I’m not even sure how or where to begin. It never even crossed my mind to write a post on this topic but after seeing countless – and I do mean COUNTLESS – of foreigners get it wrong, but think they’ve got it right, I feel compelled to correct the mistakes, and who is more qualified to do that than a true native Dane? So what is hygge? How is it pronounced? And most importantly: how is it practised?
WHAT IS HYGGE?
Most people pretty much nail the definition which, in all fairness, is not hard to do since it’s only one Google search away. From the Oxford disctionary *clears throat*:
Simple, right? Then why do foreigners so easily get it wrong, practically? My guess is that just because something can be defined in a simple fashion doesn’t mean that it is simple. Another example of that is a word like health. Technically easy to define but practically very complex. I’ve never had to think about it since hygge is embedded into Danish culture and it’s always been a phrase we use. Everyone knows what it means so no-one ever felt the need to define what exactly it is – that is before foreigners began to show interest.
HOW IS IT PRONOUNCED?
Hoo-ga or hue-gah or… *sigh* PLEASE LET MY HEAD EXPLODE! This is originally what sparked my need to set things right and correct the oh-so-many mistakes I’ve seen from countless of bloggers. When I went to rant about it to my future husband he laughed and called it Danesplaining. Did he invent a new word? I think he did! And I love it. It covers everything I felt right in that moment. Being lectured about Danish culture from foreigners who don’t even get it right. I felt so tired and annoyed. Danesplaining. Brillant. So how is hygge pronounced? You see, the biggest problem the English language has is that it doesn’t have the Danish Y sound that is necessary to pronounce it in the first place. It simply doesn’t exist and can therefore be difficult to wrap your tongue around. I know first hand because I’m the one who tried getting a real Y sound out of Mr English and even then it has an English twang. The next minor thing that some foreigners – especially considering the gruesome, teeth grinding and jaw clenching examples above – have trouble pronounciating is the ending: E – or ə phonetically speaking – which most of all resembles the Danish Ø sound. Funnily enough Mr English never had this problem. But bear that in mind if you think that hygge is ending in a ga-sound because it doesn’t and oh-my-God-my-ears-are-bleeding!
Due to how the languages are different the phonetic way of writing it becomes different, too. Allow me to demonstrate:
Danish dictionary: /hygə/
English dictionary: /hʊɡ.ə/
See what I mean? And even then the pronounciation is wrong. Whether it’s pronounced in UK or US voice, it doesn’t matter. It’s wrong. Frustrating, right? So how IS it pronounced then? Believe it or not – and even though it took me a while! – there is a youtube video where it’s pronounced correctly:
HOW TO PRACTISE HYGGE
The last two major pet peeves of mine that I’ve seen around various blogs is the invention of the word hygging and the falsified perception of how hygge is practised. I’m only going to say this once so listen closely: HYGGING IS NOT A THING! It’s not even gramatically correct! We have: hygge, hyggelig/hyggeligt, and then we have the tailored put-together words like familiehygge (family hygge), råhygge (when something is extra hyggeligt) or hyggespreder (one who spreads hygge around them).
So how do you practise hygge? It sounds almost as if people think it’s a lifestyle we choose – is it, I’m not sure? I see it more as a necessity when living up north where it’s cold, dark and rainy 9/12 months. I suppose you can call it compensation for the fact that our wheather is fucking depressing and we try to suck vitamin D out of live candles instead of a sun that is almost abscent. Jokes aside, I truly don’t see it as a lifestyle choice. It’s more of a culture ting than anything else and perhaps a bi-product of living in one of the safest small corners of the world which brings me to the biggest false perceptions foreigners have of what hygge truly is. I’ve seen lists of “Autumn hygge ideas”, “How to live a hygge life” etc. and the things on those lists makes me wonder if foreigners think that hygge is special activities? Take this example: grow a garden. I’m sorry to say but that’s just called gardening. Read a book is another example and again, no, that’s just called reading. See where I’m going? It must be annoying for the bloggers of the world but you cannot list a bunch of things and call it hygge. Hygge is a feeling not an activity. It is not self-care either. Self-care is self-care and meditation is meditation. It is NOT hygge!
Let me give you an example: a couple sitting and watching a movie on Netflix two evenings in a row. One evening it is really hyggeligt, the next it’s not. Same activity but not the same feeling! It is not the activity – which is why lists are useless and PLEASE STOP MAKING THEM! – but a state of being in that moment. The feeling of happiness and contentedness. Obviously you cannot feel happy and content all of the time. If you do you’re a total weirdo! But being able to enjoy those hours of being happy, cozy and content is what a part of the Danish culture is all about.
How do I do it? If I want a hyggelig evening while reading or watching a film I usually put on my wollen socks, fire up some candles, grab a blanket and enjoy a cup of hot tea or chocolate. It creates a hyggelig atmosphere but by the end of the day it’s my state of mind that determines whether it will actually be hyggeligt or not. If I’m sad, worried or annoyed no amount of candle lights, wollen socks or hot chocolate will make it so. Being happy and content. That’s what it’s all about.
What did you think hygge was?
Did I help to clarify the term for you?
Leave your thoughts and comments down below.