John came home from work the other day laughing about the free show he'd seen by the harbour. A large group of teenagers, some of them clad only in mankinis, had been dancing around in the windy 5°C weather. Every time I've gone into town over the last few weeks I've never failed to see some russ, the graduating high-school revellers of Norway.
Every year the russ tradition is in full swing from 26 April until Norway's National Day, May 17th. Those students finishing high school studies don their outfits: coloured overalls with matching caps depending on their subject of specialty. Red are for general studies, blue for business, white for medical and social professions, black for vocations and green for agriculture. This is a time for well-organized drinking and debauchery, with the students spending large sums of money on the weeks of celebration.
What's most interesting and controversial is that this full-on party season takes place before their end-of-year exams. Debate rages about whether they should move the festivities to after the exams are completed. Ironically, russ originally started after exams and was moved in 1979 in an attempt to tone the whole thing down. The problem is that it was never moved back when this plan failed.
The fun includes a variety of harmless (and harmful) dares as well as expensive vehicles called russebil, which can include decorated vans kitted out with stereos, televisions, furniture and refrigerators. The students create mock business cards with their names and details, while some of them create humorous newspapers to raise money for the party. This is an important rite of passage for Norwegian young people as most of them reach their 18th birthday just before the party period, the age limit for both drinking and getting a driver's licence (not a good combo).
Every country has their own coming of age traditions, though this is by far the longest, wildest and most creative party I've ever heard of. We'll look forward to checking out the Russ Parade, which will happen in Stavanger on the National Day.