"Are you ready?" shouts Gustaf Andersson* over the techno music, his ruddy face shining with sweat. I'm clearly not. The nightclub in Båstad, Sweden, is packed with clones in light blue Ralph Lauren polo shirts, walking with a swagger they stole from dubbed MTV shows. The girls all have nervous twitches, obsessively tugging candyfloss hair behind their ears and dabbing gloops of lipgloss in reflections found on the smeared screens of their iPhones. It's tennis week, or tabloid outrage season depending on how you look at it. The time of year where Sweden's filthy rich come back from doing their MBAs/language exchanges in Kensington/Paris to spend their cash in the motherland.
Signs on the walls warn you not to spray champagne. The practise has been banned since 2007, when the district of Champagne allegedly got so indignant about the fact that Swedes were showering in it that they threatened to ban exports. The government, which clearly had a short to-do list that day, caved in quickly and preceded to stick these signs up in bars across the country. But the state underestimated exactly how much people like Gustaf just didn't want to drink the champagne they bought. In what sounds like the sort of dystopian coping mechanism for insanity usually thought up by John Travolta, rich kids started throwing champagne down the sink instead of spraying it.
Gustaf has kindly offered to show me how it's done. His friends crowd around the backlit bar and start chanting 'vaska' or 'pour away'. Giddy with the excitement that only pure idiocy can bring, he orders two bottles of champagne.
'One for the sink, buddy'
The 'buddy' bartender doesn't even twitch as he pops one open and chucks it unceremoniously into the basin. There's a brief scuffle as Gustaf, unimpressed with the lack of effort put in, reaches over to add a little theatricality by spraying it into the sink. The bartender just slaps him away like a fly, and he looks suitably chastened as he hands over his credit card to general hoorays from his pal army. The 'lads' start doing the 'comical lad praying to their mega-lad mate' act known across the world for its possibility to irritate almost anyone. Yes, I repeat, actually praying to a drunken Swede looking into a sink.
Looking at the size of some of the other bottles though, I was pretty unimpressed. Gustaf's high jinks only cost him about £250, while some of the magnums can set you back by £20,000. To lift them up you need to hug the bottle and keep your back straight to avoid consumerism-induced whiplash.
The Swedish press love this sort of thing. The tabloids take unflattering photos and scream in mock-outrage, while the high-minded broadsheets send their comment writers out to conjure up a grave analysis of these morally incomprehensible acts. Vaska has been blamed on everything from a lack of education to a rise in migration (it's a bit of a catch-all in Scandinavia). One newspaper called it a rebellion against Swedish social mores, conclusively proving that the great vaska revolution has succeeded in its aims. It represents the most uncomfortable truths of a society obsessed with social equality, already on tenterhooks from the rumours and occasional explosions from the suburbs. For young comrades such as Gustaf, wealth is the most provocative weapon they have in their revolutionary arsenal. It's a way of totally sticking it to the man, bro. The man likes things like equal opportunities, a ban on page three, high taxes, a minimum wage, peace in the Middle East and never telling people how much you earn. Gustaf pours champagne down the sink because, really, all of that is completely irrelevant to him. He's an outcast from society, a raconteur who dares to break the rules of an oppressive regime of expectation. Gustaf's a punk, man, he's Sid Viscous in chinos, he's living on the edge of... err... hang on...
Gustaf stops any hypothesising about his motives with the introspectiveness of a short-circuited space cadet.
"Girls love it when I vaska. They always want me to do it again when I buy them drinks"
Spoken like a true member of the revolution.
*Clearly not his real name