Heading out to the bar on a Friday night in Oslo? Plan on doing a pub-crawl with your friends? Or just hitting up one or two drinking destinations after a group hangout? Well you better be damned sober if you want to do any of that. Or you better feign soberness as best as you can. And never ever bring up your Beirut days. In Oslo where any beer now costs $15, every single bar has a bouncer, male or female (go equality!) who literally scans you up and down and decides whether you are looking straight and narrow enough to enter.
Let me be clear, I’ve mentioned before that people here get totally sloshed before 9pm on the weekends and I understand this is a way to weed out the waste cases so that the bar is not serving any visibly drunk people. That is smart and socially responsible and probably the law.
But I find it is taken to the extreme here. So much so that hitting up an establishment which serves the purpose of selling alcohol means you have to be sober before you get in. Last weekend, after a hangout session and a trip to one bar our group moseyed over to another bar where there was a short line and a female bouncer.
I had been discussing with Jorgen and Knut how much I loved the Arabic phrase y3atik al3afiye — you wish it to someone when they are working and it loosely translates to may (God) give you wellness or energy — and it’s just a nice thing to say to someone. That kind of well-working wish does not exist in English, I wondered if it were so in Norwegian. I wasn’t totally sober but I was speaking perfectly, wasn’t falling over or even wobbling, and was certainly surrounded by people far more gone than I.
But when the bouncer lady overheard me she stopped me at the door. She did not want to let me in. Knut suggested I let her know that I’m not wasted and talking funny, I’m an American who lived in Beirut and was just chatting with my friends about it. Simple misunderstanding.
At her insistence to refuse me entry, I had to plead my case that I was completely fine to enter the bar to hang out with my friends and boyfriend who were already inside. The anxiety and fear and helplessness of having to prove you’re not too drunk to enter when you’re definitely not but have had a couple of beers is intense. It’s like proving you’re not racist. Lose-lose. I wasn’t slurring my words, I could see totally fine, I was just talking funny.
We had a back and forth and I did not want to fight her I just needed her to understand my situation. She took me to the side and said “If I let you in, will you promise to drink some water?” What I wanted to do was step back roll my eyes and say “Are you SERIOUS?!” when instead I said “Yes of course I’ll do anything you ask, I’d just like to go in and hang out with my friends please.”
Reluctantly she let me in, but I couldn’t get over the feeling of being harassed and having to prove myself before I go into a bar — let’s be honest here I’m 25 and a responsible adult who lives a 7 minute walking distance away — to drink some beer and feel the affects of alcohol, ok? Lesson learned: do not speak Arabic in public.
Inside there are more security people keeping a sharp eye on everyone’s moves, watching as people walk to the bathroom, sit and chat, etc.
It is uncomfortable to say the least to have the authorities looming over you on a social night out. Living here, a social night out is hard to come by anyways, at least in the winter they tell me, so it tainted my perception of the only fun-time we get when I’m being watched like a hawk at the bar.
At other bars I’ve been keeping tabs on the security to see if I’m over exaggerating. Recently at an outdoor beer garden, equipped with heat lamps of course, three bouncers stood at the line-less door and made constant rounds checking the crowd. I watched as one walked around the picnic tables and scanned every single person’s face on 10-minute rotations. I didn’t even have a drink yet and I was scared.
And at a concert my first week here with pre-purchased tickets already in my hand, I had to show FOUR pieces of identification to be let in. They insisted I needed a passport but I countered that I wasn’t stupid enough to bring my passport to a bar on Saturday night. I showed them a driver’s license, student ID, and two different bank cards before once again, they reluctantly let me in — because they spotted a drunk guy behind me.
What it boils down to is that I’ve never seen such tyrannical surveillance at bars, even ones with bouncers at the door. The point is to buy alcohol and enjoy a great night out, not be scared whether they think you’ve had too much alcohol or can prove yourself worthy to get in. If you have had too much alcohol, you would not be concerned with what the bouncers are doing anyways. Their job is to throw out super wasted people and break up fights. Not nitpick every tipsy person at a bar. Needless to say, I’m dealing with some deep culture shock here in Norway.
So, who’s coming to ‘party’ in Oslo?
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