The Party Before the Exams: Norway's Russ

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.

russ norway

Photo by kalevkevad from Flickr.

norway russ stavanger

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.

russ stavanger 2012
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.

russ party norway

Photo by Geir Halvorsen from Flickr.

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).

russ bus norway

Photo by ronny-andre from Flickr.

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.


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4 years ago

Indeed this is the most creative party for students. Ever.

7 years ago

Just to make it clear, it’s not really that common to by vans and cars for the celebrations, it’s mostly in the area around Oslo (the capitol) and some of the bigger cities.

7 years ago

The thing about the color of the overrals is not absolutely correct though, because some times the color is decided from traditions, for example, in some schools, they have the ordinary education, that normally would be red russ, but since the school maybe is old, and used to be an economics school, the russ gets blue insted 🙂 Just a little tip 🙂 And also, as someone mentioned above, 6000 NOK is wayyy to little for most people i would think (I have not been russ yet though, but all the way from first grade, the russ thing is kind… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Ada

Thanks for sharing the info, Ada!

9 years ago

Just to clarify a few things. Each school have separate lists of dares, where many of the dares are common, like sleeping in a roundabout. When you completed a dare you can in some cases tie a “knot” into the russ hat, and even though many of the knots/dares seems kinda wild, the one someone mentioned about drunk driving is fiction, as many of the wildest and disgusting dares people use to describe the celebration. Secondly drunk driving isn’t a problem since the buses requires professional drivers, and most people on a van have their license making it easy to… Read more »

9 years ago
Reply to  Pande

Thanks so much for sharing this information, Pande – when putting together this post I had to rely mainly on news stories about the controversy over Russ timing and secondhand information – so it is really great to hear from someone with inside knowledge.

9 years ago

That sounds strange; it perhaps depends on where your licence is from (an EU one is really easy) but as long as it’s not from Angola or something they should do a straight swap. Mine took less than 2 weeks but that was a while ago now!

9 years ago
Reply to  Andy

I hope that’s the case!! It was enough of an ordeal the first time around =)

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