It is that time of year, the season of the russen. Perhaps you’ve seen them out and about in Bergen, perhaps you’ve just heard the tales of ‘the russen’ (singular: russ), or perhaps you have only the vaguest of recollections from the Introductory Programme that high school students in red trousers is a ‘thing’ in Norway for some reason. What is russefeiring, you ask?
My colleague Ida was kind enough to look up russ for me in Norsk, as I was having no luck in English. She found that russ is an abbreviation from the latin, Cornua depositurus, meaning roughly “put aside horns”. Does that clear everything up? No? Well, apparently it was historically a common practice for new students of higher education to put on horns to symbolize their beast-like lack of wisdom; be tormented a bit by older students (including de-horning); go through a ritual signifying transition and the difference between the educated and the uneducated; and then have a drinking party. Sounds like hazing to me. So that is the origin of the word ‘russ’, but in true Norwegian spirit, this tradition has been transformed into some sort of a longterm drinking party.
Russefeiring (russ Celebration) proper dates back to 1905 and is a secondary school graduation celebration. The graduating students are about 18 or 19 years old, just hitting legal drinking age (18 years old for drinks up to 22%). It is questionable how long the celebration lasts, I’ve heard and read in some places that it starts on the 1st of May, but some say it can start even earlier. It is a series of parties, events, and challenges culminating on the 17th of May, Norway’s Constitution Day (a whole separate – upcoming! – blog). And naturally, the students take their exams about 2 weeks later.
Although red is the most common russ color you’ll see, there are actually a number of different color options for the trousers – or more accurately – overalls, and the color each student wears is determined by their upcoming course of study. Why overalls? I hope some kindly Norwegian can answer that question in the comments below.
I’ve been told by bar employees that russen won’t be allowed inside some establishments because of the reputation of Russefeiring… and what a reputation it has. Drinking, sex, pranks, and parties, it is the ultimate in coming-of-age blowouts. There have been concerns about the potential hazards of russ (such as to health and to grades), but by and large this is a celebration that is condoned by Norwegian parents, schools, and the culture at large.
I’ve tried to identify and explain some of the component parts of Russefeiring below. Or you can skip the text and learn while laughing at Americans in this reality TV show about Americans coming to Norway, Alt for Norge. Here is one episode in which the Americans compete to stay another week in Norway by being russ for an afternoon.
The russen carry cards (Russekort) sport a slogan, kind of similar to yearbook quotes, for those whose cultures do that thing. Cards might be exchanged between russ themselves, given to family members or random children (some of whom collect Russekort each year during the russ period).
One of the major aspects of the time of russ is achieving ‘dares’ to get Russeknuter (russ knots), prizes which are tied to the Russelue (russ hat), for example a photo of Barney Stinson for having safe sex with seven different people in seven days. Just in case when you hear that you feel concerned about the potential for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), I feel I should balance it by letting you know, you can also get a knot for getting a chlamydia check at Sex og Samfunnsklinikken (The Sex and Society Clinic) on May 7th. Or, you can avoid any STIs altogether by abstaining from sex the entire russ period.
For every challenge that’s a bit risky or risque:
- 24 hours (86,400 seconds) without sleep.
- Start the morning with cereal mixed with beer, wine or cider instead of milk.
- Drink a bottle of wine in 20 minutes, minimum 75cl.
- Drink a crate 0.33-liter at 24 hours (boys). Half a crate for girls.
- Drink a full 0,33l while you urinate.
- Eat a bag of marshmallow in 5 min. Rinse down with a pint.
- Have sex with two people with the same first name in one evening.
- Have safe sex outdoors.
- Have safe sex with a statue.
There are also options that are safe, sweet, or silly:
- Hike with a fish purchased in fresh produce counter.
- Buy a pack of condoms using only body language.
- Start singing on public transit.
- Be sober throughout the russ period.
- Be at school every day during school.
- Always wear russ pants when you are in a public place.
- Stand up every five minutes in class and shout: “Cheers!”
- Sing everything you say during a lesson.
- Give hug to a police officer. Remember to ask nicely.
- Stop your russ bus or car at a bus stop, offer to pick up someone who’s waiting, then drive that person home (they must be over 16 years old).
Dying to know all the russ knots? Turn on your browser’s translator and check out some other knots here.
What started with red caps inspired by visiting German students, has bloomed into an entire industry. Not only overalls, but also t-shirts, caps, sweatshirts and hoodies, even shoes. You can get all your russ gear, as well as decorative additions at websites like this one.
The russen generally get a vehicle of some kind, ‘pimp it’ in my colleagues (wonderful) words, and use it to drive themselves and their friends around. They may use it to live out of when going to parties. Apparently the sound system is extremely important. Some lucky russ have sponsors or parents who enable them to get Russebusser (russ buses), which may even have bars on board.
Interested in another outsider’s perspective on the russ period? Click here to read a Welsh teacher’s take. Or this teaching assistant’s perspective. Or, for a quick and entertaining overview, take a look here.
Do you have a russ story? Comment below! Be safe and have fun this russ season!