I was invited by some people who know some people to an invitation-only happy hour at the U.S. Embassy last Friday. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. It’s not that going to the embassy was exciting in and of itself – as an American, I’ve been in there before, the last time to be charged $80 (475kr) for new passport pages (only the U.S. government could somehow make 12 small pieces of paper cost so much).
After waiting in line outside the embassy for 40 minutes to go through an airport-style security screening (I was allowed to keep my shoes on, at least), we went around to the back of the building and into the embassy’s super-awesome basement. You remember that time when you had the idea to turn your basement into a bar where all your buddies could hang out? Turns out the embassy folks had the same idea. There was the usual shtick of Hollywood posters, road signs, and pictures of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant to let you know you’re in “America” – basically a buttoned-down version of T.G.I. Friday’s – but other than that it was about as exciting as the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express.
So why wait in a long line on a cold night for a so-so basement bar? Well, for one, there was cheap beer. At least, cheaper than anything you would usually pay at a bar in Oslo. Curious as to how this was possible, I inquired what was going on – was Uncle Sam subsidizing the drinks? I asked one of the embassy staff at the bar, I was assured that the 40kr bottle of suds was not my tax dollars at work – the bar is fully self-financed. Beer and liquor is shipped in from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs graciously lets the Americans bring it in for on-premise consumption without paying any of those high Norwegian taxes. The embassy then sells it at these happy hour for a slight profit, and use the proceeds for other embassy-related activities Good deal!