Swedish Drinking Oxymoron: 18 to Drink, 20 to Buy

If you are not already confused and irritated enough with the country’s most absurd company, Systembolaget, then you haven’t seen anything yet.

The bittersweet twisted relationship with Systembolaget just got weirder and with a museum to boot.

In order to carry those lovely purple doggie bags from the store to a party in order to get shitfaced, you have to be 20 years old or older to buy the ebullient, adult beverages.

Fair enough. 20 to buy.
But say as an 18-year-old you go to a restaurant. You would not expect you could buy a beer.

Or would you?

Actually, you can buy alcohol at a restaurant/pub and get shit-faced.

Now this is getting weird.

But you must be able to consume alcohol at 18 then? High school seniors roll around in trucks drinking beer and spraying alcohol everywhere so that must be legal.

Yes, if the alcohol is below 3.5%, otherwise, no.
Now I’m very confused…
Surely if a restaurant will allow me to drink at 18 and up, then I can drink with my parents when I am 18.

If you are as confused as I am, don’t worry, Systembolaget clarifies everything:
En viktig del i alkoholpolitiken är att skjuta upp alkoholdebuten för ungdomar så långt det går. Lagstiftaren (riksdagen) anser att 20 år på Systembolaget är en rimlig ålder för att köpa alkohol och konsumera exempelvis i hemmet. På restaurang anser man att det finns en större kontroll/översyn av konsumtionen (man sitter i en restauranglokal där det finns personal och andra gäster) och då är myndighetsåldern 18 år som anses vara rimlig. Lagstiftaren är också medveten om att det alltid finns risk för langning till kompisar som är yngre – och att då exempelvis ha 18-årsgräns på Systembolaget skulle motverka alkoholpolitikens syfte.

To sum up what Systembolaget wrote on their website: It is 20 to buy, 18 to drink at the neighborhood watering hole, but 20 to drink chez vous. Because according to the Swedish government, a restaurant is more capable of taking care of your child’s drinking habits than you are as a parent.

In Sweden’s defense, they are not the only country with idiotic drinking laws. In the Indian state of Maharashtra, each individual requires a drinking permit (foreigners excluded) to buy on a daily or yearly basis. It’s a bitch to obtain and no other state in India requires it.

In the US, the drinking age is 21 though most people begin drinking by 18. There’s a saying that if you vote at 18, fight at 18, you should be able to drink at 18. Oh, and for US citizen teenagers traveling abroad, drinking at a bar in France at 19 maybe legal there but not for the American.

Still, I love how high school graduates flaunt public drinking during graduation period in front of the police. No finer way to exhibit civil disobedience and drunkenness at the same time.

But on final note, I hate section 6, clause 9:
9 § På serveringsställe där serveringstillstånd gäller får inte någon dricka eller tillåtas dricka andra alkoholdrycker än sådana som har serverats i enlighet med tillståndet. Detta gäller dock inte på hotellrum.

You can’t bring your own alcohol to a restaurant. Nooooo!!! So now, I will buy an overpriced bottle of shitty wine at the restaurant.

13 thoughts on “Swedish Drinking Oxymoron: 18 to Drink, 20 to Buy”

  1. Hi!
    As someone from Mumbai (Capital of Maharashtra), I do agree that the law is ludicrous. However, it is not enforced (nor the fact that you have to be TWENTY FIVE to drink there). I have been buying alcohol since I was 17 and it’s never been a problem.

    I heard from my girlfriend that you have to be 20 to buy is so 18 year olds wont buy alcohol for their younger classmates (15-16 year olds) and by the age of 20 they hope that you’re smart(er) enough not to do that.

    Love your blog btw, I drop in whenever I can.

  2. I’m not entirely sure what you intended with 7§, at the end. Translated, it states that no place serving alcohol may take measures to convince or coerce a guest into buying alcohol; in other words, for a restaurant to try to force or talk people into buying alcohol is a crime.

    What does that have to do with the rest of it?

  3. Sweden and alcohol rules are so primitive and ass backwards. The whole system requires an overhaul, and no the whole “OMG PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PICKLE THEIR LIVERS AND DRINK THEMSELVES TO DEATH” isn’t an excuse. Look at the rest of the world Sweden!

    I think the worst is that I need to actually STOCK alcohol in my house in case I have unexpected company or want to enjoy a nice glass or 2 during a Sunday dinner.

    Though, at least the USA is constant across the board… 21 to drink. Canada is either 18 or 19 at a provincial level, but yet again, it’s to buy and drink.

    Hell, another crappy rule is you need to be 23+ to get into most night clubs these days! I mean as someone who is over 23 it’s fine as I don’t want to see drunk/stupid/moronic 18 year olds puking their guts out (there are enough of those over 23). Isn’t that a form of age discrimination?

  4. Swedish view: at 18 you are old enough to consume alchol, but not take the whole responsibility for it, so you are only allowed to drink at resurtants/bar/pubs or when someone else is hosting (as your partent) in those cases the host share responsibility that you don’t drink to much (undefined what is to much, but if you lose consioness that is far to much).
    From 20 you are considered adult enough to drink unsupervised.

    So buying alchol to people between 18 to 20 is ok but only if it is consumed in your presences.

  5. I disagree, the rules atually make perfect sense. It’s illegal for a restaurant to sell you alcohol if you are “shitfaced”, and you are among other adults and therefor you’re not likely to die suffocating on your own vomit somewhere… Whereas 18-year-olds on their own usually have very few limits. Not strange at all to me,

    And I like Systembolaget. Everytime they losen up the rules the damages from alcohol, like women being abused in their own home, goes up.

    I think it’s so much more weird that you have to be 21 to drink alcohol in the US; but yu’re allowed to drive when you’re 16. That’s just so wrong, a 16-year-old should NOT be trusted in traffic in my opinion! Justr read the statistics on young drivers and accidents!

  6. By the way, do you want me to bring some alcohol for you? :-) I can get some Baileys without getting taxed at the airport :D

  7. As you pointed out about Maharashtra let me tell you about the neighboring state of Gujarat.Its a dry state,meaning people cannot drink alcohol whatsoever.But there are 2 exceptions.Some people are given liquor permit on medical grounds OR if you are a businessman who has clients from the other states of India or abroad then you can apply for a permit so as to serve your clients.

    As for foreign tourists,they can apply for a permit when they land at the airport itself or go to specific hotels which are allowed to issue a permit.But wait theres a catch.You can only apply for a permit within 4 days of landing in Gujarat.After 4 days you wont get a permit.Who could have come up with such a stupid 4 day rule

  8. @Heidar – You’re absolutely right! I copied the wrong section/clause. I’m updating it to:
    9 § På serveringsställe där serveringstillstånd gäller får inte någon dricka eller tillåtas dricka andra alkoholdrycker än sådana som har serverats i enlighet med tillståndet. Detta gäller dock inte på hotellrum.


    Thanks for catching the error!

  9. @Heidar – :-) Can I ask you for a favor to look through that link about the alcohol law and see if drinking under 20, over 18 at home is legal. As far as I could understand, it is not mentioned.

  10. Sure thing! Let’s see… Oh, that’s actually the old law. No worries, I “clicked” my way to the current one: http://www.notisum.se/Pub/Doc.aspx?url=/rnp/sls/lag/20101622.htm

    It’s mentioned in 3 Kap, 7§ and 9§. More specifically…

    “Spritdrycker, vin & starköl” refers to all wines and other alcoholic beverages of 2.25% or higher, with the exception of beer, which instead has the limit of 3.5% or higher. These all require the buyer to be 20 years or older.

    “Öl” refers to beer of less than 3.5%, and requires the buyer to be 18 years or older.

    The above restrictions apply when giving beverages as gifts as well, not just when literally selling them. However, there is an exception in the law: “Det är dock tillåtet att bjuda den som inte har uppnått föreskriven ålder på en mindre mängd alkoholdryck under förutsättning att förtäring sker på platsen och under ordnade förhållanden samt det med hänsyn till den unges ålder och utveckling och omständigheterna i övrigt framstår som försvarligt”, meaning that when a beverage is offered in small amounts only, and under the watchful eye of someone who IS allowed to drink it, it is legal to offer any beverage to any person legally, regardless of age. In other words, as long as you don’t get the person drunk or otherwise cause them harm from the consumption, you could offer, say, beer or whiskey to a child or teenager. The law is very explicit about no harm being allowed to come of it, though, and getting a minor drunk is a big no-no. Also, this exception does NOT apply when selling alcoholic beverages, only when “gifting” privately, such as in one’s home, and even then only when the giver is him-/herself watching the entirety of the consumption; giving away beverages to a minor and then allowing them to drink unsupervised is illegal.

    Hope that helps :)

  11. Hi,

    First time reader and replier.
    Swede, living in Japan, with an American gwife.

    There’s a good reason for the 20/18 system, one you touched on but needs a bit more elaboration. From someone looking at it, fonly, in retrospect: the gymnasium (high school)/adult gap.

    At 18/19 years of age you’re still in school. Hopefully.
    With you there are fellow 15 year olds fresh in from elementary – and they want a taste of the adult life just like any other teen. Or at least they want to get shitfaced, just like their peers.
    Naturally, being 15 and having their CSN; your free monthly allowance paid to your bank account; you have the funds but not the access to booze.

    Imagine now, that the legal age for buying was 18 instead of 20.
    The peers, the 18/19 year olds at school, could simply go buy some for you. For a “buyers fee” of course. In other words: the 18/19 year olds would make a fortune, but the downside is that you’d also have a lot of 15 year olds getting in the kind of trouble they can’t really handle.

    Hence do the 20/18 year old gap fill a pretty important function.

    So, why having drinking allowed at 18 then you might ask. Why not keep it at 20 too?

    As you mentioned the American “can drive/kill/etc but not drink” dilemma exist in Sweden too and it goes “why shouldn’t I be able to buy wine for my wedding!” (legal age to marry is 18 I believe). It’s usually said in a fit of rage by kids with no intentions of marrying at 18, and without the vivid imagination of asking say their parents to buy that wine they can consume at their fictitious wedding.

    There’s also that thing you mentioned: people drink when they graduate. But foremost under supervision (well, sort of): parents greet you at the occasion, and the restaurant you hit up after has waiters/waitresses.

    A note on that:
    – buying at 20, not at 19: perhaps because if you’re born in spring/early summer you would still be 19 when in high school. Can’t buy to the younger kids.
    – Drinking at 18: Born during autumn or winter you’d be 18 for graduation and you want your toasts. Or at least being able to drink wine at your fantastic wedding.

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