Monthly Archives: January 2019

Little Scandinavian lessons: Lagom

January 30, 2019 | Leave a comment

Little Scandinavian lessons: Lagom

People talk a lot about the word ‘Lagom’ – but what does it actually mean?

Lagom is the most important Swedish word you will ever learn. Used every day, multiple times, by Swedes the world over, it goes deep into the soul of every Swede. It’s part of being quintessentially Swedish.

The word lagom is said to derive from the folk etymology in a phrase used in Viking times: “laget om” – meaning ‘around to the group – allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group. This etymology is commonly accepted to be right, although some parallels are made with the Law of Jante and the common set of rules about how much one should have of something – again, things go back to the greater good for the whole group. You would take a lagom sip of the bowl, thus allowing everyone to have a ‘sufficient amount for them’ – and everyone to be satisfied. Fairness and balance.

The word itself means ‘just right’. It also means ‘just enough’, ‘sufficient’, ‘the correct amount’ (In Finnish, the word is sopiva; in Norwegian and Danish, the word tilpasselig is the most fitting, although is not used it in exactly the same way or as often – but the meaning of lagom is still engrained in every person across the Nordics). It means ‘not too much, not too little’ and also means ‘fair share’. This single little word, Lagom, denotes all of those meanings, simply depending on the context in which you use it.

There is an old saying in Sweden: lagom är bäst (‘lagom is best’), which really sums up how Swedes think and act in everyday life:
– How big a slice of cake would you like? Lagom.
– How are you? Lagom.
– The weather is lagom.
– You drink a lagom amount of wine.
– The dress is lagom.
– You have one cinnamon bun, not two. Lagom.

Lagom is positive as well as sometimes negative, it’s also the middle of the road and the average of everything. It is as it should be. It does the job, but it’s not too much, not too little.

To understand lagom, you first need to first understand the Scandinavians – in particular, Swedish cultural psyche, which is one of consensus and equality for all. Swedes don’t overdo anything, there are no over-the-top buildings, no flashy show-offs. Everything is middle of the road, fair and just the right amount. It works, just right.

People often wonder why, with the amount of cake we eat in Scandinavia and the number of sweets consumed, are we not all as big as houses. It’s because, well, lagom. Most Scandinavians won’t have two buns with their fika break, only one. One of those big bags of to-share crisps may be opened alone, but you won’t eat it all in one sitting. There will be mayonnaise on the open sandwiches, but it’s on one slice of rye bread, making it all very lagom and balanced. ‘Super-size’ in fast-food restaurants isn’t really that popular – it just isn’t lagom. We eat sweets on Saturdays – when we pig out completely. But we don’t eat them Sun-Thu, because, well, lagom.

It’s impossible to define the word lagom as a specific amount because it varies so much between people. How much cake is it appropriate to eat? How hot is lagom when it comes to your coffee? It’s a feeling, it’s something engrained in the culture and psyche of the people that is almost impossible to learn. But the amazing thing is: if a Swede asks you how much milk you want in your coffee – and you say “lagom”, they will know exactly what you mean.

How do you define Lagom in your every day? Does balance matter that much?

This post is a part extract, part re-write from Bronte Aurell’s book North, published by Aurum Books, available in all good bookshops. Photograph “lagom’ by Anna Jacobsen (North, Aurum) 2017.

Get the book here https://amzn.to/2sYz9ZW

How to make friends with a Scandinavian

January 25, 2019 | Leave a comment

How to make friends with a Scandinavian

Swedes, Danes and Norwegians have been voted the most difficult people to make friends with. IN THE WORLD! How did that happen? We’re so full of love!

We’d like to confirm there is some truth in this – although it only applies to Scandinavians back in the old country. Once we leave Scandinavia, we become extremely friendly, like Labradors.

It IS hard to settle in Scandinavia – so we asked around our friends on social media how best to do it if you’re in a situation where you need to try and befriend us. Below are some of the most helpful answers.

Embrace the bluntness.

We’re so terribly blunt. Just embrace it fully. It is in our nature and you can’t change us. You need to make the actual effort and you may even need to be honest and tell us what you’re trying to do. We work best on very frank information exchanges and pretty much fail at de-coding the usual pleasantries.

Forget getting to know people in bars. 

If you MUST talk to us on a night out we suggest any random club at 4 am where we’re drunk enough to talk to strangers (although this may backfire as we might not remember you, sorry). Scandinavians have very big walls that often only come down with the use of Mr Absolut.

It’s at home it happens. 

Always accept an invite to someone’s house – this is where you will find the real friendship openings. See point 1: if you get an invite, we mean it. It’s not a pleasantry or empty offer – accept it. Dinner parties at people’s houses is where it’s at.

Learn the language. 

Look, you won’t meet Scandinavians at the language school, but making an effort to speak our language, in the long run, helps a lot. If you understand what we’re saying, it saves people having to translate everything at the dinner party (translating constantly is a novelty that will wear off for us). You’ll find that as soon as you learn the language and make an effort, most people will reply in English anyway (to be nice, actually, and show we appreciate your efforts).

No, it is not cool to be the foreigner who’s lived in Scandinavia for 6 years who hasn’t made an effort to learn it. You may think it is great that you got away with not having to learn to roll your R’s– but we think it’s rude.

Play handball. 

Or another sport we like playing a lot. Football works across nations, too, for both men and women. Or join a club, like Gubbetrim or clubs named Frisk & Svettis… Find us in our habitats and comfort zones, not your own.

Treat it like you’re chatting someone up.

We’re naturally guarded and we don’t talk to strangers easily – most of us have the same mates from when we were younger. This does not mean we don’t WANT to meet new people – we just don’t NEED to. That said, if you make the first move, unless you act like a total weirdo, we will probably engage in a chat, so plan your exchanges with us.

Except at bus stops, because nobody is allowed to talk to anyone at the bus stop. Keep a safe one metre distance from all other people at all times. See helpful illustration.

Ask for help (especially in Denmark).

Danes has a weird habit of not offering to help. This seems to be a social code that just… is. On the flip side, if you ASK for help, a Dane will most likely lend you his last 100 kroner. He is just unlikely to offer the help, because in Denmark, if you need help, you just ask – everyone knows that. Once you ask for help, you have an opportunity to chat and meet someone new. We don’t mean asking someone in Føtex where to find the frozen peas, but actually asking people you meet to help you with either settling in or indeed where to meet people.

It might be easier past May…

It’s so dark and cold. We are hibernating. Try again once the days are longer – it’s like we wake up and want to socialise again. Not kidding: We do hibernate. Midsummer is a great time to meet Swedes, for example. And Norway Day in Norway. Light and long days = more inclined to go out.

Hygge with us.

Do stuff with us that matters. It’s all about dinner party at Björn’s house, about joining in on the weekend hikes and trips. Just say YES to any invite, even if you know you’ll look like the klutz on skis: It’s okay, it’s only really the Norwegians who can ski, the rest just pretend.

Okay, the DANES pretend. Rubbish skiiers.

Be patient. Very patient.

It takes time. We take time. A long time, sometimes. We may be slow growers, but we are solid. Once you’re in, you’re in and you’ll wonder why you ever found it hard. Once you crack one, you’re half way there. The rest will follow.

See you in a few years. Good luck with that.

What are your own experiences on making friends with Scandinavians both in the Nordics and abroad? Comments below, please.

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