In the last few years, all things Scandinavian has been the latest fad in everything from media to travel, to culture, to politics, to you name it! In 2016 Collins English Dictionary almost proclaimed the Danish word hygge the word of the year! There are more and more Scandinavian Noir TV shows shown in the UK, more Scandinavian books sold and article upon article about Scandinavian living.
We’re doing two expeditions to Scandinavia this year. Here are four Scandinavian words or concepts that will help you make the most of your time with our northern neighbours this summer.
This is a word for all the coffee and tea lovers out there. This culturally very important word fika can be both a noun and a verb describing the activity of having coffee and cake (coffee can be substituted with tea or a soft drink, and cake with any snack, sweet or savoury). Most Swedish workplaces will have a morning fika break around 10, when all the staff comes together over a cup of tea or coffee and maybe a sandwich. If you want to ask someone for a coffee in Sweden, you ask them for a fika, and before you go to bed you might have an evening fika made up of hot chocolate and a cheese sandwich. Fika is a social activity, often happening in people’s homes, but also at work and in the many cafes of Sweden – fika is best had in company! And you need something to go with it, a coffee alone is not fika, but it can enjoyed with anything from dry rye crisp bread, to soft, sweet cinnamon buns.
Perhaps the most famous of the Scandinavian trends these past few years has been hygge. Hygge literally means cosiness, but the meaning of the Danish word encompasses much more than this near equivalent in English. Hygge, the Danes will tell you, is not just a state of being, but a state of mind and about capturing a feeling. Hygge has more than a hint of conviviality, relaxation and contentment. It can be as simple as reading a good book under a blanket with some tealights dotted around the room, and it can be as elusive as that feeling which makes dinner and laughter with friends so special. Hygge is capturing and enjoying the here-and-now, chasing after that feeling of well-being, and enjoying the little moments.
A BBC journalist one described the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv as “somewhere between a hearty pastime and a state religion”. Friluftsliv literally means something like open-air living, and is all about enjoying the great outdoors. Scandinavians, but Norwegians in particular love spending time in nature (who can blame them?). Friluftsliv is anything from going on walks in the fresh pine woods, barbecuing over a small fire on a beach, going fishing to longer hikes, hunting or rock climbing. Norwegian children are taught from an early age to have respect for nature and how to make the most of the amazing places they have on their doorstep.
Earlier this year the magazine Vogue proclaimed that hygge would soon be a thing of the past, giving way to lagom. Lagom is a Swedish word, which means “not too much, not too little” or “just right”. It other words, it speaks of moderation. It’s a mentality that values balance and stays clear of excess of any kind. As you travel through Scandinavia you will notice that “less is more” in a way that isn’t the case in other countries. In Scandinavia minimalist design is king, functionality trumps flashiness, extravagance bows to simplicity – nothing is over the top. The word can be used for anything, expressing reasonableness – to be lagom happy is to be content – within reason.
There is much to be said about how all these things can be taken too far, with the human tendency to find idols everywhere. However there are plenty of things we, as Christians, can appreciate in these snippets of Scandinavian culture: cherishing the people around us, enjoying and savouring God’s creation and all his gifts, being present in the moment and not succumbing to self-indulgent excess (or the opposite!).
This summer we’ve got two expeditions going to Scandinavia, one exploring the Norwegian fjords, one the region where Denmark and Sweden meet. So come with us to Scandinavia, try a fika in a cafe in Malmö, enjoy hygge as you walk the cobbled streets of Copenhagen, or experience friluftsliv in beautiful Norway. Just remember to do it all in moderation…