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‘Hygge is a waste of London’: Time Out’s Miriam Bouteba on the Danish cult of cosiness

Written by
Miriam Bouteba

By now you’re probably familiar with the concept of hygge. At least ten books plus countless magazine articles and blog posts have taken turns this year to spew out instructions on how to be/get/have/live hygge. And almost all of them make the same point: that the word doesn’t translate exactly into English, that the closest we can get to it are ‘cosiness’, ‘comfort’, ‘warm conviviality’. Well, I’m calling bullshit on that: the word does have an exact English translation, and that is ‘boring’.

Denmark is a great country and the Danes have given us many wonderful things: cinnamon buns, schnapps at weddings, hot new punk band Yung, Sarah Lund’s jumper. But the concept of hygge feels entirely alien in our busy, ever-changing city. If the how-to-be-hyggelig guides are to be believed then we ought to stay indoors in our cosy, perfectly put-together homes – complete with roaring fires and enough candles to commission another series of ‘London’s Burning’. Which is all well and good out there in the countryside, where people own actual houses and there are delightfully snug pubs which also have roaring fires (albeit alongside an inferior selection of artisanal gins). But hygge doesn’t really work quite as well in a city of poky flatshares – many without living rooms, never mind fireplaces – where there’s a strong chance that your bedroom was once a cupboard.

It’s also utterly unromantic. There’s nothing spontaneous about hygge. It reeks of giving up and settling in. It gives people an excuse to Netflix and literally chill. And with the temperature plummeting and ‘cuffing season’ about to begin, nobody needs the added justification of following a smug Scandi lifestyle trend to stay indoors under a pile of blankets. But the most offensive thing about hygge is this: it’s a waste of London.

Ask anyone what they like best about our city, and no one who hasn’t recently undergone a lobotomy will reply: ‘Staying in with my candles.’ London doesn’t happen indoors among disingenuously messed-up cushions and homemade breakfast buns. It’s out there in the teeth-chattering cold as you queue for a restaurant that will blow your tastebuds away. It’s in a club where you’ll dance all night, at a campy musical at a theatre above a pub which will make you cry, or an art show that will make you feel something – anything – other than cosy.

Cosy is safe and it’s dull. It means complacency and idleness. Nothing spectacular ever happened to someone when they were feeling cosy. Snuggly jumpers are all well and good, but Sara Lund didn’t sit around wearing hers in an artfully arranged apartment: that jumper was iconic because she was out wearing it in the bracing Danish cold, chasing crims.

London at its best is brilliant, bright and breathtaking in its newness. It comes complete with an inexhaustible to-do list: there’s always something new to see, to try, to eat. So put down that godawful guide to hygge, stop feeling all cosy, go out of the house and actually do something. Alternatively, leave the fun to us, grab yourself an extra blanket and go back to fygging sleep.

Outraged hygge lover? Read a Dane’s response: ‘Hygge is a part of London’.

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