What does it mean?
Russetiden consists of two words: russ and tid.
Tid is easy, it means ‘time’. Russ is a more complicated concept. It refers to a senior year high schooler who is celebrating nearly being done with school.
Er du russ i år? – Are you 'russ' this year?
Endelig er det vår tur til å være russ! – Finally it's our turn to be 'russ'!
Russetiden as a term refers to the – sacred – time that you get in your life to be russ.
What is it?
It's reserved for senior high schoolers only, and starts late April (although the exact date seems to be set earlier and earlier every year) and lasts until May 17th, the Norwegian national day.
Basically it’s four weeks of partying. By the time you get to May 17th, the teenagers look like zombies. I spent my national day as a russ sleeping without removing my russebukser – pants made for the russ.
There are a hundred oddities about russetiden. Norwegians don’t question them too much, but to foreigners they sound utterly mad.
Firstly, russetiden is celebrated before exams, not after. That means teenagers spend weeks of getting completely sloshed – often at daytime and during school – before passing the most important tests of their high school year.
Secondly, russetiden is – for most people – incredibly expensive. While the glamour and cost varies between schools and regions, some teenagers spend tens of thousands of kroners (several €1,000) just on the bus.
Oh right, yes, most russ drive around in buses – real buses. They're called russebuss and many teenagers spend years planning who gets to rulle (which means 'to roll' and is a slang term for who gets be on the bus and who doesn't).
They organise dugnader (explained here) where they sell items such as loo-rolls to get income for their bus and their alcohol and all the other things you just must have to ensure that your russetid doesn't flop.
And let's not forget the prestigious competitions to select the coolest bus of the year. In 2011, when I was russ, the winning team was a bus called “1789,” inspired by the French revolution, decorated with old guns and a huge French flag painted on the ceiling.
Of course, the bus’s sole role us was to carry a group of drunken teenagers many of whom inevitably later would vomit all over the leather chairs.
So yes, it's a peculiar tradition, to say the least. And I haven't even gone through most of the oddities.
But most peculiar of all is the fact that it has not been canceled this year.
Russetiden involves a lot of bottle-sharing, kissing and other bacteria spreading practices that are not ideal in times of a pandemic.
(Perhaps the most common of all the many russeknuter – a long string of dares russ do to get medals fastened to their russelue ('hat') is called kongla ('the pinecone'). If you have sex with someone in the forest, you get a pinecone in your hat.)
But Norway going to deprive the ensemble of the country's 18-year-olds of this ancient and sacred tradition?
No way. There have been a lot of calls for russ to take precautions, but how careful can you really be at 3am driving around in a bus with dozens of other drunk friends wearing the same pants as you did 14 days earlier?