Being Sober in Sweden

Why it’s so much nicer being a non-drinker in Scandinavia

Say Zen


I moved to Stockholm, Sweden from Vancouver, Canada more than four years ago, and in that time have not once been asked why I don’t drink. I’ve also never once, to my recollection, had to resort to drinking multiple cans of Coke at an event or gathering for lack of a more interesting alcohol-free alternative. And importantly, I’ve never felt odd or excluded from what was happening around me on account of being an Openly Sober Person.

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

These things happened all the time when I lived in Canada, though that was admittedly almost half a decade ago now, and as some claim, in that time, sobriety has gone mainstream. It’s now that much easier and acceptable to be an “out sober” person in public, sobriety being a much more seen and known identity category and, at least in big cities, alcohol-free alternatives being a huge and still-growing market. In other words, it might not have to do with where I live so much at all.

Still, there is something different in Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden. After living for seven or so years as a sober person in, first, my small hometown of Victoria, BC, and then in the much larger and more cosmopolitan Vancouver, I was struck right away upon moving to Stockholm how much simpler and smoother it was to be sober here.

No one questioned my sobriety or even seemed to care that I didn’t drink; for the most part, they just wanted to know what I wanted them to order for me to drink instead of alcohol. It’s not like people were congratulating me on my decision or celebrating my discipline: they simply accepted it and moved on. Which, in a way, is even more supportive.

Awkward Annoying North American Conversations

This wasn’t the case in Vancouver, where not drinking seemed to be something I had to continually explain — that is, justify — to people. Even after being sober a few years, I still dreaded going to work functions. Because, for one, I knew that pretty much everyone else would be drinking. Simply finding someone else who was sober, or just not drinking because they were pregnant, or for whatever other non-recovery reason, was such a relief. And two, I knew that, as soon as people realized I wasn’t drinking, the questions and…