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The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia

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Journalist Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians for more than ten years and has grown increasingly frustrated with the rose-tinted view of this part of the world offered up by the Western media. In this timely book, he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success, and, most intriguing of all, what they think of one another.

Why are the Danes so happy despite having the highest taxes? Do the Finns really have the best education system? Are the Icelanders as feral as they sometimes appear? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastic oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes? In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Booth explains who the Scandinavians are, how they differ and why, and what their quirks and foibles are, and he explores why these societies have become so successful and models for the world. Along the way, a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterized by suffocating parochialism, and populated by extremists of various shades.

416 pages, Paperback

First published February 6, 2014

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About the author

Michael Booth

27 books188 followers
Michael Booth is an English food and travel writer and journalist who writes regularly for a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Independent on Sunday, Condé Nast Traveller, Monocle and Time Out, among many other publications at home and abroad. He has a wife, Lissen, and two children, Asger and Emil.

In June 2010 Michael Booth won the Guild of Food Writers/Kate Whiteman Award for work in food and travel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,336 reviews
Profile Image for Caroline.
497 reviews555 followers
July 31, 2015
This is a book about Scandinavia - judged time and time again by various polls to be the happiest and most satisfying place to live in the world.

Yet we British ignore it. I came to this book with high levels of ignorance.... It made me realise how much we look south - towards France, Italy, Spain and Greece. We want sunshine and olives, and Mediterranean waves lapping at our feet. We don't give a hoot about the northern lands, and their strange cold habits.

Well, more fool us. This book is fascinating voyage through Nordic history, culture and psychology, and I am going to award it a full five stars. The author writes very amusingly, and that adds great charm to his observations. He is a British journalist and his wife is Danish. He spent several years living in Denmark, and has obviously travelled around Scandinavia extensively. But he has also done his research, and the book is far from being purely anecdotal. There are a lot of references to surveys done by various respectable bodies.

One of my GR friends was critical of this book, describing the author as xenophobic. Yes, he is pretty rude. But I see this as a reflection of his personality, rather than an indictment of the people he describes. He's a glass half full sort of chap, with a dry sense of humour - so his way of seeing is bound to be rather jaded. I found it easy to see beyond some of his negative observations and evaluate the Scandinavians in my own terms - and much of that was positive.

All in all I found the author incredibly readable, and because so much of this book was completely new to me, I found it utterly fascinating. I shall end with a few of the compliments that are given to Scandinavia by the rest of the world. Most of us are familiar with these Nordic labels, but the book explores them in ways that are extremely interesting - and there were lots of surprises, or at least there were for me.

Best educated
Technologically advanced
Ambitious environmental policies
Generously funded welfare state systems.

Put down your bowl of taggiasca olives, and put aside your glass of sun-warmed Cabernet Sauvignon, it is definitely time to explore these amazing countries of the chilly north. This book makes the perfect introduction - it's a marvellously entertaining read.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,607 followers
December 26, 2015
This is my new favorite book, and I'm excited to start pestering others to read it.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People is my idea of a perfect read, with its elements of travelogue, history, anthropological and sociological observations, all peppered with British humor. A blurb quote on my copy described it as "Bill Bryson goes to Scandinavia," which is a good description.

Michael Booth is a British journalist who lives in Denmark. One day he saw a story in the newspaper about the Danes being ranked as the happiest people in the world, and he was puzzled. "Well, they are doing an awfully good job of hiding it ... They don't seem all that frisky to me."

So Booth starts doing research and discovers that the Scandinavian countries have some rather appealing myths associated with them, such as being considered among the most peaceful, well-educated, prosperous, progressive and egalitarian people in the world. He visits and writes about five countries: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. The result is a delicious blend of fascinating research and amusing stories. I listened to this on audio, and I frequently laughed out loud at Booth's wit.

Some of my favorite stories were when Booth visited a Finnish sauna, when he tried to understand the Danes' enthusiasm for their flag, when he witnessed a Norwegian parade, when he experienced the interconnectedness of Iceland, and when he tried to get Swedes to be more polite. He also includes some traditional jokes about each place, to see how the countries poke fun at each other.

There is so much great stuff in this book that it feels impossible to do it justice in a summary. I thought it was a delight from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Hat tip to Goodreader Caroline, whose excellent review prompted me to check out this wonderful book.

Favorite Quotes
"I feel a bit of a heel being critical about the kind, good-natured gentle folk who attended the choir week in Tønder. It is easy to mock their Gary Larson aestethic (sandals with socks, cutoff denim shorts with their shirts tucked in, and so on) and their Ned Flanders sensibilities. In truth, a more contended, kind, honest, community-minded group of people you could never hope to meet. The problem was that, for a cynical misanthrope such as myself, folkelig [folksiness] has much the safe effect as Kryptonite on Superman, or water on the Wicked Witch of the West. I become weak and confused, and begin to question who I am. Prolonged exposure to folkelig undoes me, smothers me, suffocates me."

"I was losing enthusiasm for my groundbreaking anthropological research. Trying to get the Swedes to be more polite was like picking on Italian men for being vain, or Japanese women for being shy. The poor creatures could not help themselves, and besides, what had the Swedes ever done to me?"

"When faced with the happiest, most trusting, and successful people on the planet, one's natural instinct is to try to find fault, to X-ray the fissures. It is an instinct I may not have been entirely successful in resisting over the course of this book, but I hope that any Nordic people who might read it will forgive me. Put it down to envy, if that helps."

"The fissures and flaws are definitely there, though. This region has its own set of problems and challenges, weird personality kinds and frailties, just like the rest of us. But ultimately its success is still hard to argue with. As Paul McCartney once said when a journalist suggested that The White Album might have been better as just one disc instead of two: "Yeah, well, you know, it is still The White Album." Of course there are downsides even in almost nearly perfect societies: there are historical skeletons in every closet, and yes, countries with homogenous, monocultural tendencies do tend to be a little too safe and dull, and insular. Looking to the future, the Nordic countries are also facing some serious challenges — aging populations, creaking welfare states, the ongoing integration of immigrant populations, and rising inequality. But it's still Scandinavia. It is still the enviably rich, peaceful, harmonious, and progressive place it has long been. It's still The White Album.
Profile Image for Gini.
93 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2015
I really wanted this book to be good.
And I am SO mad that it was terrible!
This is exactly the topic that I want to read about--why do we have this pervasive envy of all things Scandinavian? Is it deserved? What are the Scandinavian countries really like, are they really paradise on earth? What aren't we seeing through our worship of them?
This book looks like it will answer these questions, but it answers none. It is a poorly written blog post of a book. "Here is a personal anecdote about these people I met. Then I talked to his expert. He didn't cite any facts, just said some platitudes. Is this something meaningful?!? MAYBE!"
Social science books are either fantastic or really, really bad. This is in the really bad category.
Profile Image for Terje Enge.
12 reviews1 follower
June 2, 2014
I am a Scandinavian who was based in Norway for more than sixty years, this book shows that I'm not even close to perfect.
But this book is: It is good written, it is funny and it even gave a Norwegian new insight(!).
It is both a critique and hymn to the supposedly the happiest, most trusting and successfull people on this planet.
I always loved Denmark, I even planned to move to Copenhagen once upon a time. After having read this book I'm glad I didn't. I learned that the Norwegians are even more Danish than the Danes. We have the Jantelov, the koselige, the folkelige and the same social cohesion, but mixed with the Swedes respect for ordning.
The chapters on Denmark are clearly the best, the author is a brit who lives in Denmark with wife and children. The chapters on Norway are not as good, but that may be because I already know the Norwegians pretty well.
The chaperts on the Finns - the Über-Scandinavians - brought new insight, but that may be because the Finns never really were considered part of our Nordic Family here in the heartland of Scandinavia.
If you plan to stay in Scandinavia this book is a must-read. It may tempt you to stay for a long time.
If you are a Scandinavian you should read it too, but it may make you want to leave. I did …
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
February 10, 2017
I listened to the audio of The Almost Nearly Perfect People. It was entertaining, interesting and thought provoking. Michael Booth is a Brit who has moved to Denmark, as his wife wanted to return to her home country. From this vantage point, Booth sets out to write a book about the people of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and to explore what makes their lives different, better, worse and odd, compared to each other and especially compared to the rest of the world. His starting point are statistics suggesting that the people of Denmark are happier than people anywhere else in the world. He provides some historical context and anecdotes, recounts his own experiences and reports on interviews with experts and ordinary people. (I became quite a bore at the dinner table at my house for a few weeks as I recounted some of these interesting tidbits of information.) He packages the whole thing with a lot of humour, some self-deprecation, many strong opinions, many impressionistic reactions and very little objectivity. The narrator of the audio has a great spirited British accent which brings a lot of life to the whole experience. Booth doesn’t set out to bust the myth that these Nordic countries make for a peaceful stable life, but he digs a bit deeper and theorizes about some of the causes and effects of these strong social democratic countries. He highlights the tension between the benefits of economic and social stability and the inevitable consequential sameness and conventionality. He takes offence at the taxation rates, but recognizes that these are countries with extraordinary school systems and social safety nets. He dwells on the equality between the sexes and the smaller spread between rich and poor, but recognizes that these countries face real challenges when it comes to recent immigration movements. Notably, he is fearless when it comes to making generalizations and pointing out some of the deficiencies or down sides to the countries and cultures he depicts. There’s a bit of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink quality to some of what recounts – look at how absurdly modest the Danes are, how can anyone stand paying such high taxes, what’s with waiting for a green light to cross a street when there’s no car in sight, look at the obedient Swedes swiftly eliminating their gender pronouns in the name of gender equality, etc... He’s not entirely critical of the underlying values, but gently mocking the reality that comes with some of these values. Which for a Canadian listener makes for an interesting experience because in many ways what Booth describes is not that different from our Canadian reality. So while his book was entertaining and interesting, it also provoked me to think of some of what I take for granted, to try to see it from an outside perspective. Although, really, in the end, I still quite like where I live. Which is in fact Booth’s starting point, namely what makes the people of northern Europe generally content with their lot in life. Don’t listen to The Almost Nearly Perfect People if you’re looking for a serious well researched book about the northern European countries. Do listen to it if you’re looking for an entertaining thought provoking book about what makes for a good place to live.
Profile Image for Marianne.
1,292 reviews144 followers
July 23, 2015
"I'm from Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Iceland/Finland, don't you know WHERE THAT IS?" *Cue offended eye rolling*

Yes, we're all been there. At some point in our lives we all learned a valuable lesson, even some Europeans don't know where our countries are situated.

If you're from any of the Nordic countries, you'll most likely have been asked one or more of the following questions more than once:

1. Norway? Isn't that the capital of Sweden?
2. All Swedes are blond, so why is your hair brown?
3. Denmark? Oh, so you speak Dutch, right?
4. Aren't you afraid of polar bears when you go outside?

That's right, my fellow Nordics, and blissfully ignorant outsiders, people have no idea where we live - or than Scandinavia actually consists of 3 countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) while "Norden" (the "North")includes Iceland and Finland.

Don't believe me? Well, take a look at these answers. People from an undisclosed country (mwahaha) were asked to place European countries on a map. Notice how many got at least a few countries right, but most failed to name any Nordic countries correctly. And why should they? We're a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things... Oh well, c'est la vie. Or as we would say: "Sånn er livet..."

Fun challenge: Try to see if you're able to spot the one map where Norway was placed correctly & tell me in the comments section;-)

Now, if you' re interested in moving past the stereotypes, this book is a fun place to start. Especially if your main interest is Denmark. There's no denying this book covers Denmark better than the other countries combined. The author, a Brit, has been living there for decades. It's anechdotal for the most part, interspersed with humorous observations that will make those who know us, nod their heads in agreement.

Warning! A tiny rant coming your way: As a Norwegian, I would have liked to see him focus a little more on Norway in general, and not dedicate 50% of his Norwegian chapters to Anders Behring Breivik. (The mentally unstable, xenophobic guy who blew up the government buildings and shot 65 innocent teenagers back in 2011, just because he didn't like their political views. Yes, it made an impact, but I would like to think that it's not that one incident that defines us a people.

BTW: Did you get Norway right?
Here's the cheat sheet:

If you, after having read the book, decide to come visit us, please remember the following:

1. Yes, it IS expensive, you'll have to dig deep into your savings account.

2. Sorry to disappoint you, there are absolutely no polar bears walking around in the streets in Scaninavia. If the beautiful white bears are your "thing", you'll have to go to the tiny island of Svalbard, north of the Arctic circle to see them in their dwindling natural habitat. Or better yet, travel to Greenland. Or... you guessed it; book a flight to the Arctic - waaaaay up north.

3. Also, please remember that the midnight sun is not a second sun only Scandinavians can see. It's the same sun that shines down on you every day, except in the northern parts of Scandinavia, it doesn't set in the summer. Winter? Less sun, more Northern Lights, but only if you travel to the northern half of the Scandinavia peninsula - or to the mythical saga island (a.k.a. Iceland) in the middle of the Atlantic.

Bon voyage... Or: happy reading!

Oh, and one more thing, before you go: If you would like to know more about us Nordics, I can absolutely recommend Humon and her Scandinavia and the World comics. They are educational and hilarious:

You can find her here: http://satwcomic.com
Profile Image for A..
331 reviews48 followers
May 24, 2021
Ocurrió así: Una mañana lluviosa Michael Booth, escritor y periodista inglés residente en Dinamarca y felizmente casado con una danesa, leyó en su periódico que según unestudiodeunaprestigiosaUniversidad, los daneses habían ganado, (Sí, sí. Otra vez. Ja.) el campeonato de "Seres Más Felices De La Especie Humana" (Los argentinos no fuimos los subcampeones esta vez. Ja...raro, sí) Parece que en este momento Michael, que sufría al ver a Inglaterra perder otro campeonato de lo que sea, pensó un poco avinagrado: "Bueno, pues entonces lo saben esconder muy bien. A mí no me parecen tan joviales" Y, enérgicamente dispuesto a demostrar su hipótesis, escribió este interesante libro.

Con un sentido del humor seco, áspero y recalcitrante y, ante todo, con una inocultable envidia, Booth decide poner el dedo en la dolorosa llaga de los defectos y estereotipos ajenos. Pero también en el reconocimiento de sus virtudes: El "Hygee" danés y sus estratosféricos impuestos, los híbridos islandeses, los nuevos ricos noruegos y esa maravillosa raza "no verbal": los finlandeses. Parece que hay mucha más diversidad de la que creíamos, aunque comulgan en algo: parece que todos miran mal a los suecos.
Mientras, los demás seguimos participando.
Y es que, no hay caso, si algo le falta a esta gente alta, rubia y silenciosa para ser perfecta, es el perfecto humor británico.
Profile Image for Henna Pääkkönen.
84 reviews38 followers
February 6, 2016
I am still laughing out loud here, having just finished this book.
As a typical Finn, i enjoyed reading about how a foreigner sees my fellow countrymen, as well as having a good laugh about it, but this book was in fact much more. It is an insight into the Nordics (country by country) by an Englishman who has lived 10+ years in Denmark and set on a mission across the Nordics to understand these societies...
The book is hilarious, and drills into the national stereotypes, jokes about them and tries to analyse the background of why the people and the countries are as they are....Personally, i did miss more facts and history, but i do understand that this was not meant to be a historic account of Scandinavia, but rather a lighter more "anthropological" analysis maybe...and as such it was just great!
I recommend this as a light reading for anyone wanting to destress and to learn a bit about the Scandinavian society and the differing mentalities and cultures across the Nordics.
Profile Image for Andrew Davis.
369 reviews18 followers
February 3, 2015
A set of observations on each of the Scandinavian countries, including Iceland by a journalist married to Danish woman. An interesting as a personal view or set of observations but without much background in history or sociology. A bit pedestrian, especially that some of the views are strictly personal without too much support in facts or wider analysis. Still managed to get through 80% of the text but run out of patience when reading about Sweden - the last country discussed. Apart from Malmo and Stockholm hardly anything more mentioned about the country. Too many generalities and too much from a point of view Thatcherite follower.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books884 followers
February 3, 2016
An interesting tour through the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Only Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are technically "Scandinavian" and they're thick as thieves if you consider their history (which none of us has, truth be told).

Michael Booth goes with the winsome tone of a happy-go-lucky, sometimes wise-guy traveler. His topics are odd ones at times. For instance, in Denmark there's a chapter called "Hot Tub Sandwiches," in Iceland, one called "Elves" (yes, many there believe in them), in Norway we have "Bananas" (the Swedes peel them, don't you know), in Finland he offers "Santa," and in the wrap-up, Sweden, you'll read "Somali Pizza." Quirky, eh?

Booth himself is a Brit married to a Dane so Denmark, as lead-off batter, gets the most press (115 pp.). Booth knows the Danes best and they are considered the most fun of the lot, perhaps because of geography. Oddly, the most "Viking-like" goes to those crazy Icelanders. (Anyone want to buy a bank?) The Norwegians have become inebriated by oil (though I wonder how the depressed market's hitting them?) and Finlandia is the country Booth likes best. Maybe it was the naked public saunas that did it. Or the macho men who made fun of Swedish males and how wimpy they are in their hairnets.

Speaking of, Kingpin Sweden comes off the worst here, like a totalitarian state, socialist-style. That said, it remains the best place to be a woman because it is feminism run amok. Did you know that if you hold a door for a lady in Sweden, you're likely to get an icy "how dare you" stare? And that it has the best damned parental leave laws in the world (Daddies included)? Yeppers. Making babies? In Sweden, live as a yogurt culture! Chivalry? Dead as herring. At least in Sweden.

Read a little, learn a little. A bit random, and it jumps around a lot, too, but certainly you come out of it deprived of all your stereotypes, and that's always a victory, no?
Profile Image for Becky.
1,175 reviews59 followers
October 12, 2016
This is an absolutely engrossing look at the people and societies that make up the Nordic countries. I should probably come clean and admit that I have a deep fondness for this part of the world, a fondness that in the case of Finland probably extends into pure adulation. I have spent happy times in the various countries, love the films, avidly read the books and cheer on the sportsmen. If the whole place wasn't so very expensive to visit, and if speaking/hearing the languages didn't so often give me the giggles I would happily move to any of the capitals or even the more rural and out of the way areas, Gotland is lovely for example. If you feel the same, or in fact if you find yourself interacting with Nordic people on anything like a regular basis, then this is the book that you really have to read. It is a fascinating, funny and at times critical look at how the Nordic people view themselves and each other. As well as how they choose to present themselves to outsiders. The writing style is lighthearted but informative and intelligent in the same way as Bill Bryson or Simon Winder, and the book is a delight to read. My one criticism is that it does seem to focus a little heavily on Denmark, while Iceland is given only a very small section, but this is understandable due to the author's being based in Denmark, married to a Dane and Iceland being such a tiny country from a socio-political standpoint.
Profile Image for Mina.
978 reviews116 followers
January 23, 2022
The narrator is by turns startled, amazed and britishly shocked as he recounts his Mr. Bean-like antics in the Nordic countries. If culture be expressed and passed on through stories, as a journalist, Michael Booth strikes a good balance between analysis and anecdotes. The narrator offers a general, simple (perhaps simplistic) bird's-eye view of Nordic cultures, as well as an accessible take on thorny issues from many perspectives.

Alas, this is how I imagine people felt when they learned there was no Santa Claus. I was a blasé sort of kid back then, but now my childhood is complete.

Living in Copenhagen was the happiest and most comfortable I ever remember feeling. I did not enjoy being told that because the centre-right government is moving the emphasis away from equality and the Danes are losing faith in the public system, it will likely transform into France.

If there is one thing that put me off, Sweden is the third country in per capita number of immigrants, consequently, there is a chapter devoted to Swedish feelings and reactions to this issue. The narrator confessed to feeling strongly about this, to the point of leaving the room when such an opponent to immigration appeared on TV. I was very interested to see how it would be addressed and equally dissapointed afterwards. His only conflicting interview, with Swedish Democrat Eric Myrin, was short and drowned out in self-congratulatory pontificating mental monologues as the narrator addressed unemployment, for example, in full Socratic splendor:

'...every year we have had unemployment at 10 per cent.’

‘Which would suggest there is a fixed level of unemployment, irrespective of the level of immigration . . .’

There seemed little point in getting bogged down in statistics – Myrin was hardly likely to have a Damascene epiphany

The unemployment rate is a very fickle position to take a stand on, because it represents those who don't have a job as a percentage of those who want to get a job; it does not include those who, for example, live off welfare and who don't want to look for a job, which might be one of the explanations for the stable unemployment rate. And that’s one point — give me one random good faith person who read about misleading statistics, who hears a data point and immediately draws a conclusion (“which goes to imply”). Do better.

This is not a rigurous work and I did not expect a rigurous argument, but I would have liked an open approach to conflicting views: levity, not shallowness.
Profile Image for Sara Sather.
53 reviews
December 25, 2016
I abandoned this book because it seems the author's point of view was negatively established prior to writing it. Dude doesn't dig the Scandinavian way of life, and that seemed like the thesis statement for the book. If I wanted to read someone's complaints and twisted judgements, I'd find some right wing blog.
Profile Image for zachary.
1,079 reviews51 followers
March 18, 2017
Michael Booth is a British journalist living in Denmark and he's determined to figure out what makes the Scandinavians so special. What is a myth and what is truth? Is anything true? Is anything a myth? Moore takes it upon himself to solve the mysteries of the North; heading out to an adventure that takes him from offices of politicians to Santa Claus' home in the middle of summer.

As someone who is Scandinavian, this book definitely appealed to me because... well, it's always nice to see how folks around the world view us. Even though there's a lot of popular stereotypes and a lot of famous brands (IKEA for one) with a Scandinavian origin... nobody seems to know much about Scandinavia. In their defense, I doubt any of them would give good answers if you asked them about West Africa or Southeast Asia either. But as someone born and raised here, curiousity definitely got the better part of me. I had to read this book, I just had to.

Booth's writing is witty and intriguing; it's hard not to like the guy, honestly. He has a lot of interesting views and stories to share but at the same time, I do feel like the book falls quite short. It's more a personal reflective story that doesn't really say much. It would've done just as good as a blog post titled ”This is what I, a Brit in Denmark, think about Norway” and so on. I feel as if it isn't sure wether to be just humor or actually educating – it ends up somewhere inbetween with lots of interesting quotes and facts only to have them lead to no interesting discussions or debates about the matter. I don't mind a balance between humor and education; but this book fails to find that balance.

None the less, it was an interesting read. Especially about the other countries; I compared his experiences a lot with my own. Some alike, some not so much. Reading about Sweden in particular was weird because he brought up a lot of stuff I did know and a lot of stuff I didn't know. It felt kind of weird to find out stereotypes like that. I feel like I'm supposed to know them already. I can't tell if this realisation is positive or negative in terms of being a proper Sweden, but... I had my share of chuckles but it was hardly ever more than that and I found myself struggling through the book more than once, sadly.
Profile Image for Anna Bendewald.
Author 5 books51 followers
March 23, 2021
What a clear, concise and down to earth primer on the various countries and cultures in Scandinavia! I have Swedes & Norwegians in my family tree and Booth's information explained a whole LOT of unspoken tension, muttered slights and outright hostility between the two ancestries. My greats and grands are not around anymore to recount the hurt feelings, but when I asked my father and uncle acknowledged that this book pulls the curtain back on so much of who and why the Scandinavians are who they are--and by extension, Scandinavian-American's are the way we are.

Treasuring this book forever.

Profile Image for Oleksandr Hryshchenko.
34 reviews5 followers
September 10, 2022
Цікавий екскурс у скандинавські реалії, блискуче викладений і приправлений британським гумором. Якщо з цією книжкою і є якась проблема, то вона пов'язана зі збалансованістю і акцентами. Схоже, що автор намагається скомпрометувати скандинавів куди більше, аніж докопатися до їх секрету успіху, хоча здавалося би, це не дуже справедливо як для книжки з підназвою "правда про нордичне диво".

Так, якщо Данію тут змальовано більш-менш всебічно (автор довгий час живе там і знайомий із цією скандинавською країною найкраще), то про ісландців нам розповідають головно в контексті їхньої економічної кризи, а про норвежців – переважно в світлі згубного впливу їхнього нафтового багатства. У частині про Фінляндію узагалі є окремий розділ про стосунки фіннів із, прости господи, росіянами.

Однак закиди на адресу Бута, що він буцімто лише й хоче очорнити скандинавів, які я де-не-де подибував у відгуках, я можу пояснити хіба нерозумінням того ж таки британського гумору. Між іншим, переклад – чудовий!
Profile Image for Pink.
537 reviews497 followers
May 2, 2017
Interesting premise, but too long and repetitive in nature to hold my interest until the end.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,095 reviews1,132 followers
December 11, 2018
This is basically the world’s longest magazine article. I kept reading because the author had a great idea for a book: we in the English-speaking world are always idealizing the Nordic countries, but we don’t actually know much about what it’s like to live there, nor do we visit them very often or learn their languages. So the author, a Brit married to a Dane and living in Copenhagen, proposed to travel around these countries and report on, as the bookjacket claims, “how they may not be as happy or as perfect as we assume.”

Which could have been great, if it weren’t so light and frivolous. Aside from giving a brief overview of the history of each of the five countries included (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland), chapters cover topics such as a visit to a sauna; a visit to Santa’s Village; traditionally-dressed revelers celebrating Norwegian Constitution Day; and a visit to a supposedly dangerous housing project occupied by Muslim immigrants in Malmö, which turns out to be pretty quiet and unremarkable when the author visits in the middle of the day and doesn’t actually talk to any immigrants other than the elderly Macedonian who heads the local mosque.

The book does briefly explore various issues – immigration, the rise of right-wing politics, high levels of taxation and government involvement in society, the causes of Iceland’s economic woes – mostly through talking to a small group of writers and professors who give rather fuzzy impressionistic answers. But he never does really get “behind the myth” in the way I expected. After his stroll through the housing project, he observes that its Swedish neighbors, said to resent the immigrants, “probably faced precisely the same problems as their immigrant neighbors in Herregården – poor education, few opportunities, little hope, and no money – yet each was fearful and resentful of the other.”

Wait. Stop the presses. This is it – this is “behind the myth.” Sweden isn’t supposed to have people, especially native-born ethnic Swedes, with “poor education, few opportunities, little hope, and no money.” Isn’t that the entire point of the welfare state? Isn’t that the heart of the “myth”? And yet Booth just keeps tripping blithely along, talking about views on immigration and even including a chapter entitled “Class” that turns out to be all about the weirdness of the Scandinavian monarchies. In another baffling omission, he observes that a Norwegian museum “featur[es] the usual Nordic tiptoeing around the subject of their oppressed indigenous minority,” then proceeds to describe the exhibit, note the Sami’s territory and numbers, and never mention them again. I checked the index just to make sure and yep, this is the only mention in the entire book. How you can think you’re writing a book about a region’s negative aspects and not include its generational poverty or oppressed indigenous minority, I have no idea. But on to Legoland!

The book is very focused on the author’s own experiences and observations, while some of his theories are just wacky. For instance, he theorizes that Finnish men drink too much because their country has a long history of foreign rule and military defeat, never mind that this does not appear to affect modern-day Finns in any way. He even writes about floating this theory to others, who all shoot it down, which doesn’t stop him from devoting a full two pages to defending it in the book.

Now sure, if you are looking for a lighthearted travelogue that will introduce you to a few cultural concepts, and fill you in on a bit of history and politics, this may be the book for you. I didn’t find it as funny as others did, perhaps because it relies heavily on pop culture references that don’t mean anything to me (“Swedish unemployment figures are about as reliable as Joan Collins’s age”). The book is just so long, without achieving any real depth, that at times I considered not even finishing it. I did learn some things from it, but I would have appreciated it more if it had been pared down and marketed as the lighthearted travelogue that it is.
Profile Image for Owlseyes .
1,634 reviews257 followers
Want to read
April 3, 2017

“Where to Invade Next” becomes almost giddily optimistic once Mr. Moore visits Norway to investigate that country’s prisons; the maximum sentence is 21 years. Even convicted murderers are housed in the equivalent of small Manhattan studio apartments equipped with televisions and cookware, even sharp utensils. No one is locked in solitary confinement, prisoners have a lot of mobility and the principal punishment is separation from the rest of society."


Norwegian Mass Murderer Accepted to Oslo University

in: http://time.com/3963203/anders-breivi...


The “Swedish Model” Bernie Sanders cites is a myth

"It is quite mystifying why Bernie Sanders can embrace a Swedish (or Scandinavian) model that disappeared decades ago."
in: Who rules Sweden?

Why Denmark isn’t the utopian fantasy Bernie Sanders describes
in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/w...

Sorry, Bernie — Scandinavia is no socialist paradise after all
in: http://nypost.com/2015/10/19/sorry-be...

Denmark to Bernie: Stop Dissing Us with That Word
The Danes are worried that Bernie Sanders is giving them a bad name.
in: http://www.the-american-interest.com/...

"I hadn’t yet learned the mysterious code of the Danes, whose superficial similarities to Brits and Americans, I soon discovered, masked far deeper differences".

Profile Image for Chaunceton Bird.
Author 1 book92 followers
December 17, 2018
This is an entertaining and enlightening journey through the five Nordic nations. As an Englishman, Michael Booth's writing is witty enough to keep one chuckling throughout. This is also filled to the brim with statistics about each nation, and, coupled with the author's personal experiences and interviews conducted in these countries, Mr. Booth's book really covers all the bases. I recommend this to anybody interested in what makes these nations world leaders in everything important.
Profile Image for Caroline .
406 reviews550 followers
January 28, 2018
(Full disclosure: book abandoned on page 76 [out of 416 pages].)

Dry. I was expecting an engaging book in the vein of Bill Bryson's work, but Michael Booth is--at least in the first 76 pages--preoccupied with tax issues and finely detailed history of Denmark (the book's first chapter). It reads like a textbook.
Profile Image for Neil Fox.
210 reviews8 followers
April 30, 2015
The World currently finds itself besotted with all things Nordic - our prime time TV features Danish detectives, we are in awe of Swedish minimalist design, Scandinavian cuisine is all the rage in New York and Educationalists from around the Globe traipse around the Finnish school system on a weekly basis to marvel at and pay homage to what is touted as the World's best. Seemingly we can't get enough of what this previously ignored frigid corner of Northern Europe has to offer.

Michael Booth, a longtime resident of Denmark, embarks on a journey with the intent of dissecting what lies beneath the perceptions, separating the myth from reality and trying to understand what really makes the Nordic societies tick. Starting in his adopted Denmark, he makes his way through Iceland, Norway, Finland and finally Sweden, interviewing academics, journalists and social commentators along the way.

The egalitarian nature of society is widely believed to lie behind the high levels of happiness, contentment and social cohesion measured in the Nordic societies, which in turn is held to explain their economic success and high standards of living. Booth asks the question whether all is what it seems and explores the flip side of the coin taking a critical peek at the underbelly of these seemingly perfect societies. He explores why Denmark is regularly voted the "happiest" country on Earth; how the deep flaws of the Icelandic personality led them to financial collapse and National ruin in the Great Recession of 2008; how Norway, although avoiding the " resource curse" typically associated with oil producing countries, nevertheless suffers the distorting effect of its black gold throughout society in many subtle ways. The highest praise is reserved for the Finns, whose resourcefulness and stamina he highly admires, while at the same time he deftly tackles their National hang-up's and taboos on subjects such as the Swedish-speaking minority and the delicate relationship with Russia.

The most virulent commentary is reserved for the Swedes. Echoing Andrew Brown's "Fishing in utopia" , Booth exposes how this wealthy, seemingly modern and progressive society is in fact a benign totalitarian Corporatist nanny state presided over by the Social Democrat machine and a half-witted Monarchy which, with ruthless pragmatism, shamefully betrayed its Nordic neighbors during WW2 and then feasted on the spoils of reconstruction, finally atoning for its guilt by re-inventing itself as a goody goody immigrant-friendly society from the 1960's. But the pressures of that very immigration policy combined with the elements of the Welfare State have brought to the fore the latent Nazi reactionary political element once again. Yes, the neighbors of Sweden will certainly chuckle and revel in Booth's viscous dissection of their tut-tutting big neighbor !

Booth misses out on the chance to explore deeper on how the anthropological and sociological side of things connect with the economical sphere. For example, the fact that the welfare state model is unsustainable in its present, unreformed form, supporting as it does a pensions and dependency time bomb, and being propped up by levels of taxation that are slowly strangling entrepreneurship and innovation, not to mention a slow-burn of productivity. Norwegians today effectively only work a 4-day week, and much of the region shuts down for the entire moth of July, meaning that 8% of annual working time is erased ( more when one considers everyone becomes de-mob happy more than one month before the July shutdown). Now this is fine if you're some dosser sitting in a government job, but crippling for small businesses trying to make ends meet. The corollary of the admirable fairness and equality in society is that the Nordic countries are very much nanny states with a pervasive state sector. The strong sense of social justice is warped when you consider that tax avoidance can carry stiffer jail sentences than murder in some cases in Sweden or that Finland has the quirky law that speeding fines are progressive with income - fine in theory, but why would speeding be a more serious offense if committed by a rich person vrs a poorer one ? Some pundits have applauded the innovativeness of this peculiar rule, but what it conceals in fact is an undercurrent of jealousy and bias against high earners and achievers.

The author also passes up the opportunity to explore in more depth the extent to which uniquely Nordic traits contribute to economic afflictions like high unemployment, and not just to success. I use what I call the "IKEA-Isation" of society to illustrate this. The Nordic psyche contains a strong "do-it-yourself" gene. Inside every Finn lurks a little engineer just waiting to fix things up. Whilst Scandinavians with their long Summer holidays scoff at the Americans with their one-week annual vacations, the Americans actually spend that one week of vacation being on holiday, not toiling to repair or paint the roof on some dilapidated Summer cabin. IKEA could only have arisen from Sweden; no other Nationality could have come up with the concept of transferring the labour from the manufacturer to the consumer. This can also be seen in restaurants for example; the Scandinavian love affair with the buffet style of eating involves an "IKEA" style contract between the customer and the establishment whereby the labour normally performed by a waiter is transferred onto the customer. The effect of all this is that the service economy is underdeveloped and doesn't employ the numbers it could or should. ( not to mention offering up a plausible explanation for the legendary rude service)The 4 weeks Lars spends toiling over that Summer cabin could instead provide a job for an unemployed laborer while Lars takes himself off to the beach with the wife and kids.. But oh no, I must do it myself.

The author does though hit the nail squarely on the head when he asks why do Nordic people put up with such high
levels of taxation when it is increasingly evident that the model is unsustainable and that they are not even getting value
for money in terms of services ? - it is simply because there is a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as the State Sector accounts for such a high percentage of GDP ( > 60% in the case of Finland) - to wish for anything else would be akin to a turkey wishing for Christmas.

Booth, in trying to extract the secrets' of the Nordics' success, allows himself to get bogged down too often in statistics and boring academic musings, sometimes confusing correlation with causation, as he does in a particularly mind-bogglingly irrelevant debate as to whether "trust" came before the welfare state or vice versa; he has the tendency to use statistics in this much as a drunk man uses a lamp post - for support rather than illumination.

Booth, while poking fun at and exposing embarrassing truths about his adoptive homeland of Denmark and its neighbors, nevertheless shows a strong attachment to, and respect and love for the Nordic countries, their people and their way of living and organizing society. He also admirably avoids the stereotyping that typically accompany travel writers' descriptions of Nordic experiences. If anything he underlines that while there is no such thing as a perfect society, you could do a lot worse than take a few learnings from these Nations, imperfect though they may be.
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
625 reviews82 followers
December 16, 2022
4.5 star

Ok, I get it: the so-called Scandinavian Utopia does not exist, Nordic people do have their own problems, sadness and quirkiness, and Scandinavian countries are not monolithic. But I never expected an Utopia in the first place, just somewhere better, if not much better, than average. Nordic countries are still the way to go, especially if you are a woman who values equality and independence.

I enjoyed reading the history of the five Nordic countries. It answered many questions. Why did Finland apply for NATO membership the moment Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022? The book was written in 2014 and published in 2015. The politics in various countries is probably dated. For example, Sweden tightened its immigration policy in 2015, again in 2022.

It's a fun book, a mixture of facts and funny observations. Stereotypes do have some truth in them, don’t they? The Nordic country I’d like to move to is probably Finland.

“Finnish nouns have no gender, and, in fact, people have no gender—the word for ‘he’ and ‘she’ is the same, the masculine hän. A Finnish friend tells me that, increasingly, the Finns are just using ‘it’ to refer to everything: “It is getting married in the morning,” “It has been drinking vodka since breakfast,” and so on.” This is just the way I want.

“One woman I met in Helsinki, who worked in the Finnish Foreign Office and was helping me with some connections, confided that she could say “I love you” in other languages, but to say it in Finnish was more difficult because it seemed to carry so much more weight.” This is so much like me.

“A Finn is at peace,” I thought to myself, strangely comforted by the thought, “without a neighbor in sight.” Again, this is me.
Profile Image for María Paz Greene F.
992 reviews171 followers
March 16, 2021
Me EN CAN TÓ porque QUÉ GOZADA de libro. No solo aprendí un montón, sino que además me reí a carcajadas. Me encanta que la gente siempre siga siendo gente, en todas sus variedades y formas.
Además, en plena cuarentena y sin poder salir, leer esto fue casi como viajar de polizonte en la mente del otro

Cuatro estrellas porque hubo algunas partes en que se me hizo demasiado denso, sobre todo en los capítulos de Dinamarca. Creo que el texto ahí fue un poco menos ágil porque, como el autor vive allí, quizá sintió que no le hacía justicia sintetizando cosas. Pero tal vez debiera haberlo hecho un poquito, jejeje.

Por otro lado, hay partes que son realmente espectaculares y perfectas, y que me hicieron comentárselo a medio Chile. Definitivamente, de los mejores libros que he leído últimamente: divertido, sorpresivo, informado, profundo, alegre, tragicómico. Me encantó, ya lo dije, jajaja.

Algunas citas:

1. Sobre la confianza.

La teoría dice que, si hay confianza en la sociedad, entonces la burocracia será más sencilla y efectiva: se reducirán el coste y la duración de las transacciones entre compañías y se dedicará menos tiempo a pagar abogados para que redacten costosos contratos, así como a litigar. Un apretón de manos es gratuito.

Cualquiera que haya tratado de realizar negocios en Francia o Estados Unidos no habrá tardado en darse cuenta de los inmensos inconvenientes que implica vivir en una sociedad donde por defecto debe asumirse que la otra persona tratará de dejarte con el culo al aire. Las compañías danesas disponen de una mayor libertad para intercambiar conocimientos y divulgar secretos entre ellas; esta es una de las razones que se han citado para explicar por qué la industria de las tubinas eólicas floreció aquí en los años setenta hasta llegar a convertirse en líder mundial.

Bjornskov asimismo sostiene que la educación es más efectiva en sociedades con mayores niveles de confianza porque los estudiantes confían más en sus profesores y entre ellos, y por lo tanto son capaces de concentrarse mejor en aprender.

Las industrias más especializadas también obtienen mejores resultados: cuanto más especializada sea una labor, más difícil es verificar si un empleado está llevando a cabo debidamente sus tareas, y de ahí que la confianza se vuelva mucho más importante. Resulta difícil y costoso comprobar si los consultores, arquitectos, técnicos informáticos o ingenieros químicos de alto nivel trabajan como es debido; por eso aumenta el peso de la confianza. Esta es una de las razones por las que las sociedades que cuentan con niveles elevados de confianza, como Dinamarca, Finlandia y Suecia, sobresalen en el terreno de las industrias avanzadas (farmacéuticas y electrónicas, entre otras) y atraen a compañías extranjeras que operan en estos campos.

2. Dinamarca, el país que más paga impuestos, luego igual se endeuda porque le queda poca plata para gastar en sus cosas personales.

La segunda anomalía curiosa sobre los supuestamente cuidadosos y parsimoniosos luteranos daneses son sus titánicos niveles de deuda privada, los más elevados del mundo. Aunque la deuda nacional de Dinamarca es relativamente modesta (la mitad de la media europea), de acuerdo con un reciente aviso del FMI, el pueblo danés se ha endeudado a sí mismo hasta las cejas.

Actualmente, los hogares daneses tienen el ratio de endeudamiento más alto de cualquier país del mundo occidental: los daneses deben, de media, el 310 por ciento de sus ingresos anuales, más del doble de lo que deben los portugueses o los españoles, y el cuádruple de los italianos. Una cifra asombrosa que, a pesar de todo, rara vez se menciona o discute en los medios de comunicación daneses o alrededor de una mesa en privado. Y, por supuesto, esto no impide que los daneses rechinen los dientes ante los ladinos y vagos europeos del sur que solo saben "vivir el presente" (...).

Parece que los daneses se comportan de un modo parecido a los griegos y, sin embargo, son capaces de mantener una imagen intachable. Y, aunque solo sea por esto, hay que admirarlos.

3. Acá también tenemos de esos, jajaja.

No es habitual que yo coincida con las opiniones de Sovndal (un supuesto izquierdista de la vieja escuela que se deshizo de todos sus principios en el mismo momento en que dispuso de una limusian empresarial), pero tiene razón al decir que (...).

4. Esto también pasa en Chile. Probablemente en todas partes, es que el sistema de la sala de clases, al menos con tantos alumnos, igual está un poco obsoleto.

Sin embargo, igual que sucede con el sistema educativo global británico, aumenta la preocupación de que los colegios tiendan a sacrificar los potenciales logros de los estudiantes con mejor rendimiento por el bien común de aquellos que presentan un progreso medio o inferior: el nivel de instrucción disminuye para incluir a los menos capaces, se desaprueba la práctica de examinar y, aunque soy consciente de que debo parecer un carca aburridísimo al decir esto, me parece que hace excesivo hincapié en las habilidades sociales a costa del aprendizaje real.

5. No todo es felicidad en el tal paraíso.

Cuanto más pensaba en el estado a menudo lamentable de los servicios públicos daneses - el sistema ferroviario está prácticamente en quiebra, los hospitales, cuyo rendimiento es bajo, y los colegios, deficientes hasta casi un nivel ridículo -, más me preguntaba si la razón de que los daneses aún sintieran que obtenían algo valioso a cambio del dinero de sus impuestos no era más porque en realidad no tenían una idea muy clara de adónde iban a parar todas esas coronas.

6. Dinamarca, el país latinoamericano encubierto, jajaja. Aunque en Chile el año pasado nos pusieron la glosa, síii *emoticon de anteojos de sol

Hace no mucho, un miembro del Parlamento de Alianza Liberal (el partido de derechas, liberal en lo económico) sugirió que todo el gasto publico apareciera detallado en las devoluciones individuales de impuestos para que los contribuyentes daneses supieran qué parte de su dinero se aportaba a educación, cuánto a defensa y así sucesivamente. Esta idea a mí, personalmente, no me resulta demasiado revolucionaria, aunque, y tal vez esto no sea sorprendente, se produjo una gran indignación en el Parlamento y la propuesta quedó paralizada.

Pero ¿de verdad sería una idea tan terrible? ¿Adónde va todo ese dinero de los impuestos?

7. Yo nica trabajo tanto si tengo que pasar 75% de lo que gano. No legalmente, al menos.

Más allá de cuestiones como los grandes impuestos, los viveros de empresas y el alto rendimiento de los suecos, la principal preocupación para muchos observadores de la economía danesa son sus lamentables niveles de productividad, que han ido quedando rezagados de la media europea desde mediados de los noventa.

Ha habido comisiones públicas, continuas columnas en periódicos y debates televisivos en torno a este asunto, pero en realidad nadie sabe por qué los daneses no hacen tanto uso de sus horas laborales como el resto.

Torben Tranes, de la Fundación de Investigación Rockwool, cree que podría haber descubierto el motivo:

- Es confidencial, nos reuniremos con la prensa a fin de mes - me informó -, pero hemos llevado a cabo una recopilación de datos. Hemos tenido a gente registrando lo que hacían cada diez minutos para poder ver cuánto trabajaban comparado con lo que dicen que trabajan. Se observa que, aunque la gente dice que trabaja más, en verdad [la cantidad de trabajo] está disminuyendo.

Lo que Tranes parecía querer decir era que los daneses: a) eran unos vagos y b) mentían sobre ello. Resulta muy apropiado, para el hogar de Hamlet, que los daneses despunten una heroica procrastinación. En cualquier día laboral dado harán todo lo posible por encontrar algo, lo que sea, con tal de ocupar su tiempo en todo menos en un trabajo productivo.

- Ellos [los daneses encuestados] nos decían "Bueno, normalmente trabajo mucho, pero esta semana he tenido un asunto en el colegio de mis hijos...". Las excusas no tenían fin (atender a niños enfermos, cita al dentista..., cualquier cosa). Y cuanto más arriba en la escala de trabajo, más empeoraban las cosas: los presidentes ejecutivos eran los más indolentes de todos. Existen muchos factores en esto de la productividad, pero creo que la falta de dinamismo actual es una de las principales. Por supuesto, los de derechas señalan una vez más los elevados impuestos de Dinamarca como una explicación para la baja productividad: ¿por qué trabajar más cuando lo único que conseguirás será un aumento de los impuestos, o incluso que tu ingresos alcancen la tasa impositiva más alta?

8. Jajaja. Todo esto lo encontré muy tragicómico.

- Tenemos impuestos sobre el alcohol y la grasa para frenar el consumo de bebidas alcohólicas y de carne grasa - dice Martin Agerup -. Así que parece lógico que los impuestos sobre la renta tengan el mismo efecto. Fíjate en Suecia. A principios de los noventa bajaron mucho los tipos impositivos marginales y descubrieron que la gente trabajaba más y cobraba más por hora.

Mogens Lykketof no se muestra nada de acuerdo con la idea de los impuestos como elemento disuasorio:

- Hasta hace muy poco éramos uno de los tres países más competitivos del mundo - rebatió, aunque sí concedió que la productividad era un problema. Pero, según afirmó, antes que entender que la holgazanería de los daneses explica el bajo incremento de la productividad, Dinamarca simplemente se habría convertido en una víctima de su propio éxito. El Gobierno ha tenido tanto éxito a la hora de activar a una proporción tan grande de la población trabajadora (durante los buenos tiempos en el cambio de siglo, el desempleo era prácticamente nulo) que ha incorporado a los miembros menos productivos de la sociedad, con la siguiente disminuición de la productividad general.

Supongo que esto debió ser cierto en algún punto, pero sospecho que lo que de verdad ha sucedido es que a los daneses les ha ido tan bien durante tanto tiempo que simplemente han perdido la voluntad de luchar.

Otro informe publicado en junio de 2013, nada menos que por el departamento de Estadística del Gobierno, reveló que los daneses trabajan incluso menos de lo que se había pensado: menos de 28 horas a la semana.

- Parece existir una inconsistencia entre lo que queremos trabajar y lo que queremos obtener del sector público - Esta fue la explicación que me dio Tranes -. No creo que los daneses tengan una inclinación por trabajar tan alta como debieran para poder sostener la escala del sistema de bienestar que quieren.

9. Sobre los islandeses, que creen en los elfos o "gente oculta" <3

También destaca el episodio de la "colina de los elfos", cercana a un suburbio de Reikiavik, que las autoridades locales habían tratado de remodelar en repetidas ocasiones en los años setenta y ochenta, hasta que al fin se vieron forzadas a renunciar al proyecto. Un trabajador supuestamente dijo que le entraba "una especie de miedo o algo parecido" cada vez que accionaba la excavadora, mientras que los equipos de televisión descubrieron que sus cámaras no funcionaban cuando las enfocaban hacia la colina.

10. Quiero ir para alláaaaa.

- Cuando alguien a quien no puedes ver puede destruir tu casa; cuando abres el grifo y el olor a azufre te recuerda que bajo tus pies, no demasiado lejos, hay magma; cuando miras el cielo al atardecer y ves todas esas luces espectaculares... Todo esto contribuye a inculcar una fuerte sensación del inconmensurable poder de la naturaleza. Cuando ves que el viento puede mover la nieve y moldearla en formas diversas, y que el viento te puede llegar a tumbar (...). Por toda Escandinavia existe la misma clase de leyendas que se remontan a los tiempos de los vikingos, e incluso a la Edad de Bronce. Pero Islandia sí que parece tener una fijación especial por los elfos.

- Sí - admitió Gunnell -. La historia más común de todas las que se oyen habitualmente es que alguien jugaba con las hadas de pequeño. En cualquier caso, lo fundamental es que un elevado número de islandeses no descreen.

11. La felicidad.

Alquilé un coche durante un par de días y salí de Reikiavik. Fue un viaje distinto a cualquier otro que hubiera realizado.

Por fin entendí Islandia. A tan solo unas millas a las afueras de la capital, me encontré en un glacial y escarpado paisaje lunar de lava gris cubierta de musgo, y al cabo de un instante conducía por las Tierras Altas escocesas.

Eso es lo que pasa en Islandia: un minuto estás entre montañas cubiertas de brezo y salpicadas con árboles celestiales en claroscuro y al siguiente estás cruzando el Gobi. Doblas un recodo y pasas por las tranquilas y herbosas ondulaciones de la tierra de los Teletubbies antes de que estas den paso a unas montañas de granito tipo Mordor junto a cascadas con veinte pisos. Entonces, de repente, estás en la luna (de hecho, aquí fue donde ensayaron los aluzinajes del Apolo).

El tiempo pasa todavía más deprisa. Continué al volante hasta que pude avistar la aterradora majestuosidad del Vatnajokull: el glaciar más grande de Islandia, de 8.300 kilómetros cuadrados y un kilómetro de profundidad. La guía Lonely Planet me informó de que tiene tres veces el tamaño de Luxemburgo, un dato que desde luego solo resultará útil a aquel que realmente sepa hacerse una idea de cuán grande es Luxemburgo, cosa que yo no puedo hacer.

12. El país de mis ancestros <3

Entonces me acuerdo de lo increíblemente bonita que es Noruega. Es posible que sea el país más bonito que haya visto nunca.

13. Muy sabio.

Le había formulado la misma pregunta a Thomas Hylland Eriksen el día anterior: ¿tenía la derecha quizá algo de razón acerca del asunto de la inmigración no occidental de Noruega y, por supuesto, de Escandinavia? ¿Eran esta clase de sociedades intrínsicamente incapaces de integrar a las personas que presentaban diferencias tan marcadas con respecto a ellas?

- Vamos a ver, la mayoría de los musulmanes son como tú o como yo. Quieren vivir en paz con sus vecinos, quieren llevar una vida pacífica. Por toda Europa surgen disyuntivas sobre hiyabs y carne halal y se necesitan soluciones pragmáticas - dijo -. Disponemos de muy buenas investigaciones sobre el tema, lo que demuestra que los inmigrantes de segunda generación se han "norueguizado" en gran medida. Piensan como protestantes. Las chicas, por ejemplo, han sustituido el honor y la vergüenza por la mala conciencia, que es algo muy protestante, y tu relación con Dios se vuelve una relación individual, en lugar de estar sometida a la comunidad.

En realidad, los protestantes y los musulmanes llegan a un entendimiento con mucha facilidad porque descubren que tienen mucho en común en lo referente a cómo ven el mundo en cuestiones como el sexo, la fidelidad, y la idea de que no todo en este mundo es aleatorio, que existe un juicio trascendente detrás de todas las cosas que es lo que da sentido a la vida.

Profile Image for Milda.
174 reviews50 followers
January 9, 2022
Hygge hygge :) Ar jūs pagalvojate kokie skandinavai yra tobuli, išskirtiniai ir paslaptingi? Ar tikrai Švedija ir Danija laiko Norvegiją drauge? Kaip prieš 8 metus pasikeitė Norvegija po liepos 22?
O ką jau kalbėt apie šalių išskirtinumą. Švedija - viena didžiausių ginklų gamintojų pasaulyje. Suomiai pagal ginklų nuosavybę mažai tenusileidžia JAV. Pusę Islandijos gyventojų tiki elfais. Norvegija - turtingiausia šalis Žemėje. Na ir visi žinom, kad danai yra patys laimingiausi žmonės, mokėdami didžiausius mokesčius, bet juk jie turi savo hygge :) Įdomi, vietomis šmaikšti, vietomis liūdna knyga apie Skandinaviškąją utopiją. Tikrai nebūtina jos skaityti tik tiems, kas domisi Skandinavija, knyga patiks daugumai.
Profile Image for Niels Wang-Holm.
20 reviews
August 29, 2018
What a bunch of crap - it would be funny, if just half of what he wrote was based on some sort of factual evidence. But it seems he is just picking it up from the top of his head as he goes along.
Also, in his writing style he comes of as an arrongant neoliberal conservative, complaining about taxes and equality, wishing that that things were as they are in his home country the UK - so if things are better in the UK, why does he and his family choose to live in Denmark? Maybe because of the welfare system that is being sustained through high taxes...
Profile Image for Lena.
1,136 reviews238 followers
August 9, 2020
DNF page 94

It started off amusing and even, then descended into Dane bashing. Everything from the fact that they like flags to their love of cozy evenings can apparently be reduced to racism. Then there was the smugness:
Well, I don't mean to correct a Harvard business school teacher but...
Well, I know you've been studying and writing tax code since the 60s but...
Well, I know you wrote the happiness index but...
Well, I know you define Scandinavian as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden but...
I did not enjoy this book. No buts.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,101 reviews
February 23, 2022
I have never been to any of these countries yet, however, when I think of Scandinavian countries a have a list of things that come to mind. Danish bacon, ABBA, Ikea, Saab, ultra-cool F1 drivers Viking and Nokia to name a few. The traits of the people that live there come across as relaxed and their societies seem to be the type that looks after the whole rather than the few.

But what are they actually like? I genuinely have no idea, but Michael Booth intends to bring some insights to their national characters in this book. Even though he is English, he has an advantage as he is married to a Danish lady and is resident in the country with her and their family. In this book, he is intending on finding out more about the different nations and seeing if there really like each other.

He begins in Denmark, of course, and set about trying to understand just what makes them tick, what the hell hygge actually is. As he lives there he has more insight into this country’s funny little ways, mostly because he has adopted them himself. There is an interlude as he heads to Iceland, which bemused me as to why it was in the book, as it is strictly not Scandinavia at the moment. Perhaps he should have gone to Greenland, which is at least owned by Denmark.

Each of the countries has a chapter on it and whilst some of the questions he sets about answering in the book are very light-hearted, he does ask some searching questions of some of the people that he meets. He questions politicians about the protective cultures that have a growing proportion of people who are supporting right-wing parties and have citizens who are asking questions about the number of immigrants. Then he is trying to provoke others into reacting as he decides to ignore all social norms in a city centre.

I liked this overall, but I did have a couple of issues with it. Firstly, it became a little bit repetitive at times, similar themes would appear in each chapter for each country. Secondly, it did feel a little bit contrived, rather than him being honest about his feelings for each of the nations he did follow the national tropes that they all have with each other. His prose is quite engaging though and there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in the books; I learnt that Ikea names its doormats after Danish towns for example. If you are expecting an in-depth study of each culture then you might need to look elsewhere for more understanding of each of the cultures.
Profile Image for Amanda.
429 reviews111 followers
November 9, 2015
Several revellers have climbed on to the tables and are dancing gingerly, but with enthusiasm, arms in the air, silly hats akimbo, their shirts still tucked firmly into their shorts. It is time for me to crawl off to a darkened room.
This is Sweden.
This is so not Sweden.

Let's be honest, this isn't going to be a review. It'll be a long list of my favorites quotes (and, because there needs to be some constructive criticism, I've put that in the end for anyone who's interested). Also, most of the quotes will be on Sweden, and if you think it's for any reason other than me being a swede, you're wrong.

But what is this book? Why does it exist? I was quite surprised when I stumbled upon it. Because, well, I know the Scandinavian countries often score high on several different rankings. And, apparently, it's a couple of cultures that are often refereed to outside of Scandinavia, but few people outside of Scandinavia actually knows anything about these countries' cultures. According to the author. I have no clue if this is true or not. All I know is that when I say I'm from Sweden when outside of Scandinavia, most people think this is a good thing. Maybe it is, I'm not to decide that. Anyway, so the author made it his mission to learn about these countries, and this book is the result.

Now, bring out the quotes!

On Scandinavian, uhmm, language?
Every race and language has their affirmative 'uh-huhs', their quizzical 'hmmm?s', and their verbal tics, but the Scandinavians seem to have turned them into a key mode of communication.

Yup, we use a lot of short sounds. It's confusing to people that aren't used to it. I once had to explain one of them about six times before the other person began to understand it.

On graduating gymnasium (our equivalence of high school)
Throughout all of Scandinavia, gymnasium (high school),graduates celebrate by parading through their home towns on the backs of an assortment of open-aired farm vehicles, trucks and buses, clutching festively chinking carrier bags, and getting off with each other. In Denmark and Sweden, for some reason, they wear vaguely nautical-looking, peaked white caps, which make them look as if they are part of a sailing club.

And when he say ride around on them, in Sweden, we ride around on them for a looooong time. And we ride them in the evening. My class? Oh, we started at ten in the evening and went on about it until noon the next day. Some people were on it for over sixteen hours. I promise, we're not crazy.

On rivalry
"[The animosity] is there in the grudging way the Danes react to Swedish economic success and the global domination of IKEA (it hardly help that the Swedish company insists on naming its least dignified products - door mats, and so forth - after Danish towns).

On Finnish School System
At the University of Helsinki a couple of years ago they had 2,400 applications for the 120 places on the master's programme.

FUN FACT: In Sweden, last year more people applied for Paradise Hotel (Big Brother-ish Reality tv-show) than to the teacher program at university.

On swedes
[The Swedes] would rather take the stairs than share a lift...

Or, if you're at a bus stop, waiting, you must, at all times, keep at least 5 feet between you and the others that are waiting. Don't go closer than that, not even if you must ask something, say, if this is the right bus you're waiting on.

On swedes social skills
We don't know how to talk to people we don't know. That's really interesting, because mot people like to talk. In southern Europe it's the best thing in life. I have a French colleague and when she came to Sweden she was convinced it was forbidden to talk on buses. She couldn't find any other explanation.

This is my favorite. Because it captures so well how strange swedes might seem to outsiders. Again, we're not crazy, promise!

Those are some of my favorites. Now to the other stuff. While this book does offers some good (and funny) insight, there's some minor errors, I'd say. But those are, as said, minor. This book relies too heavily on anecdotes and a few selected people's research. As well as when talking to politicians and other important people, it's often one sides. Not enough to give a broad and complex picture of, for example, politics. And to someone from Scandinavia, it's easy to see these dark spots. But to an outsider? Probably not.

On the whole though, a humorous take on our countries and some interesting facts (some that I didn't really know of, like a conspiracy theory regarding Norway's oil). A good read if you have time leftover to kill!

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Profile Image for Justin.
344 reviews15 followers
June 18, 2014
I should state off the bat that this won't be an objective review. I know the author and I have done plenty of writing myself about the foibles and fortes of the Danes, my hosts and neighbors for the past four years.

But in The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Michael Booth has written something more comprehensively informative and hilariously opinionated than I could possibly hope to do about my adopted country. If that weren't enough, he did the same for Denmark's four Nordic neighbors: Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Surprisingly for me, while I really liked the Denmark section, I actually enjoyed the others more due to my general lack of knowledge about those countries.

For anyone interested in this part of the world – particularly those who have swallowed the utopian picture presented by British and US media (for which Michael Booth himself is partly to blame) – this is a great read. For those of us living among them, it was almost nearly perfect.

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