Sweden. Day 37. Lagom.

In the end, since I am going to remain still three more days in Sweden, I decided to continue writing about the country. And why not? There is always something to say.

I was thinking about that word, “lagom”. Three people mentioned it in my documentary “Three questions about Sweden“. It means “not too little and not too much, but just the right amount.” It comes from an archaic form of the word “law” and it could be translated as “according to the law” or “according to custom”.

There is a mythical story that its usage came from vikings passing around a horn filled with alcohol to the brim, and each viking was allowed to drink just enough to leave some booze to the others: “not too much and not too little”. But this seems to be mostly just a nice myth, although who knows. The vikings didn’t write much. It seems they preferred to raid, rape and kill. The earliest record of the word appears only in the 17th century.

In what refers to social relations, Swedish people are “lagom”. They are very nice and friendly on the surface, but also they seem not to want to get involved too much, at any rate, not too soon. Do not expect to become bosom buddies very quickly. Things take time. And if you live in the city, it might be harder than in the country.

It is interesting that Swedes tend to be more towards the introvert spectrum, but still are very kind and gentle, which is, to me, a nice combination. Finns appear to be even more recluse. There is a joke that goes: “How do you know if a Finn is interested in you?” The answer: “He or she keeps staring at your shoes instead of at his/her own.” Another joke explains that the 2 meter “social distancing” was never tried in Finland because it would actually have decreased the distance between people… (Finland, perhaps the next travel destination?)

Swedes may also be “lagom” in their view of society. While the government does offer several facilities and social services, they do not seem to try to push people too far. They are collectivist to a point, but in general they prefer to allow for individual independence. Now, I cannot know this for sure, as I have not been living here long enough, but Sweden’s approach to the Covid restrictions, so different from most other European countries, appears to follow that rule.

In other things, however, the Swedish government appears to be a bit more forceful. Sweden is famous, for instance, for really pushing for “gender equality” in all areas of society, sometimes going overboard. A few years ago, there was even a push for “gender equality” in snow removal, as government officials had discovered that more women than men were slipping on the ice and falling, so they decided to prioritize removing snow and ice from the city sidewalks, supposedly more used by women, over from the main roads, supposedly more used by men. I am not sure if the plan worked, and now more men slip and fall on the ice than women; but I did slip and fall on the ice earlier today, making my part for a more gender-equal world.

I also saw a few women working in traditionally more male occupations, such as fixing the roads or operating snow pushers, so I don’t know if this is also a result of some government plan to equalize opportunities in all types of work, or just the result of free choice.

Finally, today the Library bus came here to Björkö! In Sweden, if you don’t come to library, the library comes to you. A bus does the round once a month all over the island, stopping in different places, and you can even request a specific book and they will bring it to you. One of the stops is right here in front of this former school, and another one is at the nearby Municipal House where I did my presentation. I went there today, and they also had a “fika” with coffee and cake. So that’s Sweden for you.