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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Please don’t let ‘mys’ be the next Scandinavian lifestyle trend

Swedish 'mys' looks next in the chain of untranslatable word-based Scandinavian lifestyle trends. If only those writing about it knew that it very often means little more than binging on dreadful tacos and Netflix.

OPINION: Please don't let 'mys' be the next Scandinavian lifestyle trend
For many Swedes 'mys' means little more than guzzling crisps in front of the TV. Photo: Ingvar Karmhed/SvD/TT

The New York Times fired the first shot last week, with “Danish Hygge is so last year, say hello to Swedish mys“, followed by a listing of posh lifestyle boutiques in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.

Leaving aside the fact that hygge was actually the lifestyle trend of 2016, the article entirely misses the point of mys, which tends defiantly towards the trashy, and is much more about wrapping yourself in your duvet on the sofa than lounging on the sort of pricey woven quilts sold in the shops mentioned.

Although it’s “very similar” to hygge, the New York Times argues, mys is narrower, and “refers more pointedly to an ultra-cozy atmosphere”.

This much is true.

While a summer picnic or family bicycle ride can be hyggelig, mys is limited to the ‘candles and cocoa’ side of hygge. You could probably mysa around a campfire on a summer night, but you couldn’t mysa during a walk in the woods.

Danes also debate whether hygge is possible when you’re alone (most argue it’s by definition sociable). Mys has no such constraints.

While it can be social, you can absolutely mysa alone in the bath, or having a long lie-in. Children might mumble jag vill mysa, “I want to be cosy”, when refusing to emerge from their duvets to go to school.

But while hygge is all about making a little bit of extra effort to create the perfect atmosphere, mys is much less fussy.

Surrounding yourself with artisanal candles, and sipping from a top-end red wine is not exactly incompatible with mys, but I’d argue the posher and showier your surroundings and comestibles, the harder true mys is to achieve.

This does not mean mys isn’t commercial though. It has in fact been so relentlessly commercialised in Sweden that it’s lost a lot of its original meaning.


Mys, expensive scented candles or a Nordic bastardisation of tacos? Discuss. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

For many Swedes fredagsmys, which happens after work on Friday, is the pinnacle of mys (although if you were being uncharitable, you’d argue this is just a way of putting a positive spin on staying in on a Friday night).

And that the centre of it all is tacos is almost entirely down to the marketing carried out throughout the 1990s by the Swedish businessman Lars-Olof Mattsson.

After he was served some tacos on a friend’s yacht off the West Coast, Mattsson decided to launch Tex-Mex food in Sweden, and set up the brand Santa Maria, which now has its own dedicated section in most Swedish supermarkets.

Mattsson is not the only businessman who has cashed in on fredagsmys.

Before the arrival of Netflix, Sweden seemed to have more branches of the video chain Hemmakväll (meaning ‘evening in at home’) than it had pubs or bars, a worrying sign, I’d argue, of how little time Swedes spend out and about in the evening.

Swedish mys is also part of the reason for the gigantic crisp and snacks sections in most supermarkets and convenience stories. Popular fredagsmys options include potato crisps flavoured with dill (weird), jordnötsringar peanut rings (weirder), Cheez Ballz (disgusting) and Flamin’ Hot Cheez Cruncherz (dangerously addictive).

Despite all the mys-based marketing, the old meaning of mys survives, however.

It is the height of mys (and completely free) to snuggle up with your partner or children under a warm duvet long into Saturday morning. Having sex can be mysigt (so long as it doesn’t get too energetic).

It is mysigt to stay in your pyjamas until lunchtime. It is mysigt to have pancakes for breakfast (although also a bit American, as Swedes tend not to see pancakes as breakfast).

Another core mys variant, of course is julmys, ‘Christmas mys‘, which describes the calm and cosy Christmas ideal of doing puzzles, making and eating sweets, and slowly chatting over glasses of warm, sweet spicy glögg with friends and family.

What you can bet on, though, is that hardly any of the copycat articles that follow the New York Times’ piece on mys (and they will come, I guarantee it), will make much mention of tacos and Netflix.

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CHRISTMAS

OPINION: If you can’t go home for Christmas, Denmark is a good place to be

After missing out on seeing his family for Christmas 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Local Denmark editor Michael Barrett got to try out Danish Christmas for the first time.

A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve.
A Danish dining table on Christmas Eve. File photo: Vibeke Toft/Ritzau Scanpix

We’d always planned to spend last Christmas in the UK. My daughter was born in March 2020, coinciding with the outset of the global coronavirus pandemic but, as worrying and uncertain as everything was at the time, we were sure it would have all settled down in nine months’ time. We started planning for her to spend her first Christmas with her grandparents, cousin and the rest of our extended family in England.

As we all know, this was far from how things turned out. The autumn and winter of last year saw spiralling Covid-19 cases across Europe and countries responding by introducing more and more restrictions, including on travel.

I’m not sure exactly when we conceded we’d have to cancel our plans to go to the UK for Christmas in 2020, but I do remember the look of resignation on my parents’ faces when I let them know. The writing had already been on the wall for a while by then.

Visiting my partner’s mother in December, I looked out of the window at the greying skies over Jutland, the dim lights of a distant Føtex store and the limp red and white pendants on flag poles as bare as the trees, and nothing felt familiar.

This was because, despite having lived in Denmark for almost a decade and a half, I’d never spent Christmas in the country. Every year I’d head home by the 22nd or 23rd, usually returning just before New Year to enjoy the rowdy firework displays in Aarhus or Copenhagen after a week of putting my feet up and savouring the familiarity and comfort of Christmas at home.

Denmark famously has its own Christmas traditions, comparable but certainly different to the British ones. I knew about them – I’ve exchanged information about national Christmas customs with many Danes over the years – but never witnessed them first-hand.

The big day came around quickly, not least because it all happens on the 24th, not the 25th.

Festivities did take a while to get going, though. Not until 4pm in fact, when ancient Disney Christmas special From All of Us to All of You, known in Danish as Disneys juleshow began on main TV broadcaster DR. Usually I’d have been watching an early-1980s David Bowie introducing The Snowman around now. A cup of warm gløgg (spiced red wine with raisins and almonds) was thrust into my hand, and I missed Bowie a little bit less.

After a couple more glasses of gløgg and wine, we sat down for Christmas dinner: roast duck, brown potatoes, boiled potatoes, gravy and red cabbage. It was of course already dark and a prolific number of candles were lit on the table and around the room, adding to the festive feeling of the star-topped tree, paper hearts and other decorations.

For dessert, we had risalamande, the popular cold rice sweet mixed with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds and served with cherry sauce. By tradition, one whole almond is left in the dessert and whoever finds it wins a present, which is customarily a julegris, a chocolate pig with marzipan filling. This game is often fixed so that a child (or children) wins the prize, but the only child present was a nine-month-old and I ended up finding the almond in my bowl.

Then it was time to dance around the tree and exchange presents. Most of us had too much dessert, so it was a more sedate affair than I expected. After the little one was fast asleep we sat back on the sofas and had a couple more glasses of wine or maybe a few snacks.

It was all over before Santa traditionally lands his sleigh on rooftops and hops down British chimneys in the small hours of Christmas morning.

Danish families with young children often assign someone to dress up as Father Christmas and come round to deliver the presents to excited youngsters before dinner on Christmas Eve.

Maybe I’ll get the chance to audition for the role next year because our Danish-British family will be in Denmark every other Christmas for the foreseeable future – by choice, not restriction. I’m looking forward to it, because my first Danish Christmas gave me a better understanding of why this time of year is loved by so many Danes.

READ ALSO: My five favourite Danish childhood Christmas memories

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