Case study #1: Canada vs. Sweden

Back in Canada now, and experiencing some reverse culture shock perhaps. While I was in Sweden, I remarked to Per how amazed I was that people assumed and depended on everyone doing their job to the best of their ability. For example, Swedes trust that their government, watchdog groups, committees, and the like (such as Konsumentverket) to – gasp – actually do the job they are supposed to! He was completely confused at my statement – why shouldn’t I expect that everyone would do their job? Well, living in Canada, I’m completely used to poor customer service, lazy employees that pass the buck, and a general apathy from people towards their job and those they are supposed to help.

Case in point today: frustrating day at the grocery store. The good thing about Superstore (a gigantic, discount grocery store chain) is they have a huge variety of goods! Thought about how Per might find the store really interesting with all the products you can buy in one place. Downside is that they have such a huge variety… I was stuck shopping for over 3 hours!! And if we stopped to look at everything we’d be even longer. I couldn’t find all of the things I wanted i.e. canned beets (to make Swedish beetroot salad). Nope, guess we don’t carry that in Edmonton if it’s not in the Superstore. Yellow peas? Nope, only split yellow peas. I don’t think ingredients for Swedish foods are very easy to come by in Edmonton.

Also, it’s frustrating that we don’t show prices per kg like they do in Sweden. This is one of many ways I feel that Canada is so backwards compared to Sweden. Making life easier for the Canadian consumer to make informed purchases? Hah! You’re dreaming!…

Anyway, so I stand in front of the whole aisle, calculating in my head which package is the best value. On top of that, the same type of product could be in 3 different places in the store, which makes comparison shopping even more difficult!

But that’s not my main complaint… I caved and bought some Haagen Daaz before heading to the cashier, as I really missed North American ice cream. Swedish ice cream is good enough, but doesn’t quite hit the mark in comparison. (But Australian gelato is probably number one.) So, checked out at the cashier, the girl told me I had “6800 points” – enough to get $60 discount on my groceries, from using my grocery credit card in Sweden. But she didn’t ask me if I wanted to use them, and didn’t take the discount off. Uh, hello??? I WANTED to use them. Why the heck would I want to keep saving them up – for fun??? She apologized and I tried to give her some slack for being a new employee.

I tried to go to customer service to get it fixed, because I don’t shop Superstore very often (once every 1-2 months). But the woman at the counter pissed me off so bad!! She said they can’t just put the money back on my credit card, they have to return everything on my receipt. And then she can’t just give me back the same goods, I have to go shop in the store and pick up everything again myself… Sounded fishy to me – I was pretty sure she just didn’t want to have to manually run a return on every item on my receipt.

Me: “Well, can I just return $60 worth?”

Lazy old woman: “No, you have to return EVERYTHING. You can’t do it that way.”

Me: “The cashier was the one who made the mistake, it shouldn’t be my problem.”

Lazy old woman: “Yes, but the return can’t be processed any other way. You can just use the points next time you shop.”

I was pretty ticked off, so I just shook my head and walked out, fuming. Then, on the walk to the car, I thought, hey, that’s NOT true that I CAN’T return $60… She’s just too fucking lazy to do it! If I go back in there, she has no choice but to process a return on items that happen to total to $60.

So in true Canadian passive-aggressive fashion, I wasn’t going to let the lazy employee off the hook that easily. I went back with $70 worth of groceries, waited while she manually returned each of those items, walked back in the store and did a quick round, while she made some poor sap of a re-stocker have to put all the same things back. All because she claimed that she couldn’t give me back the same items, to save herself from doing work. Even if it did waste another 15 minutes of my time, I showed her!

Sweden 1, Canada 0.


9 thoughts on “Case study #1: Canada vs. Sweden

  1. Interesting points…but I challenge you!! First of all, Superstore DOES have the price per kg! Or at least per 100 g. If you look at the shelf tag, it has a VERY small notation on the tag showing the $/100 g. Thus, you can easily compare value.

    Second of all, just because Superstore doesn’t have canned beets or yellow peas doesn’t mean Canada doesn’t have it. Each Superstore carries a selection of items that reflects the local community’s purchasing habits. More inconvenient I’m sure, but if you went to a smaller local European grocery you’d probably find that kind of stuff. Or any one of those “natural food stores” might have yellow peas.

    Anyway, not saying that Canadian diets are fantastic…but give us a little more credit. We’re not some backwater community…like Alaska!

    But love the passive-aggressive maneuver!!! I applaud your move! I hate laziness like that.

    Lastly, not that I know very much about Sweden’s social policies…I was under the impression that Sweden was a total welfare state (aren’t there a lot of people who don’t work???) Total ignorance…sorry if that’s completely off-base.

  2. Hey! Quit discrediting my blog!! J/K Hmm, that price per kg must be microscopic! What about the poor seniors? Won’t someone think of the old people?? Heh.

    Oh, I didn’t mean Canada wouldn’t have the beets or yellow peas, mainly Edmonton. Yeah, I probably have to track down some small shop, and I have no idea where to go. There’s not exactly a Swedishtown in Edmonton.

    I mostly wanted to emphasize that I thought customer service in Edmonton sucked (rude and lazy people is the rule and not the exception here). But true, I think there are a lot of people in Sweden who take advantage of the welfare system. I heard that (too many) immigrants do as well. “Yeah, yeah!! It’s all dem immigrants!!” Nah, I don’t know how the stats actually stack up, and there are other factors why so many immigrants rely on welfare. It does seem that the Swedish government at least recognizes and tries to do something about it, and that their government is more proactive. I can think of many instances where Edmonton ticks me off compared to Sweden, and a few more occurred today while driving. I could write a few more blogs about it, it’s not that easy to explain the impression I had of Sweden.

  3. I nearly die laughing! You go girl!

    Didn’t the “international” recipe said that splited peas was ok?

    Say that with “…backwater community…like Alaska!” to Palin 😉

    Yes, I’ve heard that we are a welfare state without really knowing exactly knowing what it is to live without it since I never worked abroad. But little negative assumption with “aren’t there a lot of people who don’t work???”?
    Looked up on wikipedia what it “welfare” means, english version “government programs that seek to provide a minimum level of income, service or other support for disadvantaged peoples”.
    Swedish version
    “Välfärd, samlande benämning på de delvis skattesubventionerade eller helt skattefinansierade tjänster och de transfereringar som stat, landsting och kommun tillhandahåller för att säkra individens trygghet vid bland annat barndom, sjukdom, arbetslöshet, funktionshinder och ålderdom. Kallas även “social trygghet” eller “socialt skyddsnät”. Det handhas i Sverige av kommunerna och ett antal myndigheter under Socialdepartementet.”
    Translated roughly with my limited knowledge in English ”Welfare, collecting term on the partly tax financed or fully tax financed services and transfers that state, county council and municipality disposes (right word?) to secure individual security/safety in occasion of for example (takeing care of) children, sickness, unemployment, functional disorder or old age. …”
    Doesn’t sound that bad to me? Joyce told me about your “bad neighbourhood” in Edmonton? Where there are huge problems with criminality and drug abuse? I guess 100% of them are supporting the state with tax money and are not unemployed? When it comes to comparing unemployment rates it gets little more tricky. The most recent number I could find was 6.2. But there are some discussions in how to measure unemployment. Look at, although I think this is strongly exaggerated it gives you a clue about the comparison problems. Other figures I found to compare different number was April 2006 (Swedish definition): 5,5% – (international definition): 8,2%. Compare this to 6,6% in Canada ( So hard to compare numbers with different definition. Your unemployment seems lower, but, a lot of people who don’t work?

    Joyce told me about a man who was unemployed for one year without seriously trying to get a job? In Sweden there is a system to stop this, if you don’t apply for a job you are qualified for you don’t get any money. But Canada don’t have this system? So it may be easier to take advantage of the system in Canada?

    So, to sum up, no the “aren’t there a lot of people who don’t work???” is exaggeratedly. Just like Joyce says, if someone is blamed for it, it is the “new swedes”, imigrants and their children. That’s is a devolpment I don’t want. Also refer to McGregor X and Y theory.

  4. Oh yes of course. I admit I know very little about Sweden’s policies. All I am saying is that for whatever reason, there seems to be some popular (North American?) notion that Sweden’s social safety net is very generous – perhaps too generous that people may take advantage of it. Of course I don’t know if this is true. It just would seem very ironic if it were true, given Joyce’s positive impressions of Swedish work ethic.

  5. Sorry Joyce, but I think you might be in the wrong here.

    The way PC Points operate is you can either: request a point check before you pay, or get your point total after your purchase. I believe that the onus is on the customer to request a point check prior to purchase, at which point the cashier asks “would you like to use your points?”. It’s also the responsibility of the customer to have an estimate of their points prior to purchase. That’s why PC runs a website where customers can check their points, and why it’s printed at the bottom of every receipt. Shopping at Superstore once a month isn’t an excuse 🙂

    Feel free to correct me if any of my assumptions of the circumstances were wrong though.

    I’m also disappointed that your first pro-Sweden rant focused only on grocery stores. I hope that following case studies get into more nitty gritty stuff! Here’s my shortlist, not in any particular order, and some are very superficial:
    1) Swedes are generally more attractive than Canadians. True, the population is more homogenous in Sweden, so the “diversity” of appearances isn’t as strong; but geez, talk about a country with a good gene pool! haha.
    2) They generally dress better too, though this point is debatable. I noticed some took the “Eurotrash” look to new levels. Maybe it’s the overabundance of H&Ms? Kind of a double-edged sword that place is.
    3) Care more about their health, but this is also debatable. Noticably higher tobacco (smoking and snus) rates, especially amongst youth (though not as bad as Denmark). Still, Swedes were more physically fit, and take advantage of excellent cycling networks to get around rather than relying on cars.
    4) Excellent transit systems, intracity and intercity rail, bus and T-bana. They’re easy enough for tourists to understand, and must be a no-brainer for locals.
    5) Lower crime rates, friendly people who will stop and take the time to help you out with a question, minimal urban decay, and so on.

    I can think up a good list of pro-Canada points as well. Another time. I also have nothing to add to the welfare state debate, except to say that what I just said rhymes.

  6. Every time I’ve been to Superstore, the cashier usually asks if I want to use my points. So, my expectation was set up that she would ask (maybe the other cashiers are spoiling me with better service than they’re supposed to?..) Also, she said, “You have 68000 points” and I responded, “Yes” as in, yes, I want to use them. So before I had a chance to continue, she swiped my card through again! She swiped it once to check the points and then swiped it again to charge me the full amount. Clearly, she was in the wrong here 🙂

  7. I have to completely disagree with you. I am originally from Toronto, and I moved to Sweden two years ago with my husband (who is Swedish). We are planning on going back to Canada because of how horrible our experience is here in Sweden. EVERYTHING is much more expensive in Sweden, and the pay is much lower than in Canada. I am not sure how it is in Edmonton, but where I come from, people are awesome, friendly and very helpful; complete opposite of what we experienced in Sweden. I have had experiences with the Swedish healthcare system and have been so angry when NOONE acknowledges you. Nurses walk past patients in the waiting room and do not even notice they exist. It has happened to me before. I have also been mis-diagnosed, given the wrong medication and never been warmly accepted. The weather is horrible, I have never had more headaches in my life from the gray, depressing skies. EVERYTHING closes at 7pm. How on earth can everything close at 7pm? No one has the chance to get some after work shopping done. Gas prices are through the roof, and the taxes here KILL you. I know you get free education and daycare services, but you have to since the average paycheck is 15000kr after tax. That isn’t even 2500 dollars. I would rather make a strong paycheck and have to pay for school and daycare. At least Canada sees sunshine. Also, I have never experienced more racism in my life. The reason I love Canada so much is because you really can be from anywhere, and are accepted. We love our immigrants, we accept all religions, beliefs and cultures. I wish I could say the same about Scandinavia. I guess everything is subjective and home is where your heart is…and mine is across the ocean in the beautiful and free Canada.

    • Hi Elma!

      Sorry to hear you don’t like it here. Sorry, not much I can do about the weather, it’s kind of out of our control. Guess the Vikings didn’t grow tough on a sunny beach…

      The gas prices are high yes. Canada has 3 times as much CO2 emission per capita than Sweden, so if you ask me, the gas prices should be just as high in Canada. Yes, the taxes are high and the education is free. We live in a democracy and the voters have voted for politics like this. The are pros and cons with that of course and everyone doesn’t agree on this system. What I am really proud of is that anyone have the possibility of a higher education no matter your background. Statistically children of higher educated parents has a higher probability of also achieving a higher education. But still everyone has the same possibility of a higher education. When it comes to the heavily subsidised daycare it has a vital function of gender equality. I experienced in another country that the daycare could cost almost as much a the moms salary so there is not as strong economically benefit for her (and the family) to work. That rich family still can afford daycare, I don’t doubt that, but what about the lower income families? And what if it is a single parent with high expenses for daycare?

      I am so sorry to hear that you have experienced racism. Yes, we have it just like Canada. Canada is based on immigration and have had lots of it in the past. Last time I looked into statistics in this subject Sweden actually accepts more immigrants per capita than Canada today. Sweden also have a higher percentage of refugees than Canada. Whereas Canada seems more to accept people who can be in benefit for the country. But I do envy that you seem to “integrate” immigrants a lot better. This has been a common topic in me and my girlfriend’s discussions that is too complex to sum up here. I don’t know if there is a easy answer. (if there is please tell us so we can change for the better!)

      Now, whether you wanna pay high taxes and live here with some of the the pros and cons that you brought up here I think is just like you say, a matter of choice.

      Welcome back if you change your mind some day =)

  8. @Per:
    Give me a break man! Sweden has racism JUST like Canada?!!
    Statistics say nothing buddy. You’d better go and live somewhere as an immigrant to feel the racism or welcoming of the citizens of that country. I have lived in both places and I am well aware of the differences. Sweden is not even comparable to Canada in the matter of racism, immigration and integration… general attitude towards anyone who is not Swedish is “get the hell out of here”…in Canada its pretty much the opposite. Sure you opened the doors of your country and closed your eyes and accepted anyone without any qualification or just reason to live in Sweden. Question is how much did you accept them really? Do you even consider someone born in Africa as a Swede!? Why did Arbetsformedlingen (Swedish work agency) told me to change my name to a Swedish name when I said I couldn’t find a job? these are facts dude. Don’t falsify please.

    Yes, you do have free healthcare but honestly it sucks. Your GPs are very incompetent even compared to not that developed countries and the waiting times you have will even beat worst cases of Canada. One should beg a doctor to get himself examined, and it’s very common in Sweden that you go to the doctor with some infection and the doctor would just check a book in front of you and say you’re okey while you know for a fact that you are not! And worst part is you pay for that by taxes and once again by initial costs you pay to the hospital and more.

    And as of social life, you have no idea how hard it is for anyone none Swedish to make friends with Swedes! You barely see people smile at each other or say hi to strangers, or talk! Subways in Stockholm are more quiet than many libraries in Toronto 😀 and trust me that’s not fun.

    On the other hand, Sweden is way cleaner I agree, so as of environment my vote goes to Sweden. A big part of it will be relevant to transportation system you have in Sweden which is basically not possible in Canada due to the size of the country.

    I also like the ease of education and daycare system in Sweden better (economically). Although I chose no to raise my kids in Sweden because of other reasons.

    Economical openness, Sweden down again. You’d better not think of starting a business there or you will be taxed as much as total of the rest of the world 😀

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