Early Friday morning before a holiday should be quiet. The string of warm and sunny weather has kept many Norwegians out-of-doors and active late. I thought the walk from the bus stop across the Aker river to Foss Vidergåendeskole would literally and figuratively be a walk in the park. Well, it started that way. The trees were in blossom, early morning people were on the trails, walking dogs, running, and heading to appointments.
But after I crossed the historic bridge at the falls a new sound crowded out the rush of water, bass. A throbbing bass, the war cry of teens staking out their assault on everything that adults hate. It’s an old story. It was exciting, I scurried up the hill toward the commotion.
In the front yard of the historic school was a large bus blasting out music. A group of red suited teens loitered in the grass. some danced, others chatted but “grab-ass” seemed to be the M.O. I tried to take a couple of pictures but too quickly the partygoers were mugging for my camera with gusto. Even at this early hour these Russ were wound for sound.
I was warned of the Russ. Actually I was warned about many things Norway before I traveled. I was warned of weather, the food, the prices, and the unsociability of the citizens: It’s going to be bad! False, false, false, and false. The cautions I heard about the Russ were false too, I think some people like to scare the uninitiated.
Teens graduating from upper secondary school are called Russ (sounds like “roos”). Specifically, they have a Russetid during first two weeks of May when they become The Russ. The teens, aged 18-19, don red bibs or coveralls for the duration – no washing – and engage in a bacchanal.
They party, they drink, they play loud music…all the things that you’d expect of unrestricted teens and more. Some make a royal nuisance of themselves, most just revel without endangering themselves or others.
The Russ carry personalized business cards with sophomoric slogans and images, younger kids beg for them-mine included. Several times I’ve had to take away cards from the boys due to the swear words or sexual images. I’m an American prude, the Norwegians don’t seem to care.
But the most interesting facet of the Russ experience is the timing. My American pupils party after their exams, after graduation. Well, they try. American society foists early adulthood on teens with marketing, movies, and bad examples from adults at the same time American society say no to all things that are markers of adulthood: beer, sex, and freedom of decisions.
In Norway, the free-for-all is before the exam period, curious if not downright silly. As I have traveled the country and spoken with teachers, I’ve never gotten a good answer about the timing. Instead, most teachers complain that they hate the ritual and cannot understand why the foolishness comes before rather than after exams and graduation.
Extant societal rituals often have little to do with their origins, for example, ancient solstice worship vis-a-vis evergreen trees and American Christmas celebrations. Like young children from a divorce, there may be a connection by name but little knowledge of the original relationship. How did the Russ get to the modern day outrageous spending and debauchery from a humble origin? I don’t know.
The tradition has evolved: time, oil wealth, MTV… all factors to be sure. But why such
madness before the tests? I finally have a response to fill the void: student cultivation.
Ah, it’s not what you think, I’m having a little fun with words. One, in Norway “Student” is a title reserved for those at university. Teens and younger learners are called “pupils.” Two, cultivation here means removal, think about weeding a garden.
What I am suggesting is that part a function of the Russ activities is to excise teens from choice university ranks. The cumulative effects are a lifetime of reduced opportunities. Say what?
The end of school tests are high stakes for Norwegian teens. They have spent three years in focused preparation for the exams. I don’t think of tests as exit exams from vidergåendeskoler, rather as entrance exams for entrance to university. That is, do well and you get your choice of schools and programs. Or, do poorly and suffer lifelong consequences.
Here’s where the fortnight long party comes into play. Education is a strategic and longitudinal enterprise. Success in academics is built on years of study, layers of news lessons on old learnings, and family support. In America, this reality tips the balance of educational beneficiaries to the affluent. I suspect Norway may be now following that example.
Less prepared pupils, less supported pupils, worse test-taking pupils are at risk. In America, as well as Norway, I have met and worked with many a teen who could do a crash preparation for an exam with surprising success. But what if you interrupt their final and focused studying with two weeks of raising hell? I think you have sown the seeds of academic disappointment.
Do I have an peer-reviewed studies on which to support my ideas? No. Have I collected any data to prove my point? No, So, this is just a parlor game? No, but this is a blog and I have experience and a lot of education.
The musicians were hard to hear, maybe musicians was stretch, I’ll go with entertainers. A small group of red jumper clad teens were performing as a kazoo band in a little park near city hall. The larger scene was a frenzy of people enjoying the sights and sun of a weekend afternoon. They were having innocent fun, not a crushed beer can in sight. The kids looked clean and happily handed out their cards to all askers, including my little pair of groupies. I am going to predict those teens will be just fine. Like most of the teens in Norway, or the States for that matter, they will be just fine. Seems like that a small group of outrageous partiers suck up all the attention. When the Joker told Batman (Tim Burton, 1989), “If you gotta go, then go with a smile!” his comment was a nihilistic statement on life itself. I wonder if the Russ have an equivalent sentiment?