Friday, 4 June 2010

Why do Swedes drink so much?

'Why do Swedes drink so much?' was a question I recently received in an informal survey on Facebook.

And it's a revealing question. A common stereotype that other nationalities have of Swedes is that they get rip-roaring drunk - frequently. And it's easy to understand why this stereotype exists.

Anyone who's been involved in a Swedish celebration of any kind has experienced the close presence of alcohol. At Midsummer, people get drunk. At crayfish parties, people get slaughtered. At Christmas, the snaps comes out and people end up hammered. In seaside destinations abroad, it's not uncommon when you see a gang of drunken youngsters that they are Swedish. The beer you buy in pubs might be expensive but it is so strong it'll make you cross-eyed after three glasses. So it's easy to form the impression that Swedes are hardened drinkers.

In today's newspaper, the results of a recent study were published. Swedish consumption of wine has increased 60% in the last ten years. This is easy to measure since all wine is purchased in Sweden through one company - the state-owned monopoly Systembolaget.

In the newspaper article, Swedish citizens were asked why they thought this increase has happened. In other words, why do Swedes drink so much?

Citizen 1: 'Because we have adapted a more cosmopolitan drinking style. It is no longer shameful to have a glass of wine on a Tuesday after work.'

Citizen 2: 'Because we are doing so well in Sweden. Everybody is better off so we can treat ourselves a little more.'

Citizen 3: 'Because of the introduction of the 'Bag in Box' wine. It's so easy to drink a lot without knowing how much you are drinking. It's easier to tap a glass of wine than to open another bottle'

I'm sure it is to do with all of these things. Interestingly, I think we are witnessing a cultural rebellion. Society is shifting from the collective to the individual. The old days when the government controlled alcohol consumption for the sake of public health is disappearing. It is being replaced by individual responsibility and individual choice. And the initial reaction is overconsumption.

So, there are lots of reasons why Swedes drink so much.

Now my question is, why do the Brits drink even more?


  1. I think that PEOPLE (in general) think that swedes drink a lot because of the climate of sweden, drinking from bottle to bottle to keep warm. Also I think that PEOPLE think vikings (!)when they hear sweden (or any other scandinavian country), which brings out a picture of funny hats, a bonfire and liquor flowing.

    Well the brits do it because its tradition, its a place where you can meet (new and old) friends. And it is warm, the houses in the UK are kept in their 'rustic charm' which means no insulation in the walls and no renovation ever among other things.

  2. Swedish people dont even drink so much just maybe farmers up in the north and its very hot summers here but its cold in the vinter :P so we have the best of both :)

  3. because there is absulutly nothing else to do in a small country wich represents the a..h..e of europe

  4. Well, coming from sweden. I can safely say that most people here are very stiff. Unsociable and way too self concious. Drinking a heap of alcohol is a good way to ease up the mood and get people talking.

    Also, not mentioning the cold climate. During the winter-part of the year. It is not only cold, it is very dark.

    I am not shitting you that to keep any sort of sanity going, hard liqour or going away is the only way of surviving the cold darkness of winter.

    In december we have about 3 hours of "sun" a day. And by "sun" i mean a sun covered by a thick quilt of clouds. Imagine how much stiffer and unsociable an already unsciable people get, when it isn't even light out.

  5. The notion that you drink to keep warm is ridiculous. We are not children, we understand human physiology and that you actually get colder by consuming alcohol.

    We drink because we love drinking. We've always loved drinking, for thousands of years. Really, it's a universal thing. No matter what civilization you find, even if they never invented bread (japanese) odds are they've managed to turn something into alcohol.

    From the honey that makes mead, to the grapes that make wine, the malted barley that makes beer and whisky, to the rice that makes sake, and the potato that makes vodka. It's quite amusing how inventive humans are when it comes to getting hammered.
    And those who don't invent alcohol have some sort of other drugs they use. (mainly referring to native americans)

    To the last poster.
    "to keep any sort of sanity going, hard liqour or going away is the only way of surviving the cold darkness of winter."

    Way to make us sound like weaklings. :I
    Why not round it off by claiming we're all afraid of spiders while you're at it? Most of us are farily resistant to cold, in fact, the only thing I ever freeze are my fingers, in a hoodie and T-shirt, it takes -15 degrees for me to feel cold at all. And in december we have 6 hours of sunlight. I looked it up, that's the lowest amount of sunlight in deep winter.

    And about the unsociable thing, I can agree to that, to an extent.
    I think it's less about being stiff and reserved, and more about having a different view on strangers. Here, no one 'deserves' respect and trust. You have to earn those things. And personally I think it's a valid approach, you can't just trust everyone for the simple reason that you don't have any reason NOT to. That's just naïve.

  6. We drink alot because we Swedes are vikings.

  7. Read somewhere that the farther North you go in Europe, the more and stronger alcohol you drink.
    Simply our tradition to drink a lot and get very drunk. And it is not shameful at all

  8. Alcohol:
    1) makes Swedes better people, humorous and sociable
    2) Brings warm
    3) Leads to easier sex

  9. Maybe there is a mongolian gene responsible for this...? Look at the lapons and finns,simply look at their eyes. I think all the scandinavians have intermixed somehow with people of mongolian heritage.

  10. Addressing several of the comments above -

    1. Its true that when it comes to younger people, a lot of Swedes drink heavily because it creates opportunities to meet and talk to people of the opposite sex, and hopefully for some sexual experiences on the same night.

    2. A lot of Swedes subconsciously associate alcohol with socialization and being with people. In a country where, as some have mentioned, its not a social convention to show your emotions or feelings in front of strangers, many Swedes associate alcohol with 'happy times'.

    3. Regarding the correlation between alcohol and winter, I think its mostly a myth. But colder climates do tend to have a 'vodka culture' or a 'whisky culture' - which can lead to higher levels of alcoholism generally. Examples : Sweden, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Baltic countries, rest of Eastern Europe, Scotland, Ireland.

    4. If anything, our coffee consumption and sweet consumption increases drastically during the winter.

    5. Again, the "Mongolian genes" correlation with alcohol thing is an old racial myth. The small eyes and high cheekbones that many Swedes have may be connected to some Finnish or Russian ancestry, since Sweden had a lot to do with these 2 nations in the last 1000 years. Also, these Finnish or Russian features are mainly confined to the Swedes who come from the country's East and North - especially the east coast of Sweden, which saw a lot of Russian invasions and also much interactions with Russia and Finland. Swedes from the south and west coast more closely resemble the Nordic-Germanic prototype that Norwegians, Danes and Northern Germans have. But if Mongoloid genes should really have something to do with heavy drinking, then the heaviest drinkers should be the East Asians - Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and the Central Asian Turkic peoples. But these people show the LEAST alcohol consumption in the world other than the Middle East !