Monday, March 09, 2009

Systembolaget. On a Friday Night.

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.

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  1. Done that too sometimes. It's a bitch! It seems they all have the same design: wines come first and in the back there are beers and ciders. Maybe it looks more sophisticated that way, but wouldn't it be more time-saving to put the stuff most of us buy in the front?

  2. I think it's time for Sweden to abandon this system and let the market decide. We are so uptight when it comes to drinking in the country. And smoking weed is considered a crime against humanity.

  3. *in this country not in the country

  4. Say what you will about systembolaget, iv'e been to Australia and never found a liquor store as well stocked and diversified as systembolaget. And now i'll teach you guys something. If you want some special alcoholic beverage that you can't find in systembolaget, the Australian beer "Victoria Bitter" for instance. They are required to import that beer for you, since systembolaget is your only option.

  5. Well, I guess Swedes just need to learn to make moonshine at home. That would be some good competition for systembolaget.

  6. I am not a fan of the Simmons podcast. Simmons in general (despite his revolting love for the patriots), yes. Articles on page two and ESPN the mag, definitely, but podcasts no.

    Since he's been "working on his book" it seems like nothing but podcasts and its starting to get to me!

    However, my problem is that they're just too hard to listen to t work, but it seems as if you've found a much better venue.

  7. @smek – I never really thought about it but youre right, most of the stores that I have been in all have the beer at the back. I wonder if its kind of the grocery store strategy. Put the milk and things that lots of people buy at the back of the store so they have to walk through the entire store and pick up lots of other stuff.

    @Linus – I agree. I’m all for a little market economics. The drug culture here in Sweden is pretty different. Smoking weed here seems to be treated the same as someone who is a heroin addict in the US.

    @anonymous – some of the stores are pretty well diversified. Youre right. And that is crazy about the importing thing. I’m going to have to give that a try.

    @m8surf – I wouldn’t be surprised if theres a whole lot of akvavit that gets made at home.

    @John – Im not going to lie. Ive developed a bit of a man crush on simmons. Although the podcasts took a while to get used to. Mostly because of his voice. Its not exactly easy on the ears.

    They do get a little long. Especially since he is working on his book. Which seems to be taking forever. And is really cutting into the number of columns.

  8. hollabacksverigeMarch 9, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    I used my DC passport all the time. What systembolaget do you go to? The one down the street from NK accepts it.

  9. This is the problem with Sweden, we sure are liberal, but were far from libertarian. It would be nice to get rid of all the state ownership, but it's hard seeing as it's so ingrained in our culture.

  10. @hollaback - yeah passports work fine. but they are the only government issued id that systemet will accept.

    @anonymous - well moderaterna are getting rid of a little bit of the state owned stuff. will be interesting to see how far it goes though.

  11. And ofcourse the only ID accepted in other countries then sweden is passport aswell, nothing strange there. BUT! I have some news for you!
    "Efter Ara Abrahamians bortdömning under OS i Peking har Fila ändrat sina regler. Bland annat har en jury införts och brottarna har rätt att begära videogranskning under pågående match. SOK:s ordförande Stefan Lindeberg sade i samband med regeländringen att detta kommer att innebära att brottarna får en mer rättvis match och bedömning."
    Ara Abrahamians actions got result. Suck on that.

  12. Oh and btw, he's no longer suspended.

  13. Swedish guy without any experience of Systembolaget here!

    Just wanted to drop in and say that your blog is awesome. I might be going to Spain in October as part of EVS (European Voluntary Service). If I get chosen, that is. I find it really interesting to read about foreigner's experiences of Sweden.

    Great blog.

  14. @anonymous – wrong. I have been to plenty of countries where my drivers license has been all Ive needed. But it was a good try.

    I love that the Swedish media is playing this up as if it is a direct result of his actions. Naïve and ridiculous, and borderline jingoistic. But whatever helps you sleep at night. And I’ll say it again, I had no problem with him wanting to protest, I just believe the way he chose to go about it was disgusting.

    Oh and “btw” he already said that he was retiring. Poor guy ahs a hell of a time making up his mind. First he gives the medal back. Then he wants it back for himself. Then he says he is retiring but is suspended instead, then he wants to be un-suspended. Just a champion of the cause… whatever the cause might be at the moment that is.

    @simon – very cool, I don’t know that youre missing out n uch.

    Spain would be a lot of fun. Glad you’ve been enjoying the blog.

  15. I like your blog and post about the Systemscompany. It's definitely a very unique enterprise.

    When I moved here a couple years ago, I was of course confused about many things, but I asked my partner Laura "what is this Purple Bag Friday event?" She didn't follow.

    To a foreigner, it looks bizarre on Friday afternoon's when half a city is carrying around purple bags. I felt something was wrong with me because I didn't have a purple bag. Then I went to buy beer at 8pm and realized I wouldn't get a purple bag opportunity that day.

  16. @jeffrey - that is a great story. it definitely does seem like the city is alive with purple bags on a friday night.