I finally get to talk about the Russ tradition! I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, but now that I finally have some pictures, and have been able to talk to people about this, I feel that I still don’t really know enough to provide an adequate description of this tradition. I do, however, find this tradition amazingly fascinating. –From what I can tell, no other country has anything quite like this. Even Sweden and Denmark don’t have anything like this from what I’ve been told. But enough talk, I’ve hyped this up so much that the rest of this post probably won’t be able to match it.

It is easiest to equate a Russ to a high school senior, although that’s not quite right. There are three categories of students at this level. First, there are those students in some sort of trade school who might become a mechanic, an electrician, or other blue collar jobs. Second, you have students who will become something the equivalent of white collar workers, but without going to college. –Some of these students might actually stick around for another year if they decide they do want to go to a university. Finally, you have the students who are preparing to go to college, and these are the students who will stick out the most during early May.

In Norway, classes for seniors end around the end of April. May 1 is traditionally considered the start of the Russ season. Now, don’t get me wrong, there will be different events these students hold all during their final year, but it’s the end of classes when things really kick off. As I said, classes finish up around the end of ARusspril, but students still have to take exams, which start after Norway’s Constitution day (May 17). This means students have close to three weeks to study. Can you guess how much studying they seem to actually get done? Yeah, definitely not three weeks’ worth.

Meet Mari, Hans Marius, Marius, and Kenneth. I met them while waiting to see the Star Trek movie (it started at 12:01 on Friday morning, making for a tough day at work later, I probably don’t need to tell you). Unfortunately I can’t tell you too much about these students individually, since we spent the time we had speaking about the traditions of this time of year. From the little time we had to speak, they seem like good people, and they were quite happy to tell me what it is to be Russ.

You will notice that they are all wearing similar pants, which is part of the tradition. Red pants mean that they are in the third academic track I mentioned above, and they plan to attend a university. Students wear blue pants if they’re in the second group, and the students going to a trade school will wear black pants, if they participate at all. The students decorate their pants with iron on patches, writing, and many have their names on one of the legs, such as you can sort of see with Mari. Friends will often sign the pants as well. They will wear these pants from around May 1 (sometimes earlier) through the 17th. Every day. All day. And part of the tradition is that they don’t get washed.

Another piece of the tradition are russekorter. The size of a business card, russekorter usually have a picture of the student, possibly some contact information, and a joke of some sort. The picture generally isn’t serious. It might be a baby picture or something that was taken at a party. The joke? From what I’ve seen, they’re usually pretty bad. If you’d like to see an example, take a look at this post, presumably by Ronja Røverdatter. Children often go around collecting these cards.

Finally – well, in regards to what I’m going to write about tonight – are the russebuser, the Russ buses. Traditionally students might drive around in a van with as large of a sound system they can afford and drive around drinking (not the driver, of course) all through the night. In the larger cities, especially in Oslo, they’ve taken this a step further. Some students will band together to buy a bus and outfit it with a sound system. Just in case you think I mistyped, I didn’t – they will actually buy a bus. Apparently this can cost in the range of a million kroner, or somewhere in the $200,000 range. You can see below a couple of pictures of one of the buses. If I get a chance to see the insides of any others, I’ll post more pictures later.
Russbuss - Outside Russbuss - Inside
There are more traditions associated with this time of year, but I haven’t really heard enough to write about them. Hopefully I will be able to do so sometime next week. I also hope others find this as interesting as I do. As strange as some of this may seem, it’s important to remember that there are traditions that we have in America that are also rather unique. Prom, yearbooks (for the most part), and the walk across a stage to receive their diploma are not something that graduating students usually experience in Norway, so it’s really not surprising that they have developed their own traditions.

Winter Continues

At one poSnow 2009int I was wondering if winter would ever arrive in Oslo.  Well, it did!  The picture on the right was taken in January, and illustrates just how much snow was falling at times!  There were a couple of weekends that were more or less nonstop snow!

Much of the snow has melted, but there are still piles along many roads, and in some parts of town, the sidewalks aren’t completely clear yet.  In fact, there was more snow this weekend, but it did not really stick.  –I’m talking about in Oslo, near the center of the city.  The further out you get, the more snow there is.  It’s important to remember that the city is situated more or less in a bowl.  The center of the city is located on the Oslofjorden, and the rest of the city rises up around it.  This is also why you can reach ski locations in less than an hour on the trams.

I am more or less ready for spring to arrive, however.  Don’t get me wrong, I love snow, but after a while you get tired of the ice and puddles of water.  From what I hear, though, our current weather may continue for a while – maybe into April.  Whatever comes, I’m sure I’ll manage.

The Oslo Riots

Credit: AFP

Credit: AFP

Oslo is not usually the center of excitement, but last week seemed to be an exception.  On Thursday evening while I was at my norskkurs (Norwegian class), a pro-Israel demonstration was interrupted by a pro-Palestine group that turned violent.  Apparently Molotov cocktails were thrown, windows smashed, police injured, and tear gas used repeatedly to break up the mob.  A couple of my coworkers were in the downtown area and…  encountered…  tear gas.  It was apparently a rather unpleasant experience.

As for me, I was headed home after my class and started heading down Parkveien (the road behind the palace), when I started noticing a log of police cars and some sort of barricade down the road.  Needless to say, I had to backtrack and walk through the park around the palace to get home, and I saw that the police had a couple of roads blocked off in the area around the Israeli embassy.  Apparently officials estimate the damage to be in the millions of Kroners (broken windows, damaged police cars, etc.).

On Friday there was a more peaceful protest that went past work – lots of shouting and a police escort, but no rioting.  And on Saturday a window was broken at a McDonalds – apparently there was a rumor that they were donating a day’s profits to support Israel (yeah, like a company would do that, but it just goes to show how stupid people can be).

The edge of Oslo

Last week it was suggested that I travel to Frognerseteren, a location on the Northwestern edge of Oslo.  It is the last stop of Line 1 on the T-bane.  Where I live, there was a tiny bit of snow.  Up at Frognerseteren, well, take a look at the picture below.Frognerseteren Area

Frognerseteren Area Small.jpgFrognerseteren is a very popular area, especially during weekends when people go skiing and sleding.  There is even a ski lift!  Cross country skiing is also very popular in the area from what I saw while I was up there.  I need to go back as I only headed north of the station, but apparently there are some nicer views of the city a bit south of the station.

A word of advice, though, go early, and get on at a station in the middle of the station.  –I got on at Stortinget and there weren’t many seats left.  Lots of people with skis, though!  It’s about a 40 minute journey, but worth it.  Here’s one of the views I did find looking towards the city.Frognerseteren

Picture Day!

Bislet ChurchI took this picture on the 15th on a clear day – probably around 2pm, so there was still plenty of light.  I like the way the trees sort of hide the building, but you can still see the beauty of the church.  –I’m not a religious person, but even I can admit that a lot of effort tends to go into designing religious buildings.  I don’t really know anything about this church – it’s not like the well known one in the center of the city, of which I would post a picture, except that it’s been covered with plastic the entire time I’ve been here due to renovations or other repairs.

I’m struggling to decide if I want to talk about unions in Norway – I’ve learned a lot more about them due to contract discussions at work (that won’t get discussed here), and I find that I’m rather discomforted by them, but I need to decide if I can explain the matter well here.

Oslo Parks: St. Hanshaugen

sthanshaugenreflectingpondSt. Hanshaugen park, constructed between 1876 and 1886, is a bit more than a five minute walk from my apartment.  I headed over there on Wednesday to find out what was there.  It was actually a bit surreal.  The photo on the left was taken around 5pm, and you can see the empty reflecting pool that is built over a reservoir.  During the weekends, and especially in the main part of the summer, the park may look quite a bit different, but when I was there, it actually felt…  Desolate.

A few other people were passing through, and I saw a couple of people taking advantage of the peace to do some reading.  But, even accounting for the lack of people, the place felt empty and deserted.  There are a couple of interesting sculptures in the park, which I may try to find out more information about and write posts about later.

It’s always nice to know where parks are in a city, even if you don’t visit them often.  And Oslo has a lot of parks and other green spaces.  St. Hanshaugen isn’t even close to being the largest, but it’s still somewhat around 22 acres.

The Royal Palace

Oslo Palace

Royal Palace, Oslo

Norway has an interesting history.  For many years they were in a union with Denmark (not by choice), and then they were sort of given to Sweden in the early 19th century, which lasted until 1905.  It was during the union with Sweden that the Royal Palace was built.  It’s a small palace compared to others in Europe, because it wasn’t meant to be the primary residence of a royal family.

Today Norway’s king and queen live and do their work in the palace.  The crown prince also has offices here as well.  If you are going to be in Oslo in July or early August, you should consider taking the tour.  They give tours in English about three times a day during this time.  Buy your tickets in advance at the post office, otherwise they might sell out before you can get a ticket.

One downer is that they don’t let you take any pictures, and the palace’s website has all their pictures in flash files.  The tour takes you through the vestibule, the bird room, the “family” dining room, the ballroom, another dining hall, and the royal chapel, plus some other rooms.  A lot of it is very ornate, much as you’d expect of a palace, although the chapel is actually fairly plain.  It doesn’t necessarily show you how the king and queen live, but you get to see rooms that they use fairly often.

Picture by photojenni