A Non Love Letter to System Bolaget (The Swedish Alcohol Monopoly)

thanks to mindrepanda.com for this image.

Dear System Bolaget,

Your whole ‘system’ is a joke.  The guise of being a responsible seller without profit motive is just an attempt to gain moral authority and powertrip.  After more than 100 years of being abolished and the far majority of the OECD countries eliminating an alcohol monopoly (except for Canada, Norway, Finland and Iceland), you still see the need to control people to help make “better decisions.”  The excuse for not having an alcohol monopoly?  These far fetched facts conducted by left wing researches from unknown institutes in the United States and elsewhere. If the alcohol monopoly was eliminated, supposedly this would happen…

In approximate numbers it would entail:

  • And an increase of 16 millions days of sick leave.
  • An increase of 1,600 deaths per year.
  • An increase of 14,000 in reported cases of physical abuse.

After working in Sweden for sometime now, I know that there are plenty of Fridays where people stay at home and “work.” Because instead of taking the sick day, it can be easier to take a work from home day. I wonder if you, System Bolaget, recognize all those “work from home” days as time wasted as well.

And what about the restrictions? So by telling me, an adult, what I can buy, where I can buy, when I can buy, that makes a more responsible drinker? I don’t feel more responsible, in fact, I feel the opposite: that the Swedish government has taken control of what I can and cannot do when it comes to alcohol. Although I guess it’s okay that grown adults are treated like little children while given the right to a “healthy drinking culture.” Wow! I feel special, I can participate in a healthy drinking culture because the government controls it.

But what about free market? And monopolies? And asymmetric information? Everyone who studied economics knows that monopolies, no matter what industry, is bad for free market. Of course, since System Bolaget is here to protect us, having a monopoly is okay. Controlling information is okay. What information you ask? Pricing, profits, research studies: it’s ALL done by bolaget, there’s no third party to get the information from.

Why yes, who wouldn’t trust an authoritative, controlling body that decides what alcohol to buy, how to sell the alcohol, where to sell the alcohol, what hours to sell the alcohol, what information to be released regarding the research studies it undertakes, what financial information to disclose to the public, and most importantly, WHY it is the authority. Sounds like a church to me, specifically the churches that claim all rights and authority over its citizens because it’s doing it for their safety and security. And being not so religious, I am weary of church propaganda.

I am lucky to have not lived in Sweden all my life and be tied to a controlling store where I can:

…enjoy Systembolaget’s drinks without harming either ourselves or other people. (source)

Really, if I drink the magic potions from Systembolaget, I won’t harm other people? Wow, an even better miracle!

Thanks you Swedish alcohol monopoly, you managed to seduce me and strip my rights away while on your power trip. I am so proud to live in a free country.

PS- I’m tired of seeing those stupid blue or purple bolaget bags. You couldn’t get any more conspicuous than that.

10 Things to Know About Swedes

Do you have Swedish friends and wonder their behavior is strange or just Swedish?  What makes Swedes different from the other Europeans?  And if you are visiting or just moved to Sweden, what should you know about them?

  1. Swedish men are shy. It will take some time to speak to one, especially if you don’t know him.  Swedish guys that you know, through the office or elsewhere, are easier to deal with. It’s said that even Swedish girls can be shy too.
  2. Like water is to plants; alcohol is the same to Swedes. If you meet a guy at a party, give him an extra beer, it’s sure to liberate his speaking ability. For that matter, give a girl an extra beer too.
  3. Swedes are passive, both the men and women. Many can even be passive aggressive because they do not like to vocalize issues.  They prefer to avoid conflict at all costs.
  4. They can be direct. Going completely against #3, Swedes are ironically direct people.  However, their directness can be subtle and hard to read.  For example, if your manager says to ‘get a little more work done,’ what they mean is ‘you’re in the dump right and really need to kick ass at work.’  You could say that in some ways this quiet directness is similar to being passive aggressive.  It takes time to read them.
  5. Social systems are closed. In many European societies, making friends is difficult, almost painful at times.  Becoming friends with Swedes and joining their social circles is arduous.  Most Swedes hang out with friends from gymnasium (high school) or college and have a tight, small social network.  Hanging out with coworker Swedes, is rare. However it is possible to make lots of friends as a newcomer.
    Here are a few options to making new friends:

    • Join a company which is international and has many foreign employees;
    • Join a small but new company that is also part Swedish and part foreign employed;
    • Attend clubs or general expat events.  This option is dangerous because you could end up with lots of other foreign friends and forget about the Swedes.  But, there are always a few Swedes at these mixers, find those folks and chat them up.
    • Find activities that you used to do in your home country and do them in Sweden too! Yoga classes, ballroom dancing, knitting, gym, sailing, belly dancing, and much more. Don’t mope at home hoping for friends to magically appear or be depressed by TheLocal forum group; get yourself out there and you will start to meet new people.
    • Seek out some good Swedish online communities to learn more about Sweden and make virtual friends that can hopefully transcend into reality.
  6. Swedes do not like to be late. I love to be late, it is my motto; I just am unable to get myself to parties exactly on time.  Dinner plans or coffee dates, I will be there, otherwise, forget it.  Still, in Sweden, you do not go anywhere late. Their motto is to be punctual, so stick to it.
  7. Swedes are stylish. They are not the drop dead fashionistas of Paris or Rome, but the Swedes have their own ultra modern, sleek style.  Swedish households say it all, gorgeous and beautifully decorated.  Be prepared, being stylish in Sweden is expensive.  There’s a reason why Nordiska Galleriet (not NK) charges 10.000SEK (approx $1,300) on a wrought-iron chair. However, I have to say, their clothing fashion reeks of the 80s too much.
  8. In Sweden, people have no desire to give better service. We all know it: Swedes suck at customer service.  Restaurants, shops, airline counters, you name it and they will give you no service.  It is not case of bad service, you just get no service.  I understand now that for many Swedes, they consider too much customer service as intrusive. And Swedes can be annoyed when asked “Can I help you find something?,” “Do you want another drink?”, while Americans expect that kind of questioning from service professionals. But sometimes I wonder, can’t people just smile more? Is it that hard to communicate with others.  There’s a lot of discussions that Swedes do things on their own, but mammal societies are socially based.   Why would we want to move backwards and become more unsocial?
  9. Silence is golden. It is okay to not speak every second of every moment.  Þorbjörn and I sometimes sit at the breakfast table silent for 10-15 minutes before either one of us speaks.   If your Swedes seems unusually quiet, they are not mad or annoyed at you, they just enjoy a bit of peace and quiet.
  10. Swedes love nature. Sweden is a beautiful country and they take great pride in taking care of the natural landscape.  If you have a day off, you will walk around the city or go hiking, but never stay indoors.  Most Swedes seem to have Swedish summer houses, a place to relax and get away from bustling life. I admire that they take nature seriously and it is even evident in recycling habits.
  11. They love potatoes and herring. I don’t like herring but I do love potatis med graddfil!
  12. Fika is a religious experience.Everyday of the week, Swedes love coffee, love kakor (cake), and love to talk (they can!) in a profound experience called the fika. You cannot get away from and you cannot live without. Consider it to be a high end coffee break with the icing on top too.

And there you have it! What else should we know about Swedes?

All Work During the Swedish Summer Makes me a Dull Girl

This is it. The swedes just have to stop going on vacation all summer long. Our office is becoming more and empty as the people empty out to the countryside, or wherever it is they have their vacation. Out of 150 people, there are 50 people in the office right now. That’s only 1/3rd full or a very small glass of milk. Honestly, how does Sweden function during this period of frivolity? And how are people in necessary industries, e.g. grocery stores, taxi, bus, postal, even able to handle work? When do they go on vacation? They have five weeks too, it must be somewhere.

Yep, five weeks. Hear that corporate America? The bane of my existence was the lack of vacation. In the US, you get 12 days of vacation; in Sweden, the law is a minimum of 25 days. That’s more than double in Sweden. Who wouldn’t want to work here then? Well, for one, if you work in the summer; it royally blows.

I am lonely here at the office, people are here and not here at the same time. One room is entirely empty; like 15 desks. And it will be empty until mid August, then the Swedes come back to reality. And right now, we have great weather in Stockholm. When Sweden has beautiful weather, you go out and run around a pole, or swim in a lake, or eat strawberries. And in this beautiful Swedish weather, I am stuck inside in the office staring at a computer screen.

But you know what. I exact revenge on the Swedes. At the beginning of September I head to California, where it will still be sunny and warm. While here in Sweden, they will all sulk over the changing weather. That’s the best way: take vacation during the Swedish winter. Maybe the all work and no play will make me a very happy person in five weeks time.

Take that Swedish summer!

How to pick-up a drunk Swedish boy on Midsommar in 3 steps

Okay we’re teasing the Swedes here but my French friend and I just couldn’t help but tease the strangest holiday of the year. In case you didn’t know, Midsummer occurs on Summer solstice, the longest day of the year as well as the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere.

Midsommarafton, celebrated the day before the holiday itself (just like Julafton instead of Juldagen) consists of: drinking, eating, drinking, singing about small frogs, drinking schnapps, dancing around a pole, eating, drinking öl, and wearing flower wreaths. Swedes take their summer seriously and no one’s going to burst their first day of the summer party.

Midsummer is THE holiday for celebrating the light and the sunshine and the summer and the strawberries.

Forget the food and the aquavit, here’s how to flirt with a silly drunk Swedish Boy on Midsommarafton (midsummer day) in Sweden:
1. Say hello
2. Ask for his name
3. Ask for a french kiss

After getting that kiss, well it’s up to you to what happens next. But in an extreme situation, you can refer to the German IKEA television commercial of Swedish midsummer parties.

Germany’s IKEA TV ad that was banned.

Swedish Swedos and Stekare Stockholmers

I have no idea why Stockholm men wear a ton of hair gel. The average Stockholm male uses 9 containers of gel and the average cost per bottle is 230SEK. That’s a lot of gel, enough to electrify an entire heard of horse I bet.

Please men, I beg you to stop the madness. This slicked back, supergel’ed hair is just not cool. Remember the group on Facebook relating to Crocks, “you look so fucking stupid with those shoes on”? This is the same thing. In Swedish we call it “stekare” and I define it as those skinny guys with long slicked hair, Armani eyewear, and virtual ipods playing GLAMOROUS in their ears. And they bounce when they walk down the street.

Still need a visual image? Here are a few:

The Swedos are invading
The Swedos are invading

A little too much sun or bodybuilding tanner
A little too much sun or bodybuilding tanner

Now crazy swedes
Now crazy swedes

Self portrait of a Swede
Amazing self portrait of a Swede’s reflection
From Steelth via Flickr

Stureplan boys eating
Don’t they just look full of themselves
From medvinen via Flickr

Swedish men out there, take heed, take notice, please do not overdo yourself like a peacock. You might think you’re cool in Stureplan with those awesome sunglasses and the ability to buy a drink at Sturehof, but frankly it’s just stupid looking. I love well dressed men, but I hate cocky looking men.

More funny things about Swedes

When I was back in the US visiting the Swede’s former roommates (also Swedes), they have some distinctive Swedish traits. Now these guys are not the average Swedes because they neither have great fashion sense nor have funny hair. We call this genre of Swedes, the programmers and dorks. They dress like normal Americans many times. Shocking, no?

But alas, a few observations.

The underwear walk. Þorbjörn and his roommates have a tendency of walking around the house early in the morning (or late night) in a t-shirt and boxer briefs. Having girls around don’t matter; it’s our problem if we get embarrassed. He explained once, “don’t look,” then added, “silly Americans, scared of boys in underwear.” Now I don’t mind but the first I saw this, I was a bit embarrassed and shy. Where am I supposed to look??

Settling the bills. They keep immaculate records of who pays what, where, when, how much and then divvy up the receipts accordingly. Good for me then, because I can be a be slack on keeping track.

Keep the house tidy. They are four boys, and dammit they will keep it clean. Dishes done after dinner, table cleaned. Shoes are neatly piled at the doorway entrance (they may live in the US but no shoes in the house). Counter tops always clean. Not so much after my initial presence in the house was to impress more than maintain as standard. Bathrooms are washed down every week or so. No need to worry about smelly, dirty bachelor pad in this house. So true so true.

Discussing things to death. Swedes love to discuss. Swedes also love to ponder decisions. Put the two together and sometimes it can take awhile before anything happens. I have to admit though, they do their research before making a serious decision. I found the American Swedes to be more changing and quick to decisions than the Swedish Swedes.

The Swedish Male Look

I met a little swede a few months ago while I was still living in the US and for the one time in my life, I made a move on him. He was already living in the states for the past eight months but, that really doesn’t change swedish ways; especially male swedish mating ways.

So the backstory: I went to the Scandinavian happy hour; it was of course full of $3 spatens, 80 beers on tap, and many many Swedish men (a couple token Norwegians and women were around too). When I first met my little swede*, Þórbjörn, I was introduced by another mutual friend who happened to be an insane Norwegian lacking a filter on his mouth (that’s another story). I was jokingly introduced as the mistress girlfriend and of course the Swedes in this group of five, giggled. Yes, the men giggle. And then everyone introduces themselves in a typical fashion but then Þórbjörn here, says hi and gives the swedish male look. It is THE look for a swedish man interested in a woman. They refuse to accept the existence of such a look, but it does indeed exist.

THE Swedish Male Look
What is it? Ladies, you know the look you give a man in the bar/restaurant/party etc that you’re interested in him? You look at him, make eye contact, smile shyly, look away, look back at him, and turn away. That, is basically the look a Swedish man gives.

He is an expert at staring at the floor even when none is in line of sight. He will look at you very shyly, smile a little, bat his eyes and look down at the floor at the same time, then look back up at you. I call the ‘devil in a sheep’s outfit’ look. It’s very innocent and endearing but you know and he knows, there are very naughty intentions behind it.

This look is the definite sign of trouble. Ladies in Sweden, if you get this look, you either move in for the kill or move on. He’s played his move with his shy, quiet Nordic self; he’s waiting for you now. It’s subtle. He already drank a few beers and mustered up the courage to give you the look. So, you better your know it.

And if you can recognize the swedish male look, you’ll know how to hunt down any Swede you want. And if you are timid with men, like myself, well you are partly screwed. This is Sweden after all, and the women pick up the men.

Välkommen till Sverige.

*Since the little swede doesn’t have a very Swedish name in real life, I’m going to give him one: Þórbjörn. Okay, that’s Icelandic but whatever. Or maybe Pehr.