Danish Drinking Culture

Danish drinking culture and the legal drinking age in Denmark

Do Danes drink a lot of alcohol? Yes. Compared to other countries who also drink a lot of alcohol? Oh yeah. But can this be applied to the entire population? Pretty much yeah. What about the elderly or teenagers? They wouldn’t miss it. Today, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Danish drinking culture.

If there’s anything that’s made its way into the contemporary culture from Viking times, it’s the ability of the Danish population to consume alcohol. The roots of Danish drinking culture run deep.

The institutionalization of drinking culture in Denmark can be witnessed from the legal drinking age in Denmark to the annual holidays and traditions. How do the Danes manage constant social drinking and hold down a healthy work/family life? Let’s break it down.

Danish Drinking Culture

Social drinking in Denmark and Danish tradition

Before getting into the legal drinking age and teenage consumption, let’s look at institutionalized adult drinking. Here are just a few of the many Danish drinking traditions. 

Christmas Lunch

The company Christmas lunch (Julefrokost) is a big deal in Denmark. Every year every workplace in the country puts together an employee dinner. The long-anticipated dinner boasts traditional Danish food and a lot of snaps.

A Christmas lunch might start at 5pm, but the last person to make it home won’t get there until noon the next day. This drinking marathon is like nothing you’ve ever seen. There will probably be dancing, and there will definitely be barfing.

You will see your co-workers as you have never seen them before. So, sing a Danish drinking song and make a Danish drinking toast, it’s a time for you and your colleagues to get to know each other and bridge the otherwise awkward social barrier.

J-Day

J-Day is the day Tuborg, a Danish brewery, releases its annual Julebryg (Christmas beer). All-day, Danes across the land gather in bars, parks, and bodegas to await the launch of Tuborg’s exclusive Christmas beer.

The beer gets released at 8.59 pm, the first Friday of November, and can only be bought in November and December.

A strong pilsner, the Julebryg goes well with traditional Danish Christmas food and is often used as a chaser for snaps during Christmas lunches. J-Day kicks the holiday season off the Danish way, with high spirits and a Danish drinking song.

Festivals

It just wouldn’t be Denmark without annual summer festivals. Distortion, just one of the many festivals, is a street party occurring in each of the most popular inner-city districts. Each day for a week, the street festival moves to a different street.

Traffic gets blocked as DJs, food trucks, and beer kiosks set up shop. As you walk from one part of the street to the other, you will see thousands of happy dancing Danes enjoying the various artists from techno to pop music.

The biggest festival in northern Europe occurs over two weeks close to Roskilde, Denmark. During those two weeks, the festival grounds become the 2nd biggest city in the country. Roskilde festival begins with a week of camping and partying before the music headliners arrive.

In the second week of the festival, 100,000 people crowd around the Orange Stage to see major headliners, such as Eminem and Miley Cyrus.

Experiencing the entirety of Roskilde festival is usually reserved for the youth, and as Danes get older, they tire of this kind of juvenile overconsumption. People 25 and up will often only buy tickets for a day or two to see certain concerts or rent a tent in the quiet camping section.

The queen’s speech at New Years

Every year, the queen addresses her people at New Years. The speech takes place at 6pm after a traditional dinner of fish, potatoes, beets, and gravy, washed down with a generous amount of snaps and Christmas beer. By 6pm, the entire country is treading into not-so-sober-territory.

The moment the queen begins her speech, the Danes cannot help themselves. The speech becomes a drinking game. Like most games created from the minds of inebriated adults, the rules are simple. Take a sip of your drink every time one of the following occurs.

  • Every time the queen says ‘Gud bevar Danmark’ (God preserve Denmark).
  • Anytime the Faeroe Islands or Greenland is mentioned.
  • When anyone from the royal family gets mentioned.
  • Any time the queen messes up her speech or has an unnatural pause.
  • Any youth culture slang (such as hashtag, swag, etc.).
  • Covid will probably make the list for years to come.
Danish Drinking Culture

Danish drinking culture and Danish youth

One of the core pillars of Danish culture might just be the freedom of the youth to drink to excess. According to the WHO, Danish teenagers drink more alcohol than any other group in Europe. Danish 11-, 12, and 13-year-olds rank at the same alcohol consumption rate as the European average.

A time to experiment and discover who you are, the teenage years are a very important period of development in Denmark. Teenagers are encouraged to learn to drink while their parents are still there to take care of them and before they graduate into the world of adult consumption.

This period of life is celebrated with drinking traditions of its own.

Becoming a student

When a person becomes a student (graduates from high school), they are celebrated with a week-long party adventure. All the recently graduated load up into the bed of a truck and blare party music as they drive through town. Each student’s home stands ready with food and more alcohol.

The celebration lasts all day, and some students party all week. Graduation hats look like little sailor caps in Denmark, and there are a multitude of traditions for them. For example, every time the sun either rises or sets while you are still partying, you cut into the sweatband of your hat. 

Additional rules:

  • If you throw up, make a cut in the bill of the hat.
  • If you are awake for more than 24 hours, you can turn your hat 180 degrees.
  • If your stomach gets pumped, you must completely cut off the bill of your hat.
  • Drinking until you get hammered is mandatory.
  • The biggest and smallest hat must buy the class a case of beer.

These are only a few of the many rules for this consumption marathon.

Rustur

In Denmark, university works a little like elementary school. You have a specific group you will be attending all your classes with for the first year. It’s a tradition to go on a class drinking trip to get to know your peers before the first semester starts.

You and your entire class are driven out to the countryside to party the weekend before you start classes. Nothing breaks the ice like seeing your classmates throwing up and dancing horribly.

The parties are hosted by college students called tutors (students who started before you). I know what you are thinking. That’s not what a tutor is. A tutor is a student that mentors other students academically.

Well, not in Denmark.

In Denmark, tutors are students who volunteer to organize and host the annual Rustur as well as other parties throughout the year. 

The Danish attitude toward teenage consumption

Parenting culture does not go unaffected by Danish drinking culture. Parents probably aren’t going to be upset if their kids come home drunk (depending on their age). Said intoxicated teenager will probably be sent to bed with food, a bucket, some pain pills, and a glass of water.

The poor teenager might have to sit through a few stories about the crazy things their parents did when they were young, but that’s just life. 

Maja Gildin Zuckerman, an anthropologist at Copenhagen Business School speaks to the Danish attitude toward youth and alcohol consumption. She says that;

Being a young person in Denmark is and will be inextricably linked to alcohol and drinking. It’s part of who we are. (…) So we toast with them when they are 15 and pick them up at the emergency room after their stomachs are pumped when they are 16.”

Danish youth are regularly seen partying until the sun comes up all weekend.

Do people bat an eye? Not really. What if they are under 15? Depends on the parents, but most people wouldn’t think twice. Rather than viewing alcohol consumption as something that should be prohibited, Danes see it as an opportunity to teach their children how to handle alcohol responsibly.

It is collectively agreed upon that prohibiting alcohol will lead to drinking in secret, with no adult to watch over them. Parents would rather be there to guide their children than prohibit something they will probably do anyway.

Danish Drinking Culture

What are the drinking laws in Denmark?

The Danish attitude toward alcohol is reflected in the law. For example, no law prohibits drinking in public, but there are laws to prevent the disturbance of the peace. 

It’s rare to get a fine for public intoxication and almost unheard of to be taken in. Danes can drink in the streets, on the beach, in the park, you name it. 

There are additionally no laws prohibiting underaged drinking. Alcohol in Denmark cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 15, and you must be 17 or older to buy liquor 16.5% or higher. But there’s no age-related legal drinking limit.

Another Round 

Another Round the movie (aka Druk) is a Danish film that depicts Danish drinking culture. The lead role is played by Mads Mikkelsen, one of Denmark’s most successful actors.

The movie portrays a group of high school teachers who decide to test a theory involving daily alcohol consumption. Their goal is to keep their alcohol blood level at about 0.5. Their lives thus become a little more exciting, and they decide to increase their daily amount.

Spoiler alert, this leads to some issues.

Another Round captures Danish drinking culture like it’s never been captured before, and it does so both passively and obviously. The viewer witnesses the negative reactions our four heroes get from their behavior indicating where society draws the line. 

However, the movie also portrays a side of Denmark that might not be so popular. The opening scene of the movie follows a group of high school students running around a lake hauling a case of beer.

At every bench along the lake, one of the students takes a beer out of the case and drinks it. It’s a race around the lake to see which team of two can make it around first. The other students are cheering them on, and our main characters (middle-aged adult men) are shown cheering and drinking right alongside the teenagers.

If you have ever tried to run and chug beer at the same time, you know how difficult this is. Loyal to reality, the scene includes synchronized barfing. The movie goes on to portray the effects of daily consumption in the lives of our four main adult characters.

This very lack of attention toward drinking amongst the youth illustrates the Danish attitude toward teenage consumption.

The intention of the movie seems to be a Danish critique of Danish drinking culture. The movie indicates that a group of men could potentially get together and decide to drink alcohol daily, at their job, and interact with children. However, this movie is a bit of an exaggeration.

The actions of the four main characters are not commonplace in Denmark, and while Danes do drink quite a bit, they are also very aware of their limits, and, for the most part, consumption does not negatively affect their work or family life.

The making of the movie more likely indicates the collective awareness that alcoholism is a possibility, and that alcohol consumption in Denmark should be done responsibly.

Is there a drinking problem in Denmark?

The lack of a drinking taboo in Denmark does not equate to a country of alcoholics. The definition of an alcoholic is highly related to addiction, compulsion, and lack of control. It is drinking to the point where your consumption negatively affects your life.

The rate of alcoholism in Denmark is relatively low considering that Denmark ranks as the 2nd heaviest drinker in Europe.

Danes have institutionalized their work/family life balance with 5-weeks paid vacation a year and the right of men to take paternal leave, among other things. Danes might play hard, but they also work hard. How much you drink depends on how well you manage your family and work life.

Other times drinking is not socially acceptable, 

1. Drinking and driving

No matter your situation, it is never okay to drink and drive. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving both socially and legally.

2. Harassment

Causing anyone any kind of discomfort due to drinking is harshly policed. If you are belligerent, try to start fights, harass women, etc., bouncers, security, or police are quickly involved.

3. Disturbing the peace

The streets of Copenhagen might be filled with drunk teenagers during the weekend but being drunk and loud on a Tuesday night is just not acceptable. At night during the week, the streets of Copenhagen are empty and quiet.

Danish drinking culture

Alcohol is one of the core features of Danish culture. Danes will be the first to admit that feeling socially awkward is not a rare occurrence. Danish drinking culture facilitates social life. Alcohol is seen as one of life’s wonderful gifts, and Danes believe strongly in its benefits.

Danes are some of the heaviest drinkers in Europe yet alcoholism rates are surprisingly low. With no legal drinking age in Denmark, drinking culture in Denmark is sure to surprise and impress as well as challenge the way we understand the relationship between society and alcohol.

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

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