Systembolaget – Friend or Enemy

2011-01-24. Published in Life in Gothenburg
by Sanna

I guess you have already noticed that you can't buy alcohol in supermarkets in Sweden, nor get a bottle of wine after 3 o'clock on a Saturday. At the same time I assume that you have noticed the drunkness of the Swedes on a Friday night? (And as Erasmus students you might already know the Swedish way of drinking alcohol too well...) Since 1955 alcohol is under govermental control with Systembolaget as the only store allowed to sell it- but does the govermental monopoly reduce the consumption of alcohol?

The Swedish drinking culture was from the beginning very different from the Mediterranean one. If the south Europeans have a long tradition of wine farming, that also affected their way of drinking alcohol, Sweden rather has a long tradition of home-distilling (also called "hembränt") that created a culture of hard drinking. The enormous consumption of strong alcohol caused in the 19th century great problems with the public health in Sweden. Already 150 years ago small local systembolag opened up around the country to control the alcohol selling and consumption- even if Systembolaget as it exist today was opened first in the middle of the 20th century.

When Sweden joined EU in 1995 it was decided that we could keep the alcohol monopoly, but at the same time the borders were opened up and the legal and illegal import of alcohol increased. This also changed the alcohol habits of the Swedes, who are now drinking more alcohol than in 100 years! For Swedes the principal purpose of alcohol has always been to make you drunk in the weekends, but now we also adabted the south European habit of dinner with wine, as well as the British after work culture including a couple of beers during the week days.

The existence  of Systembolaget is constantly a subject of debate in Sweden. I understand if you as an Erasmus student don't understand the meaning of Systembolaget when you- still hung over after last night- have to get out of bed too early and plan you day carefully to have time to visit Systembolaget before it closes.  Even if we today buy our beer in Germany or in Denmark to avoid the high prices and age limits in Sweden, for Swedes it would be a big adaption to find alcohol in every store. A reform like that could leave us with even higher alcohol consumption and more alcohol related deseases, the spokesmen of Systembolaget argue. On the other hand Sweden's unique alcohol legilation could contribute to bad PR for Sweden as a tourist country and place us even more aside EU. But how much you might hate Systembolaget some days, it is kind of a humorous contradiction seeing a purple Systembolaget bag in every man's hand the day before Midsummer. That is Sweden.

For information about opening hours and where to find the nearest Systembolaget, visit the official website at:

/Sanna, team 2010-2011


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