Monday, May 04, 2009

Signs I’ve Been in Sweden too Long

I ordered a few books from Amazon UK the other day. And by the other day I mean like four weeks ago. They finally made their way to Sweden. So after work I headed to the grocery store/post office station to pick them up.

And that’s when I realized I had been in Sweden too long. Because of something that surprised me, something that didn’t, and something that I now do.

First, the thing that didn’t surprise me.

The fact that I was going to a grocery store which doubled as a post office didn’t seem strange to me at all. But it is. At least from an American perspective. Because in the US, when you need to go to the post office, you go to a building that is dedicated to the post. An office of sorts. Granted, there are places to take care of your mailing needs outside of the post office, some stores seem to have a partnership with the post office on which you can send packages, buy stamps, take care of your basic postal needs. But in general, you don’t go to the grocery store when you need to pick up a package.

Sweden though has managed to meld the grocery store and the post office. Something I quite like. I was able to get my books as well as pick up some milk and cereal for breakfast tomorrow. It was a win-win really.

On the way back I was struck by something that did surprise me.

I walked past Systembolaget. At 18:50. (That’s Sweden time for 6:50 pm). It was still open. I was amazed. Obviously, I checked the opening times. The place was open for another 10 minutes. Until seven in the evening. Every single weekday.

This is one of those things that shouldn’t have surprised me in the US. Here it did. Still. In a place where the liquor system is run by the state and usually closes by three in the afternoon on a Saturday, being open until seven in the evening is akin to seeing a unicorn. I can’t get over it. No matter how long I’m in this country.

Finally, because of my surprise, I realized I had been in Sweden way too long.

I buy my alcohol out of the country. I’ve been traveling a bit lately and managed to pick up a few bottles at cheap European prices before coming back into the country. The last three countries I’ve been in have resulted in me coming back with five bottles of liquor. None of which I’ve actually opened, but I’m developing quite the collection. Now, when the liquor store closes at three in the afternoon on a Saturday, I’ll be ready.

Welcome to Sweden.

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  1. the grocery store at which i work has a post office! i don't live in the US though, but canada. close enough.

    when i go to the states i am always amazed at how you can buy your booze at the grocery store. even more funny to me is that they're located by the chips or something (at least the ones i've been to) also ... lottery ticket vending machines! and claw machines at walmart. what a strange land.

  2. I second anonymous, here in Canada (in Ontario at least) there is a Canada Post outlet in almost every Shopper's Drug Mart (Pharmacy Chain) and I've seen them in convenience stores and some are even in gift shops! I am with you on the travelling and bringing alcohol back. Here the price of booze is 90% taxes so when I go down to Buffalo, which is the closest American city to me, I stock up and although I don't smoke I do bring cigarrettes back for some of my friends. One of my colleagues from your neck of the woods was telling me that she and her hubby rent a van and drive down to Denmark or Germany and bring back some goodies. Maybe we should start a mail order business Hairy!

  3. We have a post office in our grocery store... although I'm not sure if you can actually get your mail from there or not, because I've only mailed packages. But they are definitely a part of the US Postal Service because when I go to my actual post office, they have a sign that lists other post offices near by that you can go to - if there is a long line - in the hopes that the other post office will not have a long line.

    So maybe post offices are making there way into American grocery stores?

  4. @anonymous - the lottery ticket vending machines is a very good point. I don't know that Ive seen those anywhere else. I dont really buy lottery tickets though so I suppose they could be elsewhere. But it is definitely a strange cocept when I think about it.

    @Néstor - its funny with the booze thing. lots of swedes in Stockholm take the boat over to finland to buy booze. and if you live in southern sweden you drive over to denmark or germany. the government must be missing out on a decent chunk of money because of people trying to find ways away the liquor prices.

    @jessy - youre absolutely right, I should have specified. in the US plenty of grocery stores have post offices where you can send stuff. but I have yet to see one which actually allows you to swng by and pick up your mail or packages.

    it is handy though just being able to mail stuff from grocery stores.

  5. They used to have post offices in Hallmark stores here (US), too. Maybe they still do.

    I have this weird thing about buying liquor. I don't really drink, yet I have lots of bottles on hand. I think I secretly hope I'll one day have a spontaneous party. Then I'll need it and be glad that I have it. It did get used in this way once, but not by me. Someone house sitting for me drank every last drop in my liquor cabinet. He also urinated on my duvet. Good times.

    I have no idea why I wrote all of that, but I can't possibly delete it now that I've spent 10 seconds going to all this trouble.


  6. I´ve just spotted another sign that you have been in Sweden for a long time. You wrote "the government must be missing out on a decent chunk of money". Typical swedish reaction to low taxes: "oh my god, the government dont take all the money!" as if that is the natural order.

  7. Might be a good idea to use some other site next time if u want a faster delivery. I might be the one who is inaccurate, but i bet sites like or like bokia can offer the same books in whatever language, and still deliever it alot faster. Amazon isnt at least really apart of sweden yet, from my experience that is since i dont know anyone who order from there, which might cause longer waiting time/fees.

  8. Sweden sure is a funny country. Even to me.

    You go to the grocery store for postal issues, the police to get your passport and the bank to get your ID card.

    We used to have a regular post office service. In a regular separate post office building. It moved to the grocery store (and in some places also gas stations) in 2002 I think.

  9. Hej Hairy!
    Wondering how long you planned to stay in Sweden? I just arrived back into the states from Goteborg 1 month ago & I must say "It's a world of difference!"
    Continued Safe Travels:)

  10. @E – that’s kind of how I am. I have this stash o unopened bottles of booze now. But I will be ready for the spontaneous party like you said.

    Of course, I hope to avoid the kind of spontaneous party you had to deal with. No one likes urine on the duvet.

    @Daniel – youre absolutely right. That’s probably the biggest sign. Im disgusted with myself.

    @anonymous – Ive used both of those sites before with really good results actually. But I couldn’t seem to find one book that I really wanted so I went with amazon uk.

    @anna – it is quite the country. I love the comment about the police/passport and the bank/id. It doesn’t really make much sense unless youre living here. And even then it might not make sense.

    @anonymous – Im not really sure how long Ill be here. Im getting close to about two years now. When I do move back though, I could probably start a blog just about the culture shock of going back to the US.

    Good luck with getting back in American life!

  11. Hairy - I have to say though that restricting alcohol to government-owned monopolies will create a situation where people will go out of their way to get it cheaper and not necessarily in a legal manner either. The other thing too is that it makes it so taboo that kids want to get their hands on it any way they can and one they do they go absolutely mental! The drinking age in Canada is 19 so I bet if you ask any of us Canadians if we remember our 19th birthday and the majority will say no or mention a few vague details. By the way, I have done some bartending and have my SmartServe certification, I would love to provide my services for your big party:)

  12. that's one of the things I think you see here in sweden. people going out of their way to buy liquor outside of the country in order to avoid that state run monopoly.

    I ant stand systembolaget. but plenty of swedes have very little trouble with it. it will be interesting to see if the privatization that has been going on in sweden will continue with systembolaget.

  13. Don't they know that those hours will drive me to being an Alcoholic!!!!

    I can’t be trusted!

  14. Im convinced systemet leads to binge drinking in this country. I have absolutely nothing to back this up.

  15. The part about systembolaget is completely true. I've become so used to it that my girlfriend and I are always surprised when one of them stays open 30 minutes longer than usual! And I'm surprised at how 'cheap' wine from outside Sweden is. I've just been here for 3 months and I'm already being Sweded!

  16. I think the liquor thing is the first thing to get you. its just so very different than from what most people are used to.

  17. True. Back in Malta( my home country), you can buy alcohol at 16 from practically any shop. Alcohol is approached in a very Mediterranean way. And here I don't touch a drop - I can't afford it, and Hemkop's beer and cider department is crap :/

  18. well plus that department in the grocery store is just the 3.5% and below.

  19. I know this has nothing to do with your blog post, but I love your blog. I'm 17 years old, born and raised in America and I have an extreme fascination for Sweden (especially Gothenburg's metal scene!)

    Thanks for sharing your adventures! One day I plan to move there for good :)

  20. glad to hear it! hopefully it is halfway entertaining. you should definitely give Sweden a chance.

  21. Oh, I will. Even if it's just for visiting. Definitely seems like my place to be :)

    Going to start raising money to visit there as soon as I get out of college :D

  22. I'm convinced that the orange I threw away today had mold on it. But Im not certified as of yet to tell for sure.

  23. No... Sweden is not stranger than other countrys! And i rather pick up packages at the grosery-store, then buy licoure there!!!

  24. I suppose it is all a matter of perspective and what you are used to.