Something rare just happened. An expat writer just published a book about Sweden, adding a welcome perspective to the handful of books available on this admittedly niche subject. Worth mentioning is, published rather recently, Brown’s Fishing in Utopia, that fishing anecdotes aside gives rather nuanced insight on the conflicting preferences of society, culture and individual. There is also Susan Sontag’s raging description of a hostile people deprived of any humanity, that many of my clients find really refreshing when hitting rock bottom of culture shock half-way through the freezing drizzle season of November (or March).
Now, there is Lagom - the Swedish Secret of Living Well, by Lola Akinmade Åkerström. Akinmade is one of those talented multipods, not only a proficient writer but also photographer and travel blogger, residing in Stockholm between her trips.
In contrast to Brown’s and Sontag’s accounts, Akinmade is not, at least not at first glance, taking any personal stance. The book is divided into 12 chapters, with everything from culture, emotion, and social life to work, business, money and finance. But it also covers more a more lifestyle genre of beauty, fashion, wellbeing, decor and design. Every chapter is well developed, and is centered around the question on how Swedes justify their way of reasoning through the lens of lagom. This way, through applying the concept of lagom, to pretty much anything, Akinmade manages to make the Swedes make sense. Her tone is in itself very lagom, and she is not shunning from the other side of the coin, bringing up also the darker side of Jantelagen and the infamous Swedish envy.
However, if you read carefully, you may start tracing Akinmade’s own journey, starting with a dinner party where talented people did not brag about their achievements, the house was decorated in a simple manner, and where silence was considered as a perfectly acceptable form of conversation. The finishing lines, Inviting lagom into our lives, also tells in what ways Akinmade has changed her own way of life since coming to Sweden. Although we are not told about any compromises, frustration or confusion that were part of this process, I feel qualified to guess that it has not always been easy. And in this way, I am inclined to think that the book is in fact more personal than initially thought.
If this book had been written by a Swede, it would probably have been a little self-complacent for me, despite (or because of) being very lagom in tone. And for some internationals that have been living in Sweden for some time, it could perhaps be frustrating that the book, apart from the chapter on Jantelagen, is lacking that critical perspective that one might crave at some stage in the re-location process. Sometimes, you might want to read only what confirms your own struggle, and in that case, this is not the right piece of literature. However, before coming to Sweden, or during your first six months, I believe that these texts could really help you to understand Swedish ways, and also discover little things that you would not have notice unguided. Similarly, when the worst part of your culture shock is over, it could be worth picking up this again, to review your perspective on Swedish lifestyle, perhaps not to adapt all aspects, but to pick the parts that resonate with you, as an individual. It could also serve as a very good gift to your friends and family abroad, those people who are curious about, or sometimes even questioning your Swedish lifestyle.
It is worth mentioning that it is a well crafted book, with plenty of Akinmade’s own photographs, and illustrations by Sinem Erkas. Some of the photographs are more of a lifestyle/stock character, but there are some real gems that manage to catch that very Swedish spirit of moderation and consideration.
Overall, this is a very welcome piece of introduction to Swedish lifestyle and culture, and I would say even a must for anyone in the process of re-locating to Sweden.