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.

Nudity, Sex Education, and Sex

Everyone’s favorite topics! And no this is not about my love life. I’m talking mostly academics and culture.

To be honest my first encounter with any of these three things in Norway happened when I was planning my James Bond lesson. The plan was for the class to watch Moonraker (1979) and I realized a few days before we were scheduled to watch the movie that I should double check and make sure the movie wouldn’t be considered inappropriate. My main concern: the sex scenes.* Keep in mind that the movie was made in the 70’s so the scenes were hardly graphic. I was also working with 18 and 19 year olds and figured they would find the scenes unremarkable. But I thought it’d be in my best interests to double check with my co-teacher. To my immense relief, Maria immediately shrugged off my concerns, telling me that the students could care less about sex and nudity but that they would find violence upsetting. Again, Moonraker was made in the 70’s so I wasn’t worried about the corny combat scenes.

One of the things that did stick with me from this conversation was the blasé attitude Norwegians have towards sex and nudity. It’s not uncommon to see uncensored pictures of naked people, and to even find them on the front page of newspapers. It’s not necessarily done it a sexual way; from my outsider perspective, it seems as though people are simply accepting of what the human body looks like. What a great and novel concept in today’s society. No Photoshop for anyone! Saggy body parts galore!

My curiosity officially sparked on these three topics, I was talking with an American friend and her Norwegian boyfriend when I asked what sex education is like in Norway. He told me that sex education is taught in schools as are various methods of contraception. He was a bit stunned when I described a few of the more extreme sex education classes that I’ve heard of in the US. (I’m looking at you Texas). I did however hastened to reassure him that not all schools have abstinence only programs.

After a bit of cajoling from his girlfriend, my Norwegian friend told me that once he reached the age of consent (16) his parents didn’t mind if his girlfriend spent the night at his house. This of course led to a flurry of questions: In your room? (Yes) Could you sleep over at her house? (Yes) Doesn’t that make breakfast with everyone awkward? (Sorta). I went to a fairly liberal high school, but when I tried to imagine people from my high school doing the same thing a picture failed to compute. Then again maybe my high school was just weird.

Thoroughly intrigued as to whether or not this was a universal experience, I increased my sample size to include two more Norwegians. Based on my ridiculously small sample size, it appears that this is the norm. Although I was told that this does not hold true in Norway’s Bible belt. Yes, Norway has a Bible belt.

The last Norwegian opinion I got on this topic happened to come from a Norwegian doctor. I figured that there probably wasn’t going to be a much better authority on attitudes toward sex in Norway. What I was not expecting to hear in this conversation was this bombshell: 18% of Norwegian men have chlamydia. No you didn’t read that number incorrectly. EIGHTEEN PERCENT. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: But, but why?
Doctor: Well, most Norwegians have unprotected sex.
Me: Sooo do people just rely on female birth control?
Doctor: Yup!
Me: But, I still don’t understand the popularity of unprotected sex. I mean you guys have a comprehensive sex education system, right?
Doctor: Well yes…but…um…you know the sensation…it…ah…feels better
(Note that by this point I had a pretty shocked expression on my face since I was expecting a more compelling answer)
Me: But…I mean sure…but 18%???
Doctor: Well HIV isn’t really a thing in Norway so people prefer to take their chances.
Me: Oh…Well…In the US condoms and safe sex are pretty heavily promoted. Then again that’s not everywhere. There are places in the United States that don’t teach comprehensive sex education.
Doctor: Oh well we don’t really have that problem in Norway. And our teen pregnancy rates are quite low. Here the government will provide women with the Pill for free from 14-18. No parental consent required.

While I applaud Norway on the availability of the Pill and their overall liberal attitude, I still think their arguments regarding unprotected sex, especially considering their STI rate, could use a bit of work.

On a related note: for those of you who have been asking me if everyone looks like Marvel’s Thor, aka Chris Hemsworth:

Well the answer is obviously no. My life would be infinitely more enjoyable if it were, but sadly it is not the case. I would also like to add that there is nothing that kills off the relative attractiveness of your population like giving them a high STI rate.

*The reason my epiphany was so delayed was because I assumed that my American co-teacher would automatically know that every Bond movie has a sex scene or four.