Helped along by the prescient Craig Bob, some hardheaded church telemarketer, and the brilliant Rhymer, I’ve been thinking a bit about immigration. About the Bible, naturally, and theology. But mostly about scarcity versus abundance. Do we have enough to share with them?
And inspiration and alchemy came in the form of watching my man Tony eat and drink his way through Sweden. Everywhere he went, he came across this word– a word without clear linguistic parallel or capable translation.
So of course I went to Wikipedia, source of all things true and misleading. There, I learned about “Lagom”.
The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines lagom as “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right.” Lagom is also widely translated as “in moderation,” “in balance,” “optimal,” “reasonable,” and “average.” But whereas words like “sufficient” and “average” suggest some degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure, lagom decidedly carries the connotation of perfection or appropriateness. The archetypical Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst,” literally “Lagom is best,” is translated as “Enough is as good as a feast” in the Lexin dictionary…
…According to common folklore, “lagom” is a contraction of “laget om” (“around the team”), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share. This story is recounted widely, including on the website of the Swedish Institute. Both the Swedish Language Council and the Swedish Academy, however, cite the true etymology of lagom as being from the word “lag” (“law”), in this case referring not necessarily to judicial law but common sense law, with the archaic dative plural ending “-om.”…
…The value of “just enough” can be contrasted to the value of “more is better.” It is viewed favorably as a sustainable alternative to the hoarding extremes of consumerism: “Why do I need more than two? Det är [It is] lagom” (Atkisson, 2000). It can also be viewed as repressive: “You’re not supposed to be too good, or too rich” (Gustavsson, 1995). Lagom has been fingered as a challenge to economic growth and the reason for Sweden’s apparent lack of outward patriotism.
Only any self-respecting American knows that ‘average’ is a very dirty word, that a lack of economic growth = disaster, and that you can’t be ‘too rich’. In the wise words of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, “I gots to do for me and mine”… and sell my neighbor up the river. Second place = first loser, and patriotism is the same as Godliness.
But what if we already have ‘just enough’? Is it possible to have no more than you need, and no less? To be content with what we have (dayenu, anyone?), and to share the rest?
So I’m thinking about my great, great grandfather, who left Sweden to sail to Charleston, SC and a new country before anyone cared to guard the borders or even take careful count of just who was getting in. One hundred years later, the question seems to come to me, ‘Is Lagom är bäst?’. Or is that what he was leaving behind?
Posted in: stake in the sand