‘Russ’ culture taken over by business

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Horror stories about Norwegian high school seniors called “russ” going amok in southern climes this summer have been dominating local media. Calls are now going out for their schools to take control of Norway’s rowdy russ culture, and out of the hands of commercial business interests.

The “group mentality,” illustrated here by the overalls high school seniors wear during the russ party season, along with commercialization by professional profit-oriented players, are said to have changed the so-called “russ culture” in Norway.  PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“It’s very easy to sell to this group of Norwegian youth,” Professor Tor Wallin Andreassen said on national radio Thursday morning. Wallin specializes in marketing at Norwegian business school NHH (Norges Handels Høyskole) in Bergen, and leads its center for innovation.

Norway already has laws forbidding advertising directed at children. Wallin told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he thinks politicians should consider whether the law also should be sharpened to tighten marketing of russ products and services that include package tours abroad and are directed at teenagers.

“This group of youngsters is already prepared to spend money and this repeats itself year after year,” Wallin told NRK. He calls the Norwegian youth “a market with no memory” because the tough lessons learned from one year’s russ aren’t passed on to the next year’s group of russ. “No one learns what are good or bad products and services.”

Summer madness
This summer has been marred by ugly incidents tied to package tours to Greek islands, Majorca and other Mediterranean holiday destinations for thousands of incoming russ, many all at the same time. The tours, often arranged by commercial firms, allowed rival groups to be present on the same island, for example Kos and Ios, and led to what some claim have been organized street brawls. The tour operators also arrange parties that often involve large quantities of alcohol.

The result has been wild partying that has outraged local residents and other visitors, vandalized hotel rooms and led to fights and serious injuries. NRK reported on Thursday that at least four young women have been raped. At least 15 Norwegian teenage boys have been arrested and jailed.

The heavy marketing directed at russ also puts added pressure and temptations on the teenagers, according to Wallin: “They stop thinking individually to a large degree and begin with group thinking. They do things they otherwise wouldn’t have done.” He said Norwegian youth have always spent money on party trips, but now the market has become so big that international players are involved.

Russ business has gone international
“The russ used to have local parties (in their home areas), then that grew to become regional and national parties and gatherings arranged by major commercial players,” Wallin said. “Now it’s gone international, with travel out to new party arenas abroad.” It’s fueled by their “group mentality,” Wallin said, where “everyone” thinks they have to take part, and that makes them an extra attractive market.

Tormod Korpås, a Norwegian high school principal and leader of the state education federation’s leadership council, thinks the schools now need to take control over the pre-graduation celebrations carried out by their senior classes. Korpås wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen this week that the marketing pressure begins when the teenagers start high school (videregåendeskole).

“Over the next three years (when they graduate), they are subjected to massive influence from professional organizers who have changed russ culture from being a celebration of the end of school to being a solid source of income for party arrangers,” Korpås wrote.

Influential ‘industry’
He noted that the commercialized russ culture has centered on expensive parties, high alcohol consumption and strong social pressure. “Commercial firms sell russ clothing and accessories, arrange the sale of russ buses, help sponsor the buses (used by the russ to ride around in while partying) and arrange russ gatherings,” Korpås wrote. “They define in many ways how being a russ should be.”

He calls it an “industry” that’s become far too influential. He stressed that the schools themselves have never been responsible for russ celebrations, but the partying has become so heavy, with the results that can have on exam results, that he thinks school officials must assume responsibility for the russ culture at their own schools.

“It can no longer be handled by the pupils and the commercial players,” he wrote. “We should encourage the pupils to have a good russ time, but not on the russ industry’s premises.” He hopes school officials can wrest away the control commercial firms have also had in setting up russ boards for the pupils and calendars of events. He hopes for well-functioning cooperation between the pupils’ own russ board, school leadership, parents and local authorities, to help ensure safer russ celebrations.

A mother’s dilemma
One mother writing in newspaper Aftenposten this week revealed the anxiety she felt when her teenage son announced that his russ-bus group was going to the Greek island of Ios this summer. She once worked as a tour guide in Greece, when a 17-year-old boy on a group tour fell off a hotel balcony and died. She had the grim task of taking care of his family when they arrived to claim his body.

She felt helpless in the case of her own determined son, who had already turned 18, can legally make his own decisions and earned his own money for the trip. “I could have told him he wasn’t allowed to travel, but I think he would have traveled anyway,” she wrote. She thus resorted to having some serious conversations with him before he left, about alcohol and having respect for others, both visitors and local residents.

“He came home after having a wonderful time,” she wrote, claiming neither he nor his group of friends witnessed all the serious incidents that made headlines back home. Both he and his friends have been shaken by news of them, though, and she thinks he now would have understood if she’d demanded he stay home. “No russ trip in the world is worth broken bones and prison,” she wrote.

Newspaper Dagsavisen editorialized this week that Norway’s entire russ culture needs to be examined. “There’s only one good thing about all the reports of violence, senseless partying, girls being attacked and hotel rooms trashed,” the paper wrote. “It’s forcing a necessary debate on russ celebrations that for many have clearly derailed completely.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund