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The Almost Nearly Perfect People
on 7 August 2014
The author has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off for ten years, and is perplexed initially how the Danes appear to be the happiest people in the world, having consistently come out top in a Satisfaction with Life index - indeed other Scandinavian countries have also done well in similar surveys. But given the author's own experiences, he wonders what makes the people of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland so unique - and so much the way that they are? Was there a Scandinavan template for a better way of living? To find out, the author has blended his own experiences with conversations with various authorities - "historians, anthropologists, journalists, novelists, artists, politicians, philosophers, scientists, elf-watchers and Santa Claus". The result is a book that is informative and factual-based, laced with humorous observations. For instance, I did not know that in Denmark "pre-empting the green man [on the crossing] is a provocative breach of social etiquette" liable to result in people tutting audibly at the transgressor.
There is much to admire in this book; it's true, I think (certainly from down here in New Zealand) that Scandinavian countries hold a certain aura of mystery about them - not only the snow-covered mountains and fjords, but also the history of these areas means that they are considered with some degree of `unknowableness' (if that's a word). So to try to encapsulate their similarities and differences as a group of people is a worthwhile endeavour, and a highly interesting read. The author's own take on life's little quirks that he finds in his travels make for many humorous interjections in the narrative, which is great as some of it can be a little dry and statistical as he tries to break down the secret of the Scandinavian way of life.
This is a highly engaging, really informative and vastly interesting book - I know now that the Danes have the highest taxes in the world, that Finns have the third largest per capita gun ownership in the world and that 54 per cent of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. I'm really glad I read this book, and really glad the author took the vast leap into writing it. The Scandinavian air of mystery remains, but I feel better informed for it.