Yes, to much surprise it’s about booze again. One would think that after living in the Nordic countries for almost two years now, I’d finally get used to all those things about alcohol consumption and everything that follows suit. Alas, I have not. Far from it. I still find the relationship between locals and booze too fascinating to be able to let go.
Alcohol consumption has a special status in the Nordic countries. Its consumption is not a taboo like it is in many other places. Quite the contrary, the media are usually relatively expressive about this or that problem related to drinking too much hooch and advising people not to guzzle as much as they do. Even though according to statistics inhabitants of many other European countries consume a lot more alcohol per year than inhabitants in the Nordics do, it is considered to be a big problem, at least in Finland.
Why then do alcoholic beverages have such notorious reputation around here?
My wild guess would be: the prohibition is to blame for everything. In what is today Finland, already in 1866 the state banned home distilling and begun regulating the sales of alcoholic beverages. I haven’t been able to find any statistical data (and even if I did, it would probably be quite biased as it would have to justify the ban), but I think that they did it just because the state thought their people were having too much fun. Because we are people, whatever you ban us from becomes our curiosity. So after 1866 things only continued going downhill.
First, in 1914 the state prohibited distribution of alcoholic beverages, only to completely ban production, transportation, sale and storage of alcohol in 1919. In plain man’s talk, everything containing alcohol was completely outlawed. The only approved use of alcohol was for the medical, technical and scientific purposes. All of a sudden everyone wanted to work in the medical, technical and scientific fields. One thing led to another, and that’s how alcohol kick-started the birth of Finnish high-tech society.
But for the rest of the population the next 13 or so years weren’t a walk in the park. It was only in 1932 that the ban was lifted and in the same year the population witnessed the introduction of state owned and operated company which was granted an exclusive monopoly on the import, export, manufacture and sale of everything containing alcohol. Believe it or not, but 75 years later Finland still uses the same system. They did rename it from Alkoholiliike to Alko (to make it easier on the pronunciation), made an amendment here and there, put up a trendy Web site, but three-quarters of a century later it is still state owned alcohol monopoly and one of the few state monopolies in the EU today. That’s what I call being true to the tradition. And Finland is as high-tech as high-tech can be.
The two wars that were devastating for the Finnish soon came into picture and were seen as a good reason to further curb the consumption of booze so the nation witnessed a slew of restrictions. But then in the following decade when things laxed down a little bit, we also get the first official national alcohol consumption statistic: 1,41 liters of pure alcohol per head. No, that’s not 14,1 or even 141, it is 1,41 liters per person, as in slightly less than one and a half liter. I know, you’re also wondering what was all that fuss about.
I see only four options here. The prohibition either straightened up the nation, or it never was as bad as they wanted us to believe, or these statistics are complete bollocks and the state had absolutely no idea how much fun their people actually had or they knew but just wanted to believe that they had everything under control. But wait, there’s more. According to the official record, it took a whopping 16 years for this official figure to double.
Let’s be smart alecky for a moment here. If we take this as a constant trend and consider that the consumption of alcohol doubles every 16 years or so, then today the consumption would be a little bit over 17 liters per person of pure alcohol per year. Which is, in other words, a lot more than in Luxembourg that is with around 15 liters the current reigning champion in the world of alcohol consumption. Despair or rejoice not. Currently Finns consume just a tad bit over 10 liters and again according to the officials the amount is in decline. This doesn’t only mean that they have not been keeping up, but are actually backing out all the time.
I sign-off now to make myself a drink of grain alcohol and rainwater to celebrate.