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Learning Swedish the ESCtips way: Lesson Two

The first lesson dealt with making friends. However, there will inevitably be times where you will need to express frustration.

A frequent source of frustration for newcomers to Sweden is their alcohol laws. Sure, you can buy beer in supermarkets, but only to a maximum of 3.5% alcohol (and many six-packs are only 2.8%, so you should always check). Anything stronger than this can only be bought from the state-run off-licence. And here’s where things can get tricky.

The state-run off-licence is open weekdays until 6 or 8pm, and on Saturdays until 3pm. Should you want anything stronger than this after Saturday afternoon, you’ll have go to a bar or wait until Monday. Also, in an attempt to disguise what the shop actually sells, the Swedes call it Systembolaget (“the system company” – its Finnish equivalent is the rather more snappily-named Alko).

This actually represents a liberalisation – when I lived in Sweden in the mid-90s it wasn’t open at all on Saturdays, and rather than walking into the shop, picking what you wanted and going to the till, you would have to take a ticket, wait for your number to be called and give the assistant the item number of your product from a catalogue. I remember one Friday I took a ticket and got number 373. They were currently serving number 150.

Actually, once you get used to it and get organised, there are distinct advantages to this system. The selection on offer at your average Systemet (as it’s usually known colloquially) is far more extensive than at your average UK supermarket. Wine prices in particular are quite reasonable (even with high Swedish taxes) as it’s not run for profit.

However, if you forget about this, are in Malmö on a Sunday and have a craving for a bottle of wine, you have two choices:

(a) Go to a bar and pay approximately half a week’s wages
(b) Take the train over the bridge to Denmark

I would definitely recommend (b).

Which brings us to today’s phrase. It is as follows:

“Menar du att jag inte får köpa en flaska vin på en söndag? Vad är det här för ett jävla u-land?”

which means

“You mean I can’t buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday? What kind of f***ing third-world country is this?”

Obviously you run the risk of insulting a proud Swede’s country; however, in my experience the reaction is often merely a resigned nod and a sigh.

About ScandieAndy

Editor, Eurovision Historian & Scandinavian Expert.    I’m a London-based translator born a few months after ABBA won in Brighton. I’m gifted with a brain full of miscellaneous useless pieces of Eurovision information. My long-suffering wife tolerates this and many of my anti-social foibles.

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