England and Scandinavia have a lot in common. The weather (warmed by the Gulf Stream but Newcastle is on the same latitude as Sweden). Along with quiet dispositions, and tolerance for respecting religion, sexual orientation etc. There are exceptions, but you have to go a pretty long way in most areas of England to find anyone who is racist (despite some of the media trying to whip up hatred and division).
However, there are a lot of things that Scandinavians do better than us. For a start, the Nordic nations are far less consumerist. Christmas for instance is not about everyone running to buy everything in Argos. It’s about singing carols in town squares around real Christmas trees, and eating roasted chestnuts, and attending Midnight Mass. There is no celebrity culture either (people prefer a walk in the forest, reading books, warming by the fire or watching Northern Lights, over reality TV).
Many people often tire of anyone hoping for some Green MPs. But in Scandinavia, many MPs and ministers are green. Sanna Marin is not a Green MP but very progressive on climate change and animal welfare politics (she is trying to introduce tax breaks on plant-based food). She recently became the world’s youngest Prime Minister. She became leader of Finland age just 34. A bit more hopeful than her other young leader counterpart (Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea).
Things Scandinavians Do Differently
Moose Kiss, Alexandra Unger for Etsy
- A third of Danes and Dutch cycle everywhere (both flat lands). The Netherlands (ok, not Scandinavia) used to be traffic gridlock, but today has more bicycles than people!
- Despite cold weather and dark nights, Nordic countries don’t grind to a halt, when it snows. They use snow chains, side-lights on cars, doors that open the right way in snow, and heated driveways (not pet-toxic rock salt).
- People on low incomes don’t live in dark damp bedsits: they have BOKLOK houses – light airy homes with bike parks and green spaces.
- People are nice, and things are fair. Fines for shoplifting and other crimes are based on income. Finland is known as home to the ‘$103,000 speeding ticket’.
- Estonia is one of the most forested countries on earth, with free public transport. There is also little state religion. It’s interesting that some orders visit to try to convert – from countries with problems, caused by organised religion!
I can think of many US states where it would be uncomfortable to declare yourself an atheist, gay, choose not to have children (or be unmarried and have children) or to raise children as Muslims. I don’t imagine it would be easy being vegetarian in Texas, or a wine buff in Salt Lake City. And don’t even think of coming out as a socialist! In Scandinavia you can be all of these things and no one will bat an eye (as long as you wait, and cross on green). Michael Booth
Now is probably a good time to make my confession about Finland. I think the Finns are fantastic. I can’t get enough of them. I would be perfectly happy for the Finns to rule the world. Michael Booth
Other Variants of Hygge
You’ve likely heard of hygge (the Danish term for ‘a sense of cosiness’ that asks us to enjoy warm nights by the fire, beachside walks and cosy clothing, over the constant watching of TV drivel). But it means other things, often why Danes are often voted the happiest people on earth.
The Serenity Passport is a world tour of peaceful living in 30 words, from cultures worldwide. Try Ayliak (the Bulgarian art of living slowly without worry), Hoppìpolla (Icelandic jumping in puddles), Flâneur (French leisure strolls) or Utepils (a beer outside with Norwegian friends).
It’s about a lack of celebrity culture and appreciating that which is important. Two examples: In Denmark, it’s okay to own a luxury boat. But you don’t boast about it. If you did, it would be seen as almost embarrassing, as it’s just not the done thing to brag about money. The second example is being polite. Apparently if you move to Denmark and invite your neighbours for dinner in 6 weeks time, they will say yes. Then often won’t speak to you as people are quite formal and private. You may think you’ve done something wrong. But in 6 weeks time, bang on the dot – they’ll turn up, expecting their dinner!
- Lagom is Sweden’s version of hygge. Whereas the former is about coffee shops and feeling cosy, Lagom is more about living in balance and simplicity – the words translates to ‘not too little, not too much’.
- Koselig is Norway’s version: like Sweden, it’s usually cold and dark for most of the winter, so it’s about taking the time to enjoy the outdoors, from a crisp walk in the chilly air to winter sports like skating and skiing.
- Iceland is one of the greenest countries on earth, with nearly everything being run on green energy, and you can get warm by sitting in a naturally warm spring. Like Norway, it’s freezing here in winter. One writer notes ‘despite Iceland having the word ‘ice’ in its name, I underestimated how cold it was going to be. It was very, very cold!’
And Finland? Also a happy nation, but there’s no hygge. So what’s to do? According to some, it’s that it’s a nation that just mimics what your mother said to ‘not count your chickens’. Instead of reading books on ‘how to be happy and positive’, this country is naturally miserable. So when something good happens, they are happy! Barbara Ehrenrich is not a fan of positive thinking, saying this is one reason why everyone is so unhappy. She says Americans are perceived as being ‘happy’ often because they are mostly on anti-depressants, when answering ‘happiness surveys’. And that organised religion and right-wing politics has led them to believe they are God’s chosen people (so don’t abort our babies, but it’s okay to bomb other countries where pregnant women may get killed). Then fly a flag outside your home to ‘support our troops’.
One Finnish Cabinet minister who was told that they were the happiest people, apparently replied ‘If that’s true, I’d hate to see the other nations’. One TV report on Helsinki (the capital city) noted when observing people there ‘This is not a state of national mourning, these are Finns in their natural state: the shyest people on earth. Depressed and proud of it!’
A (Norwegian) Modern-Day Walden
A Year in the Woods is by Torbjørn Ekelund, the gifted Norwegian writer. After his beautiful debut book In Praise of Paths, now he decides he wants to leave the city after work and camp near a tiny pond in the forest. He has a family and busy life, so can’t just ‘go off on a trek’.
So once a month for a year, he goes off camping by himself in the woods. A tale of communing with nature in small rituals and reflection. He describes his changing relationships with the landscape as he monthly greets the same trees, rocks, streams and soil. And also observes minute signs of growth and decay around him. And gradually shifts his perspective on his role with the forest, and nature itself.
This author has been described as a modern-day Henry David Thoreau. If you’re not familiar, he wrote the classic book Walden, about his 2 years and 2 months living in semi-isolation by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Born into a family that made pencils, he attended Harvard University and author Louisa May Alcott (who wrote ‘Little Women’) fondly remembers him teaching her as a child about the natural world. He was a kind man who after capturing a woodchuck who had chewed up most of his bean field, could not bring himself to kill it, so set it free. Thoreau died of TB, just 44.
The Easiest Languages to Learn?
Languages are taught a lot later in England, which is why for the most part, people are rubbish at them. Unless you grow up in a bilingual family, most children abroad start learning languages a lot earlier, around 4 or 5, as opposed to later on in England’s schools. And secondly, we are apparently learning the wrong languages. French and German (the ones most offered) are not the easiest for the native tongue. Norwegian is apparently the best one to learn. If schools introduced that instead, everything would go wonderfully, as they share the same verbs and sentence structure. For example:
vinter and sommer
kan jeg hjelpe deg?
You didn’t need help for either of those, did you? Linguists says that French is not as easy as Italian, and that all the Scandinavian languages are good bets, apart from Finnish, which is different entirely and has the world’s longest words:
lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas (it means ‘airplane jet turbine engine auxiliary mechanic)