The Colourful Traditions of Norwegian Students Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Colourful Traditions of Norwegian Students

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In Norway, students graduate from Junior College at the age of 18 or 19. In the month before their final exams, they are known as russ, an abbreviation for the Latin phrase cornua depositurus, which translates as 'take off the horns'. The first recorded use of the term russ occurs in the book Erasmus Montanus by Ludvig Holdberg. The word can be applied to students who are leaving the education system and looking for a job, or to those who are going on to university. Either way, they're likely to have to take on more responsibility pretty soon, so Norwegian students traditionally make the most of their last days of freedom by dressing strangely and behaving even more strangely.

Some might say that students do this all over the world, and certainly the school leaver's prank is a global phenomenon - but in Norway, it's competitive. The students are competing for russeknuter, or knots - badges of honour which have to be earned in a variety of bizarre ways.

The russ are easily recognizable in April and May, when the russeknuter season is under way. They wear baggy trousers with big pockets, and a hat or cap with a long string at the end. Russ have worn hats like this since at least 1905. Accounts from that year record this unusual headgear being sported by students in Oslo.

Many places in Norway have a russeparade on 17 May each year, where the students parade through the streets doing anything they can to brighten up the place, have fun and generally draw attention to themselves, from shouting slogans to throwing water around.

The hats and trousers are colour-coded depending on which subject a student is studying. If you're studying general education, your clothes are red. Medical and social studies students wear white. Engineering students dress in black, and economics students are clad in blue.

But the most important items in the students' outfits are the hats, and the strings on them. The more knots and objects are attached the student's hat-string, the more respect the student is likely to get from his or her peers, because earning those decorations isn't easy.

The rules vary from college to college and from year to year, with new rules being drawn up by the captain of each college's russ when the season comes around, but the 'knots' are always earned by doing something silly and funny. Here are some examples of the kind of things that have gone on, and the 'knots' that were awarded.

How 'Knots' Can Be Earned

  • Stay up for 24 hours - one regular knot.

  • Stay up for 48 hours - two regular knots.

  • Sing karaoke in Karl Johan Street, Oslo - a cassette tape.

  • Stand still in a shop window for three minutes - a price tag from the store.

  • Drink nine beers (boys) or six beers (girls) in a phone box, in one hour - a piece of phone book.

  • Kiss a teacher - an eraser.

  • Sleep in a tree at night for four hours - a stick.

  • Crawl though a car belonging to a stranger, which has stopped at a red light - a piece of red glass or plastic.

  • Be sober for a whole week in May - a straw.

  • Kiss a bus driver - a bus ticket.

  • Buy tampons in a store using sign language only (no speaking or writing allowed) - a tampon box.

  • Drink a bottle of beer while you have two tampons in your mouth - a tampon.

  • Kiss a policeman/woman - a lighter.

  • Have ten biscuits in your mouth and whistle 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' - a whistle.

  • Get ten autographs from members of the opposite sex on your underwear - a pen.

  • Eat lunch in your underwear in a café - a plastic spoon.

  • Eat a box of ice cream in a café, using only your hands - a piece of ice cream box label.

  • Eat a meal on the steps of a police station - a little plastic toy.

  • Don't say a word for 24 hours - a piece of paper.

  • Walk backwards for 24 hours - a shoe lace.

  • Give a teacher an extended hug (for about three minutes) - a piece of chocolate.

  • Crawl through a shop barking like a dog, and bite a customer's leg - a dog biscuit.

  • Give flowers to a man in a suit and beg him to stop being so serious - a tie.

  • Convince ten people to stop watching Big Brother1 - three regular knots.

  • Collect 30 of these knots - a red or blue silk ribbon.

Calling Cards and Blacklists

Another essential accessory for every russ is a large quantity of russe-cards. Whenever they wear their russ clothes, they're expected to bring these cards and hand them out to anyone who mentions them.

Russe-cards have a photo of the individual student, their name, and a few lines explaining whatever opinion he/she may have on a subject of the student's choice. The russ try to make these few lines as original as possible. The cards can become collectors' items. Children in particular collect russe-cards and use them as trading cards.

Russ often compile 'most wanted' lists, or blacklists, on which they write the names of everyone who has really annoyed them, and who they would therefore like to have revenge on.

If your name is on any of these blacklists, beware. It makes it acceptable in russ society for any russ to humiliate you in any possible way. Incidents have been reported in which students have been tied naked to trees for hours.

The moral of the story is clear. Treat the Norwegian russ with respect. They're having the time of their lives - and you really wouldn't want them to have their colourful fun at your expense.

1So at least one of these tasks does have a genuine social value...

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