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The Hygge Life (pronounced hue-gaw)

I’ve just returned from Copenhagen, where I indulged my love all things Danish: furniture, design, and the hygge culture. There’s so much about the Scandinavian vibe that we as American travelers can take home. For starters, the Danes are by and large a humble population. In fact, it is considered extremely rude to stand out from the crowd by bragging or being showy. Everywhere I went, I experienced a sense of community—people let others pass first, bus riders pick up trash after themselves, and all-around, everyone seems to have a sense of hygge.

I am completely enamored of the Danish way of life, or the hygge way of life. Like élan, hygge has no literal translation in English. Perhaps that’s because it can be difficult to grasp the concept if you live in, say, NYC, where elbowing your way onto the subway isn’t rude—it’s a means of survival. As described to me by a Finnish friend from college, hygge is that feeling you get when you’re sitting in an igloo with good friends and a bottle of aquavit. I can’t remember the last time my friends and I huddled in an igloo, but I’m sold on the idea.

Copenhagen’s hygge side can be experienced in cafes where the candles are lit for lunch. Or when people of all ages ride by in the blistering cold on their bikes in skirts and knee-high boots as if it were a sunny, summer’s day. Kids in knit hats ride in carts attached to the front bicycle wheel, peering over the edge with their fingerless mittens. I also felt hygge when my husband and I were walking along the canals at twilight, which it always seems to be in Denmark in winter. The stars never went to sleep, and the sky glows all day long with that Magritte-like intensity behind candlelit houses.

Anyone who tells you to skip Scandinavia in the winter doesn’t stand a chance of getting what hygge means.


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