You might have heard that the Danish people are the happiest in the world. Although they do seem very happy I cannot say with complete certainty that this claim is true, solely based on my own observations in Copenhagen this week.
Although happiness is stereotypically associated with Scandinavian countries, there is another more specific word that comes to mind when I think of an all-encompassing description of Denmark. This word is “hygge.” If there’s any Danish word that I will remember after I return to the United States, it will be hygge. Interestingly, there isn’t any direct translation of hygge in English that matches its Danish meaning: the closest is “coziness” or “security.” Happiness is an aspect of hygge, but its definition seems shallow in comparison.
A Holiday dinner spent with close family and friends could be considered hygge. Hygge looks like enjoying a cup of tea and a book. Hygge can also represent a mental state: a sense of togetherness, security or comfort. It’s a necessary aspect of Danish culture, especially with the extended, dark and frigid winters.
The Danes make an effort to incorporate hygge into their daily lives. For instance, Copenhagen contains the longest pedestrianized street in the world, called StrØget. Everything one could possibly need can be found along this street, grocery stores, clothing, housewares, restaurants… the list goes on. I have spent a considerable amount of time exploring StrØget, and I have barely seen all that StrØget contains.
However, what has made an impression is the sense of comfort one finds on StrØget. There are no cars, so there is no risk of being hit or having an angry driver honk at you. The road is quite wide, so one may leisurely walk, browsing the store windows. If you miss one H&M, no worries, there’s another three down the street. Restaurants advertise with simplistically decorated tables along the street, often with a red or white rose perched on the white tablecloth.
Along the way, I found three street performers: a violinist, clarinetist and guitarist. All three were very talented and I heard the music continuing from far away. I noticed the smell of crepes and hot, sweet drinks as I walked, lending more to the hygge atmosphere. It also doesn’t hurt that Danes are some of the most beautiful, graceful people I have seen in my life—tall, blonde, impeccably dressed. They reminded me very much of Denmark’s national bird, the swan.
I was at first apprehensive telling Danish people that I was American. Americans might not have the best reputation among Europeans and I was a bit nervous about what preconceived notions they might associate with my nationality, or how other Americans had poorly represented my country.
As my time in Copenhagen went on, though, I found it easier to say that I was Arizonan. Danes always react with interest and curiosity, making jokes about the heat or asking me about my travels in Denmark. In these interactions, I have found the purest meaning of hygge: the sense of acceptance from the Danish people and security in my surroundings.
Farvel for now!