Best-Before Hysteria

When I met my Swedish ex in Ireland, I noticed something odd about her. She always carefully checked the labels and dates on food in the shop. I thought it was just a cute quirk, as I had rarely given those little dates much thought myself. If food smelled good, it was good; if it smelled funny, or had blue fluffy stuff on it, then it was bad.

But when I moved to Sweden, I was in for a shock – the entire country did the same. Swarms of grown-ups would wander around the shops, peering at the best-before dates and doing feverish calculations in their heads before buying anything. If I came home with something that was due to go “out” in a few days, then I was in bad domestic trouble. And any produce, even frozen or unopened, that had passed this mystical date would be chucked out as if it were coated in arsenic.

Stories about best-before hysteria are numerous over here, and I will tell only two of them:

1) Once my ex threw out salt—salt!!—that had gone past its best-before date. Now salt has been used in every culture for centuries to preserve food – conclusion, salt does not go off. But this did not stop her from throwing it out and starting a fight with me about it.

2) A friend of a friend—let us call him Larry—was making a cup of tea before he went out on the town. He checked the date on the milk, saw there was one day left, and took some milk. He came home a few hours later and made some more tea. But now the milk had gone off, as it was the next day, and Larry refused to drink it – the exact same milk he had used six hours earlier. He poured it down the sink, terrified of diseases, only hours after having had his tongue in the mouth of 3 or 4 strange girls, carrying probably more bacteria than live in his entire apartment.

These stories are not the exception – they are the rule in this peculiar country. I was in a shop that sells English stuff in Stockholm (called, usefully enough, the English Shop) a few days ago and noticed they were giving away crisps. I asked why, and the lady working there told me they had “gone out” and, even when they were free, the Swedes would not touch them. Now, show me any other country in the world where people will not take free stuff because of a little date printed on the packet.

Let us look at the phrase “best before” – or “bäst före” in Swedish. It implies that the product is BEST before the given date. It will probably be quite fine AFTER the date also, but it is 100% guaranteed to be BEST before it. Hence the words BEST BEFORE. It is not the “use by” date or the “shit after” date or the “throw me out please” date or the “warning! Deadly poison!” date – it is the BEST BEFORE date. And much more important than this magical date is the way in which the article has been stored both by you and in the shop: the outside temperature; the decade in which your fridge was installed; and when you actually opened the box.

I have gone blue in the face arguing this with Swedes, and now go out of my way to eat “old” food just to piss them off and show them that I will not die. Week-old milk, moldy bread, soup from the nineties – bring it on, baby!

And finally, just for the Swedes, here is how you use your enormous brain and fantastically complicated senses, evolved over millions of years, to determine if something if “good”, instead of using a little magic printed number on a box. Let us take milk as an example:

  1. Shake it.
  2. Look at it.
  3. Smell it.
  4. Taste it.

With these basic steps, you can determine if the milk (and most other things) really is “bad” and thereby save yourself a possible heart attack from too much pointless worry. Try it, and feel alive for the very first time.

/ paddy (best before 2053)

Work Is Hell

I came to Sweden in 1997, and before that I never had a proper job. I worked here and there, in what Swedes refer to as “black jobs”, but did not pay tax if I could help it. Of course, back in the 90s, it seemed that the majority of young Irish people were unemployed and worked under the table at the weekend.

I came to Sweden, and slid into the IT world in 1999, completely by accident. I worked with a very odd individual – who I will not name – and was lucky to escape alive to a better job. Ah, 2000 – the IT era. Money thrown at every problem, expensive trips, enough pizza and beer to level a horse. It lastest for about 6 months, and then everything went to hell.

People were fired. Then more people were fired. The workforce went from over 50 to about 15. In the end the company “offered” us to drop our wages 20% as proof of our loyalty to the company (meaning the board and owners) or to be fired. Most of us choose to be fired, and fired we were.

I stayed on as under short-time contracts, getting, in 2004, 80% of my 2001 wages. Quite often, our wages were late, once by ten days. In December 2004 came the low point, where they mailed us on December 20 to say “hurrah, we got in some money, so we can pay your wages!”

So I applied to study, in an attempt to escape the collapsing mess, and was accepted. The company was going better at that stage, but I was so totally sick of the same old people, doing the same old stuff, and the same old arguements, that I was happy to take a year off.

Now I’m off, and happy to be away from them. They still call me with questions, and I sometimes pop by to work a little extra. In June I will return, although the plan is to not have to. I have another job on the way, where the souls are not so tired and worn, and I hope I get it.

Also, they will pay me a fat wad, which is never a minus…fingers crossed! (or, as they say in this odd little country, thumbs crossed.)

/ paddy