Sverresborg Folk Museum

I discovered the Trondheim Folk Museum pretty late in my Fulbright year, but have become somewhat enamored with it since then. Like most folk museums in Scandinavia, the one in Trondheim consists of a museum as well as grounds. Unfortunately the museum is a bit haphazardly done, or at least it felt that way because everything was in Norwegian, but it was still fun to quickly walk around. I enjoyed looking over a few of the historical displays, particularly the ones featuring Elvis and what appeared to be old punk rock clothing.

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While the museum wasn’t the best, the grounds were pretty great to walk around. There wasn’t an abundance of information for each of the ground’s buildings, but there was the odd sign post and the occasional human to answer questions. Thanks to them, I now have answers to two questions that have been bugging me since I arrived in Norway. The first involved wanting to know the reasoning behind Norwegian building’s grassy roofs. I was told that the benefit of the roofs were that they were cheap, long lasting (they last around 30 years or more), and they provide good insulation. The other question I had was why most of the buildings were red.* Turns out that one of the byproducts of iron is a red pigment. Because iron mines were in Norway and Sweden, getting the pigment was cheap, it was a byproduct which no one wanted, which made it cheaper, and it was also long lasting. The mystery of the red houses was officially solved.

The museum also has a few more well known places in the grounds. One of the most well known is the remains of King Sverre’s castle. The castle is in ruins now, but it was originally constructed in the winter of 1183-84. It was the first stone castle in Norway, although it was torn down and rebuilt twice. After the civil-war years, the castle didn’t serve a purpose and was abandoned and left to deteriorate. It was later reclaimed by the Germans during World War II due to its strategic significance, which I’m assuming was namely that it has a sweeping view of the city.

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Other highlights of the grounds included seeing an old catapult in action and following a few rogue lambs around the property. As for the buildings themselves, several of them were quite stunning, particularly one farmhouse that was redone and repainted.

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Nicole and I also had a lot of fun at a farmhouse where we were able to interact with a few Norwegians who decided to show us around in character. The farmhouse they gave us a tour of was from 1906, so we had a bit of fun playing along and saying that we had arrived in Norway by boat after many weeks at sea, and that while America’s streets were not paved in gold, they were paved in silver. They in turn had fun showing us around. I would say that the two biggest things that we learned were that most homes had a Sunday room, or a very special room only used on Sundays or for guests, and we also learned the proper way to sleep. Apparently it’s incorrect to sleep horizontally because angels flying overhead might mistake you as dead and come and take your soul. The proper way to sleep is to sleep upright, as if sleeping in a chair.

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We also paid a visit to the old town. The old town consists of buildings that used to be located in downtown Trondheim. There they have several exhibits featuring a dentist office, apothecary, and even a telephone operating room.

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My favorite spot was however the ski museum. I had never really thought too much about Norway’s favorite sport, so it was nice to gain some insight into it.

Skiing only started to take off in Norway in 1850. There were several factors that led to this, but they can be summarized by saying that an increase in wealth gave people the time and money to take up the sport. While more and more people were able to take up skiing, skiing only started to be closely linked to Norwegian identity after Fridtjof Nansen, a national hero and polar explorer, popularized his arctic explorations. This caused people to associate this hero, and Norwegians, with skiing.

Skiing was originally advertised as a masculine sport, and one that solely in the domain of men. The first organized ski trips in Norway used to be organized by groups of men, and they often ended in drinking. Women were allowed to go skiing for recreation, and it was common for small groups of men and women to go skiing together. Although women were encouraged to ski for leisure or for practical purposes, during this time they were largely kept away from competitive skiing, such as ski-jumping and cross-country ski racing. Women were only able to truly gain acceptance in competitive skiing in the 1970’s.

The Norwegian tradition of Sunday skiing started to gain popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but these days skiing has become less and less popular. Only about half of Norwegian children own skis, and an even smaller percentage actually use them. Some Norwegians worry that this downturn in skiing will cause it to fade out, eventually stopping the phrase “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.”**

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the Folk Museum and would definitely recommend paying it a visit, especially on a nice sunny day.

*Generally speaking the houses in Norway are one of seven colors: red, green, blue, brown, yellow, black, or white.

**Alix can testify that she’s happy that this saying is inaccurate.

Russ

Russ is here! It’s the time of year, when to quote Buzzfeed, “Norwegian teenagers lose their fucking minds, wreak havoc across the country and EVERYONE IS TOTALLY FINE WITH IT.” If you want a colorful overview of russ definitely check out this Buzzfeed article, otherwise I’m going to go ahead and explain it, but without all of the GIFs and Instagram pictures.

Now because russ is not well documented in English, most of my knowledge comes from my co-teachers, English language blogs, and Wikipedia, so apologies if any of this is incorrect.

When is russ?

Russefeiring, more commonly known as russ, is a tradition that started in 1905. Students who are in their last year of upper secondary school participate in what is essentially a month long graduation celebration. The start date for this celebration seems to depend on where you’re located and the school that you attend, but I’ve been told that it can start as early as the end of Easter break (around April 6). For my students, they have decided to start on the official russ day, May 1. But regardless of what day russ starts, it always ends May 17, Constitution Day, the Norwegian national day.

To make matters more interesting, students have their national exams in the weeks right after russ ends. Now you might wonder why on earth you would ever have russ before your national exams instead of after them. According to one of my co-teachers, things used to be organized this way, but the timeline was changed in the hopes that it would make things less crazy. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think that this has been a successful strategy and there is talk of moving russ to after the national exams.

How can you tell if someone is participating in russ?

Students are traditionally supposed to wear special russ overalls, or russebukse, which cost around 599 NOK (78 USD). The color of your russebukse depends on what you are studying:

  • Red for higher education (the most common color)
  • Blue for business (also higher education in economics and management)
  • White for medical and social studies
  • Black for engineering (such as mechanics or electrics)
  • Green for agriculture

and these overalls are worn for the entire duration of russ (at least two weeks straight).

There are also russ hats, russelue, that are given to each student. The idea behind them is similar to the idea of a graduation cap, they are a symbol of completion. The hats also have a nickname written on their brim which is suppose to characterize either the student’s normal behavior or their russ behavior.

What happens during russ?

Now you’re probably wondering what these students actually do during russ. Well one element of russ comprises of students trying to earn russ knots for their caps, or russeknuter. These pranks usually have to be witnessed by either members of the Russeboard, or videotaped (Yes, there is a governing student body to this month long celebration). When a prank or dare has been verified, the student earns a knot in their cap. Out of curiosity, I went on this year’s russ website (Yes, there is even a website) and looked at a few of this year’s challenges. According to Google Translate, some choice dares are:

  • Buy a pack of condoms using only body language
  • Go through a whole lesson wearing only underwear
  • Pretend you are an animal for an entire school day
  • Act as a tour guide on public transportation for at least five stops
  • Drink a bottle of wine in 20 minutes, minimum 75cl.
  • Go through an entire school day with your arms and legs tied or taped to another russ
  • Have safe sex with a statue
  • Have sex with two people with the same first name on the same evening.

To my relief, there is a range in how risqué the dares are. Here are a few of the nicer ones:

  • Visit a retirement home and make the residents’ day brighter
  • Give a hug to a police officer. Remember to ask nicely
  • Take a picture with the Russeboard and post on Instagram
  • Be at school every day during school (for smart individuals)

Additionally, many students participate in different parties and even fundraise for these parties. My students put on a play that I was invited to (they assured me that it would be PG-13), but I was unable to attend. The ticket proceeds went to an afterparty.

If you take a look at the Buzzfeed article above, you’ll even see that some students manage to buy buses that they transform into russ party buses. They essentially drive around the country going to different parties, or simply set up shop in a parking lot and drink there. When I asked my students if they had a bus their response was “…No. That’s for the rich kids in Oslo. Why would you even want to party in a parking lot?” Clearly there are some regional russ differences.

Reactions to russ

In short, russ involves a lot of drinking, partying, and (unprotected) sex. My students had to go to an assembly where they talked to a police officer and the school nurse. When I asked them what they learned, they said they learned about safe sex (this was paired with an eye roll), “how to not get raped,” and where to get tested for STDs. When I asked if they learned about safe drinking, their answer was confused silence. After waiting for about a minute, someone ventured to say, “They told us to drink water?” I tried very hard not to cringe this entire time.

I’ve had a number of people ask me what Norwegians generally think about this tradition, and the answer is that many of them don’t mind it. Many older people look back fondly on this time, while younger kids think that it is something to look forward to. One thing that gets children really excited about russ is russ business cards, a fake business card that each students makes. The typical card has a silly picture paired with an inappropriate phrase, and children go around and try and collect as many of these russ cards as they can. This is also why one of this year’s russ challenges is to run through an elementary school during recess without giving away a single card.

As for me, as a teaching assistant I’m in an ideal spot to watch all of this. I’m not responsible for how well students do on their national exams, nor am I really in a position to discipline any of my students. I’m interested to see how the next few weeks play out, and rest assured I will report if I notice anything russ related happening in class.