A few weeks ago, after one of my speaking engagements, a young woman from a local newspaper here in Stavanger asked if she could interview me. Naturally, I was flattered, albeit pretty convinced that I would either a) be so excruciatingly dull that she would give up half way through and start drawing hearts and happy faces on her notepad while texting her boyfriend under the desk or b) be so excruciatingly dull that the story would never actually see the light of day, her candid interview shot-down by some gin-soaked, mustachioed editor chomping on a cigar. Fortunately for me, neither of those possibilities came to pass and my rather straightforward answers on ex-pat life in Stavanger were published.
There was however, one question which was not published, and one which I struggled to answer with any degree of accuracy. Reporter and I had been chatting amiably for a few minutes about working in Norway and the cultural similarities between Canadians and Norwegians when she dropped the bombshell. “What do you think of the drinking culture in Norway?” she asked, all doe-eyed innocence.
I wasn’t falling for it. She was looking for an angle, I just knew it. I had been in Stavanger for 2 months by this point and had managed NOT to insult any Norwegians up until then. Have you seen the size of the average local? I wasn’t about to start. Quickly, the cotton wool and flies that so often cloud my brain cleared as I tried to decipher what kind of answer might be acceptable in this situation.
Option 1 was a direct comparison. As in, “Bwahaha, you think YOU guys drink a lot? I am Canadian and I live with a Scot. We haven’t been sober since the Thatcher era”. This was quickly vetoed when I realized it might become competitive and in order to win this argument I would have to prove that I drank. A lot. Hmmm, not ideal.
Option 2 was just as bad. As in, “The drinking culture in Norway…yes, it is indeed an unseemly state of affairs here, old chap. I am shocked and appalled by the behavior I have seen in my short time in your fair country”. Way too prim and proper, and might require me to prove that I DIDN’T drink. Ever. Also not ideal.
By process of elimination, option 3 sounded like the best way out. I would feign innocence, then deftly change the subject to something less personal, like Norwegian’s inexplicable love of hot dogs and 53 types of frozen pizza.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said, “I haven’t really gone out that much here yet. But I have been to Dolly Dimple’s. Pretty good pizza.” I smiled encouragingly.
Young reporter frowned. I guess pizza is not that interesting when what you are really looking for is some insightful commentary on how Norwegians drink more/better/faster than the rest of the world. I must confess, before I moved here, I DID have a mental picture of what Scandinavian drinking culture would entail. It involved some sort of homemade alcohol product strong enough to strip paint off the walls and hours in a sauna followed by a dip in some sort of cold plunge pool, like say, the North Sea. I think there was some nudity and hitting each other with branches involved too, it’s hard to remember now. Perhaps understandably, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.
By this time, I had already experienced the booze fest that is the Julebord ( Christmas buffet) in Norway, which, to me, looked pretty much the same as your average work Christmas party in the UK. No matter what country you are from, intoxication while wearing Santa hats and snowflake jumpers is never a pretty sight. Even worse when it’s your Aunt Helga, or Betty who works in accounts.
More recently, in my attempt to experience the true Norwegian drinking culture, I decided to sign up for a local drinking “event” here in Stavanger. I have become pretty decent at disguising myself as a local, at least until I am asked anything more complicated than, “Do you like fiskesuppe?” in Norwegian, so I thought I could observe without undue disturbance. Much to my chagrin, the drinking event in question involved cocktails with bits of tropical fruit in it, a lot of women teetering along cobblestone streets in super stilettoes, and a distressing lack of hitting each other with branches. Also, absolutely no nudity whatsoever. My disappointment knew no bounds.
Surely this is not what young reporter meant by “Norwegian Drinking Culture” because if it was, then it looks pretty much the same as it does in Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary to me. I do however, have one more drinking opportunity left to discover, and one which will surely top them all: May 17, Constitution Day. Will this be the day when I at last uncover the mystery of the Norwegian Drinking Culture? Come on Norway, bring it on. I can take it. Just give the fruity cocktails a miss and keep your clothes on, please.