.  This was confirmed when I was walking home at a late hour and someone saw me and yelled my name to say hello.  This particular individual was quite happy, but unfortunately he was mistaking a park bench for a toilet.  I hope he remembers to study for his exams, he might need it.

That’s Szalagavató.


Hungarian word of the day:


Pronounced Do-go as in “Do go get another bottle of wine, because this is the Hungarian word for Cork”.  Perfect proof of why English pronunciation is more difficult than Hungarian - why are “do” and “go” pronounced completely differently?