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Opinion and Analysis For Members

OPINION: Please stop turning Scandi words like 'friluftsliv' into viral trends

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
OPINION: Please stop turning Scandi words like 'friluftsliv' into viral trends
Norway's friluftsliv is one of many Scandinavian words that has become a viral lifestyle trend. Pictured is a hiker in Lofoten in Norway. Photo by Colin Moldenhauer on Unsplash

Originally a Norwegian invention, 'friluftsliv' is popular across Scandinavia and is one of many exported words which portrays the locals as special mythical beings when, in reality, they are much more like the rest of us than the online trends suggest.

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Norway is known for its abundant nature, and Norwegians are known for their love of the outdoors. Typically, the word best used to describe this marriage of nature to outdoor enthusiasts is friluftsliv, a term also used in the other Scandinavian countries.

Getting outdoors, being close to nature and feeling a surge of calmness and contentment wash over you as you take in your surroundings is the general gist of how you are meant to feel if you are doing it 'properly'.

Or that is how you are supposed to feel, according to the endless stream of articles, lifestyle blogs and marketing materials online.  

Many push the idea that friluftsliv is some state of mind or way of life inherent to Scandinavians. 

Don't believe it! Despite what the various, omnipresent lifestyle trend articles tell you, the locals are just like anyone else. 

They do love to be outdoors, yes. But they much prefer to be outdoors when the weather is good, and the conditions are preferable.

For all of Norway's many inventions, such as the paperclip and, uhm, the cheese slicer, they cannot take credit for coming up with being outside when the weather is good.  

Like the rest of us, when the conditions are rubbish, most would instead take a raincheck. 

And for pretty much all Scandinavians, friluftsliv isn't a state of mind, concept, way of life or the key to happiness and health that babies in these countries are born clutching onto. 

Instead, the locals have more of a no-nonsense interpretation of the word. Everyone has heard it, everyone knows what it is, and to them, it just means getting outside and enjoying yourself. 

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A perfect case in point would be kindergartens and schools in Scandinavia. When it's time to go outside, kids are just sent out to brave the elements, whether that's in a sunhat and SPF50 or in a thick waterproof snowsuit. There are no ceremonies, rituals, or lessons stressing the importance of friluftsliv.  

The more outdoor-orientated kindergartens, such as Norway's naturbarnehage and friluftsbarnehage, do place more of an emphasis on the importance of being outside.

Even then, they stress the importance of enjoying the outdoors responsibly rather than engaging in any holistic brochure talk (unless you live in the west of Oslo or Bærum and Asker).    

This isn't to criticise Norwegians. Far from it, it is a relief that they do not possess some special ingrained quality that allows them to march up mountains for miles or glide across the snow when temperatures dip below -10C and the rest of us would rather be at home.

The Norwegians, and by extension Swedes and Danes, who embrace friluftsliv have every right to be proud: of the region's beautiful landscapes, for getting out and seizing the day, or just for enjoying a close relationship with nature. 

Furthermore, the authorities should be congratulated for facilitating an active outdoor lifestyle through well-maintained hiking trails and public access rights which allow you to forage, camp, hike and swim wherever you choose.

READ MORE: Friluftsliv, or the reason I moved to Sweden

The real frustration lies with the jumbled, exaggerated vomit of words, concepts and catchphrases which come together to form a kind of bingo card of Scandinavian lifestyle trends.

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You'll have seen the buzzwords everywhere, magazines, articles, blogs and posts pointing to Scandi words as the reason why locals are happier, healthier and generally better than everyone else in every conceivable way (people from Norway, Sweden and Denmark do little to play down this notion, and who can blame them?). 

Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes apparently spend their lives sitting in silence, savouring the contentment of lighting a candle and sharing a lovingly made hot chocolate with a friend (hygge), taking a break from the hustle and bustle of work to have a coffee and chat with a colleague (fika), or creating cosy memories with the family while playing board games around the fire (kos). 

None of those are to be confused with the more recently trendy version of sitting around, this time perhaps in a more relaxed and informal setting – such as eating a takeaway before binging some Netflix (mys). 

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Given how many of these other "lifestyles", "states of mind," and "concepts" seem to involve a lot of time sitting around, it's a surprise that anyone has any time to be outside. 

READ ALSO: Five suggestions for the next hyped Swedish lifestyle trend

Enjoying the great outdoors is certainly one of the best things about living in one of the Nordic countries, and what makes it better still is how happy many locals are to share friluftsliv with you and encourage you to find your own version. 

However, the constant mystification of a few mundane concepts which boil down to 'having a sit down for a bit' or 'going for a walk', is simply too much. 

Sure, these words might help marketers flog a few more candles or publishers to shift a few more glossy magazines. 

But, for the most part, the best thing about these concepts is that they are really just unique words for quite normal, boring things: things that normalise the locals in Norway, Sweden and Denmark rather than exalt them and portray them as having an almost alien view of life and how it should be lived. 

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