Can You Really Hygge If You’re Not Danish?

So “hygge” is all the rage just now. The intrinsically Danish, un-translatable concept of cosiness. It’s definitely a trend, because in the UK they’re using it to sell soup and there’s already a backlash against it. (Actually we think using it to sell soup is just taking the piss. It’s our culture, not your trend.)

I’m starting to wonder if this is how the French feel when people collect fil de fer or hang Parisian road signs up in their apartments with one hand while making macarons with the other. You can try to be Parisian, but unless you go there and really immerse yourself in the culture, will you ever be more than a tourist asking the way to the patisserie in a really loud voice?

You see, in Denmark “hygge” is not something we have to think about. It’s just something we do. It’s bred into our bones, passed onto our children both at home and in school. In nursery school, even. We can explain it to you and we’re glad you enjoy it, but it’s not something we have to think about doing. The French don’t go and buy a baguette because it’s chic and vraiment français, they do it because that’s just what you do.

If you really want to embrace “hygge” then come to Denmark. Learn by observing, by doing. Not by reading. It’s not just something we do in the winter to keep the darkness at bay; winter is just where we add candles to the mix.

It’s not just about cosy throws and hot chocolate. It’s also about the people you spend time with. The things you do together. But that doesn’t mean that every time you hang out with friends it’s “hyggeligt.” Or that you can’t have “hygge” on your own.

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Come to Denmark. We’ll show you how it’s supposed to be done. When you’ve been here for a while, you’ll see what it’s all about. And then you’ll take it home with you, and it will become a part of who you are. Maybe there will be hygge in soup – if you make it from scratch and invite your best friends round to enjoy it with you in the candlelight.

Now, where’s my macaron recipe…

 

Pick a Song, Any Song

I’m thinking a lot about music these days. The other day I discovered that if I have to spend hours wading through spreadsheets, then I can deal with it a lot better if I do it while listening to classic 80s pop. I hate spreadsheets.

There was a time when music meant a lot more to me than it does now. The songs I cherished the most were the ones I found I could relate to. They made what I was feeling more real. It meant that I wasn’t just some emotional nut job full of feelings. Someone else had been there before. That was a mistake. Because it also meant that I would twist my emotions or the situation around until they could relate to something. Maybe I didn’t believe that on my own I was real or valid enough. My experience would follow theirs. If I didn’t, I had to make it follow theirs.

The problem with locking yourself into someone else’s story is that you lose sight of your own. You misread, misinterpret other people. It look me far too long to realise that.

There’s nothing wrong with finding a song that you can relate to. But it is wrong to take it for more than just a tune. It’s wrong to not try to move forward to the next song. Songs don’t offer solutions. They dwell. Total Eclipse of the Heart doesn’t end with Bonnie Tyler realising that this is destructive relationship that will never make her happy. 9 to 5 is about complaining and hoping for better times, not quitting the job your hate, starting your own business or vamping up your CV and moving on.

So pick two songs.

Pick the one that expresses where you are now.

Then pick the one that expresses where you want to be.

Then decide what you need to do to get from Song No. 1 to Song No. 2.

Or roll them both into one. But unless you have magical ice powers, you still need the plan.

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Take Me to IKEA

Many years ago, a friend of mine starting dating a new guy. He’d just come out of a ten-year relationship so I immediately thought “rebound.” She said it was special and it wasn’t like that. Well, we all believed dumb things in our early twenties. But the guy – so she said – knew that he had some things to deal with after this break-up, so he was going to go to Thailand for three weeks to – quote – “find himself.”

I never got that. I never got why people go and sit on a beach to change their lives. Surely their normal lives come crowding back as soon as they get home, coupled with the reality of the nice people from MasterCard who have left little envelopes in the postbox. (He went, came back, and was still just as confused about what he wanted. Now just 20,000DKK poorer.)

We’ve all gone on holiday and tried to bring back a new way of thinking, a new way of doing. It could be trying to cook the dishes we ate, find the wine from our favourite restaurant “over there” or try to incorporate something from the culture we visited into our daily lives. But usually it goes the same way. A few weeks after being home, the holiday memories start to fade and our normal routines take over again.

Not to say anything against holidays. Sometimes getting away from it all is just what we need. But if we want to change what we go back to, running away from it isn’t the way to do it.

Which brings me to IKEA.

If you want to believe that your life can change, take a walk through IKEA one day.

There’s no place that makes it easier to believe things can be different if you just make a little effort. When I go to IKEA and dream of getting a new sofa, I know it’s not really about the sofa. It’s about wanting to change the woman who sits on the sofa: me. Something isn’t quite right, something needs to be different. Not in my living room but in my life. I know changing the sofa won’t change whatever is currently off-balance in my life. If you think it will, read Emma Bovary. She’ll set you straight.

One bookshelf can be used in six different ways. As I see the physical change in front of me, the possibilities for other changes begin to manifest. IKEA shows you how you can change your life a little bit at a time, until all the patterns are gone and you are left with something completely different than when you started.

I really need a trip to IKEA.

Plus they have glitter pens and my favourite notebooks.

The Woman With the Green Hair

It’s good to try new things and explore things you’ve always wondered about.

But sometimes it just means realising that you’re actually pretty okay with who you are.

Take the blue hair. My son convinced me.

It became green. Not an all-over green, but definitely not the turquoise, happy artist look I was going for.

Later that afternoon I went to a birthday party at a friend’s house and one of the children told me I looked like a mermaid.

I thought I looked like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Definitely not the look I was going for.

Did it make me feel like someone who wants to have a little bookshop where she also sells cakes? No more than I normally do. I still didn’t think the long-haired, guitar-playing, live-for-the-moment guy was the one for me.

Actually I was quite relieved that the colour faded away so quickly.

But I tried. I did something I’ve always wanted to do. It was fun for a day.

Will I do it again?

No.

Changing my hair won’t change me. And green-haired mermaid didn’t feel like me.

But I’m looking for something.

And I’ll find it one day.

Soon.

 

The Girl With the Blue Hair

My son wants blue hair. He’s ten. I’ve told him we can try – temporarily.

He wants me to dye my hair as well. But I’m not sure.

Showing up at work with a temporary head of blue hair is not the issue. The issue is me.

Or, as my mother kindly pointed out, someone pushing forty is a bit too old for blue hair. And nobody has a blue rinse anymore.

I always wanted to be the kind of person brave enough to have blue hair. Or bright pink. Ethereal silver. Emerald green.

To do that (unless you’re some kind of cursed princess who can’t get rid of it) seems to require so much courage. The courage that cares nothing for the stares and approbation of others. The courage of someone who is 100% confident in themselves, who they are and what they stand for.

The girl with the blue hair definitely does not wear suits and heals. (But I love wearing suits and heals!) She carries an old backpack, is followed around by a large mongrel dog and plays the guitar in the park, just because she can.

Yeah, so not me. Except for the big dog.

She also has a long-haired boyfriend who writes her poetry and runs along the beach every morning with his shirt off to be close to nature.

She’s probably also at least fifteen years younger than me. If she’s the type who likes to pay the bills, put food on the table and the kids into private school, the long-haired boy is probably not the best bet for the future. Unless of course he’s managing a tech start-up that will one day make millions.

I don’t really think she’s me.

But a part of me really wants to try it. For more than an afternoon.

Maybe she also runs a bookshop somewhere that also sells coffee, cake and pies. Maybe part of me wants to explore that.

Maybe blue hair won’t change anything. But it might tell me something about myself.

The Last Straw

I don’t believe in New Year resolutions. I actually don’t believe in New Year’s. The idea that you can reinvent yourself just because the clock strikes midnight has never sat well with me. Judging by the amount of people who don’t stick to their New Year resolutions, I guess it doesn’t sit well with them either.

But this year I have one.

I am going to stop using Facebook.

At the moment Facebook to me feels like a soap opera that I’ve lost interest in but still keep watching because I can’t quite help it and there’s nothing else to do at 5 p.m. A guilty pleasure that isn’t even pleasurable anymore, like the way I felt about cigarettes just before I quit smoking.

What finally did it was a post this weekend from someone who I once counted as one of my best friends.

You know the kind of post I mean – the one where they tell you that soon they will be culling their friends list and if you don’t respond to their post you won’t make the cut.

It made me so angry. Probably because of the guy who posted it. So I needed to vent – mainly by composing an angry speech in my head while I cleaned the bathroom.

That’s not what friendship is about. If I have to like your post to keep your friendship, then I don’t really want it. If I have to validate your view points in public, then that’s not friendship. When was the last time you and your wife accepted my invitation to coffee or dinner? Or when was the last time you accepted and didn’t cancel at the last minute? Oh yes, there’s a reason I say you used to be one of my best friends.

Friendship is moving a meeting to take your friend’s son to the movies when his vacation starts early and mum has a tight deadline to meet and has to stay at work.

Friendship is being happy to stand up all evening in an apartment with no furniture to welcome a friend back to the city.

Friendship is mother still sending a Christmas card to the couple who for whatever unknown reason haven’t spoken to my parents for ten years, because she promised the woman’s mother she would never break the connection.

Friendship is meeting for coffee, talking on the phone, going shopping. It’s being there for each other. Being genuinely engaged in someone’s life.

Facebook friends aren’t friends. They’re barely Christmas card list people. So why am I still following these people? I don’t know them. Most of them I will never see again. I wish them all the best, but I honestly don’t care what they did New Year’s Eve or that their partner took them to the opera for date night.

Maybe because it would feel rude to unfriend them and I was raised to be polite to strangers. Or because I care what these people I barely know and will never see again think of me.

It really is like a soap opera. Just without people getting drunk and sleeping with their brothers-in-law. Actually that would be more interesting.

I’ll bet I can find something else to do at 5 p.m.

My genuine friends will still be here. I can hang out with them.