Having last week done my best to appreciate the positive aspects of a much-maligned Danish cultural phenomenon, Jante Law, this week I turn my attention to a much more straightforwardly Good Thing: Hygge.
I hate it.
Like everyone, when I first heard about hygge, I put it straight in the ‘what’s not to like?’ column of Danish social characteristics. Candles, red wine and open fires? Communal singing, Sankt Hans Aften and dancing round the Christmas tree? Bring it on.
And then I experienced it first hand, and I loved it all the more. If Denmark could export hygge, I used to tell everyone who would listen, they would be as rich as Croesus, or at the very least, Norway.
But over the years I have grown, at first, a little weary of hygge, then downright wary, and now, as I say, I loathe it.
It’s not that I am against having a cosy time: a more cuddly convivial fellow you will struggle to find, I assure you. It’s just that, as with so many things – happiness, taxes, flag waving, consumption of industrial pork products – the Danes do seem to have a tendency to take things to extremes, and they do it with hygge, too. Like the British with their baroque manners, or the French and corruption, the Danes consider hygge the apogee of human endeavour. They are hygge Jihadists. The Hyggaban.
Their relentless emphasis on everything being hyggelig; the insistence that at every moment of every day we should all ‘hygge ourselves’ – regardless of whether we are sitting round a campfire, standing in the ever-endless queue at the pharmacy, or at farmor’s funeral – is just too much. Does everything really have to be so cosy, so often? And do we all need to constantly remind ourselves of what a hyggelig time we are having, even while we are having it? At that very moment. “Arh, hvor er det her skide hyggeligt! Ikke?“
I realise this will sound like I am being deliberately contrary in order to shock — like standing on Amagertorv kicking a kitten – but I think I must be suffering from hygge fatigue.
I am tired of only talking about what happened last year at Roskilde, how much the half finished bottle of Amarone cost, or who is going to win Grillfeber. I’m tired of Summer Revues, Tivoli and bowls full of Haribo candy.
I can’t help wondering if the rituals of hygge are designed to exclude those who do not fully understand them. Danish anthropologist Jeppe Trolle Linnet seems to agree, writing that hygge “acts as a vehicle for social control, establishes its own hierarchy of attitudes, and implies a negative stereotyping of social groups who are perceived as unable to create hygge.”
Another – British – anthropologist, Richard Jenkins, described hygge as “normative to the point of coercive”. In other words, only the Danes really know how to have a cosy time, and if you’re not Danish, then you’d better learn the rules quick.
Well, I think I’ve grasped the rules now, but I’m still breaking them. All the wine and cheese and candy and candles. What are they, Hobbits?
My Danish wife, now reading this over my shoulder, suggests it is in fact I who more resembles a character from Lord of the Rings. She says I do not like hygge because I am bad, quite possibly evil. That is the only explanation for someone not liking hygge as much as the Danes do; she adds that she never hears me complaining about all the Amarone and Haribo while I am stuffing it down my cake hole. She also points out that my favourite ride at Tivoli is the HC Andersen one, the most hyggeligt of them all, which goes really, really slowly, and that I actually take notes during Grillfeber. If she’s a Hobbit, then I, she says, am Saruman. Maybe that should be Sourman.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.