In Swedish there is a word called “lagom” and swedes are proud that it has no translation in any other language.

If you try to translate it, you’ll be hated. Don’t! Just let your mother tongue borrow it as a mandatory Swedish delicacy.

Watch how this swede is struggling to describe it. Lagom is all about keeping balance between black and white extremes without being grey. More like a zebra or leopard thing, if you know what I mean?

“Lagom” visualized! (the image is not copyrighted)

Ironically this camouflage matches very well with law of Jante — to put it simply: it doesn’t matter how extreme you are, don’t think you’re special, probably because everyone else is “lagom” in something too!

Just like every other Swedish specialty, “lagom” can be rooted in weather! Winter is long, dark and cold while summer is sunny, warm and heavenly. Swedes’ mood, food, and attitude alters between winter and summer their entire lives. Be good in two opposite extremes at the same time!

The Swedish wikipedia points out an interesting story where the word may have come from:

A widely cited explanation is that the word “lagom” is derived from the old farming community meals, when everyone in the courtyard used the same pot and drank from the same cup. It was supposed to be sufficient ‘for the team’, and that no one drank too much or too little.

And the demystified version:

“laghum” , which was the most common spelling, was “under the law”, “legally” (as in law of common sense). Its meaning was later weakened and became something like “appropriate”, “adequate”, “the joint” or more freely “neither too much nor too little” or “just as much as everyone else.”

Nevertheless, “lagom” is actually the core of the Swedish culture and many things can’t be explained without understanding the concept of “lagom”. For example: can that be why Sweden practically combines the best part of communism and capitalism? That is probably why swedes hate it if you translate “lagom”.

It’s not a word. It’s a way of living.

Wanna learn more? Check this question on Quora about Lagom.

Read how this Swedish manager put the lagom concept into leadership!

Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer

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