Last week sometime (I can’t remember exactly) I was stuck in the most awful traffic on my way home. My blood sugar was low and I was starting to lose my temper. I’d had a… less than efficient day and all I wanted to do was go home, kick back and eat something. I decided to detour off the highway and sojourn through the suburbs. Which was likely a worse idea. Eventually I acquiesced to lack of forward motion and defeated, pulled off into a mall. They have a cafe that does a decent sandwich and coffee. Two things I was desperately in need of.
Post caffeine and calories, with some time still to burn before I thought it was safe to rejoin the salmon run, I perused paperbacks at the tiny bookstore there. My efforts were fairly lackluster… I’m feeling very ‘overdone’ in my usual genres… when I picked up this.
I grimaced. Taxes, Hygge and minimalist aesthetics right? I know this stuff. These are my people… I was about to put it down again, but for some reason I carried it around the bookstore for a bit. The girl behind the counter glared at me. I think my aimless demeanor was upsetting her otherwise empty store feng shui. Concerned that this person was silently judging me, I placed the book on the counter in front of her. She gave me a look like you might give someone who had just tossed a stack Playboys down.
I tried to convey a look that said, ‘yeah, I don’t normally buy books like this… its for a friend’ ‘Do I need a bag?’ “eh… no… its fine’, I said, ‘stuffing the book into my messenger and shuffling off’… feeling somewhat owned.
I broke my Playstation controller. This is the other factor in this story. Well… one of the buttons was sticking… so I opened it… you know… to ‘have a go’. After my little oyster shucking maneuver… little plastic bits, sprocket things and tiny widgets went cascading everywhere. ‘F…. lip’… is not the word I used. Sufficed to say, if it wasn’t truly broken before… it certainly was now. So I picked up ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ and started reading.
It was really good.
Helen Russell writes like journalist. I don’t know why I feel like I need to mention that. She used to write for a glossy. I don’t mean this as a criticism. But its takes some getting used to. Once I was into it though, I was really into it. I like that self-depreciating English thing she’s got going on. I’m generally quite appreciate of this type of humor. Her wordplay is good and I found myself laughing and smiling at her little quips.
While I’ve never lived in Denmark (other than to visit family, friends and Legoland) my father exported enough Danishness that I grew up thoroughly infused with coffee (Danes consume more coffee than anyone else on earth), herring, Smørrebrød and pastries. And it was amusing for me to read an ‘outsiders’ perspective on this.
Joey about to get his beer on at Carlsberg in Copenhagen.
I don’t think I can be completely objective about this book. A lot the things the author finds really strange and different about the Danes is stuff I accept as relatively normal. (I take my shoes off when I go inside and I recycle fanatically)
I am however very weary of people who market Danish ‘socialism’ as something they can just transplant into any culture. And not just because I’m anti-socialist.
What you need to understand about the Danes is that this is an exceptionally tight knit community that has been fostered over hundred of years. There is camaraderie there that is built on a tiny homogeneous population, a huge language barrier (its tough language to learn), isolationism (tough to immigrate to Denmark), wealthy neighbors (Germany and Sweden) and crappy weather (shared suffering). Danes also have insane levels of national pride and they trust each other, which is a huge advantage when building community. You don’t need to lock your bike or even your front door there. To think you can just transfer this to a country where you don’t have these things… it just feels very naive to me. That’s not say you can’t make it work in other places, just that you need to appreciate this is a one to two hundred year journey of generational increments.
Miniature-rant aside. I really enjoyed this book, although its likely not for everyone. Read it if you want to be amused.