January is famously a month for various resolutions and knee-jerk reactions following the booziest season of the year. Yet, as Danes we are never far from a good excuse to crack open a bottle, as we are both officially and historically a nation of big drinkers.
Booze in the blood
In her book ‘Den Danske Vinhistorie’ (history of wine in Denmark) Annette Hoff explores the drinking habits of the Danes and how we have had a tendency to drink more than average since the times of the Vikings. Throughout the Middle Ages it was perfectly normal for the king to walk around half-cut on a fairly regular basis.
Historical accounts drafted by various state advisors, diplomats and visitors to the country reveal entertaining anecdotes about the regular consumption of huge amounts of alcohol at the Danish court. It is evident the Danes were known abroad for their heavy drinking.
One bewildered English diplomat described a particularly boozy banquet hosted by Christian IV during the 1600s, which lasted from 11am to midnight. During the festivities the king proposed no less than 35 toasts, after which he was so toasted himself that he had to be carried away in his chair.
Today, statistics tell us that on average we still drink more than most of our fellow earthlings, and not so coincidentally we share first place with Russia and Greenland for the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-use disorders in the world.
According to Hoff, the Danes’ love affair with alcohol began in ancient times with mead, with beer taking over as their most popular tipple during the Viking heyday. While wine has been drunk since about the year zero and is undeniably popular today, it cannot compete culturally, and the nation’s love of beer is reflected by the endless occasions to drink it.
Feel like a beer in the morning? Why not have a ‘godmorgen bajer’ (goodmorning beersie). And if you stuff something up, you can simply offer a ‘kvaje-bajer’ (screw-up-beersie). If you have a hangover you may like a ‘reparations bajer’ (restorative beersie). Builders have their own beersie: the ‘håndværker bajer’ (builders beersie). After work you can grab a ‘fyraftens bajer’ (after-work beersie), and if you are moving house you might want a ‘flytte bajer’ (moving beersie).
There’s more, but I just don’t have the word count to include all of the occasions on which Danes like to drink beer.
Countries like New Zealand and Australia practise ‘alcohol ban zones’ in the hope of curbing out-of-control drinking. Yet it might just be covering up the problem, as the alcohol statistics for Down Under are the same, or in some cases worse than liberally beer-swigging Denmark.
The tendency to ‘conceal’ alcohol in those countries and the US can be seen in the compulsory brown paper bag that accompanies any liquor store purchase. I always found this custom rather humorous. I mean, it’s a bag without handles and the only way you can really carry a big bottle is by its neck. The brown-bagged ‘item’ looks like what it is: a bottle of booze. In a brown paper bag.
Alcohol seems to be woven into the very fabric of our culture, traditions and identity, carrying so many meanings and reasons that it may not be so easily changed – unless you change the culture itself.
Oh look, is that the time? Might head down for that fyraftens bajer.