Sweden is one of the happiest places in the world, with a socially-revolving system for everyday life that is often both utopian and alien to the outside world. The Swedish people have various social norms in place that have been a way of life for some time, and these few concepts are words and phrases that are important in understanding their underlying Swedish-ness:
Lagom is one of those Swedish words that have no perfect direct translation, yet is quite an important concept to the Swedish people. Loosely translated, it means something along the lines of “just the right amount” or “in moderation.” A Swedish-to-English dictionary might define lagom as “sufficient” or “just right,” yet these are inadequate definitions for this complex idea. Sweden might be one of the richest countries in the world per capita, but this essential concept reveals that bragging about wealth or possessions and general excess are frowned upon in the Scandinavian country, to say the least. A famous Swedish phrase says “Lagom är bäst,” which literally means “the right amount is best,” but in essence means something along the lines of “more is not always better; sometimes ‘just enough’ is perfect.” It is a concept that fits snugly in the middle of two popular English phrases in meaning – the “less is more” and “more is better” mantras. Mellanöl, a Swedish medium ale, is a good example of this culture, as it’s not too weak or strong.
Fika is a quintessential Swedish institution. Both a noun and a verb, one can fika by taking about a half hour to sit down with a coffee (usually) or other beverage, accompanying it with something sweet, such as a cinnamon bun, muffin, or cake. It is meant to be somewhat social, whether it be with friends or family or coworkers; often, fika can also be used as a simple date. Employees may take a fika as a break from their workday, strolling over to their nearest konditori, a Swedish version of a coffeehouse-cum-patisserie. Unlike other similar traditions, such as British teatime, fika can be had at any time of day. The most important aspect of fika, though it revolves around the coffee/beverage and sweets/food, is the communion and socializing aspect of it.
One exception to the aforesaid lagom is the famous Swedish feast, called smörgåsbord. This gluttonous meal is taken in moderation throughout the year – at least it’s not a weekly ordeal. It is usually a celebratory meal, eaten on special occasions with friends or family over. Numerous hot and cold dishes are part of the traditional smörgåsbord. Some common items are breads, cheeses, and fish, typically herring or salmon. Other customary components to the feast may include Swedish Aquavit and beer, meatballs with lingonberries, and finally desserts of the variety eaten at a standard fika, sweets such as cookies and muffins. A popular Christmas variation exists, called Julbord, eaten as the meal on the eve of Christmas, December 24th; dishes at a julbord are often replaced with heartier versions compared to the smörgåsbord, such as meats and potatoes. Read more about Julbord here, with names of almost every traditional dish ->
Literally the “everyman’s right,” this is as much a cultural issue as a legal one. Similar to “freedom to roam” laws in other countries, allemansrätten allows everyone to have access to nature and its resources for recreational use, whether the land is public or private. Basically, allemansrätten gives a person the right to access, walk, cycle, ride, ski, and camp on almost any land, with few exceptions, such as farmed land, private gardens, and within viewing distance of a house; if the resident or owner of the land can’t see you, you should be safe to hike or camp there. In addition to all that, you can even use this right to public access to swim or kayak on any lake, or pick berries and flowers you come across that are growing naturally. Camping is usually limited to a night or two in each spot, but this great culture really helps all Swedes, no matter their income, appreciate the nature and beauty of their country.
Ordning och Reda
Basically translating to “tidiness and order,” ordning och reda means so much more as this phrase. To Swedes, it is used as a way to proclaim that everything has its proper place (and often a proper time). The Swedish people are very patient, and one can see ordning och reda in action by looking at the British-like queue systems. Pushing and shoving, cutting, and other actions out of turn are considered affronts and severely frowned upon.