What is it with people? If you get your timing wrong, an innocent visit to the local ICA supermarket can be a nightmare – not because you can't find what you want (actually, Swedish stores are far better stocked now than when I first moved here), and not because the service is bad (at my local store, the staff are friendly and quick to open extra cash registers when the queue builds up) – but because of ones fellow shoppers.
It's probably just my grumpy paranoia, but sometimes, it seems to me as though other customers are conspiring to get in my way, barge past me and jump the queue. From the moment I approach the sliding doors, there's someone dithering needlessly in the way (often nattering distractedly on their mobile), yet before I've passed the swing-gate, I have someone else shuffling and puffing loudly behind my shoulder trying to get past. Needless to say, no-one can ever open their mouth to politely say "ursäkta" (I can't, for the life of me, understand why that word even exists in the Swedish language – it doesn't get much mileage).
Apparently, as with everything else in Sweden, you are expected to have planned your visit to the supermarket well in advance. Neither store design, nor the behaviour of other customers is conducive to browsing. Stop for but a moment to ponder whether you'd prefer red pesto or green, and a hand will reach aggressively past, mere millimetres from your nose to demonstratively snatch another product from the shelf. It is not uncommon for actual shoving to take place – and, again, there is no "ursäkta".
The general impression I get from Stockholmers' shopping behaviour is that, from the moment they enter the store, they are in a race to get to the checkout before anyone else. In fact, the race doesn't even stop there – I have often perceived a sense of achievement in a shopper who has succeeded in bagging his/her groceries before whoever was ahead of them in line. To what avail?
In America, by contrast, a visit to the supermarket is a delight. It may be a three mile walk to find all the items you want (no wonder American's always park as close as they can to the entrance), but at least the long, straight, wide aisles with yards of space for each product mean that shoppers can browse in peace and at their own pace.
What I can't understand is why local Swedish supermarkets are so small and crowded. Is it a matter of Social Democrat-conditioned planning. Even if per-capita grocery consumption here were half of what it is in the US (which I doubt), demographics would suggest that there should be at least two large (US size) supermarkets in my sizeable, inner suburb of Stockholm. Yet there is only one ICA and one Konsum (both very small) left (until recently, there were three Konsum stores). Is everyone heading to the out-of-town hypermarkets? I hardly think so, given that car ownership is (thankfully) low compared to, e.g. the US.
At the end of the day, it seems, in egalitarian Sweden, we need our local ICA/Konsum to fulfil our human urge to test and ascertain our social status. The hunter-gatherer able to trample over most rivals in bringing home the bacon wins. Social nicety is cast to the wind – this is about survival and filling stomachs.