Thursday, October 22, 2015

Introducing the Danish concept of hygge

As you arrive at Copenhagen Airport you are welcomed by a sign "Welcome to the happiest country in the world". Whether that's actually true or not is open to debate. I think that the Danes themselves are a little befuddled by the classification, but are happy to go along with it!

Cultures (and countries) are sometimes ranked along an individual v collective scale. Individualist cultures place weight upon individual freedom, collective cultures place weight upon the group. 

In global rankings, the US is on the far individualist side while Asian countries are collectivist. The UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia are classified as individualist, but with collective elements. Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries are ranked on the collective side. 

Part of the Danish experience is explained by the word hygge. I first came across it when I arrived because the people I met initially (all non-Danes) referred to it. It was both an attraction of and barrier too Danish life. But what is hygge?

In simple terms, 'hygge' (pronounced 'hooga') translates roughly to 'cosiness'. Before going on, this Danish tourism video provides a somewhat idealised introduction to the the concept:

There are, I think, three primary elements to the concept of hygge. One is sharing, the second enjoyment of what you have, the third acceptance. The third is more problematic. Hygge aids coherence, but it can also mean exclusion and acceptance of the status quo. As an aside, perhaps only the Danes can could turn porridge into a cultural experience. Eat you heart out Scotland!

Hygge links, I think, to several elements in Danish culture. One is the defeats and losses associated with Danish history over recent centuries that caused the Danes to turn in, to focus on what they had. A second is what I would call the country aspect of Danish life, life in a small interlinked community placing weight on social harmony. A third, the Danish winter.

By all accounts, the Danish winter is cold and miserable. It encourages cooperative support, as well as social interaction designed to break the pervading gloom. You can understand the desire for cosiness when the world outside is just so bleak!  .  


Anonymous said...

Interesting to see Lorenzo over at Skepticlawyer take anonther view of another slice of the experience and outcomes from/for that part of the world:

I like Lorenzo's no-nonsense statements, and I must admit to collating info of my own after an earlier post of yours: - where, for whatever reason, I noted down the persons per sq km figures for Sweden (21) Finland (16) Norway (13) and good old Aus (3) - thinking at some stage to point out that maybe distance is not compatible with 'cosiness' - hygge - and all that follows from that.

And then you've got such desultory observations as the present sexual assault stats for those above very welcoming countries (which I admire) now being quite elevated in comparison to the central EU countries. I fear that 'bleak world' you speak of is going to get far worse before it gets better - and that hygge will be remembered as a dream.


Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, kvd. I agree with Lorenzo's point about the need for caution in both drawing conclusions and in attempting to apply models drawn from other societies. It's interesting: part of the reason for the sudden interest in the so-called Nordic model lies in reactions to the sometimes blind application over time of other models centered on small government etc. It's part of the political reshaping process that I have been trying to sketch out, however poorly.

My reference to bleak referred to the climate.

I wouldn't especially want to live in Scandinavia. As I said in passing in one post, I found the pressure for social conformity cloying. I am too much an individualist, I fear.

Each Scandinavian country is different. Each is going through its own change process. Sweden, for example, has more foreign born than the US (I think Lorenzo is off the mark here)and faces adjustment problems. In Denmark, you have the rise of a far right immigration driven party at the same time as you have considerable internal pressures and campaigns saying that to be Danish is to be accepting and welcoming of differences - but that acceptance falls very much within the "progressive" camp in regard to religion, sexuality and family composition. I have some photos here to illustrate.

I'm not sure about the distance, population density thing. There are some complexities here relating to shifting population distribution that I am trying to work though.

Specifically on hygge, its a bit like mateship in an Australian context. It's adoption as a national symbol has its own effects!

Winton Bates said...

Jim, I have just begun to read "The almost nearly perfect people". I will keep an eye out for hygge. For some reason my predictive text facility wanted that word to be "hugged".

Jim Belshaw said...

Will be interested in your reactions. Among other things, look out for the description of the Finnish education system.

Jim Belshaw said...

A brief follow up, Winton in regard to the aspects of a good society featured in your October 2009 post. Does Scandinavia challenge your view?

Winton Bates said...

I don't think the Scandinavian counties challenge my view of the good society. They score well on most of the criteria I considered. The question is whether they can remain "good", given the consequences of high taxes etc. I hope the book will shed some light on this question.

Jim Belshaw said...

Suspect that we will be having some discussions! It's not a profound book, some of his underlying assumptions annoyed me, but its quite fun.