CHARLOTTE, NC, June 26, 2016 – Sweden is one of the most liberal countries in Europe.
Though Swedes share the typical Scandinavian reserve in their personalities, it is also difficult to believe they would give in to the idea of having only one government operated retail store in the country that is allowed to sell alcohol.
In this way, booze can be regulated with restricted sales on weekdays, a 3 pm closing time on Saturdays and no sales on Sundays or holidays like the summer solstice holiday known as Midsummer. Midsummer that pays homage to the longest day of the year.
In Sweden, the celebration always falls on a Saturday between June 19th and 26th but the Friday before is also a festive occasion.
Swedes dress in traditional clothing, enjoy folk dancing and the raising of the Maypole. Why it isn’t called a “Junepole” is something you will just have to pose to a Swede.
Thus, this time of year offers an ideal amount of daylight to swig down your favorite spirited beverage.
The Swedes, however approach the alcohol business differently than other countries. By selling it in a manner they term “responsible” they reduce the consumption of booze. With the government selling the alcohol, they remove the profit incentive that independent sellers would have.
And they don’t pull punches when it comes to discussing the bad effects of alcohol abuse making the advertising campaigns by Systembolaget, the state alcohol monopoly, among the most unusual in the world.
One quote, for example, said: “Our products can make you ugly, fat, and unhappy.”
One store owner commented that no private company would ever dare endorse their products in such a manner. It is worth noting that the fact that the purpose of Systembolaget is to minimize drinking, their product line is one of the most comprehensive in the world. Now that’s the spirit!
Most people don’t know that Swedes are sun worshipers. It is very logical actually considering the harsh cold winters that become a “long night’s journey into day.” The reverse, of course, is summer with its 20 hours of daylight.
Keep in mind that Rome, Italy is on the same latitude as Boston, Massachusetts, which is pretty far north in the U.S., and you begin to get some idea of just how close Sweden is to the top of the world.
In the United States, at least 18 states have some form of statewide alcohol beverage control system. During prohibition in North Carolina, moonshiners operated stills throughout the state. In order to outrun police they “souped” up their cars which eventually led to the creation of what is now NASCAR.
Historically, Swedish king, Adolf Frederick had been attempting unsuccessfully to regulate alcohol. In the end he decided to abolish all restrictions on alcohol in 1766.
Soon nearly every household in the country was making and selling its own brand lethal liquid and, by the turn of the century, Swedes were drinking more than their share of distilled adult beverages.
In fact, the practice, which was mostly among males since it was regarded inappropriate for women to partake, was abused to such a degree that there were occasional shortages of grain and potatoes throughout the country.
By 1830, abusive consumption of alcohol was so rampant in Sweden that the first moderate drinking society was formed in Stockholm.
Not long afterwards a full-fledged temperance organization was formed.
World War I brought about rationing, but that system was abolished in 1955. Swedes were allowed to purchase as much alcohol as they wanted from Systembolaget so long as they were sober, over 21 and not under suspicion of trying to sell it. When the system failed, the government imposed heavy taxes on alcohol and required everyone to show an ID.
Today the system is both bad and good, depending upon your perspective. If you can make wine and sell it to Systembolaget, that’s a good thing. However, if they do not include you in their listing then it becomes tough to make a living as a vintner.
Opinions vary about the system but, in general, an annual national survey has shown that the state monopoly reflects the same values as the Swedish welfare state and that 77% of Swedes support governmental exclusivity to sell alcohol.
Thus, those liberal Swedes are willing to accept limitations on their drinking habits if it is for the good of a healthier society.
One final note, almost every European country has its own version of hot spiced mulled wine which they drink during the dark, dreary days of winter. Sweden is no exception with a version is known as Glogg.
So you see, even in a place where the government regulates alcohol sales, there is always a way to satisfy your thirst. Glogg, glogg, glogg. Skal!
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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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