Tuesday, May 31, 2011

$99 for the Beer on the Wall

Both Alcoholics Anonymous and Norway are good places for recovering drinkers, or anyone trying to stay off the sauce. I’m not. But the Norwegian “sin tax” is my liver’s new best friend.

As I’ve mentioned before, Norway is an expensive country. The government is able to provide numerous benefits to its citizens through heavy income, value-added and sin taxes. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the prices of alcohol. Wages are high here, really high. And Norwegians happily cough up the extra dough to promote a high quality of living and a low Gini coefficient—the difference between the highest and lowest wage earners is small. But visitors must still eat the high costs without reaping the benefits. As much as I appreciate what the government is trying to do, I have to admit that I have shed more than a few tears when the six pack of beer I grab at the grocery store costs more than the rest of the items in my cart combined.

To satisfy the curious, here are some price points of common products one might buy in the United States and their prices here in Norway:

Dirt-Cheap Six Pack: Roughly $16
Normal Six Pack: About $28
A Decent Beer at the Bar: $15-$20
Yellowtail Wine: At least $20 at the store
Good Wine: At least $70 at the store—the stuff that sells for $15 per bottle in the US
Bombay Sapphire 750ml: Almost $80
One 12 oz Bottle of Smirnoff Ice at the Store: $8.50—for you bros

You get the point.

Yes, I still have a couple drinks here. But “having a big night” out on the town is pretty much out of the question. And that’s probably a good thing: I’m not getting any younger and my student loans could probably go towards better things. However, frequent imbibers and revelers do have some alternatives. The Norwegian youth have invented what is known here as a “voerspiel”, or pre-party. Since store-bought alcohol is much cheaper than the alcohol served in bars, many students will load up on drinks before heading out. In theory, they then need to spend less at the bar—although, from my experience, I tend to disregard my bank account after a few drinks.

This strategy seems to work for them though: the evidence is clear on Friday and Saturday nights. While cities in Norway remain quiet places Sunday through Thursday, they become “zombie towns” on Friday and Saturday nights. Introversion and tact be damned, curse drink limits and caution: Norwegians don’t hold back on the weekends. It’s an interesting sight to behold. And if you ever feel like it is impossible to have a conversation with a stranger in Norway, just wait until the weekend. Friday, they’re in love.

Since I respect what Norway is trying to do, I’ll put an end to my rant soon: it really isn’t that bad, and I feel spritely and renewed from my financially-motivated detox. But didn’t Ben Franklin—in perhaps a famous misquote—once say that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?” I’ll pay for my sins with the hefty tax. But isn’t charging that much for a few good brews equally as sinful? I know a few people in the Norwegian government who won’t be getting raptured.

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