Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sweden Takes a Number

Sweden has eliminated the need for lines. But they are able to get things done without mass chaos. How do they do it you ask? Simple, they take a number. Anywhere you can imagine there might be a line you have to grab a number. The pharmacy, the bank, the tax office, the bakery. Everywhere. If you used to stand in line in any other country and you have come to Sweden just look for the little number thingy. This can be a real killer for people not used to the system.

The ticket dispensers come in a variety of models. You’ve got your classic red one that it small and easy to miss. This one is usually found in the butchers place, maybe the bakers, maybe even the candlestick makers, you know, the smaller places. Probably cheaper for the little guy to get this kind. Other times it is a stand that just has some buttons on it. This is a favorite of the banks. Here the different buttons correspond to different errands you might have at the bank. They tend to be near the door when you walk in. Whatever the dispenser looks like make sure you find it early on in your visit. Otherwise those sneaky Swedes will grab a number before you. Once you find it take a number and sit back and relax. You’ve got some time on your hands.

Too many times I have milled about somewhere in Stockholm in what I thought was a line before realizing that I don’t have a number and suddenly all kinds of people have snuck in before me. Very sneaky. Other times I have grabbed a number at the bank only to realize once my number was called that I should have picked a different number. They give you choices depending on what you need to do. It’s important then to have the knowledge of who does what wherever you go. Being somewhat new to the everyday trappings of bureaucracy here I’m just not quite there yet. Kind of a pain because all of a sudden I’m back where I started. With a little piece of paper telling me that I am a mere 17 numbers away from being helped. WOOOOO!

It’s an interesting system. A pretty good one I think, at least once I get used to it. It basically eliminates the need for a line. Now I can grab my number and sit down in one of the lovely chairs provided for my convenience. Other people can run outside and smoke, remember no smoking indoors here. Depending on where you are, like Skatteverket, the wonderful tax office, you can even go run some other errands. They aren’t exactly the model of efficiency when it comes to getting things done at the tax office, despite their streamlined waiting system.

Along with eliminating the need for a line though it does something very Swedish. It eliminates the possibility of conflict. As we’ve already learned, Swedes fear any sort of conflict. Now no one can cut. No one likes a cutter. Remember in elementary school, there was always the sneaky kid who tried to cut in front of you and play dumb. Ryan was his name, 5th grade at Scott Elementary. No one liked that kid. He was a cutter. Sweden knows all too well the danger of having cutters. The possibility for conflict is just too much when cutting in line is involved and so they have eliminated it. You can’t argue with the number on your paper. Someone tries to jump in front all you have to do is wave your little piece of paper and say “Inte idag din djävel.” Works every time. Throw in a little John Wayne attitude and you’ve taught someone a lesson about cutting in Sweden. It can’t be done.

And it’s all thanks to a small piece of paper with a number on it. Genius really. Welcome to Sweden.


  1. Hi, I am a Swede who lives in Sweden, and I like your blog.
    The “Inte idag din djävel” Comment just cracked me up...

    Happy new 2010! Gott Nytt år!

  2. glad to hear it, and the same to you!

  3. Also, just think about how jobbigt it is to stand in line for x amount of time, when you instead can be sitting down comfortably, reading a book, having a snack or whatever. Oh the wonders of the kölappsystem! :)