20:59 Etc

Nov. 10 - Friday night was the big night.

We'd been barraged for weeks by advertisements on television and radio. Bright green billboards had been shouting at us from every corner of the city. There were signs and posters and handwritten notices in almost every bar, from the gleaming, overpriced tourist bars around Rådhusplads to the dark little bodegas on our local sidestreets. To live in Copenhagen these last few months has been to live in the crosshairs of a marketing assault that would make P.T. Barnum blush.

It's a Danish tradition. At 8:59 pm one Friday night early each November, Tuborg allows the public its first taste of their annual holiday brew. It's not a difficult tradition to get behind. It's better, for example, than the running of the bulls in Spain, or the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, in that it involves neither frenzied bulls stampeding down the street nor lengthy speeches by bloviating politicians. It involves merely the drinking of beer.

Trine once described the difference between Swedes and Danes to me like this: Swedes will take advantage of any occassion to celebrate with a few drinks, whereas Danes will invent an occassion whenever they feel like having a few drinks. Advantage, Denmark.

Clearly, this annual excitement over the release of Tuborg's julebryg is a stellar example of Trine's hypothesis. Tuborg is, after all, just one of many Danish breweries, and their julebryg is just one of many Christmas brews that hit the market each year. Yet so successfully have they spliced their marketing into Danish culture that you'd honestly think the release of their julebryg was a national holiday in its own right.

Naturally, it was important to me to experience this phenomenon as fully as possible. (It's important to me to experience every phenomenon as fully as possible, especially when they involve beer.) And naturally, I experienced my first Julebryg Friday true to moronic form.

Where was I at 8:59 pm? A throbbing downtown nightclub? A rocking little bar? A neighborhood bodega bustling with regulars?

No. I was plodding along the street with Trine, arguing over whether or not we could reach a bar in time for the magic moment. We couldn't, obviously. At 8:59 pm, we were crossing a street. Just moments before we'd seen a Tuborg truck go thundering by us, the driver in a bright blinking Santa hat. It had felt like a kind of taunt.

"It's a lot of fun," Trine explained, whetting my appetite for an experience I was in the process of missing. "In some bars they have Santa's helpers—girls in sexy Santa suits, like the Rockettes, handing out the first beers."

But Trine told me she'd never actually gone to a bar for the 8:59 release. Too silly, she and her friends had thought. Like many young Danes, they preferred finding some way to get Tuborg on their own before 8:59pm—which could be done, if you had a connection to a truck driver, bartender, or Tuborg executive. There was a secret thrill in getting your own taste of Tuborg julebryg before the appointed hour.

(Can you appreciate the brilliance of that marketing strategy? To get rebellious teenagers to act out against conformity by moving heaven and earth to get your product before it's even officially on the market?)

"So," I reasoned, "it's much more characteristically Danish of me to show up fashionably late for my first julebryg?"

Trine shrugged.

I don't suppose it's characteristically Danish to do much of anything (besides singing, designing, or avoiding taxes), but I insist on asking these stupid kinds of questions pretty regularly. Trine's shrugs have become a kind of cultural barometer for me. The magnitude and duration of her shrugs often tell me more about Danish culture than a whole stack of Let's Go guides.

Well, we met some friends and found our way to a favorite haunt of theirs—not a very splashy place, just a friendly neighborhood bar where, at the time of our entrance, our party of eight constituted the vast majority of patrons. We had some julebrygs.

They were okay.

Over time the bar filled up, and at about 10pm the bartender rang a big bell, recruited a random patron as his new barmaid, and distributed "Fisherman's Friend" shots, gratis, to everyone in the bar. (I know they have Fisherman's Friend lozenges in the states, but I'm not sure how popular Fisherman's Friend Liqueur is back there. It seems to be a pretty popular shot here—right up there with North Sea Oil and Turkish Pepper shots.)

That was enough tradition for me, so I reverted to form and drank bourbon the rest of the night.

* * *

We went to the Olde English Pub as usual last night to watch our weekly dose of American football. The Olde English Pub is a touristy joint right across the street from the main entrance to Tivoli. It's exactly the kind of bar I never, ever go to, but it's also the only bar in Copenhagen that dedicates at least one TV screen to American football in time for the early game. We've achieved a nodding acquaintance with one of the bartenders, a friendly Canadian overthanker.

(Let me digress by way of explanation: there is no Danish word, or even standard Danish phrase, for "please." Polite requests are made instead with intonation, or by means of such tortuous language as, "may I pray to you for the salt?" or "would you be so kind as to hand me the salt?" English speakers are often at a loss as to how to be polite without "please," and therefore pepper their speech with pre-emptive thanks—expressed in the compact and easy to pronounce tak. After months or years of using "thanks" as a means of saying please as well as thank you, it becomes second nature, even in English, to start throwing thanks around with reckless abandon. You do indeed become an overthanker, as our bartender's mother pointed out to him on his last visit home.)

Anyway, I asked our overthanking bartender how it had gone Friday night. "Crazy?" Trine asked.

"No crazier than any other Friday," he said.

"Look," Trine said, pointing out a shiny new addition to their taps, "Christmas brew."

"Hm," I said.

We ordered our regular workaday pints and went to our regular seats.

Sic transit gloria julebryg.

Historical Moments

On November 10, 1871, New York Newspaperman Henry M. Stanley finally found Scottish explorer Dr. Livingstone at Ujiji (helpfully identified by some sources as being "near Unyanyembe"), and remarked, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" This was extremely witty and therefore historical.

Birthdays & Stuff

November 10 birthdays: MacKenzie Phillips (1959), Sinbad (1956), Donna Fargo (1949), Roy Scheider (1935), Richard Burton (1925), Claude Rains (1889), Martin Luther (1483).

November 10 is Flag Day in Guinea and Death of Ataturk Day in Turkey.

Happy Monday!

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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