Skol, The Viking Toast

Skol is a word derived from the languages spoken in Scandinavian and Nordic countries is used to make a toast.

Skol would correspond to English “Cheers!” and was also used during battle. During the invasions of the Middle Ages, the Vikings shouted “skål” to each other to encourage each other to continue fighting or to give even more, i.e. to encourage each other. A kind of “come on! let’s win the battle so we can drink from his skull!”. It was definitely shorter and easier to say “skol”, especially when you’re fighting, I guess and that facet, the term evolved into what is nowadays “skål”.

Nowhere as much as at the Swedish table, especially in toasting, are manners important.

Never touch the glass first; you must wait until one of the hosts, usually the man, raises his glass before everyone. Do not drink. Everyone should respond to the uttered “skål” (meaning “joyful” and pronounced skol) with a collective “skål”. Then everyone bows their glasses to the host and hostess. Prolonged eye contact is imperative before, during and after the measured sip to appreciate the liquor. Do not empty your glass. The meal has begun.

Skål is a Nordic word to express something good, either to give encouragement or strength and to give more or perform better, or to seal a group or individual toast to what we wish to happen.

On the other hand, a skål is a term also used to define a bowl, a concave container.

From here on or during the dinner at the Swedish table we were referring to; talking will still play a role, but the procedure is individualized and personal. Guests talk to each other. You are free to toast with anyone except the hostess. She can toast with whomever she wishes. This is insurance to prevent the hostess from getting drunk. Of course, it is tempting for everyone to toast with her as a token of appreciation.

The roots of this alcohol-related tradition could be found in the times of the Vikings. They always lived in danger, and no one was to be trusted. The norm was to toast with a “friend” looking directly into each other’s eyes and with one arm behind the back to avoid a quick cut throat.

Today you can buy wine and spirits only at government places, called Systembolagett. Caution is part of Swedish nature, and the alcohol rituals prove it.

Viking warriors, when victorious, used to behead the leader of the side they had fought against, and drink from his polished skull called (skoll).

Returning to the table, most of the rules will be somewhat familiar to you, they are just practiced in a more accentuated form. We leave you with your Swedish hosts now.

As a foreigner is granted a certain freedom of action, of course within the strict respect of customs you have freedom of action, but whatever you do, do not take the bottle when you leave. After this transgression there is certainly no redress possible.


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