I’m in an inflated boat that is cutting across the waters of the Kullaberg Nature Reserve. The waves are choppy, the wind is strong, but my companions and I are holding on, looking for porpoises. These are toothed whales, similar in size to dolphins but not as sleek. Filip Stedt, the boat’s captain, tells us to look out for the black triangular fins of these aquatic mammals. “When they hunt, porpoises drive fish to the surface, which means you generally also see a flock of seagulls,” he says. Unlike grey dolphins, the fins of porpoises are hard to spot because of how easily they camouflage in the dark waters.
Kullaberg Nature Reserve is in Skåne (pronounced sko-nuh), an area in south Sweden. It is pretty close to Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen — a short drive to Helsingør, and then a striking 20-odd minutes across the border on a large ferry. There’s also the Øresund Bridge, which connects the city of Mälmo (in Skåne, Sweden) to Copenhagen. Which is to say: the Scandinavians have made it easy to live the good life on both sides of the border, even for just a day.
The good life in Skåne feels like something out of a fairy tale. Little pastel-hued cottages, the kind you would find in a children’s colouring book, dot roadsides. Life in the country, with its giant farms and rolling hills, is relatively laidback. Our first stop is Höganäs Saluhall, the market hall in Höganäs. It’s a one-stop shop for produce like fresh berries and mature cheese, as well as Scandinavian design — there are clothing, kitchen implements and handmade ceramics that Höganäs is known for. I spend time browsing through bowls of all shapes and sizes, and find a good deal on a cute vintage skirt, before digging into a tasty buffet at the market hall. It’s only been a few hours, but I’ve already got a taste of local life.
Later that day, I get a closer glimpse of Swedish life with fika — a tradition of sitting down for coffee and a snack (usually cinnamon buns) — when we head to Flickorna Lundgren, a cosy café space. I’m told that the coffee break doubles up as a way to take time out or hang out with friends too. The quaint little cottage acts as a bakery, with a sprawling garden around it. Second-generation owner Mats Fejne explains that his mother and her six sisters started the café back in 1938. While there’s hot food as well today, coffee and cakes were the only items sold initially. “We make 37,000 vanilla hearts each summer,” Mats says of the most popular item on the menu.
Our table, with its red-and-white plaid tablecloth, is laden with homemade goodies from the café: there are thin cardamom biscuits, warm cinnamon buns, “sweet chimney sweepers,” which are chewy biscuits made of eggs, nuts and chocolate, and the show-stealers — vanilla hearts. Coffee is poured into dainty ceramic cups from a traditional copper can. A bite into a vanilla heart — a sugarcoated biscuit with creamy custard filling — is what I imagine a pleasant summer day to taste like. The sugarcoated biscuit comes with a custard filling that conjures up only good feelings.
Every summer, 8,000 people visit Flickorna Lundgren. Walking around the gardens, I see colourful flowers in bloom, bees diligently pollinating each one. In one corner, a little girl is feeding a goat from the neighbouring farm. One of my companions on the trip is lying down on the grass, staring up at the clear blue sky. I find myself beginning to understand why fika is important to the Swedes, and why it’s best in a place like this. It’s a reminder to stay in the moment and to be more mindful — something that’s easily cast aside in the rush of the routine back home.
It’s during this train of thought that I first chance upon lagom (pronounced lah-gome). Another Swedish lifestyle concept, this one loosely translates to “just enough” or “just the right amount” and aims to strike a balance. I am told that it’s intrinsic to the Swedish way of living. Later, I look it up to find that American Vogue listed lagom as a hot trend in 2017, claiming it as the great successor to that other popular Scandinavian import: hygge, the Danish idea of cosiness and warmth. “Unlike hygge, which aims to capture a feeling, lagom is an ethos of moderation. […] Consider the ever-popular Scandinavian design — practical and functional but never overly adorned,” it wrote.
While both assert a distaste for extravagance, as The Guardian points out in an article published in February last year, unlike hygge’s idea of actively doing something to create a convivial atmosphere (like lighting a candle even), lagom, for the Swedes, is about a strict way of living. It drives everything from modesty to milk choices. For me, though, it’s much more basic. I’ve always treasured the idea of being able to strike the right balance, even if it’s for a singular moment of peace. There’s a certain charm in trading high-pressure competiveness for quality contentment.
Learning about lagom gives perspective to the day I’ve had. It’s applicable to the glee I felt at Flickorna Lundgren while munching on vanilla hearts and chocolate cookies — food that I’d recommend for broken hearts. And in Kullaberg, while I had been hoping to spot a porpoise (I’m fairly certain I may have caught a glimpse of a dark dorsal fin, but I’ll never really know), I was thrilled to spot peregrine falcons. The limestone cliffs of the nature reserve is where the birds — one of the world’s fastest — come to breed. I recall hearing them screech to one another. And, maybe, that’s enough. Lagom’s a way of life that could help us all focus on what we have, choose moderation, and aim for contentment.