Monday, 16 May 2011

The Norwegian Graduate: Russefeiring

As well as being the time of year for Eurovision and constitution day, another annual milestone that just passed in Norway is the conclusion of Russefeiring – graduating high school students’ two-week orgy of parties, drunkenness, hormones and youthful stupidity before they buckle down for final exams. For those who have not experienced Norway during this time there are so many bizarre traditions involved.

 Russ dates back to the 1700s in Denmark; there were no universities in Norway at that time because of the country’s union with Denmark, so everyone studied at the University of Copenhagen. New students had to pass an exam to gain enrollment, and after exams were complete, horns were drawn onto their foreheads. (Why?) During the time between the exam and the announcement of results, the older students at the university would play pranks on the new hopefuls. If the students passed their entrance exams, the horns would be removed at a ceremony, apparently symbolising the transition from lowly beast to intelligent human. The process comes from the Latincornua depositurus, meaning “to put aside one’s horns” – but eventually the name became shortened to the final syllable, and they added an extra S to Norwegian-ise the spelling.

The tradition of Russ is such serious business in Norway that each school actually elects a Russ board (yes, that’s right – with speeches from the student candidates and everything). The size of the board reflects the size of the school, and normally has 6-10 positions. As well as a president and vice-president, there is also a website manager (to promote all the parties), a ‘terror boss’ (responsible for pranks on the first-year high school students) and even a police liaison to arrange necessary permissions for Russ parties. There is also someone on the board who organises a revue by all the graduating students, usually held at the town hall and consisting of songs, dance numbers, and sketches. This is hardcore stuff!

The Russ celebrations last from May 1 to May 17, and the easiest way to spot a Russ-goer is by their distinctive clothing. Graduating students usually wear blue or red overalls, corresponding to whether they take general studies at school or business studies. These overalls are decorated with cartoons of the flag, stars, beer, diagrams of the anatomy (true) and so on, and by the end of Russ are covered in friends’ signatures and autographs. The weird part is a rule that you must wear the overalls every day (taking them off only for sleep) and are not allowed to wash them for the entire period of Russ. 

The other part of the Russ uniform is a cap, which is part of a challenge known as ‘Knots’. You attach a string to your cap and tie trinkets to it to show that you have completed certain tasks – for example, a piece of chalk if you sit through an entire class wearing only your underwear. The tasks vary from school to school, but you can generally earn Knots for driving around a roundabout twenty times in a row, running naked through the school, certain – shall we say – unsavoury acts in the woods (with members of either gender), and of course many activities that involve consuming large quantities of alcohol (like a case of beer in six hours, or bottle of wine in one go). Even more interestingly, you have to collect the signature of a witness to prove that you completed the activity. (I don’t know how that works exactly for those people in the woods... or what trinket they collect for that task!). There are also some less sleazy activities: taking a swim in the freezing pre-1st of May waters, getting a hug from a police officer, There is also one day where they set up a rebus: a circuit where students must run from post to post and complete wacky activities. 
And if you don’t see the Russ students, you will probably hear them – or more specifically, you will hear an assault of techno and doof-doof music as they drive past you in their specially customised buses (in Norwegian Russebuss). Groups of students pool their money together to buy a van or bus, so that they can drive themselves to parties and concerts. The buses are usually sold to the eager students in the year level below as soon as Russ finishes.

A final bizarre tradition of Russ is handing out Russekort – joke business cards that each graduating student has with their contact details, a funny photo, and often slogans or dirty jokes. These are handed out to anyone and everyone, and being given more cards is considered a sign of status and popularity. Little kids especially seem to love the cards, and collect them like mad! I remember collecting loads with my sister when we have been in Oslo during this time.

The constitution day holiday May 17 marks the final day of Russ. Russ students have their own special parade there, after the children’s and citizen’s parade, before sobering up in time to begin exams the following week. 

Good luck with your exams, Russ-goers! That is, of course, if you can remember anything at all after all that Russing.

No comments:

Post a Comment