The Swedish word for toast is "skål" and it is almost as well known internationally as the word smörgåsbord. It actually means bowl and derives from the time when everyone around the table shared the same drinking vessel.
You can say skål on many occasions, to welcome your guests, to wish people luck or to thank them, to celebrate something like Christmas or Spring. The word skål is always used when you drink aquavit.
At a formal dinner you take your first aquavit according to the custom established by the military officers. You hold your glass in front of you and gaze into the eyes of all the people around the table, one at the time. Say the word skål, nod your head slightly, then tip your glass and drain it in one gulp. Lower the glass and look into each others eyes once again and put your glass back on the table.
When your glass is refilled you have to wait for someone to propose a new skål. You will soon discover that Swedes love to sing when drinking snaps. The songs are numerous, always funny and they precede the skål while you hold the glass in your hand. And you do not really have to empty your glass each time.
If wine is served the host will propose the first welcome toast and then you are free to drink as you please. You can also toast any person around the table if you wish, except the hostess if the guests number more than seven people. Otherwise there is a risk she would be too tipsy before the meal is over.
The final skål is proposed by the man who sits to the left of the hostess and he is also expected to say thanks for the dinner with a little speech.
©oenoforos. Christine Samuelson.