I have written previously about buying alcohol in Sweden, specifically the propensity I have for being refused service at the bar when sober. I thought perhaps a more thorough insight into the insane, yet reassuring social engineering at work here may allay any fears that you, the valued reader may have.
Firstly, allow me to begin with one simple truth. Alcohol is expensive here in Sweden. It is also much more difficult to obtain than in my home country of the UK.
The legal age of consumption here is 20, not 18 as in the UK. ID's are much more prevalent than in the UK. I have even been asked for mine once, at which point I afforded the bouncer a view of my beard, and they promptly let me inside. This legal differential, however, seems to do nothing to quell the underage drinking that modern society seems to pride itself with, see my post about Valborg Day.
Students have it perhaps the best of all. They are not taxed on their alcohol, when bought within the student nations (a nation is basically a student union bar, but with accommodation too). To purchase a student ID (via university enrollment) costs about £30, a must for any travelling alcoholic thinking of staying in Sweden for more than a couple of nights.
Then there is the Volksöl. Literally translated as folks beer, or, beer of the people. This is the beer that you can get at anytime in Swedish supermarkets such as ICA. It is limited in strength to 3.5%. That is the strongest liquor you can purchase anywhere except at the systembolaget (of which more later). 3.5%? I hear you cry in unblemished clamour, "We piss stronger stuff after a night on the tiles" I hear drift over the North Sea. This is true. I tried a "Volksöl six-pack experiment", whereby I drank 6 cans of 3.5% beer. The result? Not much happened except frequent toilet trips to remove 3 litres of new liquid from my system. I'm not sure my liver even noticed it.
Buying booze will inevitably lead you to a club or a pub of some variety. There are many in Sweden, although obviously not as many as in hops loving England. I think the point of no return for my alcohol price realisation was when i realised I had just spent the equivalent of £30 on 3 tequilas and 2 half pints of beer! In the "old man pub" (or wetherspoons as they are more commonly known) near my old London residence, this would have amounted to no more than £7. £8 if it was really good tequila. It was not really good tequila. Most bars will charge around £5 for a half pint of beer. To me this is extortion. To Swedes this is the nature of reality.
Having read the last paragraph, you may be wondering how anyone other than the oracle of omaha could reasonably allow themselves to get drunk without remortgaging. This is where the "pre drinking parties" come into it. In Sweden it is most common to have a group of friends round before the inevitable trip to the club/pub. This is where the majority of the alcohol is consumed, allowing everyone to get reasonably tipsy, before heading out to town for that last couple to tip you over the edge, so to speak. Guitar Hero 1 through 3 are played, smack is talked, challenges are laid down, usually leading to some more Guitar Hero playing and much alcohol is done away with. Where do you get the alcohol? This leads me nicely onto the next paragraph.
The Systembolaget. This translates as the "system company". In reality however, it is the only off license in Sweden. It is state run. This allows the state to employ only trusted people who have a history of not serving minors, generally women in their fifties with short cropped white hair that can see through a fake ID with one glance over their thickly coloured and rimmed glasses, and can reduce underage drinkers to apologetic quivering masses (lesbians). I have seen it happen. I referred them to the beard when questioned. One quick glance at the English translation of the Systembolaget website will perhaps turn your attention to one small detail. They claim to be doing all this restriction and overpricing "without profit motive". I call foul! Tax cannot be seen as a profit motive for some reason now? Is Sweden not really a capitalist state? Has communism run rife in the land of reindeer and polar bears? Probably just the government doing what governments do best.
Misleading, lieing and taxing the people as much as they can get away with.
Regardless, the law also dictates the opening times of this monopoly on off licenses. "Crazy" would not be a word I would immediately associate with them. "Down right ludicrous" would be three. Weekday opening times are variable by an hour either way, but can be summed up as 10am to 7 pm. No late night booze runs available. If you work long hours, forget it and pray for flexitime. Saturdays are no picnic either. They have possibly the shortest hours of any business, that being 10am to 3pm. If you wake up late after a long night out, and are in need of a hair of the dog, you may be out of luck. Sundays do not even see the doors to alcohol land opened.
All this alcohol related chicanery does however actually have a marked improvement on Swedish day to day life. There is little if no alcohol related violence or crime, despite me seeing one tramp smash the face of another with an unopened can of beer just 5 days ago, in broad daylight, outside a shopping centre. The swings and roundabouts sections of playgrounds are, at 3am, not occupied with squads of teen drinkers, hoodies bravely worn, with 2 litre bottles of white lightning strewn across the ground. Programmers perhaps, but not teens.
It makes me happy then, that my company chooses to purchase enough beer to, when frozen, sink the Titanic, once every three Fridays, for general consumption on the premises. HUZZAH!