We have returned from a week travelling around Sweden in a contemplative mood. We aren’t melancholy about having returned to our home – quite the opposite. We had a great time meeting Alvhem in Gothenburg,exploring the Swedish countryside and people watching in Stockholm. We struggled for the week to put our finger on what we loved so much about the country and the culture. It lacked the style of Paris, the flamboyance of Barcelona and the rush of Marrakech. There were no expensive shopping sprees or heavy drinking sessions like other city breaks we have been on over the years and there were no blow out meals at fancy restaurants. We spent the week gently exploring at a leisurely pace, talking with charming people and enjoying each others company. The music in cafes was turned down low, candles were lit and everyone moved at a slower pace. Upon my return I have found that we have fallen for the Swedish ethos of lagom and I can honestly say that it is here to stay.
Lagom underpins all that we’ve come to admire in Scandinavians: a lack of fussiness and pretentiousness, plenty of contentment and quiet confidence, functional architecture and pared-back design, modesty and wholesomeness, unfussy cuisine and an emphasis on the communal over the individual.
The word derives from a shortening of the phrase “laget om”, which literally means “around the team”. Back in the Viking days, mead would be passed around, laget om, and everyone would take their sips. Lagom today is not that different to that and we saw it in the lack of drunk people rolling out of bars, or the screaming children wanting more of everything, which is a daily sight in London. Cucially, the foundation of lagom is contentment, a sense that things are sufficient just as they are. The archetypical Swedish proverb, “Lagom är bäst”, literally means, “The right amount is best” but is also translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” and “There is virtue in moderation”.
Take Swedish fashion – it isn’t overstated or crazy, it’s quite lagom. The food is based on simple ingredients prepared beautifully. We enjoyed a beautiful lunch of an open prawn sandwich with egg in a stripped back cafe on a small island off the coast of Gothenburg with views out to the ocean and it was a stunning experience. It’s the same with Scandi design: functional, stylish, simple and sustainable. We visited several apartments in Gothenburg and found that they all followed a simple design with a focus on beautiful and functional items that enhance living.