Being Drunk in Sweden

As a regular user of the City of Gothenburg’s signature trams, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing drunk people. Actually, drunk is really too weak an adjective to describe the condition of some of them. It needs help from a few verbs. Stumbling, slurring, slobbering, shit-faced drunk is more like it. This kind of drunken spectacle is seen regularly on the trams, but for some reason it’s less common on buses. I don’t recall ever seeing a loud, obnoxious and obviously drunk person on a bus. Apart from the so-called night bus that is, which should really be called the take-you-home-when-you’re-wasted-off-your-ass bus.

While I’m used to seeing drunks on the tram, I still find myself wondering what the hell is the deal with them. Have they no shame? Isn’t it illegal to be that drunk in public in Sweden? I know that to be drunk in public to that extent is completely illegal in the U.S.

Maybe this is why the Swedish government insists on the necessity of Systembolaget (Sweden’s infamous alcohol retail monopoly), as well as producing those anti-alcohol propaganda commercials that always air right after a commercial for some boozy product like Captain Morgan’s “Get a little Captain in you” Spiced Gold Rum (highly recommended, by the way…). The government claims that Systembolaget is essential because a number of highly biased studies have shown that it does regulate and restrict the amount of alcohol that one may purchase and consume, and thus it reduces instances of public drunkenness. Its limited hours are indeed very effective in limiting the amount of booze one may purchase. If you want to buy a bottle of wine or some regular beer after 2pm on Saturday then you are, as the saying goes, shit out of luck for the remainder of the weekend.

However, most people find various ways of working around the “system.” One can take one of the “booze cruise” ferries from Helsingborg or any other port that heads to Denmark or Germany. In fact, I’m planning on doing just that during Easter weekend. As soon as the boat exits Swedish waters, you are free to purchase cases of beer and large one-liter size bottles of liquor, both of which are unavailable at Systembolaget. I suppose the government just can’t allow the average Swedish resident to have access to that much booze. Naturally, we’d be powerless to prevent ourselves from consuming the entire liter bottle and all 24 cans of beer all at once. Because, you know, we’re stupid and the government is smart and knows what’s best for us.

And anyway, one can always go to a bar. For a country that really doesn’t want its citizens to get drunk, it sure does contain an awful lot of bars. Systembolaget closes its doors at the pitifully early hour of 6pm on Friday evening, and after that time every single bar in every single Swedish city is dispensing mass quantities of Swedish lager to just about every single Swede of legal drinking age.

Then a number of those people end up staggering onto some form of public transport to make their way home after their Friday night piss-up. And then people like me end up writing blog posts about them.

That is, if I’m not actually included in their numbers. *hic*