There has been a few days free from work and school for the Danes because of Jesus’ ascension that we celebrate on May 25. Many Danes use this weekend to invite friends over for lunch. Most people will serve beer and snaps/Danish aquavit. I have written about this ritual before in April of 2014, but I would like to write about it again for those of you who haven’t seen it. As a matter of fact, it is about the first time I drank snaps/Danish aquavit.
On the table were three glasses in front of each place, a large beer glass, a smaller snaps glass, (Danish aquavit), and a water glass. Never having tasted snaps before, I watched the others at the table to see what they were doing. Some of the women turned the small glass upside down on the table. I turned to my boss Torben, who was sitting next to me and asked him, “Why do they do that.”
“Do what?” he said.
“Turn their small glasses upside down,” I said as I admired the beautiful table in front of me.
“They don’t want any snaps. Have you ever tasted snaps?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I answered. “I don’t believe I have ever heard of it.” He laughed and said, “Snaps is a treat; you will love it.” The woman sitting across from me started to say something, but the men hushed her and laughed. She shook her head with disapproval, made a face and started to say more. Once again, they stopped her; she frowned and gave up trying to say something.
“Snaps always is drunk with fish dishes, and then we take a break from snaps when eating the meat sandwiches,” Torben said while lifting his glass and indicating I should drink too. Sensing I was unsure of what to do, he began to explain.
“There is a formal procedure on how to drink snaps. It is almost like a special ceremony.” Torben said as he lifted his glass and turned to include the others at the table. I had been living in Denmark for two years at that time, and no one had ever explained this to me.
“No one drinks snaps without inviting others to drink with them. The first person to do this is the host.” He raised his glass and making sure everyone at the table could see him; he then looked into the eyes of each of the others sitting at the table, nodded and drank from his glass. In the meantime, all the other people were making eye contact with each other and nodding to all the people at the table.”
“We now say, “skol,” the Danish word for cheers. Skol rhymes with bowl. No one should drink the first snaps before greeting each other,” Torben said.
“Skol,” I said as best I could.
“You are doing great. Torben laughed again.
“What if I don’t want to drink all of the snaps?”
“Then you can “bite” the portion over by taking a sip, or as most people do you can do the bottoms up and drink all of the snaps in the glass. Don’t worry, although snaps has a high alcohol percent, the glasses are small, about 1 or 2 ounces. You would have to drink a lot to get drunk,” he said as he greeted the other people sitting around the table.
I looked around the table and saw all the heads were bobbing up and down. Silence, the group, had drunk their snaps. There were some who only drank beer. One would think that we were finished when we had done that, and we could begin to eat, but no.Torben continued, “Now we must all look into each other’s eyes again, nod and then only after that can we set our glasses down. After the host has said, “Welcome” and has made a toast, anyone at the table can invite anyone to drink with him.”
The snaps tasted awful, like vodka. I started to cough and grabbed a glass of beer. Although I don’t like beer much, I took a large mouthful of my Carlsberg to drown the taste. The women were withering facial expressions and rolled their eyes. The men laughed and said I would get used to it.
Drinking snaps and greeting the others around the table seemed a fun way to greet the others sitting at the table. Sometimes, at these big parties, there are so many people at the table one never gets a chance to talk with those who are sitting farther down the table. When you drink snaps, you get a chance to look them in the eye and nod two, three times or more during the lunch. Sometimes people are sitting so far away from each other; they must lean a little forward to see each other. It is a lot of fun. Not everyone has to drink at the same time after the host has made the first toast. People sitting at different ends of the table can toast with each other, and people can toast with those sitting next to them. All you have to do is catch the eye of someone, nod, and drink. Some do it more than others do. The more you drink, the louder the greetings get, and the drunker everyone gets.
Here we were, sitting in this beautiful and pleasant room, getting drunk. We were all in high spirits. Of course, some women didn’t want to join in the fun. I speedily got used to the taste of the snaps and was soon drinking bottoms up. It seemed like all the men wanted to toast with me, and the more I drank, the drunker I got. Soon I had lost count of how many snaps I had drunk and needed to use the ladies room. I stood up, pushed my chair back and immediately proceeded to fall flat on my face. The whole party let out a roar of laughter, and they were whooping with delight. Even the sour women were smiling. Mission accomplished. The newcomer, better known as me, had fulfilled their expectations of a sloppy drunk and fallen big time. The ritual was complete. Get a hold of an innocent and naive young girl, make sure she gets loads to drink, and sit back and watch her make a fool of herself. I was so embarrassed, but all the people at the party ensured me that this was a favorite pastime for the Danish people. It was not the first time and would not be the last time to do this to newcomers to the country. They were also delighted to have an American sitting at their table that day because I had never tried drinking snaps and knew nothing about its effect on people. I understood why most of the women turned their glasses face down on the table. There were even some women who tried to warn me. I must admit that I have since done this to many of my friends and family in the states with the same results.
Smoked Salmon with Asparagus Makes 4
8 small white or green asparagus, trimmed or 8 -12 asparagus from a jar, depending on their size
4 slices of buttered sour dough or white bread
4-8 slices of freshly smoked salmon
Garnish:freshly ground black pepper
To make asparagus, cook them in let salted water 2-3 minutes for the green, 6-8 minutes for the white asparagus depending on the size. Transfer to a paper towel. Pat them gently dry.
To assemble, place 1-2 slices of salmon on each piece of buttered bread. Place 1-2 pieces of asparagus in the middle of salmon. If using asparagus from a jar make sure they are patted dry. If all the water is not removed, it will ruin the sandwich. Sprinkle with black pepper.
Egg and Shrimp Open-face Sandwich Makes 4
6 – 8 hard boiled eggs, peeled
4 lettuce leaves
4 slices of white buttered bread
2 tbsp. good mayonnaise
12 oz. cooked baby shrimp
Garnish: dill or cress
To assemble, cut eggs into even slices with an egg slicer or
knife. Arrange slices of egg on each piece of buttered bread
covered with lettuce and place a spoonful of mayonnaise on top.
Arrange shrimps on top of egg slices and garnish with cress or
Veterinarian’s Evening Sandwich Makes 4
4 slices of dark rye bread
4 oz. liver pate
4 tsp. herbed fat or butter
4 slices jellied consommé
8 slices of salted veal
Garnish: 8-12 slices of raw red onion rings
Cress or sprigs of dill
To assemble, spread 1 tsp. herbed fat, if using, or butter on each piece of dark rye bread. Place one thick slices of liver pate on each piece of bread, two or three slices of salted veal on top of pate and a strip of jellied consommé on top of meat. Garnish with rings of raw onions and cress or dill.