My Systembolaget failure took Sweden’s severe laws to the next level

Dominance of alcohol in Sweden is one of the country’s most trusted institutions. But some rules may surprise even experts in the Swedish bureaucracy because local Catherine Edwards learned hard.

For an outsider, the idea of Sweden’s state-run alcohol domination Systembolaget, actually ‘the System Company,’ is strange. Only one store selling alcohol (including more than 3.5% ABV) for domestic use is allowed. It’s a clear purpose and a government mandate to reduce alcohol consumption.

Some of the ways it works, like banning discounts for mass purchases, seem logical.

Most stores offer brochures responsible for drinking and how to mix cocktails or make a pair of food and wine. The actual message is ‘go, drink wine’ if you want to go, but please don’t keep red wine with fish.

I do not pretend to know its permanent fame. But I thought, for more than five years in Sweden, I would control systematic prices.

Although I rarely drink at home, here in my first months after being caught off early on Saturday, I have learned to keep my bottles of wine at home.

However, I hardly drink at home, but I always collect spare wine bottles for impulsive weekend dinner invites. I started to do this when the first closing caught me out on Saturday in my first months.

I know for a summer picnic; I need to bring a drink cooler bag because alcohol can’t be sold cold for fear of being tempted to use it immediately.

But in the world of Swedish wine policy, there is always something to learn.

In November, one of my colleagues was unable to order a whiskey advent calendar. This was due to Swedish laws prohibiting marketing from associating wine with Christmas (except for beer, mild wine, or powerful snaps).

Last Monday, I ordered for the first time from Systembolaget. After almost a year of avoiding bars and restaurants, I was preparing for the January treat.

Home delivery is a relatively new change and is at this time only available to Sweden’s minorities. But it looked to be a responsible choice that would let me walk out of the store for 15 minutes and avoid the crowd inside.

The day came, and everything was going on as usual.

I received an email from Systembolaget and a text from the delivery company. That guaranteed me that my order was on track and would be delivered soon.

A map showed the lorry’s progress in real-time, informing me until the number of supplies left counted, ‘You’re the next stop!’

I received a call at 8.01 pm. The driver said that he could not deliver as he is already late, and then he apologized. I thought I had misunderstood the driver.

He forced him to deliver as he was near the building. But again, he said he is already too late, and he may lose his job at the risk of this delivery.

The map disclosed that the truck was on my road.

However, I finally received it on Monday. 

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