Crash course: Systembolaget

To buy alcohol in Sweden you go to a special store called Systembolaget. They hold the monopoly on alcoholic beverages in Sweden and are regulated by the state. This has a long story behind it but basically Sweden went through this development because around the beginning of 1800’s the Swedish population was drinking itself to an early death and a movement of anti-alcoholism grew. This, in the long run, culminated in the state taking control over the market, heavily tax alcohol and establish Systembolaget (the history section on Wikipedia gives a fair depiction of the events that let up to this).

The monopoly thing is something that often surprises many tourists since it’s somewhat unique with a store that only sells alcohol in the manner done at Systembolaget and that there’s no liquor or hard alcohol in the grocery stores. You can find some beers and ciders with a low % of alcohol in them, but for it to be allowed to be sold in grocery stores in needs to be less then 2,25%. In reverse though, when I went on my first holiday to Cyprus and found beer in every corner store and street vendor I was seriously surprised as well.

Now, I seldom buy from Systembolaget or drink much alcohol in general. I’m not against alcohol and not a teetotaler, but I get uncomfortable when people loose control over themselves because of alcohol. This, of course, is connected to growing up with an alcoholic mother. I’m also okay with T and others drinking around me even if I choose not to most of the times. Over the years I’ve learned that not everyone who drinks is a drunk and that being drunk doesn’t automatically means you wake up in the gutter remembering nothing.

But, this week in particular thousands upon thousands of Swedes will make their visit to Systembolaget to buy alcohol for the upcoming holiday, midsummer’s eve (this Friday, 23/6). Midsummer is one of two times a year that I regularily consume alcohol. As always, I planned ahead. I hate having to cram myself into a already overcrowded store, getting shoved and pushed around. Going there today was maybe perhaps a bit too early, but on the other hand, there were only a few other customers in there, the shelves was fully stocked and I didn’t have to stand in line for 45 minutes becoming sweaty and irritated while being forced to listen to wailing children.

Swede’s relation to midsummer’s eve is stuff for another post, but in general it’s a time for families during the day and parties during the night.

If you are interested there’s another article on Wikipedia that covers alcohol beverages in Sweden.

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