Why do Swedes drink so much?

‘Why do Swedes drink so much?’ was a question I recently received in an informal survey on Facebook.

And it’s a revealing question. A common stereotype that other nationalities have of Swedes is that they get rip-roaring drunk – frequently. And it’s easy to understand why this stereotype exists.

Anyone who’s been involved in a Swedish celebration of any kind has experienced the close presence of alcohol. At Midsummer, people get drunk. At crayfish parties, people get slaughtered. At Christmas, the snaps comes out and people end up hammered. In seaside destinations abroad, it’s not uncommon when you see a gang of drunken youngsters that they are Swedish. The beer you buy in pubs might be expensive but it is so strong it’ll make you cross-eyed after three glasses. So it’s easy to form the impression that Swedes are hardened drinkers.

In today’s newspaper, the results of a recent study were published. Swedish consumption of wine has increased 60% in the last ten years. This is easy to measure since all wine is purchased in Sweden through one company – the state-owned monopoly Systembolaget.

In the newspaper article, Swedish citizens were asked why they thought this increase has happened. In other words, why do Swedes drink so much?

Citizen 1: ‘Because we have adapted a more cosmopolitan drinking style. It is no longer shameful to have a glass of wine on a Tuesday after work.’

Citizen 2: ‘Because we are doing so well in Sweden. Everybody is better off so we can treat ourselves a little more.’

Citizen 3: ‘Because of the introduction of the ‘Bag in Box’ wine. It’s so easy to drink a lot without knowing how much you are drinking. It’s easier to tap a glass of wine than to open another bottle’

I’m sure it is to do with all of these things. Interestingly, I think we are witnessing a cultural rebellion. Society is shifting from the collective to the individual. The old days when the government controlled alcohol consumption for the sake of public health is disappearing. It is being replaced by individual responsibility and individual choice. And the initial reaction is overconsumption.

So, there are lots of reasons why Swedes drink so much.

Now my question is, why do the Brits drink even more?

Why did the Swede cross the road?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the joke about why the chicken crossed the road, but have you ever heard the one about why a Swede crossed the road? Or rather how a Swede crosses the road? You haven’t? It’s hilarious.

Crossing the road in Sweden used to be like a game of Russian roulette. You stepped tentatively out onto the zebra crossing and hoped the motorists would stop, knowing they had no obligation to do so. However, a while ago, a new law was introduced in Sweden. It stated that all cars must stop at zebra crossings to allow the pedestrians to go over.

However, it seems like this new law has caused another problem – an increase in road accidents between cars and pedestrians. Apparently, many Swedish people simply fling themselves out onto the crossings because they have right of way and cars have to stop. With the law on their side, they disregard the common sense rules that we all learn as kids.

So a new campaign had been launched this week, teaching Swedes how to cross the road. With the slogan ‘Make eye contact before you cross’, the authorities are programming people to actually look at the approaching cars before taking the first critical step.

It’s hilarious. But it gets better.

I was walking to work the other day and I was handed some campaign material. It took the form of a little yellow box and it rattled attractively with sweets inside. A big eye and campaign slogan was written on one side. On the other side, in small print, it said ‘Remember at crossings that drivers must give way to you, but remember also that you as a pedestrian must not step out onto the crossing without checking the vehicles that are approaching.’

I became so engrossed in the small text, the yellow box and the tempting sweeties that I stepped out onto a crossing without checking and almost got mowed down by a cycle courier.

So rule number 1 when crossing a road: do not read small yellow boxes and fantasise about sweets.

The rest, well, it’s just common sense.

Why this blog?

I love living in Sweden. I love Swedish people. I love Swedish values.

I was born in England but Sweden has, quite simply, become my home. After 15 years of living in Sweden, and working with cultural awareness training, I decided it was time to share my observations on life, culture and society.

My views, my perspectives and my experiences in this cold and warm country in the north.