Swedish Language Blog

Swedish Checkout Habits Posted by on Jun 30, 2008 in Culture

Sweden is a very organized country. Everything has its place and there are rules and regulations for just about anything. Some rules don’t even need to be officially written down, they technically don’t exist, yet people here follow them anyway. That of course makes life a lot easier in many different situations – when boarding a local bus, for example. Everyone lines up neatly to get on and waits their turn. Even when it’s raining.

When entering a store, library, clinic, even ER, everyone lines up nicely to get a “nummerlapp” (= queue number, which you get from a special machine that dispenses them, normally somewhere near the entrance) and then patiently waits their turn. Nummerlapp is not a strictly Swedish invention, I have seen it utilized in such far-flung locales as India and Cape Verde, but Sweden, without a doubt, is the country that has turned it into an art form.

It might also be the only place where in a perfectly empty business establishment you will not be served until you pick up your queue number and present it to the clerk. Even in situations when you are the only customer. Funny, isn’t it?

While some may look at it as an inconvenience, it does keep things organized (for the most part) and moving in an orderly fashion. Except when you are a foreigner who’s never seen a nummerlapp machine and doesn’t know the local system.

Another peculiar way to keep things nice and neat is the Swedish check-out custom. On the surface, it looks cute and quirky, but the process can be excruciating to an innocent bystander. Especially, if said bystander is a foreigner and next in line to the register.

It works like this:
People search for the location of price bar codes on their products. Which in itself is not bad at all, unless said barcode is difficult to find. Then they will start flipping a package ten different ways, all the while a very bored checkout girl/guy, and who by the way is perfectly capable of finding the barcode all by her/himself, sits there idly. The checkout clerk just waits patiently for the customer to put the product down, so the line can move forward.

But that’s not all. The customer has to then place the product in such a way that the barcode faces the scanner. Which can be quite challenging for certain packages. Some of them were simply not designed with the Swedish checkout tradition in mind.

To encourage the customers to follow this rule, in many stores you can actually see signs admonishing you to line up your purchases properly. Some stores realized that foreigners are caught unaware in the checkout line. Such places began to offer helpful hints in English as well.

“Don’t Build a Mountain” and “Barcode Facing The Scanner”.

If you are like me and have a barbarian compulsion to pile all your purchases on the belt in a huge heap and then give the poor checkout girl dirty looks when she’s not moving fast enough, take heart. More and more shops offer self-scanning options. And needless to say, that’s my option of choice.

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  1. CE:


  2. Lina:

    Sweden and it’s “rules” XD i never thought about that the barcode should face the scanner!!! never even seen a sign ^^ but i’ll try my best this time..haha

  3. Ölänning:

    It’s funny that people say Sweden is so full of rules and regulations, yet I hardly notice any in my everyday life. I mean the fact that people wait patiently in lines has nothing to do with any rules or regulations. It just means we’re not animals! We are capable of waiting a few seconds! It’s funny that people think that Swedes are so organized because we can wait in lines. I honestly, think that’s what separates humans from animals, we are capable of waiting in lines. Yes, I’m joking, even though, I think it’s crazy that in many other countries they need to putup “fences” in order to make people wait in line.

    And I never line my groceries up neatly and nice with the bar code facing the scanner. I don’t think I need to make checkout girl/guy’s job any easier, you know.

    Maybe it comes down to the fact that I’m not the kind of person who pays attention to most rules and regulations. Maybe they’re there but I don’t really care about them so I never notice them?

  4. Mats:

    Great and entertaining list of habits. Some more true than others.