December 23, 2008

Today, I made my pre-holiday run to the Systemet, a common abbreviation for Systembolaget, the state-owned liquor stores in Sweden.  Unlike North America or Great Britain or France – places whose liquor-selling customs I’m familiar with – liquor (including wine and beer) is only sold at the Systemet in Sweden.  (You can buy glögg and beer at ICA – the supermarket – but it’s a lesser alcohol content, usually 3.5% or 2.8%).  Systemet looks a little like a Boots pharmacy in the UK only with a green and yellow color scheme and, of course, it sells liquor instead of maxi pads and aspirin.  It’s open from late morning until 5pm during the week and until 3pm on Saturdays.  If you arrive on or after the closing time, there are bouncers who turn you away from the door.  Since I go a few hours before closing, Systemet is a madhouse.  The place was unusually packed today with Swedes purchasing wine, beer and liquor for the Christmas holidays.  At the door – when you enter – you can pick up a basket to put your selections in but there are no carts.  I’ve wondered if this is due to the relatively small size of the store or whether it’s meant to dissuade people from buying more than a certain amount of liquor at a time.  Another curious thing is that you have to purchase beer by the individual bottle.  Although some of the beer arrives in cardboard six packs, the Systemet employees take them out of the cartons before placing them on the shelves.  The per-bottle prices are displayed on the edge of the shelf under each beer “grouping” – along with the flag of the country it’s from.  In general, it seems to be more expensive than wine.  I bought a couple of bottles of Sierra Nevada pale ale today for 22 kroner each.  I think that’s almost 3 US dollars a bottle.  Anyway, the big news today is that I was almost denied at the cashiers because the fellow working there wouldn’t take my driver’s license as ID.  That’s another thing.  I keep getting carded at Systemet as well as the grocery store when I buy wine or beer.  I think the drinking age here is 18 if you go to the bar and 20 if you buy liquor at the grocery store or Systemet.  I don’t think I look that young but there you have it.  I caused a little scene today, holding up the queue for a bit.  Finally, I managed to convince the fellow that I was 34 – of a ripe old age.  He blushed a little and let me buy my wine and beer. 


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