Part 1 of 3
For those of us who experienced the 1980s, it was a time that felt very modern to us – of course. It might be difficult for young people today to imagine a world without Internet or cell phones. Almost all communication had to go over telephone landlines or by letter. It might not have felt like that back then, but everything was slower and required more planning than now. At the same time, it was an exciting and interesting time, and despite the fear of a third World War, it wasn’t a bad time to grow up. Here’s some information and trivia on what it was like to be a kid in 1980’s Sweden. I’ve included some information on post-15 years of age for context and what older siblings might be doing.
School was nine years, and there was usually better order in the classroom then than it is now. It was divided into lågstadiet (1st - 3rd grade), mellanstadiet (4th - 6th grade), and högstadiet (7th - 9th grade). If you didn’t live in an area with an immigrant population, it wasn’t unusual for classes to be almost completely ethnically Swedish, possibly with a classmate with parents from Finland or Yugoslavia, or one parent from e.g. Poland, or adopted from South Korea. The grading scale was from 1-5, with 5 being the highest grade. A bookworm averaged about 4 or better (phys ed didn’t count). In math lessons, you could use a calculator, but in the early 80’s, not everyone owned one, so there was usually some to borrow. A few years later, almost everyone owned one. In the early 80’s, computers were introduced in högstadiet, usually an ABC 80 from Luxor. On these wonders with 16 KB ROM (yes, kilobytes!) a generation of geeks learned to program in BASIC.
After 9th grade, most students continued with studies in gymnasiet. The “lines” weren’t pick-and-choose like in US college, but were courses with a fixed package of subjects. They varied in length from two years (vocational programs, such as electronics, engineering, automotive, office, or commercial for those who knew what they wanted to do), three years (for those with plans to apply for college or jobs with higher skill requirements, such as natural sciences, humanities, social science, technology, or economy), or four year technical (to become an engineer).
During gymnasium years, it wasn’t unusual to take a year off as an exchange student in for example the US, usually when 17 years old and of better-off middle class. It was also at that age many went on their first interrail trip together with one or more friends during the summer holidays, equipped with an InterRail pass which entitled to one month's unlimited travel by train in Europe (at least west of the Iron Curtain). Those who didn’t go abroad often had summer jobs, and it wasn’t hard for a teenager tired of school to take a year off to work instead. It was possible to get a job right after 9th grade, often simpler warehouse, industrial or craft work, or as a shop assistant or phone operator/clerk. The salary was usually half that of an adult, which was a fortune for a 16-year-old.
In your spare time, you could be in a club, for example a sports club. You could join a scout troop and learn to survive in the wild. Some played in garage bands. Otherwise, you could hang out at the youth center, or at the local corner shop. The nerdier hung out at the local library and looked for interesting books. Idle young people could amuse themselves by exploring abandoned houses, or exercise their destructive bent with pipe bombs made of a mixture of the herbicide Klorex-55 and sugar. In mid-1982, a game that introduced something new to the general public in Sweden arrived: "Drakar och Demoner". Roleplaying games had been played in Sweden since 1976, but only with English language rules. Suddenly you could experience a fantasy adventure around the table in the rec room, where differently shaped dice rattled across character sheets and pewter figures. The games soon attracted criticism for being "dangerous", just like heavy metal and violent movies...
Another danger for the young (according to concerned parents and politicians) was computer games. When home computers were still a rarity, it was common that kids went to a games arcade, with rows of arcade and pinball games. There was a 15-year age limit to play, but it was it ignore on a regular basis as long as you didn’t look too young. Where you could feed the krona coins in the slots of games like "Space Invaders," "Pac-Man," "Donkey Kong," "Asteroids" and others. In smaller towns, there wasn’t always a good range of games available, so what could be found was in the local diner, gas station or video rental place, which could have two or three games.
To be continued.