Here is the answer to the “riddle,” whom do you NOT skoal at a dinner party (at least in Denmark, at least in my friend’s circles):
She who is cooking and serving and caring for the guests — She must keep a clear head and be able to function, and believe me, after not so much akvavit chased by drafts of beer, that is just about impossible to do! So if a Danish smorrebrod dinner is in your future, refrain please from skoaling your hostess. A fine compliment, a smile, perhaps a kiss on the cheek, some flowers perhaps?
(Of course if your hostess is neither cooking nor serving, I suppose all bets are off!)
When it comes to togetherness, my mind doesn’t stray far from food! Whether it’s things I myself love best to eat (a long long list) or foods that GO together, they’re all objects of pleasurable contemplation. Here’s a match made in Scandinavian heaven:
What you see is the first, fish, course of a Danish smorrebrod at our Maine (and Copenhagen) friends’ home. The open sandwiches were made by not-so-traditional “smorrebrod virgins”, in this case the hostess and me. (Together she and I clock in at about 112 years of marriage, so the “virgin” part has to be adjusted for local conditions.)
From front to back, there are hard-boiled eggs and Matjes herring with dill, cocktail shrimp with mayo, dill, and lemon; and fried fish with tartar sauce, dill, and lemon. (Yes, they eat a LOT of dill in Scandinavia.) Still to come are the meat and cheese courses. But the togetherness part is really what you see in the stemware. Smorrebrod has to be accompanied by slugs of the clear distilled dynamite called akvavit (small glasses), chased by beer, Carlsen or Tuborg for choice, but whatever else you can find will serve.
It’s a ritual at a Danish meal to skoal, or toast, other guests. To do so, one lifts one’s akvavit glass, catches the eye of the guest one wishes to toast, and while maintaining eye contact, both drain their glasses. From personal experience, once is okay, twice is tough, and three puts me out for the count. We’ve never been to a large Danish party, so I can only imagine what it’s like to skoal and be skoaled by many people!
Interesting note on Danish etiquette: there is one person at a party who is NEVER skoaled and who does not skoal in their turn. I leave it to you to figure out who that might be!