Saturday, July 24, 2010

"I think I'll have a cup of coffee and go to bed"

Like many others I became engrossed in the Stieg Larsson trilogy about his Swedish heroine Lisbeth Salander. Since we are talking almost 2000 pages in a Swedish setting one is bound to pick up a few insights into Swedish culture. The ritual of sharing coffee in just about all known social circumstances is the one I found most striking. I swear I remember one of the characters uttering the line "I think I’ll have a cup of coffee and go to bed." I at first thought that that was a crazy way to approach falling asleep. Eight or ten cups a day I could see, although that would have destroyed my stomach lining immediately. Then I recalled that we had once, many, many years ago, stayed a few weeks with a Swedish couple. Every night at 9pm they would gather together whoever was in the house at the time for coffee and cake. We would chat and drink coffee until 10pm at which point they would head off to bed. It was a wonderful custom. Since my schedule had me busy for several more hours, the issue of falling asleep did not come up.

So much for fond memories. The point of this was that I came away from those books thinking the Swedes must drink more coffee than anyone else on earth. Not so! I found an article on coffee consumption here that listed the top fifty coffee consuming countries. Sweden was only number seven. We were ranked number sixteen. According to this compilation the US consumes 105.9 liters of coffee per person per year. The denominator here includes all the children and various other non coffee drinkers. If you assume six ounces for a cup of coffee then that is equivalent to 1.65 cups per day per person. Assuming half the people do not participate the daily consumption by actual coffee drinkers is then about 3.3 cups per day. That seems a reasonable number. The Swedes drink 139 liters per capita. The equivalent numbers for them are 2.17 per person or 4.34 per coffee drinker. Actually, that is not much difference. Now consider the winner in this competition—the Finns. In Finland the per capita consumption is 608.2 liters. Using the same logic, the average Finn drinks 9.52 cups per day or, again assuming fifty percent participation rate, 19 cups a day for coffee drinkers. Wow! The Swedes’ neighbors in Norway come in second with 322 liters per capita, a pretty impressive number.

It is now 2am. I am about halfway through six ounces of a non-coffee beverage and I am thinking that what I have just written is pretty interesting. I am thinking that my beverage is better for sleeping, but perhaps not so good for writing. Past experience tells me I had better check back in the morning.

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