We need to talk about Hygge: the Danish word that last year took the world by calm.
Its definition translates roughly into English as “the feeling of a throw rug with cushions and tealights”, or at least that’s what you might believe from all the airport books and Instagram posts revealing the secret of (to paraphrase Will Smith) “getting hygge with it”.
But what’s it like in reality?
It was a rainy Monday evening in August when I had my first-hand experience of the phenomenon. But first, the introduction:
The weekend had been the average debauched boy’s weekend in Copenhagen. We were hanging on the morning-coat tails of an Dansk/Australian wedding (we weren’t invited, but kept running into everyone who was, which was half of Denmark).
Having done all the cultural sites on previous visits, it was a luxury to experience all the other things to do in Copenhagen, which it turns out, are exactly the same things a jaded ex-pat does in any large European city: visit bars in places that make you remember you’re not quite in New York.
Copenhagen’s Meatpacking district has replicated the trendy bar vibe of its NYC namesake. That was the easy part, it turns out, for the service was a different kettle of fisk (more on this in a minute).
In one bar, NOHO, staff hovered over us like surveillance drones, collecting glasses the second the empty drink hit the wooden table, awaiting to fill the next order.
Cocktails were cheaper by the pitcher, which sounded great in theory, until we realised the only ones applicable had names such as Raspberry Smash, Lemon Heaven, and Sweet Jesus Don’t Tell Anyone We Ordered This. The least-sweet option was the Raspberry Smash. We sucked up our pride, and the sugary concoction soon after.
Seeking more or a rock vibe, we moved on to Jolene, a lesbian bar run by Icelandics. Well, it was certainly run by dicks.
“I’ll have six fisk,” I said, referring to the local speciality which is essentially a shot of vodka with eucalyptus, menthol and liquorice, that tastes like Fisherman’s Friend.
He poured six drinks into plastic shot glasses on the bar.“Skal!” I said.
“This is whisky. I don’t drink whisky,” said one of the Australian girls we had met up with.
“Excuse me,” I said to the bartender, “I ordered six fisk, and you gave me six whisky.”
“No, you ordered six whisky.”
“I think I know what I ordered, and it wasn’t a shot of whisky.” Making friends is hard in this city, whether Fishermen, barmen or otherwise.
Time to move on, the next destination was Mesteren & Lærlingen. The toilets here definitely fit the description of dive bar, though not one frequented by professional divers judging by the splash around the edges.
It was on the terrace here that an old friend from Paris recognised me. Despite being 15° cold, his shirt was unbuttoned to his navel, and he was wearing a foulard. I’m surprised I hadn’t recognised him first.
“How do you not feel cold with your shirt half open?” my Australian friend asked him.
He thought about it a split second, and simply replied: “French.”
Just like his buttons, the night went downhill from there.
Sunday was our hungover cultural day, which meant an excellent set of exhibitions at the Charlottenborg museum. It was a series of entirely watchable art films, which is virtually unheard of.
(Later than night we continued our cultural tour by watching Mission Impossible Fallout. An entirely watchable Tom Cruise film, which these days is also virtually unheard of.)
Blame Princess Mary
The waitress in the Charlottenborg café gave us menus and we ordered three beers. “I don’t speak Danish,” she said, unapologetically, in a blunt Australian accent. Blame Princess Mary, but Australian is fast becoming the new lingua-wanker of Denmark.
Monday brought more rain. We traipsed into town to buy stereotypical Danish design products from Hay, drank expensively cheap Sancerre, and said farewell to my travelling companion.
Cold and a little drunk, I was feeling spent. My credit card was too, so when two Danish friends invited me for a cosy hygge dinner, I willingly obliged.
Proving that an apartment’s furnishings can be a good reflection of its occupant, their apartment was beautifully turned out, droll and welcoming.
They’d lit candles on their teak dressers, and soon the lasagna was served in a large glass tray, which we scooped up in large slices and washed down with Norwegian beers.
Sitting back in our classic leather and wood design chairs, I covered myself with a warm blanket. My friends cuddled on the couch. It was the Instagram image of hygge.
But it would be remiss to focus solely on the visual aspects of hygge. A picture tells a thousands words, but also ignores a thousand sounds and smells.
What was going on under the blanket three-days’ worth of stodgy food and excessive beers worked their way through the system, creating a Danish oven experience.
Meanwhile my friends were cracking sarcastic jokes and each others’ toes with equal fervour.
With the new memory fond and fresh in my mind Tuesday as I walked through the bookshop in Copenhagen airport, I skipped over the photo essays of hygge, and skipped straight to their hygge audio books instead.