In T2T’s last post I wrote about our recent Dinner of the Cold Maidens, in which we introduced South African friends to the lavish and delicious open-face sandwiches known as Danish smorrebrod. An important part of the feast is its invariable liquid component, the eau-de-vie known as aquavit, chased with (preferably) Danish beer. But it isn’t just the spirits and beer that are different; it’s also the ceremony that goes along with them, known as the skoal.
Any Danish dinner guest, at any time, can initiate a skoal. He or she simply lifts their glass of aquavit, catches the eye of another guest, and the two — without breaking eye contact — send the aquavit down the hatch. Then, with a smile or without, they chase the fiery spirit with some cool beer. It’s a mark of friendliness, a tribute to a visitor, whatever you’d like it to be. Here’s the famed Danish actor Max von Sydow (when he was young, blond, and gorgeous, not that he’s hard on the eyes now that he’s old and silver) performing a skoal:
(I call it Skoal and Smoulder and would be thrilled to be sharing a toast with him.)
Aquavit and beer flow freely at a Danish dinner party, and the skoals keep coming. There is, though, one person at the dinner who is exempt from returning the toast, and I wondered “aloud” if any of you could guess who that would be.
Well, there were ingenious guesses, but none hit the mark. So now, in case you are invited to such a party within the next few days and don’t want to commit a social misdemeanor, here is the answer:
(Take your last chance to think who cannot be skoaled, and why —-)
Still no clue? It’s the hostess! Why?
Aquavit is really powerful stuff, almost pure spirits. One aquavit is fine and heart-warming and gives you a glow, at least I find it does. Two, however, are enough to put me to sleep, and have done so. That’s how, after a wonderful lunch with the Hub at then-restaurant Aquavit of lamented memory, I went to a movie theater for Woody Allen’s New York Stories but never actually saw the film.
Now as a practical matter, we could do without any particular guest at a smorrebrod dinner. We could perhaps even do without the host. But someone has to stay sober to cook and serve dinner. And so it is that etiquette exempts the hostess. Light-hearted, fun-loving, accomplished drinkers the Danes may be. But they are above all, a practical people!