Sweden hopes Nobel awards austerity will go unnoticed

STOCKHOLM Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:15am EST

STOCKHOLM Dec 10 (Reuters) - With more than 1,200 guests and 40 chefs, Sweden holds its annual Nobel awards ceremony on Monday hoping a year of cost-cutting will not be noticed by the laureates, royals or the Who's Who of Sweden attending the lavish dinner.

The ceremony tops a week of events in Stockholm for the winners of the literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and economics prizes that see Sweden briefly enjoying the kind of extravagance usually associated with previous centuries.

But this year the prize money has been cut by a fifth, contracts with suppliers have been renegotiated and even the number of chauffeur-driven cars for Nobel winners and their guests has been reduced.

Some wonder whether guests will perceive any austerity in the week's events - which last year cost around 20 million Swedish crowns ($3 million) and usually feature Sweden's best cooks, designers and musicians, as well as thousands of flowers flown in from Italy.

"There have been some cuts," Nobel Foundation Executive Director Lars Heikensten told reporters, but refusing to give any details. "You will not notice them."

For more than a century, the foundation has managed the roughly $450 million capital that forms the base for the awards, donated in the will of dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel. But in recent years returns have suffered amid the global crisis.

"We are in this forever and we should safeguard it (the prize)," said Heikensten, a former Swedish central bank chief known for reducing staff during his tenure.

The awards are now worth $1.2 million each, down from around $1.5 million in recent years.

BLING

Still, Monday evening's festivities at Stockholm's City Hall - itself decorated with 11 kg of gold leaf - are unlikely to be spartan.

Details of the menu are only revealed minutes before the food is served, but guests at the event - touted as one of the world's biggest set dinners - will eat from some 7,000 pieces of porcelain using 10,000 items of silverware and drink from 5,400 glasses.

Space is so tight guests are asked to avoid going to the toilet between courses to avoid jams in the aisle.

There will also be a fair share of bling, from jewel encrusted handbags to glittering tiaras, as Sweden's small and influential political and business elite jettisons its famed egalitarian image to hobnob with diplomats and political leaders from around the globe.

The strict dress code - white tie and tails for men and gowns for women - is complemented by a similarly strict code of behaviour.

Toasting, for example, is done Swedish style: raise your glass, look your table companions in the eyes, swing the glass in the air ever so slightly - no clinking - sip and repeat eye contact before setting the glass down.

The formality is in stark contrast to neighbour Norway where Australian pop-princess Kylie Minogue features when the European Union is handed this year's Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo on Monday.

The EU's win raised a few eyebrows when announced in October.

And Nobel week in Sweden has attracted its share of controversy with literature winner Mo Yan steering clear of human rights issues and refusing publicly to back a petition by fellow laureates to free jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

The Nobel Foundation, which organizes the prizes, will be hoping the dinner retains enough glamour, despite this year's cost cuts, to divert any attention away from such issues. ($1 = 6.6344 Swedish crowns) (Editing by Paul Casciato)

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