Sunday 10 October 2021

Are Scandinavians nearly perfect people?

When you try to understand Scandinavia this thought might help. The Vikings are the ones who left. The non-Vikings stayed at home.

Prime Minister of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt, from the centre-right Moderate Partysaid in a speech in November 2006 that “the only barbarism is domestic” and that “all advancement derives from abroad”.

I have the usual prejudices against Scandinavia (progressive, conformist, materialistic, egalitarian, post-Christian, bicycling monarchs) but they have good points. They are honest, public spirited, surprisingly conservative, socially cohesive except for newcomers. 

They are very moral in their way, which is their weak point because it is the wrong way.

Although not many people go to church, I suppose it all comes down to cultural Lutheranism. 

Fredrik Reinfeldt said that flying over Sweden, his feet far above the ground, he saw that the country had lots of room for immigrants. So it undoubtedly does.

By 2014 immigration into Sweden had reached what was then its highest ever level and he was worried, not about the numbers of young men coming from the Middle East, although he accepted that this would cost a great deal of public money and put a strain on the economy, but about losing votes to the anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats. 

In order to persuade the electorate of the wisdom of his immigration policy, he said in a television interview on Christmas Eve 2014 that Sweden's borders are "fictional" and the native Swedish are “uninteresting”.

He might be right in his second point. 

At any rate, Swedish governments seem to think so. Perhaps Swedish voters do too.  

He said:
“There is a choice of which country Sweden will be. Is this a land that is owned by those who have lived here for three or four generations, or is Sweden what people who come here in mid-life make it and develop it? To me, it is obvious that it should be the latter and that there is a stronger and better society if it will be open.”
No Burkean nonsense about canonised forefathers. No Chestertonian ideas like 
'Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.' 
I suspect these ideas are equally foreign to most European leaders west of Budapest and Warsaw, though we might see this change.
Some very kind person gave me as a birthday present (thank you if you are reading this) The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth, a Englishman who has lived in Denmark for many years. 

I almost never read anything except the internet, though I always intend to. I found this book while unable to sleep and since I was recently in Norway read the Norwegian chapters. Then the rest. I rarely read a book that annoyed me more but that shows that I rarely read books written this millennium

Mr Booth is extremely politically correct. He tells us Swedes and Danes regard Norwegians as nationalists because they dress up in national costume to celebrate their national day and as racists because only about 9% of the inhabitants of Norway are non-white (up from a fraction of 1% fifty or sixty years ago). 

That figure excludes the Sami. Who are they? You might know the Sami as Lapps but Lapps, Mr Booth tells us, is a racist word. 

You get the clear idea that he shares the Danish view of Norwegians, who apparently sometimes deport unsuccessful asylum seekers (imagine!) but he regards Danes too as pretty unsatisfactory in their attitudes to immigration.

Yet at the same time he is writing a book poking gentle and not very gentle fun at Scandinavians, something which is not PC at all. In fact, unlike wanting to restrict immigration, being rude about ethnic groups could be thought to border on racism.

Perhaps his dislike of Scandinavia and his wish to see Denmark and Norway be transformed by immigration are in some way related. 

He interviews numerous Scandinavians in the book but you get no feeling of what Swedes, Norwegians and Danes are like. They don't come alive.

Would he say that they are not very lively? Even that is not an excuse for not bringing them to life.

You may know by now that polls showing Scandinavians are the happiest people in the world are completely misleading. 
“Over the years I have asked many Danes about these happiness surveys — whether they really believe that they are the global happiness champions — and I have yet to meet a single one of them who seriously believes it’s true. They tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.”'

“Are you happy?” means different things in different cultures. In Japan answering “Yes” seems like boasting, Mr. Booth points out, whereas he quotes newspaper editor Anne Knudsen saying that in Denmark it’s considered “shameful to be unhappy”.

He devotes a chapter to hygge, which is defined by 'Oxford Languages' via Google as 'a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)'.

An article in Slate in late 2016 claims it had links to far right and says:

A collective craving for childlike comforts in response to social trauma is a psychoanalytic classic. It was Carl Jung who wrote in The Practice of Psychotherapy, “The patient’s regressive tendency[…] is not just relapse into infantilism, but an attempt to get at something necessary[…] the universal feeling of childhood innocence, the sense of security, or protection, or reciprocated love, of trust.
Hygge’s turning inward against the world outside comes with a more sinister edge, however. As Charlotte Higgins pointed out in her deep dive for the Guardian last month, hygge’s ties to the far-right in Denmark are remarkably strong. Pia Kjærsgaard, the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, has publicly extolled the virtues of the lifestyle, insisting that her office remain cozy and hyggelig at all times. Denmark’s welfare state and reputation for tolerance may be admired by progressives in the U.K. and U.S., but, as Higgins points out, the country’s love of hyggefied thatched cottages with closed doors suggests a conservative undercurrent. “Anything that threatens that safe community, including alien values and ideologies, cannot be tolerated,” she writes."
It sounds exactly like my philosophy - which I call Enid Blytonism - a desire for cosiness. I suppose it might be called a desire to return to the womb.

On the other hand many adjectives describe Bucharest, where I so much love living, but cosy is not one of them. It's more film noir (or at least comedy thriller). 

But it is as old fashioned a place as one can find in this sublunary world.

Footnote: Michael Booth who seems to disapprove of Scandinavians having monarchies, says it is the Dutch kings and queens who cycle. The Nordic ones are grander.

Another footnote: he is a cookery writer and not an intellectual.


  1. From the Sunday Times today on the death days ago in a motor accident of Lars Vilks who drew a cartoon of the prophet Mahomet/Mohammed as a dog. I am ambivalent about such cartoons personally as I was about The Satanic Verses. It is very important to have free speech and free speech is not free really if it is not exercised. On the other hand insulting another man's religion is something I dislike.

    'The truth is that Vilks was not only a target for Muslim rage — Sweden’s left-leaning political and cultural establishment had turned on him too. “It was as if he had some disease,” said Erik van der Heek, a ghost writer and friend of the artist.

    '“If you touched him, you got it as well — became a persona non grata or a pariah.”

    'He called this Sweden’s “politically correct appeasement mentality: defeatism in the face of zealots, people who play the ‘we are the oppressed’ card”.

    'Some leftwingers wrongly accused Vilks of being an Islamophobic rightwinger, said van der Heek, as we visited Nimis, part of the artist’s “land art”, a vast, cliffside assemblage of driftwood on a rocky seashore. “Lars did not want to incite Muslims. He was interested only in how the work functioned as an idea in society.”

    'Neighbouring Denmark stood by its cartoonists whose drawings of the prophet unleashed riots in the Middle East in 2005 and rallied around Kurt Westergaard, who narrowly escaped an axe-wielding assassin in 2010.

    'The Danes also showed solidarity with Vilks. Uwe Max Jensen, a Danish artist, set up a “Lars Vilks committee”. One of its prizes went to cartoonists of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2014. “A year later they were all killed,” said Jensen, referring to the 2015 terrorist attack on the paper.

    'In Sweden, meanwhile, people were moaning about the expense of Vilks’ bodyguards. “The majority thought, ‘Why anger Muslims? Look at the cost to the taxpayer’,” said Krister Thelin, a retired judge and friend of Vilks, who appointed him “justice minister” in the virtual country of Ladonia that he had declared in the land around his coastal driftwood work. Thelin’s golden retriever was named “police commissioner”.'

    1. Incitement is a style of conversation.

      I expect this much of it to bring about catharsis - as it is known to be a phenomenon of democracy.

    2. Hygge linked to far-right?
      Shame on Norwagians for wearing their nationalistic national costumes!
      Thank you for the article, which gave me a new perspective of the "uninteresting" Scandinavian people. Aren't they more animated after 2014?

  2. Iam happy.I AM happy. I am HAPPY. I HAPPY! Cookery writers are plagarists 2ho scribe loads bollix. Escoffier covered the totality of cookery in just one book.quid scripsit...scripsit.