It’s that time of the month again. You feel weak and cranky. You raid the cabinets for chocolate and realize that you don’t have any more. A sense of malaise and dissatisfaction descends.
And then it comes.
A feeling of restless anticipation takes over the city, and the state-run liquor stores brace themselves for a run on the shelves.
One truly strange and hilarious aspect of living in Sweden is that certain rhythms of everyday life tend to happen in unison.
For example, the entire country arranges their alcohol purchasing habits around the opening hours of the state-run liquor store. We have no other choice. That is why from 6 to 7 pm on a Friday, all the Swedes and we would-be Swedes find ourselves waiting in line to approach the checkout counter in an agitated and impatient mass that looks something like Soviet-era bread lines.
Classic television shows like Allsång (a whole blog post in itself) also command a sizeable chunk of the nation’s attention.
For the season premier last year, just under two million people gathered around the television to watch other people participate in a sing-along concert. That’s 22% of the population re-arranging their evenings to check in for a television show that covers a weekly sing-along, of all things, that’s been running since 1935. (Not exactly a novelty, if you know what I mean.)
In just the same way, a large proportion of the population gets their paycheck right around the same time, leading to the phenomenon known as “lönehelg,” or “salary weekend.”
Depending on your workplace and whether or not you belong to a union, salaried workers receive their paychecks somwhere between the 25th and the last day of the month, with exceptions made for holidays like Christmas and Midsummer, when the paydays are moved up to allow for pre-holiday spending.
As you can probably imagine, having an entire country on the same pay cycle can have some strange results, much like what I experienced during my first year of college when I lived on an all-female hall in my dormitory.
You think that you’re an island unto yourself until you live in a group of women and realize that your hormonal ups and downs are aligning themselves with the group’s. So much for my so-called free spirit.
Just imagine that kind of emotional synchronization on a national scale—and then take into account that it’s everyone’s behaviors and emotions around money we’re dealing with, not just the idiot who lives next door to you in your non-soundproofed dormitory hall and has loudly and joyfully gotten back together with her boyfriend again.
Swedish newspapers and crime reports describe salary weekend with everything from mild worry to post-apocalyptic language.
Jnytt (Jönköping News): “Despite the fact that it’s lönehelg, there’s nice weather, and a lot going on in town, the weekend has started out calmly.”
Sydsvenskan: “As usual, the combination of a Saturday night and lönehelg resounded in many quarters in Skane. The Police have had their hands full during the night with drunk and belligerent people—and little else besides that.”
Sydsvenskan: “[Valborg] is just like when it’s lönehelg. People act like wild animals.” –Peter Bengtsson, an employee at the Lund train station
QUICK! TO THE BATCAVE!! IT’S L Ö N E H E L G !!
Of course, the most I’ve ever been affected is when I’ve tried to go out to dinner or buy a movie ticket found that the restaurant is fully booked or the showing I wanted to go to is sold out.
On a more serious note, though, it is a widely known fact that the number of incidents of violence, sexual assault, and driving under the influence peak every month on lönehelg. The momentary spike in available cash catalyzes these behaviors in every society and every country—but because of lönehelg, these effects are felt in every town in Sweden at approximately the same time every month.
And really, if you thought the bar scene was scary on one of these salary weekends, then you should go to Ikea. Talk about a war zone—just imagine all those families and new couples fighting for the same discounted sofa.
THE EKTORP IN SVANBY GREY IS MINE. DO NOT MAKE ME RESORT TO VIOLENCE.
Two minutes later in the cafeteria—
DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT TAKING THE LAST MEATBALLS.
*backs away slowly, head bowed in submission*
Such is the sweet life in Sweden! Move here, join the moose pack, and soon enough you’ll be on the same cycle as the rest of us.
As for me, my plans for this lönehelg are to enjoy the amazing weather and to hang out with friends. We might even be tagging along for my adorable little nephew’s first trip to the zoo! I can’t wait to teach him how to make elephant sounds.
If you see a crazy woman trumpeting to a bewildered little boy somewhere in Skåne this weekend, that’s me. Say hi!
Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are in the world—and happy lönehelg!