Foreign Correspondence: Swedish Drinking vs. British Drinking

By Kristýna Hřivnáčová

Arriving in Falmouth from the Czech Republic a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, not just a different country, but a different culture, too, and the weirdest variations of British accents I had ever heard all gathered on one campus. Then I went to my first freshers’ party and I found yet another new culture – that of British drinking.

My flatmates were a group of mostly laid-back girls with no burning passion to get trashed. That they were a minority came as a surprise to me. Walking up to the Stannary that evening, I saw – and heard – more flat-out drunk people than I had ever encountered in my whole life. Bear in mind my Czech homeland outdrinks the UK by two litres of pure alcohol per capita a year. We’re no strangers to a drink.

Now, on an exchange in Sweden, it’s almost like being a fresher again. Am I older? Yes. Am I wiser? I doubt it. Is there as much alcohol around? Definitely not. Thanks to the Swedish government’s monopoly on alcohol sales, the only way you can get a nice, and frankly ridiculously overpriced, bottle of Smirnoff (or anything above 3.5%) is through Systembolaget, a chain of stores with limited opening hours that only serves those over 20 years old. Imagine it – you can’t just pop into the Campus shop when you run out of drinks!

Sounds terrible? It isn’t. In my opinion, drinking oneself under the table in the shortest time possible can prevent you from taking part in the other important aspect of evening gatherings – socialising. Now, don’t get me wrong, I dislike awkward small talk just as much as the next person. The thing is, if you are to find like-minded students to be friends with, you need to know more about them than whether or not they can chug a bottle before you’re done singing a song. Similarly, you might overlook hilarious humans because you’re already under the influence.

I don’t mean to say that students here don’t drink. They do, but the difference lies in the fact that I have been here in Sweden for two months now, frequenting social events, and I haven’t met a person drunk enough to require support walking and I definitely haven’t seen people puking in the streets. On the contrary, most people here seem content to keep themselves on the happy-and-chatty level, playing beer pong with water (because real beer is too expensive and no one expects you to drink even though you’re playing) and dancing on the makeshift dance floor in the kitchen (because drinking out costs a fortune and if there’s one universal student experience, it’s the lack of finances).

Students are mostly the same everywhere. Half lost in thoughts of future, half scared of it, mostly running out of time for approaching deadlines, down for some fun all the time, over to someone’s kitchen for a party every Saturday. But honestly, people I’ve encountered at parties here in Sweden have been much easier to approach, talk to and befriend. And maybe that’s just me; maybe it’s the people. But maybe it’s the fact that we could properly focus on each other and speak without slurring.