Like most men, I’m not a fan of shopping. But while I disliked it in London, here, in northern Sweden I absolutely loathe and detest it. It’s my own fault admittedly. It’s 20km to our nearest small Coop and 60km to the nearest decent-sized supermarket. Let’s not even talk about Systembolaget. We may have a spectacular view but a lake on our doorstep is the only convenience to hand.
Our isolation also means we cannot avail ourselves of one of the great modern decadences – supermarket deliveries. Never mind lugging great loads of bottled water, cat food and washing power home, just have it delivered. How I miss that.
Shopping habits up here are different to the UK, too. Not many people seem to do big fortnightly shops. Most shoppers seem to buy around 20-30 items max each time. Even the conveyor belts are shorter and narrower than their UK equivalents. Check-out staff regard our gargantuan 3,000 kronor ($460) hauls with amazement – are we settling in for the apocalypse? I’ve not yet come up with a theory for this more piecemeal approach to food shopping. This failure bugs me.
Another real bug is the awful state of the vegetables on offer at supermarkets – we regularly find rotting peppers or carrots in bags of vegetables. I thought it might be a peculiarly northern Swedish problem but, according to friends down south, vegetables are pretty manky there too. I don’t have a theory for this either. I had one for the north – the short growing season – but that shouldn’t really affect the south.
But the real issue with Swedish shopping is the prices. Yes, I know – the Swedes earn more and so retail prices are higher. That’s not much of a consolation when little of your work pays Swedish rates and you’ve two 8-month-old babies to feed. So we’ve turned to internet shopping in order to trim our household costs. We saved 50 percent on buying a cooker from Germany, 75 percent on buying new specs from the UK and 20 percent on buying winter-wear from the US (and, yes, that includes the dreaded customs charges).
We’ve also found a way to save money on some supermarket staples. For the last six months we’ve been buying all our tea, washing powder, fabric conditioner, nappies, cat food, dishwasher tablets, shower gel, shampoo, bin bags and wet wipes from a single online retailer. The fact we’re saving on average 10-15 percent on Swedish prices is not such a surprise. Nor is the fact that the regular shopping is less stressful when you don’t have to lump the heavy stuff around. The fact that the online retailer is Amazon does come as something of a surprise to many people when I tell them of our online thrift adventures.
Sadly most of these people are, like us, ex-pats, eager to save money wherever possible. I have quickly learnt that our Swedish friends have absolutely no interest in our tales of money-saving. Their eyes glaze over, their attention wanders and they begin to look a little uncomfortable, as if we were speaking openly of our love for dogging. Why is this? Are their lives really so comfortable that they have no need to save cash now and again? Or is it because they find talking about money to be distasteful? It certainly explains why Amazon won’t be getting any additional customers from northern Sweden any time soon.