Archive for the ‘Lagom’ Category

Jantelagen is another Swedish word that, like lagom tends to generate a lot of controversy and conversation in this country. The general meaning is that no one should act or think he is better than anyone else or aspire to be better than anyone else. Basically, don’t think you are better than anyone else. The term was originally coined by the Norwegian/Danish author Aksel Sandemos in a 1933 novel. I’ve heard it said that it’s a social code for all of Scandinavia and reflects Sweden’s philosophy of social equality. Believe it or not, there are then actually 10 “rules” behind the law, including:

  1. Don’t think that you are special.
  2. Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. Don’t think that you know more than us.
  6. Don’t think that you are more important than us.
  7. Don’t think that you are good at anything.
  8. Don’t laugh at us.
  9. Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
  10. Don’t think that you can teach us anything.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Interesting stuff, huh? I have to admit that Jante’s law is a tough one for me and I have not been keen to take it on in the blog. Of course, I believe the basic premise that no one is better than anyone else. But to spell it all out so severely seems so severe.  So what’s up with Jantelagen in Sweden today?

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There are so many ways to look at the Swedish word lagom, which if you glance over past entries, you will see is a word that’s in my book’s title. Now my friend Linda has added her thoughts about trying to live lagom as an American in Sweden.

“I have a love/hate relationship with lagom. I should be more lagom.  I really should.  But, wait!  I’m not Swedish.  I love my new coat, I needed it and, boy, did it feel good today.  I’m glad I bought it and I told people that (OK calling attention to my neon blue gloves was a bit…  AMERICAN.)  OMG I am American.  The very fact that I wear neon blue gloves screams that I am American.  I’m OK with that.  They were on sale  and what daughter of Scots/Irish can resist 70% off? But I love your lagom musings.  And love the photo.  Oh, wait.  I shouldn’t “love” it.  I should admire it in just the right measure so you don’t get a swelled head and think you are better than…  oh, never mind.  More lagom.

“And have you ever noticed when an expensive car goes by on the street here?  Is it more lagom to ignore it and not give whoever spent that obscene amount of money on it the attention they are begging for?  Or is it OK to crane your neck and see if you know who is driving it! Or is there a more lagom way to look at that Jag or Porsche? You have to just love the yin yang of the whole thing.  It is a fascinating concept.”

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Proving that some things do have a life of their own, here’s yet another good example of how lagom works in Swedish society. This one is from an American friend named Mary:

“I love that you have taken on the word “lagom”! (and pushiness too).
This is a word worthy of international exposure. I will never forget
the first year I lived here (1990) and I was speaking at a party about
myself and everyone got quiet – you know the feeling that you have
stepped over the invisible cultural boundary and you have no idea what
you have done. Then I found out that I wasn’t being lagom! Speaking
too much about myself. I think my dear husband told me (with kindness)
that I had broken Jantelagen.

“And don’t get me started on the pushiness!

“I love travel books and memoirs so I will LOVE to read your book!!!!
(now I’m “gushing” and being enthusiastic, another non-Swedish thing to

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Still another take on lagom, this time from my friend Judy who until very recently, lived here in Stockholm.

“As far as lagom goes: Growing up I always heard the very American expression that you can never be too rich or too thin which probably isn’t a great way to think. My father used to tell me that it is just as easy to marry a rich man than a poor man (I think he encouraged me so that I would get off his payroll). I like the idea of lagom except for the implication that you shouldn’t try as hard as possible to be the very best you can be so I get stuck on that.”

I told you lagom was a good word. Thanks for sharing your insights Judy.

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Over drinks last night, my Swedish friend Roger offered more of an explanation of lagom. To him, it also means just right for you. For now. “It’s almost philosophical,” he added.

“It’s also interesting. Everyone knows that Östermalm, Djurgården and Lidingö are where all the wealthy people live (in Stockholm). But, you’re not supposed to be too rich. For instance, a big diamond ring with a lot of bling would not be lagom at all.”

A good aspect of lagom, he continued, is that “famous people feel normal here. Tiger Woods can go the pub or the mall and people won’t bother him for an autograph.

Finally, Roger added that “Sweden is a lagom country. It’s in between Russian communism and US capitalism.”

And on the subject of pushy Swedes, Roger also agreed with me. (Maybe his answer was swayed by the glasses of wine I served him?) Anyway, his take is that Stockholmers and Parisians are very very alike in this context…

Thanks Roger. You’re a big help. As always.

Thanks Roger.

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A lagom amount of snow?

A lagom amount of snow?

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


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I have been a bit surprised and overwhelmed by all the interest in the book I’m writing. Friends, family and even acquaintances want to know more: What’s it called? What’s it about? When will it come out? These are the usual questions and I love hearing them. But I’ve been particularly entertained by those who want to know what page they are on, those that suggest stories and adventures involving them that I might add, and those that offer up that I can use their real name.

Check out the “about my book section” for a few more details.

As for the title, for now it’s called Finding Lagom: A traveler’s search for balance and adventure in Sweden. It’s about me and it’s being written now. I think and hope it’s kinda funny as well as entertaining and informative.

Finally, I will be sending it off to a few agents within a month or so.

Thanks for the support, the questions, the suggestions. And keep it all coming…

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