How A Beer Festival in Norway Shattered Our Generalizations
One of our favorite travel experiences from 2014 was when we we attended a beer festival in Drammen, Norway with Ben's Norwegian cousins, our gracious hosts, and Ben's aunt Jacque. We were told it'd be fun, but other than the promise of beer and food, we really weren't sure what to expect.
'It's probably just a regular festival,' we thought as we sat on a crowded bus en route to Drammen. 'Like the ones in America—plenty of samples, food stands, and crowds trying to find the best deals on local craft items.'
Once we arrived in Drammen, we walked a good mile to reach the festival. We passed strangely shaped trees with bushy leaves and saw breathtaking views of the Norwegian countryside.
"What do you think this will be like?" I asked Ben as our group of five approached the festival's entrance. A tall white tent with enclosed sides sealed the inhabitants from view, but we could hear a rumble of talking and laughing even from 50 feet away.
"I don't know," he responded. "Should be interesting."
Up to that point, we hadn't had much interaction with Norwegians outside of our hosts, despite us both having Norwegian in our blood. The ones we'd seen appeared to pass each other like ghosts. No smile, no eye contact. They were quiet, apparently preferring peace and solitude to small talk and loud gatherings.
It wasn't surprising, then, that the boisterous laughter coming from inside the tent felt very foreign to us.
After we paid for our tickets and picked up our beer glasses and "poker chips" (the chips were used to "pay" the vendors for pours), we walked inside and found ourselves surrounded by a countless amount of Norwegians. Tall, beautiful, laughing Norwegians.
Somehow, we managed to all secure a pour of beer from one of the many, many vendors within the festival, wrestle our way across the room, and find seats at an over-packed picnic table (a huge feat considering how many people were there).
I clutched and savored my chocolate stout through a (deliciously) smoky haze of cooked sausages and fries, and Ben sipped on a medium-bodied ale from England.
The sound of breaking glass reached our ears, and suddenly everyone raised their glasses and cheered. We shot a quizzical look at Ben's cousins for explanation.
"At beer festivals," we were soon told amidst the chatter, "if someone gets so drunk that they break a glass, you toast and say skål!!"
This was an interesting discovery. Back home, if you were so drunk you broke a glass, people certainly wouldn't cheer for you. But the longer we stayed, sipped, and observed, the more often we heard it.
Skål! Skål! Skål!
We came to realize that breaking your glass was like a rite of passage. Only then were you drunk enough to be a Norwegian. Glass would shatter, the fault of men and women alike, and people foisted their beers in the air. Clapped each other on the back. Cheered with strangers as if they were old friends.
None in our group got drunk enough to drop a glass that afternoon, but we did eat some delicious food, drink several types of beer from all across Europe (even one brewed in a urinal, but that's a different story), and eventually join in cheering with the crowd.
When we left to catch the bus back to Oslo, we pondered over the hasty generalizations we'd made before attending the festival that day—that a Norwegian beer festival would be like an American beer festival. That Norwegians didn't really like loud gatherings or talking to strangers. That super drunk people would be shunned. That the festival would be kitschy and boring.
In a way, we're glad Norway served us this lesson. It allowed us to move past our assumptions and participate in something real, genuine, and exciting.
And we someday hope to go back and earn a skål! of our own.
Have you ever participated in something cool that made you re-evaluate your assumptions and generalizations? Have you ever been to an awesome beer festival that blew your expectations away? Let us know in the comments!