Laugh, but don’t faint: Business cards for Norway’s Russ?

Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho

Over at last. Collective sighs must reverberate across Norway when Russefeiring, or the Russ celebration by 18-year-old graduates, comes to an end after weeks of continuous partying.

Image courtesy of Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
An example of a Russekort, from our own Norwegian correspondant.

Russebuksene can be washed—finally! Russekortene can be tossed—maybe. Sleep becomes a priority again.

Russefeiring. Russebil. Russebukse. Russeavis. Russekort. Russehovedstyre. Russe­treff. These are all over for another year. But just what is this alphabet soup list all starting with Russ?

Each refers to an aspect of the Norwegian Russ phenomenon that overtakes the nation every spring, culminating on Syttende Mai.

Originally, Russ literally meant “red” but now refers specifically to Norwegian students graduating from upper secondary school, roughly equivalent to high school graduation in the U.S. Russ is now an idiom that defies translation and often appears as “Russian” in articles inexpertly translated from Norwegian to English.

Dating back to 1905 when Russelue (add that to the vocabulary list), or red caps, were first introduced to graduation celebrations, ideas for marking this milestone have continued to expand. Initially used only by boys, the caps evolved over the years with blue ones added in 1916 to distinguish economics grads from the “common” grads. Slowly additional cap colors were included, and later the overalls (Russebukse) were added with caps being saved for Syttende Mai.

Russefeiring, roughly “Russ celebration,” currently includes a number of different traditions that together create a cultural phenomenon. It was described in a BuzzFeed article from September 2014 as “a yearly tradition that is part road trip, part rave, part high school graduation and full lunacy.”

One aspect of Russefeiring is the Russekort or Russ card, also described in BuzzFeed: “They have business cards for party rockin’.” Like many aspects of this annual spring ritual, the cards have developed over time. They are mock business cards featuring clever or sarcastic commentary, particularly in the slogan but also sometimes in the address or other card information.

Business cards, a merging of trade cards and calling cards over several centuries, are currently a worldwide staple not only for businesses but for nonprofit organizations and even individuals who are not job seeking, just providing contact information.

Such cards are thought to have originated in 15th-century China and by the era of French King Louis XIV (1643-1715), calling cards had become standard among the upper and middles classes with silver trays to receive such cards de rigueur in each household. Calling card etiquette had a series of detailed rules for their use. A face-to-face visit occurred only upon the recipient’s approval of the card, pointing to the long-held view about the importance of first impressions.

During the same era, trade cards developed. They served as a form of advertisement for businesses and included maps for locating an establishment. Ultimately concepts from both kinds of cards merged to produce today’s business cards.

Current Russ cards are a far cry from the calling cards of the past. Though they include most elements found on modern business cards, their tone is irreverent and their distribution practices indiscriminant. An exception is those who carry two sets of cards; one for Russ and other adults, and the second style geared toward young children who love to collect the cards but who probably should not be exposed to some of the adult content.

Thien Lan, a blogger mom living in Norway, described Russ cards in May 2016. One section was labeled “Anatomy of a Russ Card.” First of all, she notes, the color of the card is to be coordinated with the cap and overall color of the graduate. (The overalls, by the way, are to be worn daily for three weeks without washing them.)

As with those items, the most common card color is red because it includes a broad range of subjects: general studies, media and communication, art, music, dance, drama, and athletics. Blue is for economics and business administration, while black indicates vocational courses, green for agriculture, and white for health care and sometimes athletics.

On the left will be a photo, just as likely a baby picture or caricature as a graduation picture. At the top is the name of the school. To the right is the contact information such as name, address, and phone number. Then at the bottom appears a slogan or quote, which is often funny but sometimes includes sexual innuendo or other borderline material.

These slogans range from raucous to raunchy to downright rude. A selection of samples is offered above, omitting those from the extreme, over-the line end.

Lan thinks card collecting by kids helps them learn to communicate with teens and can also be a chance to practice English. The cards serve as status symbols and popularity markers, with the size of a card collection being the key criterion, both for the Russ themselves and for the children who love amassing them. Thus, while the cards are part of the fun involved in the lengthy Russ celebration, which, by the way, precedes final exams, they also become an end in themselves.

Russefeiring is a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of graduation, and a farewell to classmates from their school. Russ will be going their separate ways in search of jobs or higher education. Typically, many such people lose track of one another over ensuing months. But, then again, maybe—just maybe—someone keeps your Russ card and gets in touch.

This article originally appeared in the June 16, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.