3.5 out of 5 stars
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