January 5, 2010

What English Lacks

One of the best things I've collected this year is words. With so many friends from all over the world, speaking some pretty interesting languages, you begin to realise that despite the superfluous lexemes existing in our lexicon, we sometimes have to use many words where some countries have figured out just one.

One of my favourites so far is hygge. One of the fundamental aspects of Danish culture, hygge doesn’t have an equivalent word in English. Some translate it as ‘coziness’ or ‘tranquility’, but it’s more than that. It describes a state of mind, an atmosphere, a little space full of the good things in life. Hygge is a complete absence of anything annoying, irritating, or emotionally overwhelming. When you’re on the couch with someone special and the fire is roaring and you’ve got hot chocolate, that can be hygge. When you’re lying under a tree in park on a summer day, the sun warming your face, listening to the wind through the leaves, that’s hygge.

With Denmark’s long, cold winters, you can understand why Danes would want to cheer themselves up a little with some candles and a good chat with family or friends. Hygge and Christmas are closely related in Denmark – Danish does not have a word for Christmas, and use Jul to describe the season. It has pagan origins, a winter feast, and food is often a good part of hygge. Jul provides lots of opportunities for hygge - Gingerbread cookies or a hot cup of glögg are almost instant hygge, provided the setting is right.

Swedes have a similar thing, but they don’t call it hygge. Swedish and Danish are quite close, they share many traits and words, but not even Sweden has hygge. Sweden has fika.

Swedes drink coffee. On average, 4.5 cups per day, the highest in the world. Fika isn’t about drinking coffee, just like hygge isn’t about any one thing either. Fika is like a mini-hygge, a chance to take a break in a busy day and enjoy some good conversation over a drink. You can’t eat too much, otherwise it’s called lunch, or dinner, but you can enjoy a cinnamon bun with your coffee. It can be short, like a work break, or much longer, stretching over hours as you catch up with an old friend.

If you’ve ever been to Ikea, you might have noticed they sell a lot of candles. Scandanavian people love candles, and candles are one of fika and hygge’s best friends. Many houses don’t even have overhead lighting, it’s just too harsh. At Christmas, you just light the Adventsljusstake, the Advent candles that sit in everyone’s windows. Of course, having candles in the window all night can be a little risky, so you can buy electric ones. And that’s what I plan to do today, find an adventsljusstake, on REA (sale). And cram it into my suitcase so I can enjoy Christmas in July later this year.

And maybe a little hygge. I love that word.

Reading #FrenchSafari: What English LacksTweet this!


  1. Reading your blog always is a bit of fika for me :-) love it!

  2. Thanks Claire! I love your comments, I think it's just you and my Mum sometimes! :)