Lagom is best


They say we have a word here in Sweden which has no synonym in any other language. The word I’m speaking about is lagom. It’s not too much, not too little, it is lagom. Let me give you some examples: you pour water in a bathtub and at first the water is too hot. If you decide to run some errands, while the water is cooling down, you will find that the water has turned too cold. If you decide not to leave the house while you are waiting, and you read the newspaper for a while instead, then you will find that when you dip your toes in the water it is perfect, it is lagom warm.

Another example: you are free for some days. You sleep in, take time with your breakfast, you meet some friends and catch up with the local gossip. When you finally are back at work again, you will find that you have been free lagom long – not too little, not too long, just lagom. There are no measurements for how long or how much lagom is. We just know, but lagom is individual. No one can say what is lagom for someone else, it is up to you to decide. We know that and we agree upon that, no one would ever think of arguing that your lagom is longer or shorter or less or more than mine.

Being lagom as a person is more complicated, because this depends on the context. If you are a very upbeat person and you work at a library where the employees are supposed to be quiet and act like they know all the secrets in the books and are waiting for sharing these with you – then you are in trouble. In a library you can’t laugh loudly, burst out in an uncontrollable giggle when you have read something funny or crack a joke. You will find that you are the only one who understands the joke and who has that silly kind of humour. Perhaps the others share your sense of humour, but they will never show that to you because you are too much, you are not lagom.


If you would have been lagom in this context, you too would have acted as if you are pondering some extremly important and complicated book by some author no one but the librarians have heard of. If you would admit that you sometimes read the comics and that you love to watch cartoons, you would be banned for life. You are too immature, you are not serious enough, you are not lagom – but that is not easy to know because no one will tell you and there are no rules. Not written rules, anyway. I don’t seem to ever be able to crack the code of how to become lagom. No one is telling me that, I just know because I can feel it in my bones. I am a strange combination between being very serious and being able to giggle like a little girl. I can hold deep conversations about the meaning of life, but I also laugh at silly jokes and I love to make silly faces to make others laugh.

I don’t have a clue of how to become lagom, I have tried for so many years, but I have given up. I have realized that I am who I am, deep and shallow, serious and funny, ambitious and lazy. Everything is mixed and perhaps that is how it should be because otherwise I wouldn’t be me, I would be the pale copy of myself that I tried to transform into for many years. It is not easy to know who you are and especially if you are expected to be in a way you feel is not right for you. Many societies have rules for how men versus women should act and what their roles in the society are. I am a troublesome character because I have always danced to the beat of my own drum. I can join the others for a while, but if I don’t enjoy the music I will go somewhere else.

Perhaps I am just antisocial, which seems to be a very strange thing in The Gambia where you are forced to socialize either you want that or not. I was very lonely when I grew up, we lived on a farm far away from others and we almost never socialized with other people. I learned to live through my books and disappeared into my dreams. For a bookworm there is nothing like loneliness, because the books keep you company all the time and will never argue with you or leave you if they have someone more fun to be with.

It is really hard to become lagom, when no one tells you what that is. You just feel that something is wrong, you are too much or too little, too loud or too quiet, too energetic or too lazy. The unwritten rules in a society are called norms, you learn them by making mistakes and suffering from that. Perhaps it is easier for someone who has lived his or her life at the same place, met the same people and adapted to the norms and the traditions without questioning them. Is that even possible? I am not the right person to answer that question, as I have never seemed to be at the right place at the right time. I have the soul of a nomad, I move around and try to adapt wherever I settle down for a while.

Is this ability a blessing? Perhaps, but it takes a lot of energy because people like I have to learn new rules all the time. We have to learn to adapt to a new surrounding where it is easy to make mistakes. Some people accept one’s mistakes and patiently try to explain how things are supposed to be done there. Others lose their patience or begin to talk behind one’s back. I have no roots anywhere, I have been moving too many times. I can easily adapt to a new place, but sometimes I wish I had a place where I could rest and call my home. A place where no one is questioning me, where I can live my life as I wish and never waste energy on trying to adapt.

As I many years ago decided to turn my misfortunes to blessings, I realized that through my own experiences I can easier understand how others feel when they have to move from one place to another, without a home and without roots. I speak to my pupils about these things sometimes. Not everything in teaching is about the curriculum, it is also about teaching life skills. I remember when I was young, I thought that teachers are successfull people who never has struggled with school or their lives. Many of my pupils struggle hard and it is not easy to be successfull at school when you are sad or stressed. If the kids learn to know that I see them, that I know how they feel then it will be a little easier for them.

Being a teacher in The Gambia is definitely not a lagom profession, because the work load is too much and the pay is too little. Being a teacher is the most important job in the world, there would be no high and mighty people without them. Give the teachers praise and give them a raise so their salaries will be lagom enough to support them. Lagom is best!