Cultural Learnings Of… The Systembolaget

June 17, 2007



Finally, ive worked up enough material for a blog! Time to celebrate with a drink! Oh wait, I cant go to the booze store today, its sunday.. which leads me to the topic of my discussion

Thats right! The Systembolaget which literally translates to "The System Company" and its the only booze store in Sweden. And the government runs it. Thats right, you heard me. You can still buy in bars and licensed establishments of course but if you want to buy some grog for home, when inside Sweden, you have to buy it from the SystemBolaget.

Apparently it all started around 1766 when king Adolf Fredick  (clearly from this act he is the greatest Swedish leader since "rockin" Gustav established tartu university) abolished all laws on the sale of alcohol. Good show! By about 1800 Swedes had become some of the biggest piss heads in Europe. I bet they had wild parties back then. Sauna, good looking swedish girls and guys, heaps of cheap booze, I bet it was an awesome time. However by 1850 some stick in the mud decided to try a system whereby booze was no longer sold for profit and controlled by the government. "It will lower crime" they said. "family problems will end" they said. "swedes will just become smarter about when they buy booze" they said. Actually no, i said the last one. Only a cynic would think that the government wanted to control all alcohol sales so they could whack their across the board 17% sales tax on everything and control the market for themselves. Oh no, will somebody please think of the children.


So what they told us was that the Swedish government was trying to get rid of this….

when actually i think they were trying to get more of this

Never mind the historical inaccuracies that neither the mobile phone, nor modern day swedish kronor were around in 1800. Hey its all I got when I searched for "drunk swedes" on google images. It was that or a picture of a drunk moose. I dont even know who that guy is, but he wins the Patrick Tangye lookalike award, both for facial hair and method of consuming booze.

So skip forward several centuries into present day, generally high prices Sweden. Most stores now close by 6pm weeknights and if your luck 7pm on friday and saturdays. Oh and dont even think about Sunday, they are all shut. Public holidays too. I live right in the center of stockholm and I wouldnt even think about buying booze after midday on Saturday, after this time there are LINE UPS out the door and they have to EMPLOY A BOUNCER at the door. Nope sorry mate, your shoes arnt shiny enough to buy booze today, move along.

There are advantages to the SystemBolaget however! They buy the alcohol for ALL OF SWEDEN, meaning they get some killer discounts on bulk buying. Also you can get alot of different types of wines and beer from around the world. You can even get VB if you go to the right store. They also apply a standard 17% tax on ALL items, meaning your cheapo Boris Yelstin straight from potato farm vodka is expensive, your exclusive single malt whiskey goodness does come in quite under international standards. Also apparently, because they need to be impartial, of you go and ask for a minimum number of cases, they are obliged to order in WHATEVER booze you want. Thats pretty sweet.

So theres a problem however, the EU isnt really jiggy with this scheme. see in many other countries, they have a FINE TRADITION of booze drinking. Lets say your in…. GERMANY and they have been hassling the crap out of you all day asking as many questions as they can and putting a blitzkrieg on your ass, you can go to the only place open, the service station and get a six pack of germanys finest full strength beer to ease the pain. Thats right, its like medicine.  SO ANYWAY, the EU is trying to sort Sweden out on this one. Firstly they FORCED sweden to allow citizens to privately import their own stuff and now they are making an all out assult on the SystemBolaget using free trade laws as their ammunition. Go Brussels Go! if I were an EU citizen I would vote for you. Oh wait, EU citizens dont really vote on the EU government… but thats a cultural learning for another time.

So, if you want an insight into Swedish Culture, then you have to watch this video. Get this, the SystemBolaget (ie, the government) made it, to try and show their side of the story, that indeed, controlling everyones alcohol intake and holding their nicely manicured hands is infact a good thing, they made this video, thats right. Check it out. everything you need to know is in this 5 minute clip. Unfortunately theres no YouTube so you’ll have to click

The Greatest Swedish Video EVER MADE

So thats SystemBolaget. If I were a kick ass Freakanomics Economist, Id be able to prove all the other great effects it has had on society. Like say the Tallink company, whos Baltic boats would not be filled full of rowdy middle aged Swedish women looking for cheap booze and aussie guys to corner without the Systembolaget.

I make this joke to every Swede I meet. I say "you know, the Systembolaget has proven its worth, it has cured me of my alcoholism!" and I laugh and then they laugh and say "oh right, so thats good then!". WRONG. I liked my alcoholism, I was having a good time, I dont want it to go away but by crickey your making it harder. Which reminds me, Im all out of Ashai beers… which are  a premium Japanese brand sold in Australia but here are cheaper on the shelves than VB. Now thats gold for Sweden I say.

Louis Zezeran

Louis Zezeran

Louis Zezeran is an Australian Stand Up comedian and comedy promoter based in Tallinn, Estonia.

He was the co-founder of Comedy Estonia, Comedy Finland and Comedy Latvia. Louis writes, does gigs and performs at private events through the Baltics and Finland
Louis Zezeran

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