Translation – Danish Hygge

translating hygge

More than cosy 
Wandering into a local bookshop a while back, I was surprised by a display of books on Scandinavia – mostly about Denmark – and no less than six books about hygge alone. I’d seen articles on hygge in The Guardian, The Telegraph and the BBC and had had it crop up in general conversation twice in the preceding couple of weeks. It suddenly seemed to be common currency.

But what was this concept bulldozing into the British consciousness? Why can’t we just translate it as “cosiness”?  Should we just go out and buy loads of candles?  It turns out…there’s a whole lot more to hygge than that.

All ours
The Danes like to claim this concept entirely as their own, and as a unique feature of Danishness. It is at the core of their social lives and general well being, and I think they secretly think that nobody else can possibly do it quite like they can.  And maybe they are right?

Helen Russell, in her book”The Year of Living Danishly” describes investigating the matter:

” Is it a verb? Or an adjective?”
“It can be both, says Pernille. “Staying home and having a cosy, candlelit time is hygge… bakeries are hygge, and dinner with friends is hygge. You can have a ‘hygge’ time. And there’s often alcohol involved.” 
She also states that hygge “defies literal translation but is about having a relaxed, cosy time; being kind to yourself, and not denying yourself anything.

So it involves a bit of indulgence? Clearly, however, it’s accepted that you should celebrate yourself quietly, cosily and modestly in Denmark.  I wonder if the Brits could try some more of that too? Have fun staying in, getting cosy and looking after yourself, together with your friends and family.  Maybe we’d all do well to hole up a bit and hygge more.

Visit Denmark’s website states that: “In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people… Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world?”  

Yes, research has shown that the Danes rate themselves highly in terms of general happiness, well being and work-life balance. It seems there is a whole lot we can learn from them. I’d fully recommend Helen Russell’s book for a closer look at all that, and it’s really funny too.  Be warned though, the more you hear, the more you may want to move to Denmark, especially if you have children (it’s so very family-life friendly), and if you like bikes (I do!)

Translation please?
Well, it’s hard to pin down hygge and I’m going to stick with it being untranslatable. Sometimes we just have to cope with that. Instead, I think we should poach it into English in its existing form, though, of course we would have to learn how to do it too.

I’m starting to think it comes down to the product of it all – which, in the end, is the warm feeling which is created.

A while back I discovered there was a rogue Dane living in my small village.  So I put out feelers, tracked her down and made her meet me for coffee. She had a cold and a sore throat but tolerated my rusty foreigner’s Danish for nearly an hour (while I read and translate Danish regularly, I rarely speak it). She was lovely and her parting phrase as we went our separate ways was that it had been “hyggeligt” to talk with me. Aah, and there it was…the wee warm feeling – like a candle on the inside. 

Danes, you win.   ‘It was lovely to meet you’ just couldn’t do that, now could it?