Last Friday night I made a poor choice. I decided I wanted some beer. And didn’t have any at home. This being Sweden, I had only one choice. If I wanted anything stronger than the grocery store style 3.5% beer I had to go to Systembolaget. The state-owned monopolized liquor store.
Most of the time, the liquor store near me closes at six in the evening. Closes at three on Saturday. And isn’t open on Sunday. But, to satiate the masses, my local liquor store stays open until seven on Friday.
I showed up at 6:30 on Friday night to buy a six-pack of beer. And I have never seen so many people crammed into the liquor store. You would have thought that it was New Years Eve eve. But it wasn’t. It was just your everyday Friday night.
I sharpened my elbows and fought my way through the red and white wines and found myself in the back of the store with the beer. I grabbed a six-pack of Corona and started to fight my way to the registers. I was shucking and jiving. Hitting holes like Barry Sanders once did in his prime. I was doing a quick scan of the lines to see which was shortest. I decided the line second form the door was the shortest so I plopped my ass there. And started looking around.
To my right there were 22 people in line. To my left there were 20 people in line. And yes. I counted. I had a lot of time on my hands. The guy in front of me came prepared with a large backpack to carry his booze in. He must have decided that by the time he got through the line he would need a drink. And more than he already had. So he snuck out and grabbed some more wine. He returned and stood in the line to my left.
As I waited for the line to move slowly ahead, I couldn’t help but notice backpack guy pulling ahead of me. Not just a person or two, but he was at least five people ahead of me. Bastard.
I continued to wait patiently. Slowly moving through the white wine section. I had been there long enough that I was thinking of buying a bottle of wine. I don’t even like wine. But they had a liter bottle for about 69 SEK. As a good friend always told me - you can’t steal it for that price. But I resisted. Mostly because I knew that’s exactly what Systembolaget wanted me to do. That’s why they have those aisles of wine leading you to the cash register. Same reason they have all that gum and candy in the grocery stores. Bastards. Again.
I looked over to my left. I had to keep track of my nemesis, backpack guy. He was paying. I had seven people still in front of me. And yes. I counted. Again.
I decided to lose myself in my podcast. Bill Simmons. The B.S. Report. Good times. Suddenly, I was just a couple of people away. That’s when I noticed something strange. The cashier was bagging a couple of bottles of wine and then put them down at his feet. Did the cashier just buy booze? Did he just decide that with over 20 people in line he needed to take time to buy his own alcohol? It sure as hell looked like it.
When I finally got to the register a woman came out of nowhere with a 500 SEK bill and asking for her alcohol. At which point the cashier pulled out the booze and money and alcohol exchanged hands. I was still somewhat confused as to what was going on. But then I tried to pay with my debit card. And was denied. Which was strange. Because payday was just a little bit ago. Turns out the card machine at Systembolaget only accepts certain cards, and this particular machine was being especially grumpy. Which is why the lady had to go to an ATM and get money, and why I was lucky to have cash on me. Finally, after showing state-issued Swedish ID, because they won’t accept any American stuff unless it is a passport, I was able to pay for my beer and leave. Finally.
Thanks to Bill Simmons and having just started listening to the podcast as I got into line I knew exactly how long I had suffered. By the time I had paid and was walking away with my change, I had stood in line for 18 minutes and 22 seconds.
Welcome to Sweden. And Systembolaget on Friday night.