In the natural order of things, the arrival of summer in Australia is a signal for the rest of the world to be jealous. As darkness envelopes the north, images of Australian beaches, boozy barbecues, balmy nights and barefoot mornings flash across screens in Europe and the US. We are the most “liked” image in the world come December, and even our bushfires and shark/crocodile attacks hold a certain charm: “Oh, that’s a big shark but doesn’t the water look lovely?”
But this year the natural order has been overturned and, if you head into a bookshop you’ll see what we mean. Hygge has arrived. The Little Book of Hygge, Living Danishly, Hygge: we won’t list them all because, frankly, there are too many and they don’t need the publicity.
In case you’ve been too busy at the beach, let us explain. Hygge (pronounced like a guttural hug) is Danish for the cosy wellbeing that comes from doing simple things with friends or family. It may have been around since the Vikings but the word has become the headline for everything that’s great about Scandinavian life.
We won’t list all those great things here, except to say that some people think mulled wine, woollen socks, 16-hour nights and flat landscapes are things to envy. And that’s not even mentioning the weather that, to quote one of the books, is “dark, windy and damp”.
Hygge (it sounds a bit like a brand of nappies, don’t you think?) is being plastered across tourism campaigns, decor magazines, health resorts and watch faces to promote Danish style, prosperity and happiness.
In case you’ve been too busy socialising at barbecues, you may not have noticed that Denmark became the happiest country this year when it beat Switzerland for smugness, sorry, for contentment in the world happiness report. It is also in the top 10 for reputation and, OK, it ranks well for equality, education, safety and most knitting clubs per head of population. Yawn, pass the mulled wine.
The thing is, this is what Australia is good at. We are in the top 10 for happiness. We beat Denmark in the country reputation stakes. We are right up the top for economic performance. We rate well on safety and governance tables — AND WE HAVE SUNSHINE.
In economic circles, we are known as Norway with sunshine because we combine the best of the Scandinavian success with sunshine — so much sun that we are also the top skin-cancer country in the world. Beat that one, Danes.
So, we’re old rivals and, in the normal course of affairs, we are equals until we get to this time of year and the world realises we have Bondi Beach, Byron Bay and 10,683 other stunning beaches (ever heard of Blokhus Beach? Bisnap Beach, perhaps? Didn’t think so).
But this year the world has dumped our boogie-woogie for their hygge. They’re lighting candles, warming cocoa on wood-fired stoves and inviting friends around to flop in front of an open fire for a book reading of Peter Hoeg or a binge session of watching Borgen.
And, yes, you probably have picked up something else there. The Danes are nailing TV series ( Borgen, The Bridge, The Killing) and they’re not doing too badly at dark fiction either — but, hey, they have a lot of darkness to draw from.
It’s not as if we feel aggrieved that they took one of our Tasmanian lassies for a future queen; it’s not even a problem that they’re getting more tourists than us or that they make a better liver paste — it’s just that they’ve stolen our moment of international envy.
This summer we will toddle off to the beach; we will have friends around for barbecues; we will wrestle with sharks, fight fires and down the best craft beer in the world. And no one will be watching. There will be no CNN coverage of Down Under, and social media streams will be full of recipes for glogg rather than photos of Australians grogging on.
If there is one consolation it is this: if the world feels like a hug beside a hearth rather than a beer in the sunshine, then the world is not in a good space. It’s not so much that we have slipped down in world esteem; it’s more that the world’s self-esteem is in a dark place. gmail.com