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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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LIVING IN SWEDEN

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)

Quick-cook macaroni and ketchup, always knowing the week number, Queuing tickets, and soaking in every tiny ray of sun in spring: These are some of the objects, foods, and behaviours our readers (and other foreigners) consider the most Swedish in existence (part two in a series of two).

Are these the 50 most ‘Swedish’ things in existence? (part two)

You don’t have to be living in Sweden long before you start puzzling at some of the things that pass for normal, so, half in jest we asked The Local’s readers for what they think are the most “Swedish” things in existence.

We got so many responses that we’ve divided our article into two parts. This is the second part in a two-part series. You can read the first part, on Swedish “objects” and “clothes” here

THE MOST SWEDISH FOODS

It’s fair to say that many of the foods people came up with did not give the most flattering picture of Swedish cuisine. 

The most common suggestion for an uber-Swedish dish was quick-cook macaroni with tomato ketchup. This perhaps reflects the horror some other nationalities feel upon witnessing it. (As it happens, Swedes are world-class ketchup consumers, each of them wolfing down 2.7kg of the tangy red gloop a year, behind only Finland and Canada, and way ahead of the US.) 

Other unflattering food suggestions included “bearnaise with everything” (largely true), Kebab pizza (yum, and also, if you’re Italian, an aberration), and Flygande Jakob (vile). 

Pasta with heaps of ketchup. Photo: Antti Nissinen/Flickr

On a more general level, several people simply cited “salt“. For them, the most Swedish thing was to load already salty foods with even more salt. Could this be the result of a country that before the advent of refrigeration lived off salted fish, meat and vegetables for much of the year?     

On the borderline of the questionable foodstuffs category came various types of food in tubes, such as skinkost and räkost (processed cheese with bits of ham or prawn blended into it), and Kalles caviar (objectively delicious).  

I’d personally also put korv, Swedish sausage, in the questionable category. While arguably the national snack food, I find the classic Swedish varmkorv hot dog sausage of considerably poorer quality than their German equivalent. Thank God for falafel rolls. 

I’d make an exception for a tunnbrodsrulle, the flatbread common in northern Sweden which is often used to make a sort of hot dog wrap, with potato, a sausage, crispy fried onions, ketchup and mustard. It justly got a mention.

Salty liquorice (sweets flavoured with ammonium chloride) which came up a lot, is certainly beloved of Swedes, but disliked by many, perhaps most, others.

Also on the borderline was potatisgratäng i en påse, or “potatoes au gratin in a bag”, the supermarket packets of sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce which can be simply poured into a tray and shoved in the oven. 

But Swedish food can also be fresh and delicious, and its cake and pastry-making is often up there with some of the best baking countries. 

The suggestions reflected this, with some readers putting forward truly delicious (and extremely Swedish) treats. 

The ingredients for Janssons Frestelse Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

Obviously, many people mentioned the Swedish staples such as meatballs with lingonberry, Janssons Frestelse, and pickled herring (which is served whenever there’s a celebration, so Easter, Midsummer, Christmas). 

Other delicious Swedish foods mentioned included smörgåstårta, a type of savoury sandwich cake, in which layers of white bread are stuffed with prawn, tuna, liver pâté and ham, sometimes all in the same cake. I think it’s fantastic, but it’s not for everyone. 

Dill, the go-to herb the love of which Swedes share with Russia and much of eastern Europe, obviously got tipped.  

As did boiled potatoes, which are often flavoured with it. If they do not seem like something particularly Swedish to you, then you have yet to be initiated into the Swedish secrets of how to cook them properly (prodding them with a provsticka, to get the perfect softness, and then steaming them dry in the pan). You have also probably never tasted the first chestnut-flavoured potatoes of the summer. 

A kladdkaka. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

On the sweet side, the obvious Swedish favourites like kanelbulle cinnamon rolls, got mentioned. 

But there was also nyponsoppa, the rose-hip soup Swedes see as a cure-all for any sneeze or sniffle, ostkaka med saftsås, the Swedish baked cheesecake, and rabarberpaj med vaniljsås, the Swedish rhubarb crumble that is a common summer treat. 

Semla buns, the fluffy buns stuffed with almond paste that are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday but now seem to be eaten throughout the spring, also got a mention. 

I’m not certain if kladdkaka from ICA, the sticky, semi-chewy chocolate cake you buy frozen from all Swedish supermarkets, should be classed as delicious or questionable, but it’s certainly very Swedish. It’s the lagom, “not great, but good enough” option for every late-remembered birthday or office leaving do celebration. It was mentioned by at least one respondent, as was daimtårta, a similarly trashy-but-nice cake made with crushed-up Daim bars. 

MOST SWEDISH HABITS OR PHENOMENA 

One respondent mentioned “sunning yourself in February by closing your eyes and leaning against a wall or in the middle of a park“. There is something very Swedish in the way people will cross the road to walk for a few seconds through a tiny patch of sun.  

On a similar theme, several respondents suggested “eating outside“, noting that their Swedish colleagues would take pack lunches out into the nearest park to eat even in spring when the weather is quite chilly. The same goes for the restaurant terraces, which have sprung up over the last decade, which are often busy from April to October. 

Another respondent wrote “being outside every day, no matter what“, which as a person from rainy Britain, I’d disagree with.

In my experience, Swedes tend not to go for a walk or send their kids out to play if it’s raining, whereas Brits very much would (otherwise we’d get no fresh air at all). 

Respondents had a different response to Swedish unsociability, with one noting approvingly “the very Swedish ability not to notice others”, saying that as a disabled woman, it was empowering that no one offered to help her, while another bemoaned the lack of chit-chat with strangers. 

Other Swedish habits that came up were an obsession with the ability to light the most perfect fire when camping, which I would argue is part of a larger cultural phenomenon.

An unusually large proportion of Swedish conversation seems to revolve around detailed instructions on how to perform certain tasks properly, such as insulating a roof, freeing a car trapped in snow, or growing asparagus. 

Another reader mentioned “never carrying cash“, which reflects Sweden’s lead in the shift towards a cashless society. 

Being able to walk on those icy, unsalted sidewalks without slipping and falling“, came up, and this is certainly something Swedes (particularly those living north of about Kalmar) can do effortlessly, and which many foreigners never learn. 

There were other examples cited of Swedes’ easy way with extreme cold, with one pointing out how Swedes use nature as a refrigerator or freezer, sticking food or beer outside their kitchen window or on the porch. On the same theme, one mentioned cycling on five-metre-thick snow. 

Is snus, Swedish sucking tobacco, a food or a habit? It’s certainly so universal that you will witness even the smart-suited chief executives of Swedish companies jamming their finger into their lip to secure one of the tobacco bags. 

Make sure to brush up on your snapsvisor or Swedish drinking songs if you want to fit in at Midsummer. Photo: Janus Langhorn/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish alcohol habits also came in, with several readers putting forward the snaps and singing as extremely Swedish, perhaps this is down to what another reader described as the Swedish dual personality, “drunk and not-drunk”. 

One observant reader noted that in Sweden there is often no music in restaurants, shopping centres, or cafés. To the extent this is true (and it’s not always), this seems to be a result of the importance in Sweden of not imposing oneself on others. 

One person pointed out that pretty much everything closes in July. Swedes value their holidays and the sense of solidarity means that few begrudge a summer break even to bureaucrats, nurses, and shop and café staff. At least in the last two weeks of the month, you’ll struggle to get much government admin done, and you might find your favourite neighbourhood café shuts its doors. 

Several people brought up the Swedish habit of watching Kalle Anka at Christmas, which I think is only the most prominent example of the Swedish love of doing apparently lame things in very large numbers or to a strict routine

Somehow linked to this is the Swedish love of special days for special foods, such as Taco Friday, Lördagsgodis (Saturday sweets), or days like Kanelbullens dag, all of which got mentioned

MOST SWEDISH THINGS TO SAY 

One person argued that the most Swedish thing to say was “ah”, with the sound then repeated “100 times when listening to a person talking to you”.
 
The same person suggested Näämen!”, an expression of surprise, as the most Swedish phrase/word imaginable.  Then there’s “jahaaa” to signify a realisation. 
 
Another mentioned the Swedish breathing-in noise for yes Swedes make (north of about Uppsala) to signify agreement. See The Local’s viral video here
 
For me, the word tyvärr, meaning “unfortunately”, is the most Swedish of words, used as it is to tell someone they can’t do something, while avoiding a direct conflict by pointing to some external rule or circumstance.  
 
It’s almost certain in a list like this, that we missed out some of even more Swedish things. Is there anything else that should be here? Please tell us in the comments below. 
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