Saturday, 24 April 2010
‘Anything I can do to help? To ease the pain? To lighten the burden? Anything you want?’ I enquired in an attempt at showing wifely concern. He looked at me in a daze, as though having to consider the myriad of temptations on offer was a decision too far.
‘Fancy going down the pub?’ he eventually said.
This, for me at least, is a rare event in Norway, for reasons that will become clear. But it is a great treat, so soon we were wandering through the darkness to our local, where the TA slumped into a chair while I bought the drinks. I purchased one large beer and one glass of wine, nothing else, not even a malformed peanut.
‘170 kroner’ said the barmaid.
I went all John McEnroe. ‘Du kan IKKE be serious.’ She just stared back at me as though I was deranged.
I tried Sean Connery. ‘Shurely shome mishtake!’ But of course it was useless. I knew all along, in my heart of hearts, she was perfectly capable of adding up the cost of two drinks, and she had done so accurately. I’m just not, as I say, used to going to the pub in this country.
Having emptied my wallet completely, I skulked back to our little table, feeling depressed. I didn’t dare mention the cost to the already stressed-out TA. I sat there doing a wee calculation. So if one large beer costs 95 kroner, using the more-or-less current exchange rate of 8.8, that beer costs £10.90. One large beer in a pub here is 0.6 of a litre, whereas a British pint is the equivalent of 0.45 litres. Standard beers here are 0.4 litres.
Then, despite feeling enfeebled by the massive sums I was computing through my brain, I tackled the wine calculation. My small glass of wine was 75 kroner, which would be about £8.50. Blimey...I’d better make sure I relish every sip with hither-to unrivalled fervour.
No wonder I hardly ever go to the pub over here. The cost can ruin the enjoyment. To start with, alcohol is highly taxed. But in addition to that, in order to persuade ‘undesirables’ from coming into the pubs in the first place, the drinking establishments are apt to increase the cost even further. They vie with each other to ensure they don’t have low enough prices to tempt any riff-raff. The ‘undesirable’ elements then go down to the supermarket to buy a few cans of beer (spirits are only sold in a specialist, government controlled shop, where, by-the-by, whisky is £50 a bottle). Provided they arrive before 8pm (because no beer can be sold there after that hour)they will be required to pay about £3.50 for each can....none of your ‘six-pack-two-for-one-weekend-special-offers’ here.
Now in the UK, as we approach an election and everyone is madly discussing the problems of our society, the complex and serious issues surrounding alcohol are evident, even if they are not top of the agenda. The recession has been hitting pubs very hard, so landlords have been struggling, if not closing down completely. They have often tried to survive by driving down prices, hosting ‘Happy Hours’ and other such wheezes to persuade the public, whom we shall call Mr UK Tax Payer in this instance, to keep on boozing.
Meanwhile, the question of how to tackle anti-social behaviour is a serious one. Our city centres can be horrific at times, particularly at weekends or after football matches when the streets are strewn with drinkers who have indulged in ‘several too many’. It is not only disgusting, noisy, and terrifying ....it costs of the police and health services a packet.... an ever-mounting cost which is ultimately shouldered by Mr UK Tax Payer.
To a Scot, Norway’s strict attitude to booze seems positively draconian. But it is clear that price has a very real effect on the amount consumed and the after-effects with which society must cope. Of course there are hardened alcoholics here, but the consumption of alcohol per head of population is far smaller than in the UK. As I sat in Norway drinking a glass of tap water and watched the UK Chancellor Alistair Darling’s recent attempt to increase the levy on cider, (from which the Government has now back-tracked,) it seemed an almost laughably limp attempt at tackling a serious and growing problem. I’d hate cider-makers to go belly-up, so it appeared rather cruel, if not arbitrary, that they were picked upon. But the problem is not going to go away unless someone comes up with a solution.
Naturally nobody wants to see anyone going out of business in the UK...we would all wish publicans, brewers and distillers well despite the ravages of the recession. However, it is worth pointing out that the immense price of alcohol in Norway undoubtedly affects behaviour.
And I can prove that. Several times now I have seen the most well-behaved of Norwegians undergoing a marked psychological change as soon as they step onto an aircraft to go abroad....whatever time of day they start their holiday, you can bet your last kroner they’ll be blotto within minutes of boarding the plane.
Posted by Returning Scot at 18:53