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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Would you stay drunk for 3 weeks right before your final exams?

It might seem like an odd question, but it isn't a random one. In Norway, it's the tradition. Or, it is in Oslo west and in the wealthy suburb Bærum. The 17th of May is Constitution Day in Norway and the beginning of the exam period. As the date approaches, school life dissolves into a peculiar Vann Gennet-style rite of passage called 'russ'.

A uniform (red overalls) is worn for the whole period and for many pupils, it's a period of partying. Many of them have prepared for ages for this, investing vast amounts of time and money in buses that take them to various parties and compete for 'best-bus' prizes. Norwegian students are unwilling to save for their education, but many work part-time jobs (sometimes for years!) to save up for the 'russ' party period.

It's cold in Norway at this time of year, so it isn't unusual for the entire final year at a school to get sick at this time. Schoolwork often suffers from constant partying and drinking even if pupils manage to stay healthy. Not surprising, then, that adults often complain about the insanity of the whole affair. What is surprising, however, is the lack of any real will to do anything about it. One of the few solid attempts to address the problem lately has been a suggestion to move the exams to a different date. Really. I don't make this stuff up. I don't have to.

Much of the drive for this celebration is a small number of firms that do really well selling various stuff connected to 'russ' to the kids: overalls, hats, sweaters, lighters, openers, underwear... there's a whole catalogue. Since the target market is already collected for them, it's easy for them to get their material to their customers. It's odd, really, because otherwise, Norway is extremely restrictive about allowing school to be used as a marketing forum. When it comes to russ, the doors open pretty wide. This is a picture of a group of pupils at a non-random school in the fall trying on the uniforms they will order as part of a package of russ material for the spring. This picture was taken during school hours.

(missing picture)

Photo credits: ronny-andre, Geir Halvorsen, random teacher