I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a Swede use the word “lagom” and then tell me in reverent tones that there is no word that means the same thing in any other language. Hmmm…I don’t know…”Just the right amount” seems to get the job done but I guess what they mean is that it is just a single word in Swedish.
“Lagom” is the concept of taking the “middle way” with “everything in moderation.”
I read an interesting book called “Modern Day Vikings: A Practical Guide to Interacting with the Swedes” by Christina Johansson Robinowitz and Lisa Werner Carr (2001). In the book, the authors discuss the concept of lagom. They write that “Unlike in the United States, however, where moderation is most frequently applied to indulgences such as food or drink, lagom in Sweden applies to life in general: how much one eats, drinks, works, spends, owns. One should eat enough, but not too much; work hard, but not too hard: have enough, but not too much.”
Wikipedia describes Lagom like this… “In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. In recent times Sweden has developed greater tolerance for risk and failure as a result of severe recession in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes”
“Modern Day Vikings” is about the cultural differences between Sweden and other countries, particularly the US. It talks a lot about the differences in business cultures, as well. The authors write that in Sweden the lagom concept is applied to life in general, including work. “Unlike in the United States, where the expression “everything in moderation” is typically applied to areas of hedonistic overindulgence (e.g., eating, drinking, smoking, sex), With the Swedes’ basic belief that “lagom is best,” potential is rife for misunderstandings among international colleagues. Swedes generally believe if you must work overtime then you probably didn’t plan correctly or had too much work to start with. It’s a negative to work late. because then you are sacrificing other parts of your life (family, leisure, etc.) Whereas in other business cultures, workers are applauded for working overtime and neglecting other parts of your life.
Lagom makes sense to the Swedes but can be chafing for Americans, raised in a culture where “too much is never enough. – Modern Day Vikings
For my part, I do see the practice of lagom in Sweden. From a work perspective, I appreciate that Sweden acknowledges that having a “whole” life is important and that being consumed by work is discouraged.
In my next post, I’ll write about “Jantelagen.”