Leave it to the Nordic countries to find ways to deal with the travails of winter.
A few years ago, it was all the rage to point out that the Finns have a particular word — kalsarkånnit — just for staying at home alone and drinking in your underwear. (I’m not recommending that as a solution, by the way, just making the point that a pragmatic recognition of how individuals deal with the world’s low points has its place.)
And the Danes? The Danes have hygge (pronounced “hooga”), a concept centred around cosy comfortable spots like sitting under blankets in front of a fire with a mug of cocoa.
Norwegians have a different word for the same concept — they say koselig, and it includes having a few people in to talk, all in a winter den of comfort and safety.
I know what they mean — hygge and koselig are fine words and a fine concept.
Oh, and the United Kingdom has just given a cabinet minister the official responsibility for coming up with a national strategy to address the growing problem of loneliness, and its effect on personal health.
These aren’t unrelated concepts: there are a bunch of messages in there.
Winter’s great for that: its ability to give you the feeling of being cut off from the world is unmatched.
There’s nothing better than to be hunkered down, bunkered in by the fire, a snowstorm rattling the windows and fingering the eaves, preferably talking with people you know, and people you respect enough to spend twice as much time listening to as talking yourself.
Winter’s great for that: its ability to give you the feeling of being cut off from the world is unmatched. The grocery store is as close as ever, the woodpile still only a stone’s throw away, but every step is longer and requires so much more intention and effort. The battering of snow and wind makes inside the house more like a cave; the sky is darker, and the snow sometimes cuts even more light, leaving the inside yellower and warmer with electric light or even candles.
You are contained, held, wrapped up. It is good for the soul. It’s healing, really.
But first, in these most modern of times, you have to hope the internet connection has failed.
The chaotic connection of the wired world is clearly no replacement for real human connection — in fact, if anything, the impersonal nature of the internet regularly makes me feel more isolated and alone. (Less so, now that I have walked away from regular interaction with the great festering of Facebook, an action I recommend. I use Twitter for work, but if I were to change careers, I’d shed that pus-filled chancre, too.)
Perhaps it’s the arbitrariness of the web: the cut-and-thrust of social media is really all about capital letters and fixed positions. Face it, most internet “conversations” are far from the way you would phrase things if you were actually facing people in your living room and having a discussion. (My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” I’d suggest, “If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, take your fingers off the keyboard.”)
One example? An ethical dispute I’m on the periphery of on the web actually had someone suggest this week that a list of anyone disagreeing with her position should be “outed” to their employers and customers as potential abusers. I’m not sure that would ever even be suggested between people speaking face to face. It’s not the kind of thing that would work within the concept of koselig, that’s for sure.
It’s so very far from koselig, in fact, that it would drive you to kalsarkånnit. (See above.)
Quality of life — it’s a horrible thing that for so many of us, anything approaching quality can be a fleeting thing. The thing that’s so unfortunate? You can understand that quality, see it, even strive for it — and have its peace sheared away from you as easily as absentmindedly touching the blank glass face of a smart phone.
We have become our own quisling (that’s Norwegian in origin, too): we whisper to the enemy through the gates, daily.
One thing I think is probably certain?
The Nordic nations are never going to invent a unique word for being alone in front of your computer and your social media accounts, unless, perhaps, that word is “misery.”
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.