Lagom is a unique Swedish word with no direct translation. Its closest meaning is ‘just right’… not too much, but not too little, either. Its origin is said to come from the sentiment of ‘Laget Om’ – or the term that refers back to the civic mindset that as a team with a limited supply of something, you have to be mindful when you take your portion – making sure you don’t take so much that the rest of the team doesn’t get anything, while also ensuring that you take enough to satisfy yourself.
It’s an interesting word but during my youth in the 1980s, the word fell out of fashion. During a time when the the community we lived in felt stifled by a debilitating sameness and smallness, the term became a somewhat derogatory way to describe our country. What I’m describing felt like the Swedish DDR; the social democratic Sweden where we had two grocery stores to choose between, one place to buy wine and alcohol and maybe two or three clothes shops – H&M being one of them, of course. We blamed the word for that sameness and need to conform, and it consequently got tangled up with the strong distaste we had for sticking out. That worst of sins was to believe you were different, special or worth more in any way than the rest of your neighbors.
But, lately something has changed, I can report that I’m not the only one who’s found a new love for the word. It’s crept into the artisanal, locally-produced, sensible and sustainable vernacular. Gone are the opulence and extravagance of the 80s, and today, being lagom, just enough, feels right and honorable.