Wednesday, 22 May 2013

May madness

May is a time for celebration in Norway - sometimes formal, other times less so... Let's start with the sensible - there's time for madness later.

First of all, there's May 17th - Norwegian Constitution Day. Everyone fills the bars during the afternoon, and enjoys a traditional feast in the evening. If you can take the pace, there's plenty of time to head out and party after too. Many Norwegians are fiercely patriotic, and this is their annual chance to proudly celebrate just being Norwegian! That's not to say that outsiders can't join in of course - I had a great day and was made to feel very welcome in a friend's family home for dinner (thanks Henrikke, Børre and Stine). But just for one day, it really helps if you can understand a bit of Norwegian - would you want to speak a foreign language on your national day? It was actually refreshing to watch people celebrating their national identity together, without having to worry about upsetting anyone.

Another reason to celebrate is that Spring has sprung! After an unusually cold March & April, we were treated to blue skies and soaring temperatures over the weekend. In response, we reacted the only way we know - we had a barbeque. We also ventured up to Raudsjøen, a high mountain lake in Gausdal. This spot is well known for its secluded beauty, and is popular in the summer. In the mountains though, it's not summer yet:

That'll be ice then. Just as well I didn't want a swim. We managed to venture out quite a way before we bottled it. Cracking sounds from the ice curbed our enthusiasm - for some reason no-one fancied being stuck on a mini iceberg, with the others looking on and mocking from a safe distance. Dry feet are important after all.

But wait. This is all very civil, isn't it? Nationwide festivities, barbeques and sightseeing - where's the madness? Well...

Norway has a lot of red tape. Most of it stems from a desire to keep everyone safe, but sometimes it can feel strict and over-regulated. Norwegians aren't naiive - they know this as well as anyone. So they've built in a few opportunities for folk to go a bit, er, well, mad. One is Easter. Easter here isn't like Easter in the UK. It's big, and messy. Really messy. This year in the local bar, we had to put the doors back on their hinges whilst a fight was being stopped and others were being refused entry. That was on the Thursday... but that's another story.

The russefeiring is another Norwegian tradition where things get a bit wild. For 3 weeks, graduating high school students become "Russ". They hit the road in badly-painted converted vans, don brightly-coloured trousers, and get smashed for 3 weeks. Don't question it - it's a tradition. During this time, they earn knots for completing tasks that vary from imitating a dog in a supermarket, to having sex in a forest...

On May 17th, the russefeiring ends with graduation (before exams have even started!). As a final fling, the Russ parade through the streets. They're mostly drunk or hung-over (not the drivers though), and they often choose themes for the pageant. Sometimes these themes are based on recent important events, but sometimes they're just mental. I tried to photograph some of the daftest bits. Enjoy.

Rocking-Horse Russ

"We grieve our illustrious leader"

Yes they are carrying a real human boy.

No he's not dead. But they really got into character - they pretended to cry for the whole parade.

Little tractor, big danger when the tow car (bad idea) pulled away too quickly...

Big tractor, bigger danger. Like the little tractor, this nearly ended up in the back of a car too.

Half the ideal number of wheels, divided by double the ideal number of passengers, means a very wobbly scooter.


Unsurprisingly enough, this poor girl looked knackered...

...But not as knackered as this smoky Merc. Maybe it was the extra weight on the roof that did it?!

So there you have it. The united people of a strong and proud nation get together to laugh at drunk teenagers in the street! You couldn't make it up. 

Don't get me wrong, I like the tradition, and I appreciate the need for people to let their hair down, but you'll have to work pretty hard to convince me that this isn't totally mad! Great fun though!

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