Wednesday, 5 May 2010


They say ‘youth is wasted on the young’. Hm. Not so sure. Would I really want to be a teenager all over again? Yuk, nei takk.

Look at them, these smiling, happy young girls, all dolled up for ‘The Russ’. Many of you know what The Russ is already, but since I’m rather a fan of the whole concept, let me explain.

Throughout Norway, and around this time of year, those who are finishing High School put on a very special pair of trousers. These are dungarees, constructed of a hard-wearing, tough material as they are required to withstand everyday wearage for several weeks without a wash. The youth inside them has planned the decoration of these trousers in considerable detail, and possibly for years beforehand. All sorts of mothers, grannies, seamstresses, artists and others are drafted in to perfect the wondrous individuality of each person’s breeks. They look utterly splendid, and as a Scot, I find I’m a wee bit cross I never had the opportunity to wear such glorious togs as part of my ‘coming of age.’

Once correctly attired, the youth of Norway are ready for several weeks of partying. Bizarrely there are often some exams still to be sat during this time, but I suppose a sense of personal responsibility is expected by this age. Meanwhile, The Russ continues in a celebratory mood by permitting several liberties. Society allows, nay, expects, misdemeanours. For example, if you are in The Russ you are allowed to make a terrific racket almost anywhere and almost at any time of the day or night. You are supposed to be a bit naughty, to explore your wild side, to indulge in spray-painting with (meant to be washable) paint, sleep in trees, re-direct traffic, play tricks on your superiors, throw yourself and your friends into the sea, practise inappropriate nudity .....stop me now, I don’t want to give them any more ideas.

Then there are the gatherings, several of which are vast outdoor events to which thousands of Russ travel in a series of old vans, specially adapted for the purpose. The vans, like the trousers, are vibrantly decorated and declare the names of the occupants inside. It’s all very jolly, although I can’t help the maternal hairs on the back of my neck from standing on end when I see a van of gorgeous young things with ‘Pussy Wagon’ emblazoned on the bonnet.

I came across a group of Russ taking some dead fish for a walk through town on pieces of string. They were all being engagingly cheeky, but I find it strangely refreshing. For once, these young people are at ease, fooling about, and expressing themselves in an enviably relaxed fashion. I found myself thinking how important it is that they should be doing such ridiculous things...after all, whatever came next, national service, more college, was all quite serious. It was lovely to see them all enjoying a ‘last hurrah’ before becoming sensible adults. The whole thing culminates on 17th May, Norway’s National Day, when The Russ has its own parade, a very public celebration of youthful achievement.

There are those who find the whole Russ thing a real nuisance, and of course it does get out of hand from time to time. But I find myself wishing we had a similar tradition in Scotland. When our young people finish school, there might be one day of hilarity and then that’s it...goodbye, good luck and get on with your life. Somehow The Russ is such a public marking of achievement, such an indulgent celebration of young people on the threshold of their adult life, a momentary doffing of society’s hat towards the young that I can only think it is a very good thing. It’s as though society is saying ‘well done but remember to make the most of your talents.’ There is no similar, universal celebration of our young people and their achievements in Scotland.

If you are suffering the tricks and japes of The Russ right now, if you’ve had your bins removed, a banana up your exhaust, or your wall covered in graffiti, or if you are the parent of some ‘Russ’ party animal, you may think I’m romanticising the situation. But as an outsider looking at Norway, I really like The Russ, and I rather envy its spirit. It seems to represent a rare opportunity for society to express its hopes for, and faith in, young people...they are, after all, the future. It’s as though somebody is looking down on the young as they move from school to the next stage in life, and reminding them of that JFK quote: ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’

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