“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day that you celebrate Independence Day and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like, not a lot, but maybe one out of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”
The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.
This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.
What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.
“At any major event, like weddings and parties, the order in which the food is served is very specific. First, all the children are served. Then, the main guests are served. These are like the important people at the party or the bride and groom and their families at a wedding. Once they all have their food and sit down, everyone else gets their food”.
In Kenya, guests at large events where meals are provided are served food in a specific order that must be followed. The events where this tradition takes place are usually gatherings such as parties and weddings. Children are fed first. They are then followed by the significant guests and the rest of the invitees. It is deemed disrespectful to not feed the children first.
The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. He was taught this tradition by his mother, who was the parent that was responsible disciplining him and teaching him how to act appropriately in public. Alastair believes this tradition comes from the idea that children need the most amount of sustenance out of everyone else, since they are the most vulnerable. Adults want them to be able to have a long and healthy future, so they choose to wait to be served. To Alastair, this tradition reflects how Kenyans were forced to live before they became a modernized nation. Many children died at a young age, so it made sense to feed them first to hopefully prevent their early demise.
Like Alistair said, it is likely that the food scarcity problems Kenyans had to live through in the past influenced this tradition. Parents had to work extra hard to make sure that their children stayed healthy for as long as possible, so this tradition probably developed out of the desire to make this happen. Even though things like hospitals and modern medicine can help extend the lives of anyone nowadays, this idea seems to have stuck.
My informant is a member of the Russian Jewish community in Los Angeles. She explained how her community celebrates special parties like graduations, bar mitzvahs, and significant birthdays. The particular Bar Mitzvah party that she told me about was similar to many of the parties within the Russian community in Los Angeles.
Normally invitations for such parties are mailed to the guests. For a wedding and Bar Mitzvah invitations would be mailed. But for a birthday party or graduation party, the hosts typically call the guests and invite them. And once they say they are going, there is no backing out. So much planning goes into the parties that it would be inconsiderate to back out.
I asked if the Bar Mitzvah had any different religious practices or traditions. But my informant explained that it is not so much the religious ceremony or even the fact that the event was a Bar Mitzvah celebration that is important. In fact, many of the party’s attendees did not attend the religious ceremony. My informant said, “Bar Mitzvah means nothing. It’s a party.”
My informant said that the parties like her friend’s Bar Mitzvah celebration are extravagant. Prior to the party, women get their hair, makeup, and nails done and wear cocktail attire made by high fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen and Dior. They were fine jewelry. The men wear suits. It is not so much the question of what are you wearing, but who are you wearing. My informant explained that many attendees make such an effort to look good because all of the party’s attendees are talked about after the party. Word spreads fast. My informant has even heard about Russian American parties that have happened in New York. She said, “All of the Russian grandmas are going to hear about me and talk to their grandsons. I once had a guy fly down from San Francisco to go on a date with me.”
These Russian parties typically take place at people’s homes or restaurants. This particular Bar Mitzvah celebration took place at a Russian restaurant called Romanov. The party begins with about an hour of greetings. “The first hour is basically just saying hello, kissing, and talking. Then the hostess tells everyone to sit down.” The attendees then sit at their assigned table and are greeted by top-shelf vodka and tequila. The attendees then rotate between eating, toasting, and dancing.
My informant explained that every inch of the table is covered with food. The food is served family style. While most of the food is Russian fusion, my informant said that every party will serve the Russian staples: crepes with red caviar and butter and pickled vegetables. There are several courses to the meal and almost no one eats the main course because they are already so full by then.
During toasts the guests stop eating. There are several toasts throughout the night given by family members and close friends.
My informant’s favorite part of the night is dancing. “There is always good music–everything. ABBA sometimes. Songs that you love. It’s very rare that you get electronic music. It’s fun music.” She explained that there are no traditional or choreographed dances.
The older guests sometimes dance but it is more likely that they sit, talk, and gossip with one another. Having learned what older guests do at the party, I wondered what younger guests do. My informant explained that if a couple has a baby they will bring the infant and a babysitter. The babies are a part of the party. They even have their own seats at the dinner table.
The only “traditional” dancing she has seen was performed by professional dancers hired for entertainment at the party. Having performers at these parties is not uncommon. There are always performers at Romanov, the restaurant that commonly hosts the parties. She has seen performances featuring snakes, dancers, aerial artists, DJs flown in from New York. She shared, at one Bar Mitzvah a woman popped out of a cake and danced sexily!
My informant explained that within this social circle are different kinds of Russians. They are all in a wealthy group, but some are more wealthy than others. She explained that her family is not in the group full of socialites. Rather, her closest family friends within the community are more down to earth; they came from poor cities in Russia. So rather than pouring money into extravagant performances, it is a tradition in her family and her family friend group that the children put on a performance at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. One year the children performed skits from Grease. Another year, Austin Powers. They all dressed up in costumes and performed “full-blown” skits. The parents of the group also take part in the tradition. For a family friend’s 40th birthday party, all of the parents organized a skit based on a scene from Grease. A guy even rode in on a motorcycle! At another 40th birthday party, all of the wives dressed up as old Russian women wearing a giant plastic butt and giant fake breasts. The women did a whole Russian song and dance, and the performance ended with a toast to the birthday boy.
At the end of the night, guests leave the party having had fun. Though it is customary to say hello to everyone at the beginning of the party, it is common to leave the parties without saying goodbye to all the party-goers.
Gifts are common at such parties. Almost everyone brings checks. It is very rarely a gift. In the case that someone receives a gift, they are perhaps more meaningful but also the recipient would most likely just prefer the cash. It would be unheard of to not bring a gift. My informant said that diplomacy is the most important aspect of Russian culture.
My informant expressed that the Russian American community in Los Angeles is superficial. I asked my informant if members of the community were trying to one-up each other with each party. She first agreed with me but then said the parties were more like a display of taste and wealth than a one-upping. Taste seems displayed through the venue, type of food, type of alcohol, appropriateness of performers and women’s dresses. Wealth seems displayed through the venue, the amount of food, the amount of alcohol, the extravagance of the performers, and the designer of the women’s dresses.
This is another story told to Marisol by a nanny who was from the Andean province of Ayacucho. The nanny told her that as a child, her relatives always warned her not to get close to parties or gatherings of people in the middle of the fields or on top of hills because these were there to take away wayward children, drunks and gluttons. She warned her that if she was out playing the hills and heard laughter and voices, she was to run away immediately and not get close to the table, no matter how delicious and abundant the meal or how inviting the people because if you ate any of the food or touched the guests, they would take you to the afterlife and the party would disappear and all that your family would find on the hill would be a rock.
This story serves to keep kids in line and keep them away from strangers and unknown places. It is a lot like the Irish tales of fairies. There is also the presence of a magical mound which can be found, most famously, in Irish fairy folklore.