How Vikings Instilled a Value of National Efficiency in Sweden

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures
Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures
Judi Lembke

Viking and national efficiency might not seem to fit together but the fact is that Sweden’s value of lagom (meaning ‘in moderation’ or ‘just enough’) has been around almost as longs as Swedes.

Lagom is essential to the Swedish identity and it permeates every aspect of life. The much-vaunted Swedish Model, which arguably takes the best elements of both socialism and capitalism, has its roots in this idea that everyone is equal and no one needs to much. But what about those fierce Vikings? How did lagom come from them?

While Vikings carry a notorious reputation for raping and pillaging there is some debate as to just how bad they really were. Yes, they traveled far and wide, taking what they wanted and leaving destruction in their wake, but the image of the snarling blonde marauder is somewhat exaggerated.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that when Vikings were done with their nefarious deeds they would gather around the campfire to thrown back a horn of mead. Because all that conquering was exhausting they were all very thirsty, but it became a matter of honour for each warrior to ration intake, thus allowing everyone to have a tastes and slake their thirst. This was – and is – the essence of lagom: drink as a team, or laget om.

Today, this core belief of not taking more than your share or standing out runs strong through the Swedish identity. From economics to social interactions, it guides everything people do. Socially is where one experiences it in its purest form. One should never speak too loudly or try to dominate a conversation. It’s important to let others have their turn to speak and to interrupt is to take away someone else’s right to be heard. Should you do so you will entice frowns and disapproval and even be told outright that you’re being rude.

There was even a time when some of Sweden’s top sports stars started working with sports psychologists in order to develop more of a ‘killer attitude’ – they were conditioned to not push themselves out front and had to make a conscious effort to strengthen their competitiveness.

Never interrupt

Lagom also explains why Swedes love to hold meetings. Most people in Sweden know that a meeting may not solve any problems or bring commitment to the best way to move forward – it really serves as a place for everyone to air their views. Additionally, many Swedish companies have flat organisations, meaning there are few levels between management and lower-tier employees and there is little sense of a traditional hierarchy, where employees are simply meant to carry out orders from up above.

Meetings give everyone a chance to put forth their ideas

One of the best things about this gift from the Vikings? Swedes have an almost ridiculous amount of patience and acceptance. As long as you don’t rock the boat too much you’re free to do your thing; meaning do your best, don’t try to steal someone else’s thunder no matter the setting, and get on with making sure everyone is taken care of, whether that’s at work, in the home, or in society in general. Things have changed somewhat, with Swedes being a bit more competitive and willing to put themselves forth, but in their hearts they’ll always believe that everyone is equal and deserves an equal chance.

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