Anyone who has grown up in Sweden learned early on that “lagom är bäst”, lagom is best. Lagom, which does not have an exact equivalent in English, translates approximately to “just enough” or “everything in moderation.” To a Swede it means the ideal place, where everything is as it should be.To understand the Swedes, one must understand lagom.
The concept of lagom colors Swedish attitudes and beliefs and is used in all possible contexts. For Americans, who strive for that which is biggest, most and best, and for whom “the sky is the limit”, the Swedish desire for lagom often seems very limiting.
If the basic belief is, “lagom is best”, it is not difficult to understand the Swedes’ lack of appreciation of anything that appears to be excessive. So, what happens when the Swedish lagom approach encounters the American attitude, which often thrives on pushing the limits?
One example, frequently mentioned by Swedes in the U.S., relates to how to prepare a resume. Most career counselors in the U.S. reccommend making accomplishments sound as impressive as possible in order to make the job seeker stand out from other applicants. To the Swede, for whom anything that feels like an exaggeration is uncomfortable, the resume is usually a factual account of experiences and skills. As a result, the resume by the Swede, although accurate, may appear less than impressive when compared with a resume by an American with the same qualifications. Both the Swede and the American will benefit by being aware of this and by making appropriate adjustments.
The value of lagom, if you consult a Swede, is indisputable; it does after all keep things from getting too extreme. It also offers a comfortable guideline for conducting one’s life. However, from an American perspective, lagom often seems less than ideal. How can you excel if your aspirations must be held in check? Why should you settle for less if you don’t have to.
Lagom may be a little word, but its impact can be great. Whether you believe that it represents an ideal rule for living – that lagom is indeed best, or see it as an obstacle to reaching greatness, one thing seems clear – for Swedes living in the U.S., the best policy may be to be lagom lagom! And for the American who wants to impress a Swede, cutting back on the superlatives is not a bad idea.