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

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Such attitudes are likely the result of the influence of Lutheranism in Scandinavia. This was an austere and modest form of Christianity conceived by the German monk Martin Luther during the sixteenth century. It took an especially strong hold in Scandinavia, with Swedish and Danish kings embracing it, and Catholicism vanishing within a few decades. But while only around 2. The book quickly resonated throughout the continent and became highly influential.

Today, few people actually read the book, but its legacy lives on. The Nordic countries have a lot in common with each other, and they have what US anthropologist Edward T. This means that they share similar backgrounds and experiences, and, since they already relate to and know so much about each other, their societies need less active communication.

Just look at the Finns.

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Their population is incredibly homogenous, with an immigrant population of just 2. Take Norway. Norwegian Constitution Day is celebrated on the 17th of May each year with revellers wearing costumes and enjoying street celebrations and parades. People of all backgrounds participate, all of them simply rejoicing in Norway and Norwegianness. His actions were those of a deranged extremist, but they highlighted a worrying subculture of Islamophobia in Norway. Breivik was a member of the right-wing Progress Party, a previous leader of which once declared that all Muslims were terrorists.

Despite this, they still managed to win Sweden and Denmark also have their own issues with far-right criticism of immigration. The right-wing Sweden Democrats won 20 seats, or 5.

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So there are clearly two sides to this story. Having a lot in common and a shared culture, though beneficial in many ways, can also lead to a fear of any kind of difference. In the year , the first ever parliament, the Althing, was founded in a narrow Icelandic canyon known as Thingvellir, which was formed by the slowly separating tectonic plates of Europe and North America. The state was quite literally founded at the point where America and Scandinavia meet. What could such a combination lead to?

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

Well, as far as their Scandinavian roots go, Icelanders still have strong Viking-like personalities thanks to their close relationship with nature and myth. According to a poll from , a whopping For context, only 45 percent of people in Iceland believe in God. Icelanders also live in an extremely unforgiving landscape. The island is covered with glaciers, mountains, waterfalls and volcanoes, as well as frighteningly changeable and extreme weather, which all helped keep the population down to only the tens of thousands for most of its history.

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So who could survive such persistently harsh conditions? According to the author, only a population with a Viking heart of steel.

During the Second World War, Iceland was occupied by the United States, which brought a lot of prosperity to what was then a relatively poor island, and also made a significant cultural impact. The author thinks they could have been infected by the American Dream, which manifested when they tried to conquer international money markets in the s and get rich quick.

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This bubble inevitably burst with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in , causing massive debt; inflation hit 20 percent and unemployment rose from 2 percent to more than 10 percent. Fortunately, though, the Icelandic economy is now recovering. This tiny island seems to have resisted the formidable forces of both nature and economics. These astounding natural surroundings, combined with their genuine physical isolation, has caused Norwegian people to cultivate a deep attachment to their environment.

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Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years, perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic and hygge that has engulfed the rest of the world. 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 each other.

Along the way a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterised by suffocating parochialism and populated by extremists of various shades. Review Text "Comprehensive and occasionally downright hilarious I was laughing out loud" show more.

Winner 2016 British Guild of Travel Writers’ Book of the Year.

Review quote "Comprehensive and occasionally downright hilarious Rating details. Book ratings by Goodreads. Maybe so, but what they do know is that these nations are exceptional. This collective exceptionalism is worth studying up close and Michael Booth's book is a good place to begin. He writes with irony and charm and in the end, much affection for his adopted home in Denmark. He has written an immersive, insightful, and often humorous examination of a most curious culture.

He is congenial, game, funny, and observant. A lively and endearing portrait of our friends in the north, venerated globally for their perfectly balanced societies but, it turns out, as flawed as the rest of us--or at least only almost perfect. He is the Copenhagen correspondent for Monocle magazine and Monocle 24 radio, and travels regularly to give talks and lectures on the Nordic lands and their peculiar, nearly perfect people.

He lives in Denmark with his wife and two sons. Buy at Local Store.