Danish “hygge”



Last night I saw a tv programme on Danish channel Dr2. It was a guy called Hugh something, a Brit, that was travelling around in Denmark and interviewing people, and talking about Danish culture. Very interesting. Nice guy, polite and socially intelligent. Not every person doing travel shows on tv have these qualities nowadays. But this one was a very pleasant and interesting programme.

I have noticed that the Danish concept of “hygge” has been getting a lot of attention many places lately. We have it in Norway as well. But as an adjective only, “hyggelig”, not as a noun. We have a synonym, though. “Kos”. But us Norwegians, we do enjoy visiting Denmark in our Summerholidays, because the Danes are so… laidback, informal, easy to approach, friendly, basically. (Although their language is very strange, and it is difficult to understand, even though Norwegian and Danish look almost identical in written form)!

Hygge… I have lived for some years having my base in Wales, UK, travelling around, living in British expat communities. So how can it be translated? Enjoyment, cosyness, having a great time…. no….

Hugh explained it last night as having to do with the atmosphere between people. That the energy between the participants in the social group, was relaxed, friendly and non competitive. Something to do with feeling equal to each other. Being focused on helping eachother and co operating, supporting eachother. He interviewed teenagers from UK, Switzerland and Luxembourg who were attending a Danish “Efterskole” (a kind of boarding school where teens if they want can spend a year when they are about 16 years old, two thirds of Danish teens go to an Efterskole, he said)… the teens from the other countries said they preferred to be in Denmark, as they felt one could be oneself and be accepted, there were not such harsh lines between friend groups, not as cliquey, groups where you feel they exclude you, were you feel unwelcome, you meet a cold shoulder…

“Nu skal vi rigtigt hygge”, the Danes say. Norwegians say
“Nå skal vi hygge oss skikkelig”… 🙂
So in Danish to hygge is a verb in itself, whilst in Norwegian we say we will hygge ourselves…
When we do this Scandinavian thing which doesn´t seem to have an English translation, we typically come together to share. Food, especially. Cake and coffee, sweets and snacks, for example. Singing together is also a big part of it, often. Or watching a film together. Listening to a cd. Talking and laughing. Sharing.

Dancing is hyggeligt as well, and alcohol is also often a part of the hygge. But I think there is a difference between hygge and “fest”, which is the Danish word for party.
Hygge is, Like Hugh said, more about the energy between the participants. In a more quiet way than a party. When we “hygger os” there is a feeling of wellbeing. It´s intimate somehow, I reckon. The focus is on the interaction. To listen to eachother, pay attention to eachother, for the sake of…enjoyment. As a feel good factor. To feel…part of eachother, one common energy, community…?

All human beings have a need to be seen and heard. Say the wise. So maybe that´s why it feels good. To share. One´s opinions, one´s experiences, give eachother advice, or tell jokes and harvest laughter, which in itself is a sign of common ground, understanding something together in the same way, in the same moment…
Is it something to do with giving eachother our presence? Undivided attention. Listening, giving eachother room. Acceptance. Being open. Showing trust.

I may be taking this hygge concept too far here now. It´s hard to tell, as I am only one person with my own filters to my perception, and also I´m an immigrant in Denmark, though I have now been here for 8 years soon, and come from Denmark´s old colony country, haha…

Norway and Denmark, when Norway wanted its freedom to be its own nation in 1905, they asked Denmark to give us a King… Which Denmark kindly did… so… and the Danish and Norwegian elite all sent their young to Copenhagen for their higher education…. so in many ways we are siblings… clear cultural differences I would say, but still. More things alike between us than differences.
We are always happy to meet a jovial Dane in Norway, and many Danes have told me they enjoy Norwegians for their honesty and not shying away from conflict… these are hefty generalizations, I underline that I don´t mean these to be stereotypical qualities. But the remarks still say something about a tendency, which is interesting as long as we remember generalizations can never be true, there are so many shades of green between orange and blue. 🙂

We light a lot of candles in Scandinavia. Especially in winter. It creates a warm, gentle, soft atmosphere. In other countries, I have read, candles are associated with funerals more than anything else. Isn´t it funny how our climate has such a profound effect on our cultural ways? Up here in the north, in the dark season people stay in their homes, and when outside we hurry from A to B as fast as we can, all leaning forwards against the strong ice cold winds, face turned towards the ground, we are hidden inside big coats, woolly hats and hoods…umbrellas…we hurry to where we have to go, and then we hurry back home again. All social activities happen inside somewhere, by invitation. Traditional parties open for everyone, and then in small groups of friends and family in homes.
I imagine that in warmer countries, people meet outdoors a lot more. They are relaxed, because it´s warm, they use the market place in the city centre and meet friends´ friends, they meet new people…
Whilst my theory is that in the cold winter up north, socializing needs to be more planned, we gather, get together, group ourselves around activities and products of hygge…

Again, I don´t mean to sound scientific about this. I´m just thinking out loud. Social anthropology is a very interesting subject, the knowledge of what man´s social activities mean… But this text is not claiming to be correct or true. It´s just my personal thoughts on the issue. Because why is hygge such a central word in Danish culture and non existant in the English language? In so many other areas, English has so many more nuances than the Scandinavian languages…

And from my 6 years of living with Brits, I also know they for sure value socializing, British humour is world famous for its sophistication and complexity, they all have “a local”, which is the neighbourhood pub they go to regularly, where they celebrate birthdays maybe, they have quiz nights once a week, and Friday nights is some places a set jam session for all the folk musicians who live near by… The pub is like a home away from home, I think. To many. Not all Brits perhaps. But a majority, I reckon is a fair statement.

I remember my local on the isle of Anglesey, off the north welsh coast, The Four Crosses in Menai Bridge, I remember it fondly. Every Friday came around 20 people, sheep farmers and youngsters and whatnot, guitars, pennywhistles, bodhran (the drum), singing… Pints of black foamy Guinnes, cigarettes, jokes and laughter, always a lot of laughter.
I was the pub champion on that table football. I won many pints of lager and snakebite, beating the lads at table football, and the more I drank, the better I played actually. Sounds untrue but. It´s just the way it is. 🙂

Anyways. I will talk more about my years with Brits in an other post later, no doubt.
When it comes to hygge, they know how to have a good time.
But I need to add that I used to miss my Norwegian friends when I lived over there. (I didn´t have Danish friends back then, that´s why it was just the Norwegian ones I missed). I missed how we talk openly about personal things. The hardships in life, our present life challenges. I missed being personal. When I tried talking about serious, personal issues with British “friends”, they shied away, laughed it off and changed the subject.
Now this is a very important cultural difference. Which Hugh also touched upon in his programme. He said that Danes seem to be open about melancholia, that it is okay to talk about what is difficult in one´s life, about grieving, sorrow, pain and loss. That Scandinavians see it as a natural part of life that should not be hidden or pushed aside…
He said that openness in general seems to be a central value in Danish culture. He interviewed a woman who was on a bicycle shaped as a sperm cell… ! It was her company car, she said, and showed him that inside the “sperm head” there was an ice cold oxygen tank full of donor sperm containers… Hugh said that 20.000 births around the world have happened due to Danish donors, and it is a popular nationality sperm because in Denmark donors are allowed to be anonymous…

Yes, us Norwegians too look upon the Danes as being open about sexuality more than we are in Norway. Also more tolerant towards the use of cannabis. The state here is less strict, we feel. And the church too is more informal, more … open … less rigid than in Norway. More tolerant towards homosexuality, and Denmark has had poets and composers like Grundtvig, who made the christian message more humanitarian… correct me if I´m wrong, not sure these are the right words, I have only just discovered this claim about why the Danish church is different from what I´m used to from Norway…

Everything is just more relaxed in Denmark than in Norway. Simply. People are more informal, even the news anchors on tv are! A funny comment is sought after and gives a high score. And one can be informal and funny with people from all walks of life, across bureaucratic counters, or with a policeman… No, not always. Not at all. This is not Disneyland. We too have corruption, obuse of power, authoritarian people who enjoy putting people down if they get the chance.
But to a higher degree than in most other countries, is there friendly communication between citizens, where the participants´ title or position is made to be unimportant, whilst one focuses on the common-ness of being human beings in proces of communication.
Yes for sure.

Bon fire intimacy.
Into me see.
Sharing openly, the personal emotional reality.

A favourite song of mine comes to mind…
Hope you dig this!
& I wish you a grand week, everybody.
Remember to hygge yourselves!


Quote from the song underneath:

“On my supersonic rocketship nobody needs to be hip, nobody needs to be out of sight. (…) Nobody has to travel second class, there´ll be equality, no suppression of minorities… well allright…”




One thought on “Danish “hygge””

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    Too cool!

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