Hygge 1: What’s the British Equivalent?
You can’t get away from hygge in the London bubble; it’s in shops, in books, at dinner parties, everywhere at once. If you’ve experienced hygge you’ll know it’s a simple pleasure. For those who’ve been living away from the chattering classes this winter, hygge is aÂ Danish word describing aÂ feeling or mood that comes from enjoying everyday moments in cosy, safe surroundings.
It manifests itself in baggy cable-knit jumpers, deep sofas, open fires, mugs of chocolate, frosty windows, warmth and retrenchment. There’s an equivalent in most languages; in Germany I suppose it would be gemÃ¼tlichÂ or heimat or something similar. I seem to recall that unheimlich means the revelation of what is hidden, and hygge has a sense of privacy about it.
When my partner first arrived in the UK, he professed mystification about the peculiarly English concept of ‘indoors’. It was, I explained, where most things happened; inside a warm house, or if outside, in a neutral communal space of an English pub. Very little English life occurs in the open air anymore, which is why I’ve always partly lived in other countries. The freedom to spend time in the outside world is a huge relief. I think of Alison Steadman in Mike Leigh’s ‘Life Is Sweet’, horrified that her daughter thought she’d gone for a walk. ‘I’ve never been for a walk in my life, have I?’
In Britain there was often nothing to go out for, the weather was bad, the shops were shut, bars and restaurants existed for the well-off. Outdoors was also rather common. Men with suntans were regarded suspiciously because it meant they had spent time outdoors, i.e. in poorly paid jobs. Indoor work in the city was clerical.
So could ‘indoors’ be the English equivalent of hygge?
The concept of relaxing indoors has changed greatly in my lifetime, from a three-piece suite arranged around a fireplace, then a TV. Now more than half British homes no longer have a dedicated dining table and a third of all family eat sandwiches on a Sunday instead of a roast (although not on my watch). Does this mean that hygge now consists of children locked in their bedrooms playing ‘Gangsta Kill 4’ while dad and mum go out? We have more leisure time, but the largest part of that is spent shopping, not playing sports, going to museums and art galleries.
We do have a better idea of physical health now, though, and ‘getting your steps in’ has certainly become a Thing. There’s also more to do outside in the winter, and it’s possible that with global warming comes further encouragement to step beyond the great indoors.