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Opinion

Clever marketeers flog new concept of friluftsliv, a Scandinavian love of the great outdoors packaged for bourgeois consumers

Having sold us homewares with the idea of ‘hygge’ without anyone outside Scandinavia even knowing what that means, we now have ‘friluftsliv’ as the reason to buy loads of gear and head outside as if it’s an amazing new discovery

As the Scandinavian concept of hygge continues to be used to flog everything from scented candles to the most lumpen of self-assembly furniture at your nearest Ikea, there is now a new on-trend concept to dazzle the bourgeoisie – friluftsliv.

The expression literally translates as ‘open-air living’, which would all be fine and dandy were we not faced with tyrannical governments using Covid-19 to lock us all up in our homes and fine us if we don’t.

In a nutshell, and without trying too hard to conjure up images of clear, icy waters lapping pine-trimmed shorelines as a log fire crackles drying wet, hand-knitted socks hanging from a branch, it’s simply about enjoying the great outdoors.

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There. No huge knowledge of Norwegian mythology really needed to explain that one. It’s all about enjoying a good walk in appropriate footwear and warm clothing.

But somehow, the Norwegians have turned it into a way of life that has even conjured up its own industry and marketing. Stores in that country selling walking gear were ordered to un-furlough their staff during the coronavirus lockdown so punters could get their hands on the kit they needed for a bit of friluftsliv.

Now, like hygge, which is really just about putting a woolly rug over your lap and lighting a candle, friluftsliv is a term seized upon by the citizens of everywhere and inured with magical, mystical properties as one of the secret keys to a happy life that apparently only the citizens of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark have figured out and which the rest of us will struggle to understand because we are not really that clever, or sensitive or open to new experiences.

Poor, stupid us.

One clue to what seems a bit of a clever Scandi trick to lump together a series of mundane acts so that they somehow represent a deeper, more philosophical approach to life than they would as single actions, could be the number of psychiatrists across those northern nations.

The UK, for instance, according to 2018 figures has around 18 shrinks per 100,000 people. Not really a nation renowned for its introspection, this is perfectly understandable.

Head across the North Sea however, and Norway has 25.9 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, Finland 23.6, Sweden 23.5 and Denmark although dropping back to 18.9 is still more than the far more populous UK.

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That’s a lot of active listening, empathetic repetitions of “I see” and ‘how do you feel about that?’ going on. It encourages the sort of over-thinking that imbues even the most pedestrian of acts with a deeper, hidden motivation.

Hmm, you had fish for dinner? Was that because of your longing to connect with the primal being inside you, who in millennia past emerged from the sea, swapped his fins for arms and legs and walked the earth seeking a mate? Or perhaps you were just hungry and fancied a bit of tuna? That kinda thing.

All those early evenings, chilly weather and foraging for food in the forests encourages introspection, and indeed darker thoughts, with an alarming 10 bombings in Stockholm so far in 2020, as part of a continuing cycle of violence that has bedevilled the capital and the country’s other cities for several years. Then there’s the Swedish suicide rate, twice that of the UK.

Norway too, has its dark side, which in 2011 assumed human form in the shape of far-right mass murderer previously known as Anders Brevik – he changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen in 2017 – who slaughtered eight people with a van bomb in Oslo before shooting a further 69 at a summer camp on the island of Utøya in the country’s worst peacetime atrocity.

While he remains in prison, his spectre still troubles the nation as a whole which wonders: how could that possibly happen in our friluftsliv-loving Norway?

For us Brits, though, things are just simplified. The Scandi nations are clean, their people are beautiful, their cuisine pure and simple and life just day upon day immersed in hygge and friluftsliv.

This clever marketing promotes a very appealing, imaginary culture, that is lapped up unquestioningly by the likes of the liberal tree-huggers who run The Guardian. What they are all wrapping up in a hand-woven throw and offering us is a warm and fuzzy fantasy world far removed from life on the streets of a modern Scandinavian capital.

Because that reality is certainly a harder sell.

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