The Danish lifestyle concept hygge is an idea which has swept the globe. Hygge comes from the world’s happiest country, and teaches you how to be comfy, cosy and cheery. But no sooner had the world caught up with this latest trend a new notion burst onto the internet, headlining in everything from The Telegraph to Vogue. Again, it was from Scandinavia, and again the word was almost untranslatable in other languages. And everyone who’d been hooked on hygge was suddenly lauding lagom…
First the etymology: this Swedish word derives from ‘laget om’, which translates literally as ‘around the team’. It comes from the Vikings: mead was passed around the table, and everyone would have a sip… A ‘lagom sip’, meaning just the right amount – no guzzling or swigging, just enough and not too much. And that, says long-time Limassol resident and native Swede Lena Jamieson, is the essence of lagom: balance and moderation in all things.
“The concept of lagom is something you grow up with in Sweden,” Lena explains. “It’s been part of my vocabulary for ever, and it’s not just a word, it’s part of our way of communicating and thinking from birth. When you’re little your mother runs your bath and asks you if the water is ‘lagom hot’, or you’re given ‘lagom food’: just enough, just right and never too much.”
Apparently, lagom is set to be the New Big Thing – the idea that’s going to help us all live wonderfully balanced lives of contentment and fulfilment, a concept to help us get it Just Right. From people to weather, food to décor, it’s THE up-and-coming trend. 2017, we’re told, is going to be the year of lagom, with companies everywhere jumping on the bandwagon (watch out for Swedish giant IKEA’s new lagom living project under the hashtag #SustainableLiving). We’ll all have lagom houses (the perfect amount of furniture, each piece carefully chosen to complement the whole look), we’ll be eating lagom food (it’s the new diet – eating just what you need and no more) and living lovely lagom lives in which we temper our emotional state, appreciating and accepting our highs and lows with quintessential Scandinavian calm.
“Lagom is a lot to do with this calm state of mind,” Lena clarifies. “Swedish game show winners would never jump up and down on live TV. There’s no screaming and waving and crying, just a polite thank you and a smile; there’s no place for exuberance in lagom. It’s the same with sadness,” she adds. “You won’t see Swedes breaking down and wailing at a funeral. There may be a few tears shed quietly into a handkerchief, but that’s it. It’s kind of an equaliser in material things as well: Swedish people are very much about this sense of equality, and I think lagom helps with that. When nobody feels materially deprived, when everyone has enough, then there’s a contentment with life and lot. If you can make a decent salary, pay your bills and enjoy a little bit of entertainment – maybe holiday in the Med once a year – then that’s lagom. That’s your aim in life. And you’re comfortable with it.”
So far so good: here’s a concept that’s going to turn us all into the Dalai Lama of calm, able to treat triumph and disaster just the same. But wait! We don’t live in Sweden. We’re not a country of quiet assenters and grateful acceders. We’re loud and passionate and emotional; a country of extremes and excess, an island of hecklers and hot-blooded enthusiasts. Where on earth does lagom fit into the Cypriot way of life? Be it our emotions, our mealtimes or our weather, Cyprus seems to be the antithesis of lagom. So could the number one lifestyle trend of 2017 possibly catch on here?
“No!” laughs Lena. “Lagom is an attitude, a lifestyle, a culture, a habit that’s all about not having too much and not having too little. It’s about fitting in somewhere in the middle, and never stepping out of line. It’s about the weather being just right and the emotions restrained. It’s about not buying a fancy car, not feeding your guests till they’re stuffed… In Sweden, you go to someone’s house and you’d never ask how much it cost or how much they earn; and when you sit down to dinner, five meatballs land on your plate and that’s it. You’ve had lagom meatballs and There Are No More!
“It’s kind of why I moved here, and why I feel Cypriot at heart,” she adds with a laugh. “I’ve lived all over the world, and while I’ve loved all the countries in different ways, Cyprus is the place I feel most at home: these are my people, my lifestyle and my way of thinking! These days I even discuss things like the Cypriots: arms flailing and the occasional curse and then you hug each other and have a drink. But in Sweden you’d have to be ‘lagom emotional’: the antithesis of the Cypriot way of life, I suppose…”
So, functional, simple, and sustainable lagom may be, but it’s certainly not Mediterranean. And while the rest of the world goes gaga for lagom, here in Cyprus the trend may well pass us by. Sure, we may buy a gently understated bookcase from IKEA – but we’re going to pack it with granny’s knick-knacks; we might attempt a lagom breakfast – but come lunch time it’s souvla and chips for three; and there’ll never be a day when we greet old friends with a simple nod when it could be kisses, hugs and coffees all round. In fact the only thing in Cyprus that might just about be described as lagom is our weather. For all of three days in April…
Lagom may be taking over the world, but it seems probable that this is one lifestyle trend that’s seriously unlikely to hit our island. Let’s face it, we may enjoy everything en vogue (and in Vogue) but ultimately we’re Mediterranean at heart: extreme, excessive, and extravagant in everything we do. We’re just not a lagom nation.