Russ is a more than century-old Norwegian way of celebrating that
Traditionally, russ used to be the title young people in
Norway got when they finished the gymnasium and got their examen
artium degree. They celebrated this with wild parties, and various
kinds of pranks and mischief. While doing this, they would dress up
in the characteristic "student's cap", which is a round, flat,
soft hat, with a short, black, rubbery peak. At the top of it, it has a
long (about 45 cm) string attached, at the end of which is a
Over the years, this characteristic cap has lost its symbolism of being
a student (someone who had the right to study, whether s/he did or
not), and has become increasingly connected to the wild partying that
goes on at the end of gymnasium. In pictures from university
immatriculations from the mid-70s one could still see a few students
among the crowd with a student's cap on, but most people who are shown
this cap today, would identify as a russelue, a russ cap,
and not a student's cap.
The pranks and wild partying of the russ was largely accepted in the
early days, as it was an opportunity for young people to behave
irresponsibly for a while, before going into a job or position where
they would have to keep in line for the rest of their lives. In this
respect, being a russ was looked upon as similar in purpose to a stag
party. The word russ in fact comes from the latin word
depositorus, which means "one who lays off [his
horns]", the "horns" being a metaphor for youthful
impulses and playfullness that had to be acted out and thus removed
before entering adult life.
Today, higher education is no longer reserved for the upper class.
But the russ tradition has continued and even expanded. The russ uniform
has been invented. This single-coloured overall helps making the russ
visible in the spring, when school is about to finish. While the
celebration in its original version started only after the exams, it has
started earlier and earlier each year, until it has stabilized in its
present form. Today, it starts around the 1st of May (International
Labour Day), climaxes between the evening of 16th of May and morning
of 17th of May, and ends in a march on the 17th of May, the
Constitution Day of Norway. The actual exams don't start until at
least a couple of weeks later...
Their wild behaviour has even been institutionalize
d via the so-called
. These rules entitle russ who accomplish certain
s or prank
s to attach certain objects in the strings of their
caps. These differ from school to school, and can be as many as 50 or
more. I'll mention some of the most common here, that gives an idea of
what today's russ can do to gain popularity among their peers:
- One knot - being awake for one night.
- Two knots - being awake for two nights in a row.
- Three knots - being awake for three nights in a row.
- Piece of chalk - kissing/dating a teacher.
- Piece of toilet paper - winding several
turns of toilet paper around a teacher's house.
- Piece of sandwich paper - stealing a teacher's
- Beer bottle cap - drinking an entire crate of
beer (0.33l * 24 bottles = 7.92l) in a 24 hour period.
- Ice cream stick - bathing in the sea before the
1st of May.
As you can see, most of these are unhealthy
, or even
. In 2002
, a school in Tromsø
even had to remove a knot rule
by request of the police. The russ board
had approved of a knot rule
that encouraged russ to pretend to rob a local petrol station
Another thing is that the tradition of russ has spread to many more
kinds of school than the old gymnasium, which is now one of the many
courses offered in the Norwegian secondary school. Everyone who gets a
diploma from one of these courses, whether it is a technical/vocational
school, or one that gives admission to colleges and universites, are
entitled to become a russ. The russ from different courses
are separated by their colour, which is used on their caps, on their
overalls, and in most other case that are connected with russhood.
These are the colours that I am familiar with, others may be added if I
can find more information:
- Red - the colour of the original russ of the
gymnasium. Is considered the default colour of all russ whose exams
give admission to universities. Examples: music, dance, and drama,
- Blue - the second-to-oldest russ colour. Russ
from the course of economy and administration get this colour.
- Black - most russ from technical (vocational)
colleges. Examples: mechanics, electrical subjects.
- White - I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I've
seen some of these.
- Green - today, this colour is used by the russ
from some agricultural schools. Formerly, this was the
colour of the graduates from the realskole, which is roughly
equivalent to the last forms of today's ungdomsskole (see below), plus
the first form of today's "common subjects", the largest and
least specialized of the "red" courses of Norwegian secondary
- Orange - pupils who have finished primary
school. Yes, primary school. In some municipalities with no secondary
schools, these 15-16-year-olds are allowed to dress up in bright orange
garments and engage in a (presumed) lighter version of the wild partying
of the older russ. Legal drinking age in Norway is 18 years, but the
orange russ can and do get alcohol from their older friends. If you
asked me, this practice should be outlawed throughout the entire
country. The reason this is not allowed in municipalities with secondary
schools, seems to be that the older russ (red, blue, etc.) have a habit
of harassing the orange russ. Even in places where there is orange russ,
they are watched closely by the police.
- Pink - this is something of a curiosity. When
Norway reformed its primary school from 9 forms to 10 forms, they added
one form at the beginning, so that pupils had to start school at the age
of six, instead of seven, as before. There was one year of transition
before the reform was enacted in full. In this year, all forms from
first to ninth would continue as before, while the six year old children
were sent to school in what was sometimes called "zeroth
form" or simply "the six-year-olds". The next year,
all pupils skipped a form, so that children went from e.g. third to
fifth form over the summer holiday. Zeroth form was now second form. But
before zeroth form came to an end, all the children got little pink russ
caps. The pink russ was a one-of-a-kind event, and I have fortunately
heard no stories of wild partying and heavy drinking among the
- Other colours - yellow was apparently used for some
kinds of vocational schools in earlier times. It is also possible for
the russ overalls to be quartered with two colours, although the russ
cap must remain in one colour. The two-colour combinations are used for
some "middle-of-the-road" cases; for instance, people who go
through a special last year of agricultural school with some theoretical
subjects can get admission to universities, and therefore wear a
quartered red and green overall.