Finding Lagom is the working title of my book and my friends who don’t speak Swedish want to know just what lagom means. Actually, that’s a bit hard to answer as there is no exact translation for the word in English. The dictionary defines it as meaning “just right” or “just enough” as an adverb. Often, it’s said to mean just the right amount. While as an adjective lagom means enough, adequate, sufficient, fitting or suitable.
Meanwhile, the Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst” ( literally “Lagom is best”) is translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” and also as “There is virtue in moderation.” Lagom has come to have a huge cultural significance in Sweden and is often used to describe people as being about consensus and equality. Of course, this whole idea is fascinating to me as an American– culturally we have such a consumer-oriented belief of “more is better” and are taught from an early age to be great, not just middle of the road. Interestingly, my Aussie husband Robert grew up with the idea that you don’t want to be “a tall poppy”– literally, you don’t want to be the one to stand out– which is perhaps yet another way to look at lagom.
But going further still, I know many Swedish friends who feel that the lagom idea is repressive: “You’re not supposed to be too good, or too rich. ” They argue that lagom keeps Swedes from competing on an international level.
In talking to my friend Debora (she is an American married to a Swede for 25 years) about it all last night, she equated lagom to being a Zen concept. “The middle way is not inactive. You have to be conscious of balance. You have to accept and incorporate extremes. To be good at lagom, you have to understand the balance.”
Any way you look at it, lagom is an intriguing word. I like the many and varied meanings it has, especially in terms of relating lagom to me and my experience of living in Sweden and trying to fit into a culture that’s quite different from my own. I often find myself not so lagom…