If you ask me, every country needs a Copenhagen. A city of culture, history, diversity, peerless coffee, sensational gluten free food (I speak as a coeliac), and unseemly natural beauty. I’m not just talking about parks, gardens and palaces, I mean spectacular people everywhere you go. It started at Heathrow. Two gentlemen sat down across from us in the waiting lounge: tall, handsome, and unnervingly pleasant, they initiated friendly conversation, breaking down all our British defences with their sweet and engaging banter. This occupied us right through boarding, up until it was time to stow away our luggage in the overhead locker. And even then, we were secretly hoping they’d sit close to us.
In the apartment, on arriving at midnight, our Airbnb host kindly and patiently showed us around. She’d filled the fridge, with more than the basics: wine, chocolate, freshly baked (gluten free!) muffins. This place had seriously good vibes. Even the eleven flights of stairs awarded us a view of distant Sweden. To be fair, I had packed my rose-tinted glasses. This was a weekend away, alone with my husband for the second time in six and a half years. I was experiencing a love rush as we passed through Acton. Nevertheless, there was more to Copenhagen than met even my starry eyes. I found out what it was when we returned home.
It’s called ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’). ‘Hygge’ is to Danes what mead and crumpets are to Hobbits: a deeply held cultural value, akin to coziness, which recognises “that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul,” (Helen Russell, The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country). Hygge is so deeply embedded in the national psyche that Russell can describe seeing a camper van driving along with lit candles in the windows.
All of which makes a lot of good sense to me. Not the striving, spending, peacocking of the West, but the gentle, soothing, sensualness of the Nord. It starts with coffee and candlelight, or it could start in an airport near you.