Jessie Raymond: A Danish export worthy of support
Winter’s here, and it’s time to get your hygge on — unless you’re already wearing it.
Just kidding. Hygge is not an article of clothing. It’s a state of mind. In Denmark, at least.
Before we go into what hygge is, let’s talk about how it’s pronounced. It doesn’t sound like “higgy” or “high-ga” or “hig.” It sounds more like “heurgha,” as if spoken in the voice of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.
Go ahead, try saying it. It’s fun. Just make sure no Danes are around to snicker at you.
It’s not surprising that we Americans can’t pronounce hygge, because we can’t really define it either. And yet it’s an integral part of Danish culture, like watching TV is here.
Sometimes hygge is translated as “cosiness.” But it also encompasses togetherness, conviviality, and general well-being wrapped in an oversized sweater and served with a hot beverage next to a crackling fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
I want that.
One website I found describes hygge as “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.” No wonder we Americans aren’t familiar with the term.
There’s also an element of nature associated with hygge: spending time outside and decorating by bringing the outdoors in. (I can check that second part off my hygge to-do list; you should see our floors.)
When hygge does catch on in the U.S., it will evolve into something uniquely American, more along the lines of “the presence of newly purchased household goods designed to give the appearance of a gentle, soothing environment, which no one will slow down long enough to appreciate anyway. Click here to shop for cashmere blend fireside throws.
So far, no one I know has ever heard of hygge, which means I’m an early adopter of what will soon be a household word. You, most likely, are still so busy saying “hyooga,” “herga,” and “hewga” in your head, you haven’t had a chance to think about what it means yet.
That’s OK, I’ve been there. Keep practicing.
In Denmark, hygge carries a connotation of good cheer and warmth that goes beyond hot coffee and thick mittens; in fact, the Danish practice hygge year round, even when the harsh winter weather doesn’t require them to huddle for warmth.
Then again, these people know how to enjoy life: They have a pastry named after them, and that pretty much says it all.
It’s no coincidence, either. The Danish, from what I have read, actually do eat pastries. Unlike us, however, they do so while gathered around a table with friends, not hunched over the steering wheel during their morning commute.
And they enjoy their treats; they don’t lament the carbs even as they chew. Hygge espouses contentment and appreciating small experiences for what they are, without guilt. Crazy, right? But I want to give it a try.
Not that hygge is all hot coffee and hand knits. In real Danish culture, apparently, hygge can carry an expectation of conformity; outsiders may not feel welcome. Also, everyone must be cheerful so as not to ruin anyone else’s hygge.
Luckily, in America, we won’t struggle with hygge’s darker side; we’ll be in it mostly for the candles.
I just wish I knew a Dane who could answer my questions: Is hygge innate or can it be acquired? Is it possible to achieve peak hygge without spending a lot of money on down comforters? How do you say hygge without sounding like a Model T horn?
Until I meet a Danish expat, I’m going to have to learn about hygge using secondary sources, such as one of the five — yes, five — books on the subject that came out this fall (I’m telling you, this hygge thing is going to be huge). I’m going to dedicate myself to “taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things,” starting with eating more cinnamon rolls, which are about as gentle and soothing as it gets.
Of course, it’s going to take longer to learn to appreciate “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming,” which won’t leave me with much to talk about.
But you know what they say: Copenhagen wasn’t built in a day.