Winters That Can Last a Lifetime Require Heavy Drinking
Booze in Westeros
For a few months in winter, I stayed in Västerås, an industrial city located 60 miles from Stockholm. Despite it being the fifth-largest city in Sweden, Västerås feels more like a town. It is clean, quiet, friendly, and located in the middle of a typical Swedish landscape of forests and lakes. Like typical Swedes, its residents work a comfortable 40 hours a week, spend a big chunk of time with their families, have numerous coffee breaks, and enjoy sports, crafts, and foraging. But a peculiar thing about Västerås is its name. Instead of pronouncing it “Vasteras” or “Basteras,” as Spanish-speakers would insist, a Swede says: “Westeros.” Yes, just like the name of that bruised and torn apart land from the George R. R. Martin’s novel.
The name draws the imagination toward bloody battlefields and castles infested with intrigue. These parts of Sweden really have a troubled past, but it was a long time ago and the only reminder of those days is a circle of half-buried stones attributed to Vikings. Otherwise, the city is modern and the skies are clear of dragons. The only animals that venture into the streets are huge hares that jump across the city lawns after nightfall.
To my surprise, it was only hares that I saw after 8 pm in Västerås, except an occasional cyclist or a local, walking a dog. Even windows, which are traditionally left without curtains in Sweden, were bright but lacking people. It felt creepy to walk outside all alone at night, even though I was assured that Västerås is a totally safe place.
I doubt that Game of Thrones had anything to do with Västerås, but winters are so long that it does feel as if “winters can last a lifetime.” And when the winter is coming, as they say, we know what’s coming with it: heavy drinking.
I knew that Swedes, like true Scandinavians, drink a lot, but I didn’t see any signs of partying. People didn’t walk, sit or chat in the streets, and all bars were closed by midnight. It was on Wednesday that I saw an unnatural number of people gathered in the city center. “It’s Wednesday, you know,” a friend told me, “Swedes call it a Little Saturday, because they go out and drink, just like they do on Saturdays.”
Bars were indeed full of merry residents of Västerås who broke their week for a bit of partying till late into the night. And Saturday, since it was not a little but a proper one, was even merrier. Bars stayed open until 3 am and the streets were full of people who got more emotional and unsteady with every hour. Swedes spent all their money during their drinking days, I was told by locals, and by the end of the month bars got empty even on Saturdays.
As it happened, there were not only special days for drinking, but special places for various kinds of partying in Västerås. One can drink in bars and disco clubs, but it is only in clubs that one is allowed to dance. There are signs in bars explicitly stating: No Dancing. I guess the law was passed so that drunk people wouldn’t injure themselves or their fellow drinkers while moving their unsteady bodies around the hall. What I couldn’t comprehend was the fact that playing darts in bars was still OK. I had a sip of beer from my glass and fidgeted nervously as a dart whistled past my shoulder towards its destination just by our table. Västerås seemed to have many peculiar ways and in the end, I understood, I knew nothing of them.