When did you say? In four weeks’ time?” I asked my husband incredulously when he called me to say that our friends, Eric and Birgitte, would like to invite us to a cosy dinner at their place.
“But in four weeks’ time I’ll be performing my Crazy Christmas show every evening at Tivoli. And even if I wasn’t, I might have the flu, or be out of the country. Who knows? Why on earth can’t we come tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?!” I could hear the shocked intake of breath down the phone.
Danes are not spontaneously sociable. Dropping in on your friends on the off-chance they are at home is unheard of, even amongst young people. Danes like to plan well in advance. Calendars are double-checked. A dinner is arranged at least four weeks in advance, a wedding at least six months and a theatre production at least a year.
Funerals are not just a cause of stress because of the loss of a loved one, but because there is not enough party preparation time. The organisation is meticulous, down to the last candle and flower arrangement.
Oddly enough, after all this attention to detail, the dress code is often very casual. I have attended weddings where men turn up wearing nicely ironed t-shirts! And I have gone to award ceremonies where I was the only woman wearing a floor-length gala dress.
The reception party ritual is always the same. Your host never introduces anyone, so on arrival, you introduce yourself to everyone and shake hands.
Having done this duty, you return to the friends you know and stay with them for the rest of the evening. On your departure you repeat the process to the same people whose names you have now forgotten, adding “Farvel. Tak for i aften”. Unless you’re an extrovert, by the end of the evening, you have met nobody new at all.
But those kinds of evenings are ‘Party Light’. The real thing, especially a wedding, involves a table plan. The party planner happily spends hours working out who will sit next to whom. You may find yourself seated next to an estate agent from Nykøbing Falster on one side and an accountant from Greve Strand on the other − for five hours! You long desperately for the speeches, which are many and interminable.
And just when you think it’s safe to move to the table where you can see your partner, the dreaded rolled-up pieces of paper arrive! These contain made-up lyrics to songs like ‘When I’m 64’ and consist of 25 verses and a toast after every third verse. Then come the HURRAHs. First the three short ones and then the long one: HuuuuuuuuRRRRAAAAH! (This scared the life out of me the first time I heard it …)
Now, totally drunk and disorderly, you stagger to your feet and move to the dancefloor to encircle the happy couple, clapping, with the menacing intention to either suffocate them while they dance a waltz, or grab the bridegroom and cut off his tie and the toes of his socks.
And still the night is young! While the drunks throw themselves around on the dancefloor, cases of beer appear to replace the wine, and the guests who can still speak congregate in the kitchen to chat and eat natmad.
I went to a wedding recently where we sat down to eat at 6.30pm and speeches were still being made at midnight. Old people were being carried out on stretchers, children were comatose under tables and grown men were weeping, as the bridal couple began the carefully planned process of opening their presents.
Eric and Birgitte made an exception and invited us to a spontaneous dinner with them at the end of that week. Delicious food, excellent wine and good conversation had not needed four weeks to arrange. I wore a long dress, my husband wore a nicely-ironed t-shirt and we were home before midnight.