Joachim and his young – very young – girlfriend were sitting opposite me last Friday night at a mutual friend's place. I only knew our hostess, and as our table placings sorted themselves out my heart, and my appetite, sank.
His blue-checked shirt, his curled nostrils, his waxed hair dragged back across his aristocratically-shaped head – all pointed to unjustified confidence in himself.
As our hostess spread out the starter on a pleasant set of crockery, Joachim and his girlfriend sniggered. Another couple mentioned that they were engaged to be married, and Joachim nudged his date under the table.
But when our hostess mentioned that she was planning to buy a dog, they could contain themselves no more.
“Vuxenpoäng!” they cried. “Adult points!”
It's no secret that the Swedes are great measurers and categorisers. But where Anders Celsius measured temperature and Carl von Linné categorised all living things, today's young Swedes measure how grown up they are by an intricate system of points and categorise each other accordingly.
These are universally understood and the ranking is instinctive, explained my dinner companions.
A long term boyfriend or girlfriend is usually the first step on the long ladder to adulthood.
(“But you don't get any adult points for at least a few months,” added Joachim's girlfriend.)
Domestic items, especially white goods, are where most young Swedes really start to pick up their adult points (assuming a teenage pregnancy hasn't bumped them up a league) and they apparently have a hierarchy of their own.
Getting a dog means responsibility and commitment so that's worth a good few. The amount of points you get for a car depends on the make and model. A sleek little sporty number will barely register on your account, while a sturdy Volvo will push you off the scale.
What is it about young Swedes – and note, Swedologists, that these are not teens, these are Swedes in their twenties and older – that breeds such an institution?
Why should going “big shopping” every other week cause raised eyebrows? Is it simply that Swedes don't want to grow up?
Yes and no. Although youth is so distended in Sweden, where graduating from university at the age of thirty is common, people don't necessarily feel comfortable about it. So the concept of adult points serves as a check – the more points you have, the more you are considered to have betrayed your youth and your friends.
But maybe it's also a delaying of responsibility, a rejection of independence, that many Swedes never really shake off. By teasing each other, they are really expressing their own fears about going it alone.
I thought I'd ask them straight.
“Why don't Swedes want to grow up?”
“Why should we want to grow up,” came the response.
Luckily for Anglo-Swedish relations, Joachim's phone rang.
It was his ex-girlfriend, he said, as he hastily got up from the table. He had to leave. He should have picked up his four year old son an hour ago and she wasn't happy.
Sometimes there really is no point at all in being an adult.
Stockholm Syndrome is a new series of articles from The Local focusing on life in the Swedish capital through a foreigner's eyes.