17th of May

The 17th of May! Also known as Constitution Day, or in norsk syttende mai. The 17th of May is the Norwegian equivalent of America’s 4th of July, and although both holidays definitely have some overlap in the ways they are celebrated, there are also some notable differences.

One of the first things that I noticed right off the bat is that the 17th of May is a formal holiday. In America, our national day is celebrated in things like shorts and bro tanks, while in Norway, many Norwegians get dressed up in their bunads, or traditional Norwegian clothing. In Norway, a bunad is considered the most formal piece of clothing that you own–even more formal than black tie–and they are usually only worn for the 17th of May and for special events, such as weddings. The clothing itself is spectacular. Yards of intricately stitched wool is worn (which my co-teachers have told me is warm but incredibly heavy). I noticed that it was mainly the women and children who wore their bunads, while the men tended to prefer suits. Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to get any really good pictures of the bunads without seeming creepy, but you will still be able to get a sense of what they look like in the pictures. You might also notice that there are different types of bunads. This is because each region in Norway has its own traditional bunad pattern and design, with some being considered more desirable than others. I have to admit that I thought the bunads were marvelous, and I even half entertained getting one, at least I did until I casually asked one of my co-teachers about the cost. I was floored. For an authentic bunad, one that is done by hand and follows a particular set of traditional guidelines, the cost is around 20,000 NOK (2566.54 USD). Because of the exorbitant cost, it’s rare for people to buy the authentic versions. Children are usually given them (since they are smaller and less expensive) and young adults are usually given one at their confirmation (in their late teens). Because it’s not uncommon for adults to grow out of their bunads, it’s not unheard of to get a new one, although most people will then buy a cheaper and less authentic version.

Additionally, I would also say that the Norwegian national day is much more community and family oriented. Many people go to the day’s parades with their family or local groups, and because things are so community oriented, the festivities seem to be much calmer than they are in the United States.

However, one big similarity to the 4th of July is the parades. Parades are clearly the highlight of the day, although there were also a number of memorials, services, and performances going on throughout the day. The parades in Trondheim broke down into three different groups:

  1. Barnetoget – The children’s parade. Barnetoget is when children march with their schools into the city center. Many of the kids are dressed up in their bunads and walk into town singing.
  2. Folketoget – The citizen’s parade. Where different community groups band together and march in a parade. My TEDx Trondheim team was there, but so were a number of other groups, such as marching bands, dance groups, and a number of the university’s student organizations.
  3. Russetoget – The russ parade. When all of the drunk russ students march to the beat of their own loud stereo systems.

Because May 17th fell on a Sunday, a visiting friend, Olivia, and I decided to sleep in, thus missing barnetoget. We did however manage to make it to the city center with plenty of time to spare for folketoget. I even brought a small Norwegian flag with me. This didn’t fool many people though. I think the big indicator that Olivia and I were American was the way we answered the cheer, “hip hip.” The two of us would respond with “hurray,” while the Norwegians would shout “hurrah.” Oh, well.

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Folketoget was definitely an interesting parade to watch. There were so many different community groups that I didn’t even know existed in Trondheim. My favorite marchers were the ones in the photo above who marched on what I can only describe as a set of group cross country skis.

Afterwards, Olivia and I decided to have lunch in town before looking for the russ parade. We didn’t have to walk far before we found them–though I suppose we technically heard them before we saw them. The russ has gathered in a parking lot towards the beginning of the parade route and seemed to be having a blast. It was neat to see how even though all of these kids were collectively celebrating russ, each school was doing so in its own unique way. I was particularly impressed with the bunch that managed to all have Hello Kitty balloons.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before the russ began their parade–and my students were actually the ones leading the charge! Their collective enthusiasm was both infectious and hilarious to watch. The students ran around and had plenty of parade floats, flags, confetti cannons, and of course, russ cards. I had shown Olivia my collection of russ cards, but my collection paled in comparison to the ones the children had. The average collection had to be about three inches thick, and many children simply shoved their collections into large plastic bags because they were simply too big to hold in one hand. Watching the children follow the russ go by was also interesting. It was clear that the kids idolize the russ students and look forward to one day being old enough to participate.

Now that the 17th of May, and thus russ, has come and gone, I even admit that I sometimes miss seeing the russ around with their bright red overalls and hearing advertisements for Russ playlists on Spotify. Still, it’s also nice to have everything settle down and returned back to normal. If you’re interested in hearing a different 17th of May perspective, definitely check out this post done by my friend and fellow Fulbrighter, Lud Baldwin.

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Russ Updates

Today was the last day I had this week with my russ students, so I thought I would go ahead and update you on what I’ve learned.

  • First things first, I was wrong about russ hats. They are not given out on the 17th of May, the students actually have them for the entire duration of russ (I have gone ahead and updated my previous post).
  • Every dare that you undertake to earn russeknuter, or knots in your cap, must be documented or witnessed. I pressed my students on this, asking if this still applies to sexual dares. The answer: yes. To my surprise, they seemed to be confused as to why I found this strange.
  • Students decorate their russ overalls. Most of them will have their names and schools stitched on to them, but some also add things like patches that say “Don’t arrest me.” People also write on their overalls (much like you would write on someone’s cast). My favorite thing that I’ve seen so far was someone who wrote down their phone number but misspelled their name (the ‘a’ was written on backwards. Sadly it wasn’t intentional.) Some students also wear white lab coats that they decorate. I was told that the lab coats were part of an older russ uniform, but not too many students still use them today.
  • Baring absolute disaster (namely someone vomiting on you), my russ students really don’t wash their russ overalls until russ is over. Some of my students have decided to be a bit strategic about this, saving more messy dares (like crawling around the downtown area) for the end of russ.
  • Although russ hasn’t even gone on for a week, many of my students have already lost their voices or are sick–unsurprising considering most of them are partying every night.
  • And I’ve saved the best for last, russekort, or russ cards! I have been acting like Norwegian children everywhere and been collecting russ cards! Out of curiosity, I asked my students how many cards each of them have printed, and the answer is 600 each! I was blown away. When I asked if they actually expected to get rid of all of them, all of my students nodded emphatically. Many of them said that they can’t even get through Sentrum (city central) without having to give away 30 or 40 cards to children. I asked my students how long kids collect russ cards for and was told that it is socially acceptable until you’re about 12 or 13. My students have the good sense not to point out that I am not 13 or under, and instead seem to think it’s hilarious how excited I am to see their russ cards. Because a few of my friends were asking, I thought I’d show you my growing collection of russ cards, though for privacy reasons I’ve blocked out the pictures and personal information. I’ve also gone ahead and had some of the phrases translated for you.
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What can be done today can be done tomorrow

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7025 Upper West Side – Fill my glass to the top, thanks!

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When alcohol enters, my wits leave and make room for more alcohol. Cheers!

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vodka you so fine

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Address: Here and there – Tlf: Yes thanks – I’m old enough to know better but I’m young enough to do it anyway – I’m Captain, Captain Jack Sparrow

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Address: 12 Grimmauld place – Sometimes we must choose between what’s right and what’s easy – Albus Dumbledore

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Member of Clean Teens – I have been in doubt my whole life, but now I’m not sure anymore

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Vamos beber! (We’re going to drink!) – Member of: Los bromigos

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Stop global warming, I need ice for my martini

 

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Address: 120 Conch Street, Bikini Bottom, the Pacific – My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is. – Ellen DeGeneres

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Address: Second star to the right and straight on – chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions chocolate understands – Who tells you to drink responsibly and why would I drink with him?

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Address: Upper West Side – Tlf: Give me yours, and I’ll give you mine – It’s true. I’m kind of retarded. But I’m also kind of amazing MUTHAFUCKAA

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.