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OPINION & ANALYSIS

My first impression of Stockholmers: Who are all these well-dressed dads?

Learn Swedish. Get a personnummer. Go cashless. Moving to a new country means going through a series of 'firsts'. The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée writes about some of the challenges, quirks and adventures he has faced since moving to Sweden.

My first impression of Stockholmers: Who are all these well-dressed dads?
Stylish dads pushing their strollers in Rålambshovsparken, Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

With working from home and travel restrictions firmly in place, the highlight of my day is the stroll through Stockholm. One of the benefits of moving to a new city is that you get to have that “long weekend city trip” feeling for a while. So, while walking the streets of Stockholm I try to savour the newness of it by observing it as a first-time visitor. 

Everyone will notice how pretty the city is. This mix between Amsterdam and Vienna while being surrounded by large bodies of water is incredibly appealing. What adds to its charm is the fact that different parts of the city all have a slightly different feel. This is nice especially when your radius is limited to where you can go by foot. Feel like hipster fika? Bröd & Salt in Söder! Feel like fancy fika? Bröd & Salt in Östermalm! The options are endless. 

And then of course there are the people of Stockholm. No better way to get an idea of the city than by observing its inhabitants as they roam their natural habitat. A few things stand out. 

In other cities I’ve lived in, you would find the occasional, slightly out-of-place looking father behind a stroller with a confused looking baby in it (on a Sunday, when there is no football on, during the summer holiday.) Not here: any day of the week, rain or shine, the streets are filled with men pushing black Bugaboos with abandon. Ok, they are also all on their phones, probably looking at football, but still, their babies get to see their father’s faces more than most. 

Speaking of faces: with the black parkas and the woollen hats coming off, the summer allowed me a first glance at what the people of Stockholm actually look like. In this regard, too, the city does not disappoint. Wherever you go, its broad pavements and parks are typically filled with well-dressed men and women in expensive sunglasses. 

The women are always elegant, often with longer flowing blond hair and a little dog. A look I’ve come to think of as “affluent Abba”: what the women of Abba would look like, had they dressed in accordance with their wealth today.

If women are known to dress up when going out in other places, the men in Stockholm stand out in that regard. You typically find them in tasteful business attire for any occasion, shiny Swiss watches on display, or with a look that suggests they are just about to board a wooden boat for a few days sailing around the archipelago. This is enhanced by the slightly hard-edged handsomeness mainly the young men display (think how Alexander Skarsgård gets cast and you get the idea).

Apart from the beauty of the city and its people, what makes walking around Stockholm such a pleasure, is that Stockholmers go out not just to go somewhere but often just for the sake of it. To enjoy the city they live in, just like a first-time visitor.

Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. He is Dutch, but moved from Zürich, Switzerland, after having lived in Hong Kong for 10 years. Signing up to move to a country they had never been to, in the middle of a global pandemic, was definitely a first for the couple. One of many more to come. Alexander writes for The Local about his “firsts” in Sweden.

Member comments

  1. Well dressed . What is your definition of well dressed , as Swedes are not well dressed compared to Parisians , Londoners and Berliners , so which rock have you been hiding under ?

    1. Agreed. Clean sweatpants and white tennis shoes does not make a man well-dressed. This author needs to see men in business suits at board meetings to understand what well-dressed really means.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Down with hygge! Sweden’s mys is more real, fun and inclusive

Hygge, the Danish art of getting cosy, has taken the world by storm. But the Swedish equivalent is refreshingly different, says David Crouch 

Down with hygge! Sweden’s mys is more real, fun and inclusive

It is around six years since the Danish word hygge entered many of our languages. Hygge, pronounced hue-guh and generally translated as the art of cosiness, exploded almost overnight to become a global lifestyle phenomenon.

Hygge dovetailed with mindfulness and fed into other popular trends such as healthy eating, and even adult colouring books. “The Little Book of Hygge” became a publishing sensation and has been translated into 15 languages. In time for Christmas, its author has just issued a second book, “My Hygge Home”, one of dozens already on the market. This is the season of peak hygge, of candles, log fires, cups of cocoa and comforting music.

There is nothing wrong with new ways to relax, and certainly no harm in identifying them with Scandinavia. But as a guide to living your life, there are some problems with hygge. 

First, the original meaning of the word is too broad and subtle to enable a clear grasp of the concept among non-Danes. This probably helps to explain its appeal – hygge is an empty bottle into which you can pour whatever liquid you like.

Patrick Kingsley, who wrote a book about Denmark several years before the hygge hype, was “surprised to hear people describe all sorts of things” as hygge. Danes, he said, would use the word when talking about a bicycle, a table, or even an afternoon stroll. 

So it is hardly surprising that, outside Denmark, hygge is applied rather indiscriminately. Last week the New York Times devoted an entire article to achieving hygge while riding the city’s subway, of all places. “A train, after all, is basically a large sled that travels underground, in the dark,” it said, trying too hard to find a hint of Nordicness on the overcrowded railway.

READ ALSO: Danish word of the day – hyggeracisme

Hygge has become an exotic and mysterious word to describe more or less anything you want. It is as if someone decided that the English word “nice” had a magical meaning that contained the secret to true happiness, and then the whole non-English speaking world made great efforts to achieve the perfect feeling of “nice”. 

A second problem with hygge is that, in Denmark itself, it seems to operate like a badge of Danishness that can only be enjoyed by Danes themselves – a kind of cultural border that outsiders cannot cross. You can walk down a Danish street in the dark, one journalist was told, look through the windows and spot who is Danish and who is foreign just by whether their lighting is hygge or not.

When writer Helen Russell spent a year in Denmark, she was intrigued by hygge and asked a lifestyle coach about it. “It’s hard to explain, it’s just something that all Danes know about,” she was told. How could an immigrant to Denmark get properly hygge, Russell asked? “You can’t. It’s impossible,” was the unhelpful reply. It can’t be a coincidence that the far-right Danish Peoples Party has put a clear emphasis on hygge, as if immigration is a threat to hygge and therefore to Danishness itself. 

READ ALSO: It’s official – Hygge is now an English word

Outside Denmark, this exclusivity has taken on another aspect: where are all the children? Where amid the hygge hype are the bits of lego on the floor, the mess of discarded clothes, toys and half-eaten food, the bleeping iPads and noisy TVs? “Hygge is about a charmed existence in which children are sinisterly absent,” noted the design critic for the Financial Times. It’s as if the Pied Piper of hygge has spirited them away so you can get truly cosy. 

But there is a bigger problem with hygge. It is largely an invention, the work of some clever marketing executives. After spotting a feature about hygge on the BBC website, two of London’s biggest publishers realised this was “a perfect distillation of popular lifestyle obsessions”. They set out to find people who could write books for them on the subject, and so two bestsellers were born, spawning a host of imitations. 

Sweden has a different word that means roughly the same thing: mys (the noun) and mysig (the adjective). There have even been some half-hearted attempts to sell mys to a foreign audience in the same way as hygge. But the real meaning of mys in Swedish society is rather different, it seems to me. The reason for this, I think, is that mys has become so firmly identified with Friday nights, or fredagsmys – the “Friday cosy”. 

Fredagsmys is a collective sigh of relief that the working / school week is over, and now it is time for the whole family to come together in front of some trashy TV with a plate of easy finger-food. The word first appeared in the 1990s, entered the dictionary in 2006, and became a semi-official national anthem three years later with this joyous ad for potato crisps:

In this portrayal, mys is radically different to hygge. It is a celebration of the ordinary, witty and multi-cultural, featuring green-haired goths and a mixed-race family with small children. Food is central to fredagsmys, and what is the typical food of choice? Mexican, of course! Not a herring in sight.

Why Mexican? It seems nobody is really sure, but tacofredag now has roots in Swedish society. Tacos, tortillas, and all the accompanying spices and sauces take up a whole aisle of the typical Swedish supermarket. Swedes are accustomed to eating bread with various bits and pieces on top, according to a specialist in Swedish food culture, while the Swedish tradition of smörgåsbord (open sandwiches) makes a buffet meal seem natural. The fussiness of tacos is even reminiscent of a kräftskiva crayfish party.

There is no cultural exclusivity here. On the contrary, fredagsmys food could equally be Italian, North American, Middle-Eastern, British or French. And children are absolutely central to a good Friday cosy. 

With Swedish mys, everybody is welcome. Get cosy and relax, but do it by mixing and getting messy, rather than retreating into pure, perfect, rarified isolation. There is a time and a place for hygge. But the Swedish version is more real, more fun, and more inclusive.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University

 
 
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