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CULTURE

‘Stop! This is what lagom truly means’

Stockholm-based writer and photographer Lola Akinmade-Åkerström aims to give the world a deeper understanding of the hyped Swedish concept of lagom.

'Stop! This is what lagom truly means'
A lagom work-life balance is important to Swedes. Photo: Lauri Rotko/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

A photographer and writer, born in Nigeria, having lived in the US and now based in Stockholm since 2009, it was probably inevitable that Lola Akinmade-Åkerström would write a book about lagom at some point.

The Swedish word, which means something like “just right”, is the latest Scandi trend to hit the global stage, and has been described by the likes of Vogue as an “ethos of moderation” governing Swedish society. But there is more to it than meets the eye. The Local spoke to Akinmade-Åkerström about what she learned about it and herself when she started writing her new book – Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well.

READ ALSO: Eight things in Sweden that aren't so lagom

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström. Photo: Private

How did you come up with the idea of writing this book? 

I was actually approached out of the blue by UK publisher Hachette/Headline to collaborate because they had found an in-depth article I had written on Lagom for Roads & Kingdoms/Slate about four years ago.

As you are not originally from Sweden, did you find it hard to understand lagom?

At the beginning when I first moved to Sweden many years ago, lagom was a bit tricky to grasp until I realised it was a shape-shifter. Lagom changes meaning in different settings and situations. Once I grasped that, then I fully understood lagom at its core.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge with lagom especially for those who come from cultures steeped in community mindsets is the distance lagom personally keeps, lack of acknowledgement, and the close circles it builds around its own. So in the book, I explain this in more depth and why this happens (good or bad) so people from other cultures who have to interact with lagom fully understand this and don't collectively dismiss it as Swedes just being cold.

You said that lagom means 'just right' and also that the principle of lagom can be interpreted in different ways by different people, so can it create conflicts in the community?

Actually, I define lagom as “optimal”. Meaning, the decision we choose to make at a particular moment or about a certain interaction or situation is the best holistic choice for us individually or for the group, we find ourselves in. That is what lagom at its core tries to do.

My personal lagom isn't your lagom and because we can't measure lagom equally and apply it with the same brush across society, it does cause some conflict and misunderstandings. For one, the jantelagen aspect, which I call Cousin Jante throughout my book, adds a complicated layer on top of lagom.

Plus, because lagom naturally keeps space and distance out of personal consideration for the other party, this can in many cases be misconstrued as apathy which isn't necessarily true.

READ ALSO: How I tackled Sweden's law of Jante


The front cover of the book. Credit: Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Can lagom be considered a human principle instead of a Swedish one?

Lagom is most definitely a human principle because it pushes us to find our own individual levels of contentment, inner peace, and most natural operating state. What makes it a very Swedish (or Nordic) is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus.

How has moving to Sweden changed you?

Now living in Sweden, this means I have lived with three very distinct cultures for extended periods of time to fully grasp all their nuances and that is why it was super easy for me to fully understand how lagom operates.

And the beauty is that I get to pick and choose which aspect of lagom appeals the most to me and apply to some aspects of my own life and leave the more unattractive qualities of lagom behind.

Do Swedes really live their lives according to this principle? Isn't lagom a bit too hyped-up, like the Danish hygge?

Lagom is definitely being hyped up by the UK and international market and from the clichéd craze, you would think Swedes were having picnics and baking cinnamon buns at home every day and spicing it not too much, not too little, just right!

My book screams “Stop! This is what lagom truly means” and provides a much deeper view of lagom from practically all angles so foreigners understand what it means, how it operates, how it interacts with them as foreigners and they can choose which aspects of lagom appeals to them to apply to their own lives.

Because I live and interact with lagom every single day, that informed the angle and way I was going to write this book. I wanted to write a book that promotes cultural understanding, not one that focused on lagom superficially.

Which country or who do you think nowadays needs a bit more lagom?

Lagom is definitely not perfect but considering I also lived in the US for extended periods of time, a little lagom – moving from 100 percent individual focus to a bit more group focus – won't hurt and frankly, is needed on some level.

READ ALSO: Eight horrible Swedish words that get on my nerves

Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well is available as an eBook from July 1st and as hardcover from August 10th. 

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based writer and photographer who contributes to publications such as National Geographic Traveler, AFAR, The Telegraph, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure,  National Geographic Channel, Fodors.com, New York Magazine and many more.

She also owns and runs Geotraveler Media, co-founded Nordic Travel Bloggers and is the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm.

SWEDEN AND INDIA

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”

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