• Sweden edition
 
NORTHERN DISPATCHES
'Northern Swedes need to know you before they'll drink with you'

'Northern Swedes need to know you before they'll drink with you'

Published: 04 Oct 2012 16:20 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 Oct 2012 16:20 GMT+02:00

While viewing an acquaintance's small illicit alcohol still, ex-Londoner Paul Connolly ponders the surprising reticence of northern Swedes to drink in company.

Eskil, an old chap with a tidy haircut and a tightly clipped beard, is leaning against his small illicit alcohol still in his garage, cackling as he tells his story about his best friend, Erik.

“It was day three of our session in the middle of summer four years ago. When the sun doesn’t go down you must drink! Erik had drunk so much hembränt he just fell into his own barrel of vodka. It took four of us to drag him out.”

Eskil takes his glasses off and wipes the tears of laughter from his eyes.

“He was shouting at us as we pulled him out. ‘Let me go, let me go, it’s the way I want to die.’ He wanted to drown in his own chateau de garage. Of course, his wife was very angry. She said he smelled of potato vodka for weeks after. She even made him sleep in the barn for a day or two once he’d gotten rid of the still. She claims he hasn’t touched alcohol since.”

Eskil winks.

“But I know better, of course…”

The northern Swedes’ relationship with alcohol is complex, probably more so than in the south, where the younger generation at least, are far more bar-‘literate’.

They may still have that northern European tendency to binge drink but they’re not repressed or ashamed to admit they like a tipple. Up north, at least in the rural areas, it’s a whole different ball game.

Donna and I greeted the state-run alcohol store monopoly Systembolaget’s recent announcement that it is to trial a home delivery service with excitement.

Our nearest Systemet is an hour’s drive away. Where we lived in London our nearest off-licence was a 30-second-walk away. Or a one-minute drunken stumble. A delivery service would be great news for us.

But our neighbours in the village don’t seem to be so enthusiastic about Systembolaget’s plan.

We’ve hosted three dinners now and alcohol has not featured even once. We’ve offered our guests beer or wine but each time our offer has been rebuffed, although we’re pretty sure that at least one of our guests was keen on the idea of a glass of wine. But she bowed to peer pressure and reluctantly refused when everyone else said, “Oh no, water is fine.”

Our impression is that the idea of Systembolaget home deliveries simply adds another dimension to the potential for alcohol embarrassment up north. What if people start talking about the fact that you get weekly deliveries? Will they think you have a problem? Can't they wrap up the delivery truck in a huge brown paper bag?

One of our English friends up here says that she gets odd looks from her neighbours when she suggests a gin and tonic at 5 in the afternoon.

“I think the northern Swedes’ attitude to alcohol is a little like the English attitude to recreational drugs. If we enjoyed a joint we wouldn’t light up the minute we crossed the threshold of someone’s house for the first time. So it is with northern Swedes and alcohol. They need to get to know you before they’ll drink with you.”

This reticence is crazy, of course. Anyone with eyes knows that northern Swedes like their drink.

At around 11pm on Midsommarafton this year, we took a drive round the village in which we had rented our first house. It was like a scene from US zombie drama The Walking Dead, with people of both sexes and all ages doing that strange, stiff-legged, weaving shuffle of the paralytically drunk. I’ve never seen that many people so utterly drunk in the UK - not even in Glasgow.

Back at the still in Eskil’s garage, the friendly retired engineer offers me a taste of his product. It’s surprisingly good. Does he sell it?

“No, it’s only for me and a couple of my friends. It’s a dying art. It takes too much time and alcohol isn’t so expensive anymore. I think maybe in 10 years there will be no more stills here.”

After I thank him for his time and, for probably the tenth time, promise not to reveal his real name or whereabouts, I turn to walk back to my car. As I open the door to my car Eskil calls to me:

“You know, I don’t think Erik fell into his vodka. I think he jumped in to escape his wife!”

And with that, he hoots with laughter again and slaps his thigh.

Paul Connolly

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

17:34 October 4, 2012 by dunx
Strange. The friends I have made in our area are all happy to tell me what alcoholic drinks they like, in the hope I bring them a bottle when we they visit. :)
17:47 October 4, 2012 by rise
I love Mr Connolly's articles! I was born in an average town in northern Sweden - it feels surprisingly and refreshingly good sitting and laughing so much at "myself". :)
08:13 October 5, 2012 by GraceBee
This man knows us so well! I think you have been here a lot longer than six months, Paul. My father had a still in the barn next to the bakery. My mother never knew a thing about it! Looking forward to the next episode of 'Northern life'!
22:14 October 5, 2012 by HenryPollard
As a Glaswegian reading this article, I now see it as my cultural duty to experience Midsommarafton in Norrland next year!

Great article.
Today's headlines
Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden
Michael Boatwright (R) and Medieval knight re-enactors.

Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden

The "motel mystery" American who baffled US authorities by only speaking Swedish when he woke up from a coma last year has passed away, Swedish media reported on Wednesday. READ () »

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king

UPDATED: Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. READ () »

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop
TeliaSonera CEO Johan Dennelind. File photo: TT

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop

Stockholm-listed telecom operator TeliaSonera on Wednesday said profits had fallen in the first quarter, but hoped offering customers more data solutions in the future would turn things around. READ () »

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'
Fredrik Reinfeldt. File photo: TT

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism". READ () »

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg at the first quarter press conference. Photo: TT

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Wednesday announced a drop in sales but posted a sharp rise in first-quarter profit, which nonetheless fell shy of analyst predictions. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping brawl
Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals

Swedish police fear that several people involved in a brawl in eastern Sweden on Monday night may be seeking revenge after two brothers were shot dead. READ () »

Sponsored Article
Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden
The town of Västervik.

Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden

Ask a Swede, and they are likely to say that their favourite holiday spot is in the southeast of Sweden. Eastern Småland and Öland offer a smörgåsbord of all the things dearest to the Swedes - from the beloved children's book author Astrid Lindgren to deep forests, long sandy beaches, perfect spots for that all-important 'fika', and a surprising amount of space, peace and quiet. READ () »

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth
Swedes enjoy hot dogs and cherry blossoms in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth

The sun is set to stick around and temperatures could climb into the twenties over the weekend, Swedish meteorologists said on Wednesday READ () »

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

A 21-year-old man confessed on Wednesday to sex crimes against eight children at a day care where he was working as an intern. READ () »

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles
An unrelated bodybuilder. File photo: Ann Törnkvist

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles

Police in Sweden's south who hauled a muscular man in for steroid testing have had their knuckles rapped, after it was ruled that big biceps cannot be grounds for narcotics suspicions. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Advertisement:
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

719
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com