Lagom is the ticket to successful integration in Sweden
Where else in the world can friend and foe in business and politics exchange their views in an inclusive, open and collaborative setting where everyone equally gets their say, and audiences engage and contribute – and criticise. Disciplined. Cilivized. Respectful. – Getting together on an island to debate everything from ethics to politics. This was Almedalen Week July 2016
Who gets to lead? Whoever shouts the loudest?
Watching the rallies from the US presidential elections always makes me wonder what happened to politics being the voice of the people. There really isn’t much room for debate or separate opinions. It is all about who shouts the loudest, who creates the best TV broadcast friendly setting with American flags, banners or sound bites on signs lifted high by a religiously enchanted audience. They all agree at a rally. Of course they do – they are handpicked to do so, I assume. And the sound bites are carefully crafted, and really not anybody’s opinion. I learned that from the documentary The War Room on Bill Clinton’s election campaign.
In Almedalen on the Swedish island of Gotland, at this annual gathering of everybody who is anybody (and a few nobodies like me) in Swedish society, it appears we all agree despite disagreeing strongly.
It’s just that nobody is shouting. If you do, your message simply won’t be respected. You can say things with emphasis, you can criticize, you can argue, you can disagree. But you let your opponent finish their sentence, you do not raise your voice or shout insults. Everybody is allowed to be there. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. They are not your mortal enemy, they are just different.
It’s called diversity. It’s called freedom of speech. It’s just lagom.
There is no translation for the word lagom – it is a state of mind, a way to view life and human interactions. And relationships. And the weather. What is lagom?
An urban myth claims that the amount of mead in a viking drinking cup being passed around a group of warriors must be “lagom” – as in be enough for the entire team. “Lag” means team in Swedish. Pass it around the entire team for everyone to have a sip.
Raised to be lagom
The Swedish Board of School Education states that in 2015, 94% of all children aged 4-5 attended municipal kindergarden/daycare. If you dive deeper, you realize that an impressive 88.4% of all children living in Sweden with immigrant parents attended these kindergardens. And they are all brought up with the concept of lagom as a way of life and human interaction. This is integration at it’s best.
On a lighter note, here’s a nice review of the differences between a Swedish boyfriend brought up along those principles, and what you could experience with others.
And it’s not a new phenomenon – it’s an integral part of the Swedish welfare state where the decade long focus on gender equality in the home and in the workplace has meant that generations of Swedes today setting the tone and the agenda in business, politics and academia were brought up to be lagom. Brought up to be considerate, attentive and inclusive.
It’s not that easy to be lagom
I am an immigrant myself, coming from Germany, then Denmark and now Sweden. And these are three entirely different cultures in terms of human interaction and behaviour. I will never really be part of this tribe; my values may be to be both considerate, attentive and inclusive – but I am certainly not lagom.
It’s an acquired trait, you restrain yourself from voicing disagreement, you avoid standing out in confrontative situations and you must not take the last cookie on the platter. I can do neither.
But I often meet immigrants and children of immigrants who are mastering the skill and have become part of the tribe in a way I may never be. Amazingly enough, being lagom also meant that when I joined Refugees Welcome Stockholm at Almedalen last week to quietly, orderly walk around in my pink vest, I was stopped by locals and organisations and thanked for our efforts.
Our purpose there was not to shout – it was to remind politicians, opinion makers and media of the fact that these people need help, not rejection.
Karin, a police volonteer from the hectic days of autumn 2015 at the Stockholm Central Train Station stopped me in my pink vest to thank Refugees Welcome Stockholm for continuing our efforts
Rosa Stationen – A Refugees Welcome Stockholm integration project
35,000 people came to the Almedalen Week this year in July. That is as many people as Refugees Welcome Stockholm (RWS) received and assisted during the influx of refugees in the autumn months of 2015.
In the autumn and winter of 2015, local Stockholmers, passers by, volonteers from help organisations, young and old rallied at the Stockholm Central Train station to help these people not just with the bare necessities of life but into a new and meaningful existence. It takes a lot more than food, shelter and clothing.
Read more about some of their fates here: When disruption becomes tangible – stories from a train station. Europe September 2015.
RWS created Rosa Stationen a meeting place, where the volunteers who were persevering at the train station, continue their involvement by exemplifying and teaching refugees how a Swede respects and values you and your opinion.
It’s not really a survival technique for refugees – being lagom
Sometimes it is difficult to convey to these people, because the trauma and the fact that they survived their perilous journeys and made it this far, is not because they were lagom in anything.
It’s more likely that they had to be fierce, persistent, loud. It is very plausible that these qualities, which ensured their survival, are also the ones who can obstruct a successful integration. A Swede brought up on these ideals has difficulties interacting with and understanding behaviour as “un-lagom” as this. Being “un-lagom” myself, I can relate.
The focus of the newly arrived is on finding jobs to learn the “Swedish Way” which is so much more than learning the language. It will be a long journey for them, but many of the volunteers at RWS have made similar journeys themselves, as children or more recently as young adults.
And they are the most successful, most warmhearted, most outstanding human beings I have ever met. Despite being just lagom.
- If you would like to learn more about the Refugees Welcome Stockholm integration activities, take a look at the Refugees Welcome Stockholm Website , follow us on Twitter or join our Facebook group
- The next big project is #GeBarnenAndrum (Create a Safe Haven for the children). You can volunteer or support the effort with a donation
It is through the children we ensure the future and they are the ones who need a safe haven the most.