I was in the System Bolaget yesterday buying some glögg in a bottle. I found myself standing in line with the cash register on my left hand side, behind an older woman who was standing in line behind an even older man. Let’s say he was about 60. The Swedes have a habit of looking healthier as they age though so he may have been 75. Who knows. He had paid his money. He had moved to the end of the rolly conveyor belt thingy that delivers the booze and was packing it into his plastic sack that he had paid 1 SEK for. And that’s when it happened.
The older man reached his hand out to collect his change. And the cashier, let’s call him Lars, snapped. Lars began lecturing the older man about how if he were forced to reach across his body to hand people their change with his right hand he would hurt himself. So he made the man come back to the cash register to collect his change. To his credit the older man tried to laugh it off and make it into a joke. Lars was having none of it. Apparently the Christmas stress was getting to him because he snapped back that he was just making sure that the older man understood and that it just wasn’t feasible to reach across all day.
I of course began thinking, Lars is nuts. And lazy. And is probably hoping to get hurt so that he can collect his sick leave money and not have to work. There were just so many solutions available that would have made lecturing a nice old man unnecessary. The most obvious being, of course, to move the change to his left hand so that he wouldn’t have to reach across his body. But that was probably too easy. I just couldn’t believe that this had happened right in front of me. He gets paid to hand people their money and yet somehow he has the balls to lecture someone on proper change giving form. I suppose when you work for a monopoly there is no need to have good customer service. What is the old man going to do? Buy light beer from the grocery store and boat over to Finland for any of his other alcohol needs?
All this made me realize just how important a little competition can be good for everyone. But especially the consumer. Lowers the prices a little bit, which would be welcomed by anyone who has bought booze at Systemet lately, and it should, at least in theory, improve customer service. No one wants to go to a store that has a bunch of Lars’ employed who are ready to lecture you at the drop of a 5 kronor piece.
Of course, the advocates of this monopolization of alcohol in Sweden argue that lowering the prices would lead to untold deaths, a ridiculous rise in alcoholism, destruction of property, abuse, neglect, and crime. I don’t buy it. For one thing I would imagine that if prices were to drop a lot of the people who are buying their booze from other countries would start doing it here in Sweden, which would just bring a little money back into the country. And there is so much black market booze shopping that it would eliminate the need to smuggle car loads of beer in from Germany.
But the Swedes seem happy the way the system is. It’s almost like it has become a part of their society. Friday afternoons you get in line at the System Bolaget and buy your alcohol and just accept that one can of beer is going to cost at least 10 SEK. And then you move on smiling dumbly, paying your taxes.