Don’t you drink? But why not? How boring! Whenever socializing in Norway, alcohol is an essential factor. If you don’t drink, it may raise eyebrows. So how is social life in Norway without alcohol?
Alcohol gets you in the right mood, I am told, and it makes it easier to come in contact with people in social settings. It may very well be true. However, there is a substantial part of the Norwegian population who don’t drink. Some people don’t drink because of religious reasons, as me. While others do that by completely free will. Why is that?
Making the choice
“I used to drink when I was younger, but I came to a point in life where I had to make a decision,” says Olav when asked why he does not drink alcohol.
I am sitting down with him in one of Oslo’s trendy café. He is a well-educated man in his 30s, with a good job, wife and children. He is among the around 10-20 percent of Norwegians who doesn’t drink alcohol. His wife is passionate about the abstention-cause, I am told, and so this is a love-related sacrifice one could argue.
“That varies a lot” he replies, when asked about how people react to his abstention from alcohol. “Some people do not mind, some ask lots and lots of questions, but every once in a while someone vocally denounce it.
Olav travels a lot with his job, and I am curious whether people abroad react the same way as Norwegians?
I think that has a lot to do with the Norwegian culture. When abroad, people I meet tend not to bring it up
“I think that has a lot to do with the Norwegian culture. When abroad, people I meet tend not to bring it up” The latter statement does not surprise me, as a 2014 World Health Organization-report identified Norway as one of the countries with the lowest numbers of abstainers in the general population.
A high share of the Norwegian population drinking also generates a high level of involvement. There are lots of opinions about abstention from alcohol in Norway. One Google-search, and results such as “Abstainers die of loneliness”, “That’s why abstainers are boring” and “Abstainers are more ill and depressed” start to show up.
I ask Olav about his experiences. Does he feel different? And has he been rejected in any setting because he is an abstainer?
“A lot of social arenas in Norway are alcohol related. This also applies for most off-hours work related events. I think it’s more difficult to be included if you are not drinking. You are less likely to be invited to gatherings, and when invited you sometimes may be asked to explain yourself,” he says while taking a sip of the coffee we ordered a couple of minutes ago.
Two sides of the coin
A coin always has two sides, and so does being an abstainer. Olav tells me about both sides.
There are some upsides to abstinence – you stay sharp, you are less likely to make a fool of yourself.
“There are some upsides to abstinence – you stay sharp, you are less likely to make a fool of yourself, and you can always drive home from a party. And last, but not least, there’s no hangover!” he laughs. “The downside is that there is some stigma to it. It also tends to be less fun to be the only sober person in the room, for instance at Christmas parties.”
Our interview is heading towards the end. To be honest, in between his answers I sense a person who has had mixed experiences with his abstinence from alcohol. And that is no surprise to me, given the fact how important alcohol can be in different settings.
I use the last moments to ask him whether he has regretted his choice. He thinks for a short while before answering. “Well,” he says and takes another short break. “Sometimes you may think about what you’re missing out on.”
He clears his voice and this time with much more confidence. “Life might have been different, but I’m not sure it would have been better”.