Swedish Attitudes to Alcohol

This is something I get asked about a lot, by Swedish and international students alike.

Coming from Britain, a country that – so I’ve heard – has an international reputation for drinking too much / behaving badly after drinking, I find the way the Swedes approach alcohol consumption rather alien.

General Availability

In supermarkets, you can buy something called “Folköl” which means “People’s beer”. This is beer that has an alcohol content of between 2.25% and 3.5%.

You can find a lot of international brands of beer, however the alcohol percentage is reduced to within the legal limits.

Other than supermarkets, you can of course go to a pub or bar. However, the prices are prohibitively high, a point that I will discuss below.

If you want beer of a higher percentage, or any stronger alcohol, you have to go to a bar/restaurant or the Systembolaget.

Systembolaget

This is the state-run distributor of spirits and stronger alcoholic drinks. The fact that this is a monopoly means that the pricing of different beverages is quite telling of Swedish drinking habits.

Of course, price is related to alcohol content but also, is seems to me, popularity. For example: Vodka is almost always outrageously expensive, and yet Port – a drink that almost no Swede I’ve talked to has heard of – is cheaper than in the UK by quite a long way!

A practical upshot of the Systembolaget being a monopoly is that they are forced to have a large range of international beverages. As an Ale drinker, the ability to purchase English Ales (for quite a reasonable price, surprisingly) gives me a welcome taste of home!

Social Drinking

All of this brings me onto the point I’m trying to make: if you want to drink in Sweden, you have to plan ahead! I’ve had this discussion on a number of occasions with my fellow exchange students, particularly those from Germany.

In Britain, at the end of the day, you can say in the spur of the moment “Anyone fancy a pint?”. What follows is not a massive binge drinking session, but rather a social gathering at which drinking is a by-product. It’s not the pint that is important, it is the social interaction.

Here in Sweden, there are a number of things standing in the way of such a social gathering. Chief among which is the price of alcohol, which (even at the ‘cheapest’ student pub) is more expensive than central London, and the availability; the closest pub is not open most of the time!

What does this mean practically? This means that when Swedes drink, they drink spirits (which are cheaper per unit alcohol) and they drink a lot.

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