Wednesday, December 28, 2011
"Not too much...Not too little." Lagom is: Just right, in moderation, in balance, "The right amount is best", "be modest and avoid extremes", "not too good, not too rich", these are just a few phrases that try to explain the meaning.
As you can see, depending on your point of view and the angle from which you view it, the meaning can be used negatively or positively. The word is also used in everyday conversations such as: "Oh that shirt is very lagom (fits just right) on you", etc.
The word and the concept of "Lagom" is swedish. This concept is deeply ingrained in the swedish culture and affects many aspects of life. For many swedes it is a source of national pride. But, not all swedes like the concept.
I am a foreigner from America who is trying to understand this concept and all of its ramifications in this society. These are my thoughts, my interpretations, my observations during my life here for close to 4 years now. Much has been written and said about "Lagom". So what I have to say is not new but maybe an affirmation of what has been said. It is my personal experience.
My first experiences of "Lagom" made me feel uneasy. Here are some things that were said to me, maybe not in a spiteful way, but they were not positive or uplifting remarks: "Oh that is a big lens on your camera, do you really need that?", "My that is a big printer. Why do you need that?", "That bright red shirt you are wearing is very obvious.", "That is a nice car you have.", "That is a very nice coat you are wearing. It looks expensive." Statements like these were said in everyday conversations. And I hear these kind of things being said about other people. And, it continues today. I try to not be offended by it and I am getting better at it trying to live with the remarks. It is like many people here can't help themselves from making these kind of remarks. It seems to be in their DNA.
The concept of Lagom in one sense is to make sure that everyone is equal to everyone else in all things. So that the gap between those that have and those that don't is not too great. What this creates is a lot of jealousy and divisiveness as I see it. And jealousy creates conflict. This jealousy I hear almost every day here. I often hear statements like this: "Those people living in Stockholm are so snooty", "Those people living by the ocean in those fancy houses are so uppity", "people who drive those nice cars are nice on the outside but not so nice on the inside". Inferences like this in very subtle ways are common in my experience. I don't think that the people who are saying this realize what they are saying. The jealousy is thick here. This creates a sort of "class warfare" between people. The blue collar worker and the office white collar worker. And on and on. Again, I must emphasize that not all swedes are like this.
I have heard many swedes talk about this "Lagom" and jealousy here. They have the same concerns as I do. It doesn't make anyone feel good. It is also a topic of conversation on TV here. My gut feeling is that 60% like "Lagom" and 40% are not in favor of it. It affects every aspect of life here. In school children should all be treated the same. This does not allow students who learn quicker than others to advance quicker nor does it allow for the extra help needed by some students. All must be treated equally and no one should be made to feel less than the other. This carries on into the work place as well. Praise for a job well done in school or in the work place is hard to come by. No one person should stand out above the others.
Lagom is not always practiced by those staunch supporters of the idea. A good example is the mobile/cell phone craze. The mobil cell phone here is very big. Almost everyone here must have the latest and greatest cell phone and in the wildest colors available. Not very "Lagom".
In closing, the concept of Lagom in and of itself can be a good way to live your life. It is similar to some Buddhist teachings. It is a personal choice. The problems, as I see it, arise when society decides it should be a way of life for all.
"Lagom" ... Who decides what is enough and what is too much?