Lagom is probably one of the most important expressions in Swedish and it is very useful to know about it before coming to Sweden.
It is a dense and unique word and there is no equivalent term in English. In fact, if you want to translate to your language, you would need at least two words to achieve a similar meaning.
Lagom could be described as “Not too much or too little”, “Just enough”, “Fair share” or “Just right” and can be attributed to the Vikings.
A popular folk etymology claims that “Lagom” is a contraction of the words “” (“around the team”), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much mead each one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share.
This concept was historically so important for Sweden that it became not only an idea, but a feeling that indicates balance and some say that it describes the basis of the Swedish national psyche, as regarded to consensus and equality.
This word-concept is used and works in a lot of different contexts – including for lagom products such as eggs and butter – which actually makes it more special and interesting.
ARE SWEDES REALLY LAGOM?
During the two-week orientation program at Lund University, we were presented with many aspects of the Swedish culture and given tips on how to socialize with Swedes.
According to the seminars, Swedes are supposed to be “Lagom” in most of the day-to-day situations and not so comfortable about expressing emotions.
The picture below was presented to us in many of the seminars and according to it Swedes always express the same reaction to emotions, except when they are drunk 🙂
But after three months living in Lund, I must admit I don’t agree with this myth and I often get surprised on how warm, happy and friendly Swedes can be.
Please, don’t get me wrong, I really think Swedes are modest and avoid extremes, but that doesn’t mean that they are not affective and friendly!
I can’t count the times where I got warm smiles from locals while I was biking on my way to school, neither can I count how many times Swedes have approached me to explain something or provide general help.
Also, I have noticed that Swedes usually make visual contact with each other and even react to other peoples emotions and I think it is very intriguing as it is a very rare behavior in Europe.
At least, that is the reality I am experiencing in Lund, in the south of Sweden, but I have spoken with some colleagues living in other cities and they don’t agree completely with me.
Maybe it is a cultural difference between the regions of Sweden or maybe it is a personal perspective, as I am usually very positive about new experiences, especially when it involves different cultures.
But the fact is that even though Swedes are really shy, they tend to be very friendly and warm if you take the first step and try to make contact with them. So, why not try it?