Pants­drunk peo­ple

The Observer Magazine - - The Observer Magazine - Words MISKA RANTANEN

Strip off and crack open a cold one. Plus, Séa­mas O’Reilly

It’s been a long day: one meet­ing af­ter an­other. You leave your of­fice, happy the work­ing day is fi­nally over. You could head out, net­work un­til the early hours, but some­how it doesn’t ap­peal. What you need, more than any­thing, is to re­lax and de-stress.

You might be tempted to turn to the pop­u­lar Scan­di­na­vian an­ti­dotes to stress, lagom and hygge. But are they re­ally any good? Lagom, a Swedish word, can be trans­lated as “in per­fect bal­ance”, or “just right”. Where lagom reigns, all is as it should be. Pro­por­tion is main­tained: there’s nei­ther too much nor too lit­tle… which is where the prob­lem lies. Although lagom en­cap­su­lates nearly all as­pects of a well-lived life, its pu­ri­tanism isn’t com­pat­i­ble with the re­al­i­ties of the mod­ern world. The prob­lem with lagom lies with its em­pha­sis on be­ing a good per­son: a good per­son can never re­ally re­lax. They’re too busy con­stantly weigh­ing the eth­i­cal con­se­quences of ev­ery lit­tle de­ci­sion they make. “I could buy a nice pot of hum­mus to en­joy with din­ner, but that plas­tic pot it comes in is so bad for the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Den­mark, mean­while, is renowned for its hygge – em­brac­ing am­bi­ence and lux­u­ri­at­ing in leisure­li­ness. Hygge is a mug of hot choco­late sipped near an open fire, soft woollen blan­kets and a row of leather-bound spines on the book­shelf. It’s those im­ages we see in in­te­rior de­sign mag­a­zines and on In­sta­gram. And this is its fail­ing: not all of us have the means to spend our days wrapped in cash­mere, re­clin­ing on an Arne Ja­cob­sen sofa on stormy au­tumn evenings. Hygge is like a Dis­ney movie that leaves no place for the mess of real life.

But there is an­other Scandi op­tion – the Fin­nish path to hap­pi­ness. Un­like our lovely neigh­bours, the Finn re­lies not on lagom or hygge but kalsarikänni , a term that lit­er­ally means “drink­ing at home, alone, in your un­der­wear”. This may sound fan­ci­ful but at the heart of this ap­proach lies a demo­cratic ideal. “Pants­drunk” doesn’t de­mand that you deny your­self the lit­tle things that make you happy or that you spend a for­tune on In­sta­grammable Scandi fur­ni­ture and load your house with more al­tar can­dles than a Catholic church. Af­ford­abil­ity is its hall­mark, of­fer­ing a re­al­is­tic rem­edy to ev­ery­day stress. Which is why this life­style choice is the an­tithe­sis of pos­ing and pre­tence: one does not post at­mo­spheric im­ages on In­sta­gram whilst pants­drunk. Pants­drunk is real. It’s about let­ting go and be­ing your­self, no af­fec­ta­tion and no per­for­mance.

It’s easy to see how pants­drunk evolved as a re­sponse to the harsh Fin­nish en­vi­ron­ment, one of per­pet­ual gloom and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures for nine and a half months of the year. Look out of a win­dow on a Fin­nish No­vem­ber day and much of the time it’s pitch dark and freez­ing, a lac­er­at­ing sleet is fall­ing and the pave­ments are crusted in ice and slush. Of­ten the streets are de­serted and hu­man com­pan­ion­ship re­quires a lengthy and un­pleas­ant trek. And that’s at noon, the bright­est point of the day. No won­der pants­drunk came into be­ing.

The lib­er­at­ing ef­fect of this Fin­nish path to hap­pi­ness de­rives from sim­ple el­e­ments: com­fort­able clothes, al­co­hol im­bibed in ap­pro­pri­ate amounts and no in­ten­tion of go­ing out. That’s not to say that pants­drunk needs to be a solo ac­tiv­ity. It can also be en­joyed with a good friend, house­mate or per­haps a rel­a­tive. When prac­tised prop­erly, pants­drunk with one’s spouse or sig­nif­i­cant other ex­pands and deep­ens the re­la­tion­ship.

All you re­ally need is the fore­sight to pre­pare. Pack the fridge full of bud­get-brand ar­ti­sanal beer, stock up on dips, crisps and choco­late – and make sure you have the lat­est psy­cho­log­i­cal drama ready to watch on Net­flix. When you get home, im­me­di­ately strip off your outer lay­ers of cloth­ing (the ba­sic rule: take off any­thing that’s even mildly un­com­fort­able or for­mal). Dress­ing for pants­drunk gen­er­ally means un­dress­ing. Grad­u­ally you’ll reach the most plea­sur­able mo­ment of your strip­tease: the slow peel­ing off of your sweaty socks from your feet, a sen­sa­tion that de­serves its own Scandi ex­pres­sion. Now saunter to the kitchen and grab one of the cold beers from the fridge. Sink down on the sofa in your un­der­wear and let out a deep sigh of re­lief.

If you’re ques­tion­ing the com­plex­ity of this for­mula, then con­sider the fact that pants­drunk is not just Fin­nish folk­lore or a self-care phe­nom­e­non; it’s also of­fi­cial for­eign pol­icy. Al­most three years ago, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs’ Unit for Pub­lic Diplo­macy launched two emo­jis of peo­ple drink­ing in their un­der­wear in

‘It’s not just Fin­nish folk­lore – it’s of­fi­cial for­eign pol­icy’

arm­chairs – a man in briefs with a beer and a woman an with a glass of red wine – to rep­re­sent Fin­nish cul­ture. ure.

As a life­style choice, pants­drunk is not in con­flict with lagom and hygge. They all spring from the same Nordic rdic ori­gins and share the same ul­ti­mate goals: op­ti­mal peace of mind, com­fort and equi­lib­rium. Each has been shaped by its own his­tory, cul­ture and na­tional char­ac­ter. rac­ter. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the three of them lies in their i eco­nomic his­tory.

When Fin­land de­clared its in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia in 1917, it was a poor, agrar­ian coun­try with a GDP barely graz­ing the global av­er­age. Life ex­pectancy was low and child mor­tal­ity high. Yet, in 100 years, Fin­land has be­come a post-in­dus­trial in­for­ma­tion so­ci­ety and the third most pros­per­ous coun­try in the world. It also achieved the high­est to­tal score in the UN’s 2018 World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, ranked the most sta­ble, the safest and best gov­erned coun­try in the world. It is also among the least cor­rupt and the most so­cially pro­gres­sive. Its po­lice are the world’s most trusted and its banks the sound­est. Free health­care and univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion also helps when it comes to hap­pi­ness. Ar­guably, pants­drunk is one more way to cel­e­brate the im­por­tance of re­lax­ation. Hu­mor­ous as its ap­proach may be, it is very much part of a se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to self­care – even if it’s friv­o­lous, we take it se­ri­ously. It’s also an at­ti­tude and phi­los­o­phy that starts from in­ner peace. You don’t even have to drink al­co­hol to achieve it – it’s about tak­ing time out, in­dulging in a lit­tle of what you en­joy and be­ing au­then­tic. Ul­ti­mately, the Fin­nish ap­proach is closer to mind­ful­ness than it is to the Nordic no­tions of hygge and lagom. A real pants­drunk pro knows how to be his or her laid-back self, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances – no styled Scandi in­te­rior re­quired. Fol­low this phi­los­o­phy and you are im­mers­ing your­self in true Fin­nish cul­ture. ■ To or­der a copy of Pants­drunk: The Fin­nish Art of Drink­ing at Home. Alone. In Your Un­der­wear by Miska Rantanen, (Square Peg, £9.99) for £8.59, go to guardian­book­shop.com

‘A real pants­drunk pro knows how to be their laid­back self’

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