Skål! The Danish drinking culture from the inside

Beer is the alcoholic drink preferred by almost half of the Danes. Find out how they consume this and other drinks.

By Karina Sventitskayte

It is not a secret that the culture of drinking alcohol is different in each place of the world. If we talk about France we can easily imagine a light romantic atmosphere supplemented with a bottle of legendary Chardonnay. If we think about Russia, what comes to our minds are Russians wearing fur – hats drinking vodka.  In the case of Danes, the great heir of mighty vikings, these appear as beer and hygge lovers.  So while living in Denmark, let’s have a look at the Danish way of drinking alcohol.

Skål is the first thing we hear on a Danish party or a dinner. This is a word known in all Scandinavian countries. Skål is a toast to goodwill and friendship. By saying this at a moment of rising glasses, the Danes wish you a good fortune and a good health.

Historically skål is connected with the vikings epoch in Denmark. According to legends, as a tribute to their gods vikings were drinking wine from bowls made of skulls (Anglo-Saxon “skalle”) of prostrated foes. Therefore,  while doing skål don’t forget to look at each other eyes and say skål back.

In a "tour the chambre" each student offers drinks to their peers in their rooms. Photo by Péricles Carvalho

In a “tour the chambre” each student offers drinks to their peers in their rooms. PhotO: Péricles Carvalho

Another important feature of drinking culture in Denmark is the feeling of coziness and warmth. Hygge is the  word used in Denmark to describe an atmosphere of comfort, friendship and muted light of candles. When you are in Denmark you can feel a spirit of  hygge everywhere on every time of a day or a night all the months a year. However, the high season of  hygge  is winter as it is when the cold Nordic winds and grey sky makes the friends feel much closer to each other and experience coziness in a different way while drinking Danish øl or Christmas glögg.

According to Denmark.dk,  the official website of Denmark, beer has been part of the Danish culture for more then 5000 years. Maybe that is why the Danes are known as great beer lovers. More than 100 breweries of Denmark are gladly to offer people to try their beer. Carlsberg and Tuborg, the most famous breweries, were established in the 19th century and are still very popular. However, beer is not the only traditional Danish drink. Around Christmas, which is absolutely special in Denmark, Danish people are usually drinking glögg, a drink made of wine, juice and spices.

The World Health Association (WHO) reports that 45 per cent of Danes prefer beer, while 39 per cent, wine; and 16 per cent, spirits. Overall the consumption of alcohol in Denmark, according to WHO, is around 14 liters per capita per year. Usually Danes try alcohol drinks when they are between 14 and 15 years old. Anne-Mari Højland, one of my Danish roommates in Aarhus, told me that this is an important age for every teenager in Denmark, because it is when they explore a bit more of the adult life.

“It might be a hard time for a guy who doesn’t like beer”, she says, “because absolutely everybody are drinking beer here”.

Of course, it is not mandatory to drink alcohol at a party, but drinking together is a way to socialize and get to know Danes. Their culture of alcohol consumption is something very traditional.

Danes love not only bars and pubs, but also nice home parties. While living in a student dorm, I took part in a so called tour de chambre. The idea of this event is very easy: everybody prepares something fun in their rooms. It can be a decoration of a special theme with traditional drinks of the student´s country, or some games. When these are set up, all the roomates explore the rooms one by one.

The tour de chambre takes place twice a year, so it becomes an excellent opportunity for new students to get to know each other better. Each room has an own atmosphere and spirit.

Enjoy your stay in hygge Denmark!

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