We have all grown used to various measurements of happiness and life satisfaction being trotted out as a testament to Denmark’s prowess as a nation. But there’s another area in which a little Dannebrog can be put at the top of the leaderboard. No, not handball, nor curling, but drinking alcohol of course.
I come from a fairly hard-drinking country. By Scottish standards I was classed as a bit girly in terms of my beer intake – two pints on a good night out. Then I moved to France where men drank half pints while women went into convulsions over the calorie content of a glass of wine. To my amazement I could drink most blokes under the table and was regarded with awe.
Years later, in the lead-up to our move to Denmark, I heard red-blooded Scotsmen tell tales of Danish drinking. Shaking their heads in admiration, they would all say the same thing: they can drink.
I found it perplexing at first: why would it be different? After all, the two cultures are cut from the same cloth, as are Sweden and Norway. Yet none of these countries drink as much as the Danes. In fact, in rankings of the most sozzled nations of the world, Denmark is consistently up there with the medallists – at the very top of the tipples.
Low taxes, high costs
The explanation would seem to be that Denmark has none of the inconveniences imposed in other countries by pesky, kill-joy governments. You don’t need a licence to sell alcohol. There are no restrictions on how many businesses can sell alcohol in a neighbourhood or at what times of day. In a country where my kid’s birthday presents from her grandmother in America are heavily taxed on entry, the rates of taxation on alcohol are astoundingly low and the price very reasonable.
While Danes may not pay much for their beer, Danish society pays a price for knocking it back. The most recent figures from Sundhedsstyrelsen show a staggering 27,000 drunks visited hospital because of an alcohol-related condition in 2013, costing a small fortune.
Dying young and drunk
in terms of the human cost, there were 2,900 alcohol-related deaths in 2013. In the 15-29 age group, alcohol was the main risk factor associated with death. And it’s not death caused by alcohol related to the liver and heart disease (that’s what carts off the over-65s). This is accidental death: the kind that involves bridges, bicycles and S-trains.
The trends are showing a modest decrease, but the future is secure because Denmark starts them young. You can buy most booze at 16 – a clear sign to the parents that this is normal. High schools and youth institutions have half-price happy hours on Friday afternoons, and of the tens of thousands of young people scraped off pavements by paramedics and policemen in the last ten years, only 93 of them died directly of alcohol poisoning. Which is hardly any …right?
So while Denmark is pipped at the post by the Czech Republic for per capita beer consumption and robbed of first place for overall drunkenness by Lithuania, I would like to propose a toast to probably the ‘best’ teenage drinkers in the world. Bottoms up!
Stephanie Brickman made the hop across the North Sea from Scotland to live in Denmark with her distinctly un-Danish family. This 40-something mother, wife and superstar is delighted to share her learning curve, rich as it is with laughs, blunders and expert witnesses.