One of the nicest things about the Swedish language are the words that you actually can not literally translate. I’m thinking of fika, but also orkar (to have energy to) or lagom. Fika and lagom are words that are so typical to the Swedish culture.
If you are traveling in Sweden you can hear and see the word fika everywhere. The word lagom will be hidden a bit more but its meaning won’t. Lagom has long been in the running as the name for this website. But my Swedish friends taught me, however, that this concept is not welcomed by everyone equally positive. Especially the young people want more than just ‘lagom’.
What does lagom mean?
As I wrote in the introduction to this article: lagom can not be translated literally. ‘Just enough’ comes the closest. Not too much, not too little. Almost perfect. It’s about balance. It is not as negative as the word ‘enough’.
Everything can be lagom. You can have a lagom number of köttbullar lying on your plate, your house can be lagom… It’s how you live your life, how you feel… If you stop and think, you will feel the concept.
The emergence of lagom
The word lagom would find its origins in the time of the Vikings. They drank from the same cup, eat from the same dish so they had to make sure there was enough for everyone. The cup went round (om) to the whole team (laget).
According to the Swedish Academy, the word lagom comes from ‘lag’ (‘according to law’, but also ‘common’
Lagom är bäst
Sweden don’t like to stand out. They prefer modesty and moderation. They temper their feelings and will rarely talk about their achievements. The Law of Jante is deeply ingrained in Sweden. “You should not think that you’re special.”
Some Swedes, especially the young people want to occasionally break loose from that lagom. They see it as rather negative and do not want to be mediocre but be special. They feel restricted.
It’s also that lagom lifestyle that makes Sweden among the happiest people in the world. They look not only to themselves but also tend to see the bigger picture and be socially aware. They are very concerned about the environment. Lagom makes their lives less complicated.
H&M and Ikea owe their success to this ‘not too little, not too much, just right’ philosophy. Their products are accessible to everyone and functional but they are not too nice either.
Fika is also a nice lagom example: they won’t work more or longer than strictly necessary. They realize that balance – not too much, not too little – is an important factor to happiness.