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‘Hygge is part of London’: Bronte Aurell defends the Scandi way of life

The Southwark Tavern
Chris Guy/flickr

Brontë Aurell is a Danish Londoner, cook and Scandinavian lifestyle expert. When we published a piece that suggested there’s more to life than hygge, she wrote to defend the current trend for all things cosy and Scandi – and to hit back at this autumn’s wave of commercialised hygge handbooks…

The hygge backlash has begun. I was a bit taken aback when I looked at Twitter this week, but not surprised: I’d been expecting this. Someone from Time Out had written a tongue-in-cheek article called ‘Hygge is a waste of London’, and the tweets flowed forth.

The media loves to build up the latest thing then drop it from a great height, and right now it’s hygge’s turn. Now, I’ve got a vested interest in defending hygge. I’m Danish and (more importantly) I’ve got a book out called ‘ScandiKitchen Fika & Hygge’. When I pitched my book, I was advised to leave ‘hygge’ out of the title, because nobody in the UK would understand what it meant. A year and a bit later, there are 20-odd new books directing people how to tidy their house and how to candle-light their bedsits in the most efficient hygge fashion. Sales of Norwegian-style knitwear and candles have no doubt rocketed. (A handy hygge tip: nobody in Norway would ever wear a thick woollen jumper inside a warm house. If someone tells you they’re a hygge essential, be very suspicious.)

But hygge really isn’t about being snug and smug under loads of blankets. In its true, uncommercial form, it has never been about candles or cosiness. Nor is it about mindfulness or meditation. It isn’t the key to happiness and it won’t turn you into a six-foot blonde Viking. In fact, hygge is nothing like it is being portrayed right now. I come from the land of hygge and I’ve been doing it all my life, so listen up: this is what it’s really about.

Hygge is that feeling you have when you forget about time for a bit. You relax your shoulders, forget about tomorrow’s deadline and take a bit of time to live in the moment with whoever you are with. Sometimes there’s food. Sometimes the telly is on. Quite often there’s wine. Sometimes candles, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, whether you’re at home or out and about. hygge is not about jumpers and mock-Viking socks. It doesn’t care where you live or what your house looks like. You don’t even need to spend any money. Your hygge is your own. Some of the most hyggelige times I’ve ever had in my entire life have been in a tent in a field, in the rain sharing a bag of crisps with people I love.

Perhaps this is why hygge has struck a chord with so many people, especially in London. Do you know who’s really good at hygge? The British. Settling down a nice pub, talking around the table and taking time out: yep, you’ve been doing hygge all along. When you think about it like that, hygge suddenly makes much more sense. If it isn’t the pub, it might be a lovely café, your kitchen, a bedsit, a restaurant, even at a gig or a play or a club. It’s playing cards, it’s drinking coffee, it’s Netflix (and chill). It’s holding hands, it’s walking along the South Bank with someone you’re falling in love with, it’s a hangover-fighting fry-up on a Sunday morning at your local caff. It’s that last drink at Gordon’s Wine Bar on Villiers Street with your best friend. Hygge is part of London, and part of you.

An earlier version of this piece appeared at www.bronteaurell.com. Visit Brontë at ScandiKitchen.

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