Paying with Alcohol in Scandinavia – Some thoughts

Travelling to Scandinavia a lot I think I have mastered quite a few arts when it comes to navigating through Northern Europe. From knowing my favourite supermarkets to finding the perfect campsite, experience has taught me a lot about my favourite place on earth.

However, after countless trips to the north there is still one thing that I haven’t done and am afraid of doing: Paying or bribing someone with alcohol.

Top item on packing list

Almost everytime I talk to people who are just as crazy about roaming Scandinavia as I am we get to the same topic. After discussing perfect routes, northern travel hacks or favourite foods it always comes down to smuggling alcohol across the border. I have to confess, going to Norway I have also checked the regulations on bringing alcohol into the country. I simply like to have my “after work beer” at the campsite after an adventurous day. But then buying beer is not a big deal in Scandinavia either since I’m perfectly okay with the light versions you can get in most supermarkets.

However, I frequently hear from others that they excessively use alcohol to pay or bribe people. Just two weeks ago someone told me that he never ever pays for fuel at the gas station. He walks in, puts a bottle of spirit on the counter and that’s it. Sounds like a good deal considering what a bottle of Whisky costs in Germany compared to a tank filling in Norway…

but then… seriously? Is no one ever feeling bad about it?

A little excursion in alcohol in Scandinavia

For those of you not being familiar with the concept of alcohol in Scandinavia: Alcohol is expensive and access limited to special shops. For example in Sweden, you have to buy everything with more than 3,5% at Systembolaget. In Norway that is Vinmonopolet with everything more than 4,75%. These shops are closed over the weekends.

Limited Access does not make everyone go nuts for it

So here’s my thought on it. I have lived in Stockholm for a year, regularly passing a Systembolaget on my way to the subway. Every friday, when it closes for the weekend at 1pm there was a line of people trying to get into the shop. Sounds weird but who wouldn’t buy a couple of beers or a good bottle of wine for the weekend if there was no place to get it after friday 1pm. Just because we don’t have to line up in front of certain stores at certain times, doesn’t mean we don’t like to drink over the weekend – or, in fact, any other day of the week… No, we like to drink just as much as the Scandinavians. The limited access and the high price in Scandinavia just makes it more valuable. However, that does not make every Scandinavian an alcoholic…

Money vs. Alcohol

And yet, our view on Scandinavian people seems to be that you can get almost everything from them for a bottle of whatever high percentage alcohol you wave in front of their faces.

I am a graphic designer and the thought that someone came up to me, telling me I’d be paid in Vodka would be a serious insult to me. Even if it was an expensive bottle. And if everyone did that, I would swim in alcohol and couldn’t pay my rent anymore. All that apart from the fact that I can’t even drink that much alcohol.

If you want to invite me to thank-you-beer, fine. Bring a bottle of wine to the next party? Also fine. A nice liquor for my birthday? Yes, okay. I want to get paid for my work anyway. With money.

If I’d be a gas station owner in Norway and every tourist came in putting a bottle alcohol on my counter, I’d be seriously pissed off.

First I’d feel insulted that everyone seems to think that alcohol is my first concern. Second i’d feel fooled by the fact that someone thought it was okay to pay the 60€ tank filling with a bottle he paid 15€ for.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course in a country with such alcohol politics, a nice bottle of Whisky seems to be worth far more than in Germany. But does that make alcohol just like any other currency that increases value when crossing the border? Does that give us the right to assume that everyone is fine with taking alcohol instead of money? Especially since alcoholism is such a delicate topic.

A “Thank you” is always welcome

So, here’s my opinion: When you travel to Scandinavia, pay for everything you have to pay for, be it gas, the camp site or your tour guide. If you get the chance to invite them for a drink: Sure, go ahead. If someone squeezes you into a completely overcrowded campsite late at night: Why not leave them a liquid “Thank you”. But they probably will be just a grateful for a monetary tip, just like people in any other country would be.

Don’t try to fool anyone. Scandinavians are not the wild and woodchopping hillbillies some people think they are. In fact, the Scandinavian countries are among the most advanced.

Now it’s your turn

So, what about you? Have you had any experiences with alcohol on your trips to Scandinavia? I’d be excited to hear about them. Or are you even from Scandinavia? Maybe i am completely on the wrong track with my opinion? Tell me about it.

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