ESCAPING COLUMN Embracing Scandinavian values in all aspects of life.
What life lessons can our Scandi cousins teach us?
T he Scandinavian good life is really having a moment, isn’t it? I doubt I need to tell you about hygge, the ne Danish art of keeping things cosy and comforting with cuddly jumpers, candles and crackling res in the dark winter. And have you heard of Swedish lagom (balancing life so that there’s just enough of everything you need), or do you practise ka (making time for regular co ee and cake dates with friends)?
What exactly is it about the way of life of Europe’s cold northern realms that’s so conducive to wholesome, happy habits? I’ve visited, and fallen in love with, all of Scandinavia, but the country I know best is Finland, where a deep-set connection to nature runs through daily life. In Finland there is a law called the Everyman’s Right, allowing anyone to roam through the land freely; to forage for wild food, to walk in any forest. These values mean that Finnish children grow up with a comprehensive understanding of the natural world around them. On my last trip to the birthplace of the Moomins I stayed with Saara and her family in the countryside. Her seven-year-old daughter, Anni, knew how to nd and pick all the edible berries that grew on the forest oor, and we enjoyed them after dinner, along with lashings of hot co ee boiled over the re.
As well as this a nity for the forest, Finns also feel a connection to water. After all, there are over 80,000 lakes in Finland, and so much space that most families have a small lakeside cabin they can escape to, even if they live in a city. Nature and the human body are both linked, and both respected, in modern Scandinavia. The ancient ritual of the sauna is a key part of family life, and saunas are always taken naked.
Outside Saara’s forest cabin was a tiny wood hut, red up to a sweltering heat by a log re. The whole family piled in (Saara, her daughters, her sister, her mother, the dog and I) and when we got too hot we all ran naked down the little wooden jetty to partake in the nal part of this age-old purifying process – jumping into the freezing water of the lake. You can’t get a better lesson in what a normal, healthy human body looks like than by swapping the pages of fashion magazines for the sight of naked bodies of all ages.
Gender equality, too, feels di erent in Scandinavia. It seems more like the status quo, rather than an ongoing battle. In Stockholm, the squares and cafés are full of
‘latte papas’ – dads who have taken paternity leave to push strollers and drink co ee with their friends while their baby’s mamas go back to work.
I’ve only seen Finland and Sweden in the lovely, long days of summer, when the sun barely dips down below the horizon. But I’ve been to Norway in the freezing rains and short, dark days of December, and I still found the Scandi way of life astonishingly attractive. In the fjord city of Bergen, life is about good balance and good cheer to drive away the doldrums of the dark. Locals take advantage of the few daylight hours to hike in the forest parks above the city, then at night they sit with friends in warm, candlelit restaurants eating reindeer meat, potatoes and lingonberry jam, washed down with a beer or two.
I may not live in the lands below the Arctic Circle but my travels there have inspired me to take some mindful, healthful habits to heart. Time spent in nature. Time spent with friends. Being open with thoughts and feelings. Respecting the strength and beauty of the human body. Eating loads of cloudberry jam for tea while wearing a really great knitted jumper! I reckon I’m ticking all of those o at the moment – now I just need to nd myself a lakeside cabin and a latte papa.
Sian Lewis is a freelance travel writer and the editor of The Girl Outdoors (www.thegirloutdoors.co.uk), a blog for
anyone in search of a little adventure.