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Sånn er det: Beer Curtains

1 July 2011

The first time I saw curtains over the beer section in the grocery store in Norway I wasn’t quite sure if the message was: “Shhhh! It’s after 8! The beer is sleeping!” or if I should wait for the lights and music and a man’s voice over the loudspeaker shouting: “Welcome to our CaBEERet, ladies and gentlemen! Featuring: ‘The Can-Can,’ the ‘Texas Two-Sip’ and the ‘What’s On Tap Dance!’” (Yah, I know. I’ll stop now.)

Was I, like a dirty Peeping Tom, supposed to pull back the curtains to buy the beer? No, I learned. It’s illegal to sell beer in Norway after 8 p.m. on weekdays and after 6 p.m. on Saturdays. The curtains are drawn to announce that you have arrived two minutes too late. And then to snicker as you lower your head and turn towards the soda aisle. Sånn er det i norge.

But seriously. Curtains? Over beer? This method of total concealment by shrouds of dark green creates a sense of shame about even being in the beer aisle past 8 p.m. “What are you, an alcoholic? Go home to your kids, for chrissake!” the other shoppers seem to say as they eye me and then push their carts with deliberation in the opposite direction of the Aisle of Sin.

I blame the curtains for the self-consciousness I experience every time I buy a can of beer – even in the socially acceptable hours before 8 p.m. The message is clear: Norway does not approve of drinking at home in the evening. I assume that drinking in the middle of the day is perfectly acceptable, as you can buy all the beer you want at 8 a.m. when the store re-opens. Or I guess I should say, all the beer you can afford. The almost wholly prohibitive price tag of 24 kroner a can ($4.50, or €3) sends another clear message: Norway does not approve of drinking unless you have a large amount of disposable income. (If I have more than four cans in my cart I hear a dour statesman hissing: “Shouldn’t you be spending that money on milk for your children?”)

So the buying of beer becomes a naughty pleasure. Especially if my shopping cart contains only six cans of beer and one box of children’s cereal.

No one else seems to share my feelings about the curtains. My American husband and Dutch friend find the curtains helpful. How else could they be expected to remember this crazy rule?

If only the wine store would drape itself in a giant fluorescent curtain to announce its closure at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. I’m thinking something along the lines of Christo and Jean-Claude’s wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin.

Nothing says, “I forgot to buy wine before the store closed, but the gas station was open!” like a fading bouquet of carnations smashed into a cone of loud plastic. I apologize profusely to my host. She laughs, knowingly, and we are forced instead to drink the vodka she bought at the Duty Free.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 July 2011 16:41

    I never saw a beer curtain before but I was once denied buying two cans of beer (TWO!) over 8pm at ICA supermarket. Look at me, do I look under 18? Hmm, yes maybe…but that’s not the point LOL

    I find the rule rather ridiculous, it’s fair enough that stronger alcohol can only be bought at Vinmonopolet, but beer? supermarket? Adult people? Why, oh why can’t we have beer? Every time I’m in Oslo, I feel like I’m a thief rushing to get myself beer before the closing hour. Or maybe feeling like an alcoholic is more like that.

    • jenaconti permalink
      4 July 2011 09:17

      It’s always nice to know I am not the only one shocked by this! … and not the only one who feels like an alcoholic for my two cans of beer! 🙂 Maybe the curtains are only found in the conservative Westlands?

  2. Teresa Owens permalink
    1 July 2011 18:42

    Too funny. We’re getting ready to move there, and I suppose we’ll be in for a real shock, coming from Las Vegas, the land of the 24 hour-everything-you-can’t-even-imagine-you’d-need-at-3a.m. stores. Perhaps this is why my cousin, who lives in Bergen, has an entire refrigerator downstairs stocked with beer and wine…..Your posts are so well written, Jena, yours is the only blog I subscribe to for expat stuff. My cousin, who is Polish, emmigrated to Bergen from Wraclaw 20 years ago and hasn’t looke back since. We have been going for the past 10 years, and my husband and I are finally ready for the move. Your posts remind me of so many of our stays there. Keep ’em coming! Teresa

    • Bobbie permalink
      1 July 2011 21:12

      Sorry to hi-jack this post… but Teresa Owens…me and my husband also live in Las Vegas and are moving to Norway! message me if you get a chance! 🙂 bobbienicole@hotmail.com

      • Teresa Owens permalink
        5 July 2011 04:09

        Hey, Bobbie…I emailed you last Friday from my Droid…to the email address bobbienicole@hotmail.com Did you get it? My email is tdko1@yahoo.com Sorry, Jena, for using your blog as a meet-up space…but you understand, right?

    • jenaconti permalink
      4 July 2011 09:21

      Teresa: thanks for reading the blog and good luck with your future move! Will you be living in Bergen? And yes, the USA is the land of 24-hr-everything. After we had lived here for about a year and a half we went back for a visit. We got in late at night and went directly to the airport hotel. My husband went to the front desk to ask if there were any liquor stores around that might still be open and would sell beer. The guy laughed at him and said that he didn’t need a liquor store for beer. Right across the street was a Wal-mart that was open all night. We had to laugh at ourselves. Anything you want, any time of day in the U.S.!

      Bobbie: how fun and weird that two people are moving here from Las Vegas? Hope you guys can meet up! (and does it EVER rain in Las Vegas?)

      • Bobbie permalink
        5 July 2011 03:05

        I know how weird is that! Hopefully she checks back and see the comment I would love to chat with her! 🙂

        To answer your questions….it does rain here….but very rarely!! I think it rains on average 26 days a year 😦

      • Teresa Owens permalink
        5 July 2011 04:13

        Yes, Jena, I will be moving to Bergen. My cousin lives a little north of town, but still has a house she leases out in Fyllingsdalen (she divorced). We have friends over there where she used to live, and her ex lives somewhere north of town a little as well. And our rain in Vegas is average 4″ per year. I think I felt a drop today though, so maybe we’ll be having a bumper crop of water this summer during our monsoon season? Ok, not Bangladesh monsoon, but our pathetic version of it….OMG, I think the water just came up over the curb! But seriously, we do get flashfloods here, but since they’ve put the water detention basins in, it’s just no fun anymore…we can’t stand by and watch folks kayak and innertube down Charleston Blvd, like they used to in the old days….

  3. 30 July 2011 00:46

    Actually, we have beer curtains here in Connecticut! All day Sunday and after 9pm on Saturday the beer curtains are drawn (and they’re green here too, by some strange coincidence). We came from North Dakota, where alcohol wasn’t available in the grocery store at all, so we were kind of baffled. There’s also a fabulous announcement at the grocery stores on Saturday night. You have to get the beer to the checkout and physically OUT THE DOOR of the store before 9pm in order to buy it, and they warn you at the fifteen minute mark. I would never have expected to see Beer Curtains in Norway though!

    • 2 August 2011 13:05

      Really?! I can’t believe someone else thought of hanging curtains over the beer. How funny. And strange that a northern state would be so conservative!

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