Sunday, March 18th, 2019
It was snowing when we landed in Oslo today. I remembered a long-ago conversation with one of my senior students, sitting with her on a cold day like today. Teaching in the heart of Otara, South Auckland, I had felt for the first time what it was like to be the alien. I was the young, fresh-out-of-teacher’s-college white guy deep within a Polynesian community of the 1970’s.
“Miss Tennet-White, she tries too hard to be a Poly sir. Why can’t she just be herself, eh? “
Teuila wasn’t being rude or condescending. Red-headed and pale-skinned, Miss Tennet-White peppered her conversations with confidently-delivered yet awkward Samoan and Tongan slang. Adopting long, floral, island-dress, she appeared to be desperately trying to fit into a culture she admired so much. Meanwhile, I had quickly learnt to ditch my formal neck ties; they really did not work there.
In Stockholm and Luleå last year, I discovered Mys, a cultural practice that is uniquely Swedish yet which permeates a lot of Scandinavia. It is Hygge in Denmark. Think warmth among family and companions in the depth of winter. One of the things I want to understand on this trip is lagom. Think minimalism done without the hippy sentimentality and you are on the right track.
Only, as I began to catch up on my reading over here, I found that since 2016, many British have adopted hygge the way they took to IKEA furniture. Sales of woolly hand-knitted socks and candles have skyrocketed. The Guardian article here is scathing. I never greet people I meet here with “Hei, hei“. They assume you are Swedish and you quickly find yourself apologizing, asking them to repeat what they have just said in English. More than that, the double hei is reserved only for close friends and family,
When we find something that resonates with us, that seems consistent with our existing lifestyles and beliefs, critical thinking should not just go out the window. Letting a practice or belief change us should be a conscious decision. Admiring a culture is one thing, but you do not have to go around trying to talk like the Swedish chef from the Muppets, even if that is what a lot of Scandinavian people sound like here.
I love watching people walking in the streets in Europe. These people and places are supposed to affect us. That’s why we came, to experience and appreciate the diversity. I wrote in the earlier article on mys that:
“Mys is also solitude but not loneliness. It is not mindfulness either but it resonates with my own ideas of fellowship and grace, the being alone and at peace with your Father as a believer. Perhaps finally comfortable in your own skin too? “
So, as I spend time reflecting here on my study journey so far, I am wanting to build a new resilience to get through the next year of my PhD, Honestly, I am finding study at this level hard. Fun, but very demanding. Learning to downsize and become more minimalist has been liberating but it takes effort. So, let’s figure out if lagom can help with that.
I love this stuff…