Sweden is, for many, associated with socialism, even ‘communism’, depending on your particular political leaning. And what I saw in central Stockholm really reminded me of the stereotypical images we have of the communist USSR.
In Sweden, the government has an alcohol monopoly, which means you can only buy wine and spirits in certain shops called Systembolaget. These shops are dotted around city centres and have restricted opening hours. Obviously, they’re very popular because Swedes are not known for their reservedness when it comes to alcohol consumption.
Anyway, in central Stockholm, next to the main railway station there is a Systembolaget. The other day, I needed to buy two bottles of white so I decided to go to this particular branch. As I approached it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is when my chin nearly hit the floor. I saw something I’ve never seen before. Outside the shop, there was a long queue to get in. A bouncer on the door was letting customers in gradually. People were queueing up to buy alcohol. Hello! Communist warning!
Now, I happen to be a fan of Systembolaget. Often, there’s a very good range of quality products, the price of wine is very competitive and it’s a way of supporting improved public health. The main argument against it, of course, is the questionable ethics of a monopoly and the fact that it is a clear example of state control over individual freedom and choices. I haven’t really prioritized the latter in this case – up until now. Seeing the queue of people freezing in the snow until they could get in to buy a bottle of wine seemed somehow very wrong. It was really a kick back to times that most people would rather forget.
So, anyway what happened?
Of course, I got in line and stood at the back of the queue and shuffled along slowly with the rest of the drones until I was allowed in to purchase my two bottles of Chardonnay.