National Day in Tromsø : The Russ Invasion!
Originally published on The North Way, my previous blog …
Almost 200 years ago, on may 17th 1814, the Norwegian constitution has been signed granting Norway its independence towards the Swedish crown. Since then, every year Norwegians celebrate this day as the Norway’s national day. Something very interesting about it is its very non-military nature. Most of the parade is made by children, students and associations. And the result is a really happy and positive day.
As you can expect from me, I was not able to wake up for the first half of the parade, which was mostly dedicated to children. But I was really curious about one thing : the russ parade! Russ are the participants of the traditional Norwegian high school graduation ceremony called Russfeiring. They are easily recognizable with their overalls and caps that they have to wear, without washing them, during the whole Russfeiring.
The overall and caps can have different colors:
– Red for students having courses geared towards higher education
– Black for engineering students
– Blue for business students
– Green for agriculture students.
The Russfeiring can last up to one month, with the culmination of the celebration on the 17th of may. During this period, they have to perform stupid tasks to earn russeknuter (russ knots). Of course, the more knots you have, the better! ;)
I couldn’t resist to copy paste Wikipedia for some examples:
“Here are some excerpts from the list of the russe knots (and the items you receive):
- Answering every question the teacher asks by reading out loud from a porn magazine (pornographic picture)
- Speak a language other than Norwegian for an entire day (a piece of a dictionary)
- Drink a beer while having two tampons in your mouth (a tampon)
- Order a meal from McDonalds or Burger King without using vowels (a letter from the alphabet)
- Have safe sex outdoors (a pinecone)
- Ask for sex tips from the mother of one of your fellow russ (a safety-pin)”
And effectively, those last days I have had the chance to see (and hear) a good number of russ in the streets of Tromsø. Some in their van listening to music loudly, some drinking all night long on the beach, some fishing in the sewers … All wearing this iconic overall with the Norwegian flag. Their parade is also really interesting. All are in a more or less intoxicated state, but all very enthusiastic. Their vans are slowly moving through the cheerful crowd. We can hear loud music coming from the back of the vans, soon followed by singing and whistling russ. They are giving “business cards” to the crowd. Children are rushing to get the most cards possible to be able to exchange them afterwards. This is a pure moment of happiness shared between all generations. There is almost no police surveillance but yet no incident. I can feel that everybody here wants everything to go well. And everything went well : no provocations, no arguments nor fights, no negativity…
Another interesting aspect was that most of the crowd was wearing ceremony clothes (I was definitely looking like a hobo that day :s). Some of them wore traditional Norwegian suits, others were more classical and a couple of them were definitely original. The most interesting here was the number of different traditional Norwegian and Sami dresses. Blue, Green, Black, … with different embroideries This was a really wonderful mix of traditions and colors and I could not resist asking people to take pictures of them… And that’s the exact moment in my “photography career” I start to take pictures of unknown people and make portraits. And I must admit that I love that!
Of course, it’s a bit frightening at the beginning. I am quite a shy person, so the first step has been a bit difficult. But once you start, you quickly figure out that most people are surprised and really happy to see that you have some interest in them and have their moment of fame. Of course sometimes you might look like some kind of weirdo wanting to take pictures of nice girls … that actually happened to me once :). But most people are really happy to be photographed. After a couple of portraits and group photographies, another parade is about to start: the military parade! Well, it’s not really military: they don’t wear any weapon and everybody is smiling. It’s more some kind of military teddy bear’s parade … :). It is quickly followed by musicians and associations: from the karate club, to the association of the small cute dogs looking like hair balls (yes, it exists!), every association of Tromsø is showing in this parade.
We can hear “Hurra! Hurra!” among the crowd and the parade. Once again, everybody is cheerful and happy and everything happens without any incident!
I usually don’t like those kind of events and tend to run away from the crowds but I am really happy that for once I found motivation go there. Despite the crowd, we could easily feel a sense of respect and joy among people. And that’s something which simply makes you feel good at the end of the day. If I had the opportunity to see that again, I would definitely take this chance!