Poker may be one of the most popular games in Sweden at present, old-time Monopoly is still played as well. In families, by friends and also by those leading the country. Government involvement has decreased over the last decades, however. Car manufacturer Saab was sold to General Motors, and the railway system and national telecommunications companies have been privatised. Three domains remain under strict government control: alcohol, medication and gambling.
And so the Systembolaget is the only place where you can buy alcoholic drinks, and Apotek the only place that sells health products. System, as it is called in short, is a popular place in the sense that is gathers a lot of people who come in and buy alcohol. The service is considered excellent, because the employees of the Systembolaget need to have a wide knowledge of the drinks they are selling. Apart from that, many people like the Systembolaget system because they think it makes people drink less than they would otherwise. The age limit of 20 is hard to get around. Identification (leg in Swedish, short for legitimation) will be asked from anyone looking anywhere near 20 years. No ID is no sale.
`I know at least 15 people from whom I can buy illegally imported alcohol`
People who do not like the state monopoly mainly despise the high prices they need to pay for alcohol, and the limited opening hours of the shops. Some people even claim that less alcohol would be consumed if the alcohol were sold everywhere. In that case, people would not buy large quantities in one go and then consume them simply because they had them in stock anyway. The only alcohol that is not included in the state monopoly is l?tt?l: a light version of beer that only contains either 2.5 or 3.5% of alcohol. For regular beer, wine, liquors up to the kind that just as well could be used for cleaning - all of those are only to be found in the Systembolaget.
It needs no say that under 20-year-olds, or anybody who feels he is taken advantage of by the government, will find his or her own ways of getting the products of his choice. Favourite alternative one is to rent a van, drive all the way to Germany, fill the van, drive back and illegally sell the alcohol around you. This practise is carried out by many Swedes, regardless of the trip taking more than 10 hours both ways from G?vle, let alone further north. Another barrier is formed by customs, who are on the lookout for alcohol smugglers. The only thing needed to get the alcohol into Sweden is to convince them that it is for private use. Or defend your case in court if customs won`t accept your version of the story. Very recently, a man carrying 1275 litres of beer, 63 litres of liquor and 66 litres of wine was granted an OK by the tribunal, even though the customs had initially seized the goods. The man claimed to be planning a wedding and a few parties.
Mats (24, photo) with whom I am staying in G?vle, says he knows at least 15 people in town from who he could buy alcohol. `Some of them import it themselves, other buy it from others but it is still cheaper then the official way. I don`t use it a lot, because most of the time, they buy the cheapest stuff they can find. In that case I prefer to pay a little more and get it from the shop.`
Under strict control
In the same way alcohol sales are restricted, the government also operates a national pharmacy system. The main reason for people to dislike the pharmacy are the opening hours. Sunday means `no cure` - too bad for those who enjoyed their Systembolaget-shoppings too much on Saturday. Prescriptions can be obtained from H?lsocentralen, a small building that gathers a number of general practitioners. Move to a neighbourhood in Sweden and you will automatically be assigned to a H?lsocentral close to your place.
Casinos have only recently been introduced in Sweden. The state owns establishments in Stockholm, G?teborg and Malm?, but fanatic gamblers may also find smaller scale operations in normal bars. Black-jack and game machines are provided in many clubs. Unlike Finland by the way, who has these machines up in supermarkets - and they are remarkably popular.
Besides the examples of alcohol, medication and gambling, hardly any monopolies in Sweden have been able to fully dictate the market. Whenever a party grows to big, the customer side will build up a strong negotiation block to protect their situation. Property rental organisations oftentimes arrange advantageous offers for electricity supply in the same way labour unions prevent company managers from walking over their employees. Everything to restore the balance, which begins to look like the very reason Swedish people get out of bed in the morning.
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