Book title: The Almost Nearly Perfect People – Behind The Myth of Scandinavian Utopia
Alternative title: The Almost Nearly Perfect People – The Truth about The Nordic Miracle
Author: Michael Booth
Release date: February 6, 2014
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
The whole world wants to learn the secrets of Nordic exceptionalism:
Why are the Danes the happiest people in the world, despite having the highest taxes?
If the Finns really have the best education system, how come they still think all Swedish men are gay?
Are the Icelanders really feral?
How are the Norwegians spending their fantastical oil wealth?
And why do all of them hate the Swedes?
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 that has engulfed the rest of the world, whether it be for their food, television, social systems or chunky knitwear.
In this timely book 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. They may very well be almost nearly perfect, but it isn’t easy being Scandinavian.
Is it true that Scandinavian people are the perfect model of community, and the happiest individuals on the Earth? That is the most common question in which attracts people to read this non-fiction book, which was written by Michael Booth. Booth – a British journalist, travel writer, whose wife is a Danish – tried to describe all he could do in regards to Scandinavia: Interviews, investigations, knowledge, and plus some funny spices among the writings; in this merely-400-page book. Last but not least, he also added satirical viewpoints about these five countries on Northern Europe. Indeed, my British English was not so excellent, and Booth as a British writer made me open the dictionary more often than usual (thank God this is a dictionary-embedded Kindle version!). I finally finished the book in 6 weeks, starting from end of July 2015, and finished on September 2015.
In the beginning, I was attracted by the catchphrase on the book’s title: Almost Nearly. I thought that both of these words have similar meanings, and therefore I considered Booth wanted to create some metaphorical meanings here. But then I found the other thing which was interesting: How Booth really worked hard, even somewhat struggled in some parts, to dig what lies behind the happy and perfect-life image which appears on every Scandinavian in international eyes.
Five parts in this book, starts with Denmark and ends with Sweden, do not make each country stands alone, apart from each other. It’s always be some connections between corresponding country with at least one of its Scandinavian counterparts, either Booth had connected them intentionally or not. Thanks to the interviews and some social experiments done by Booth too, as they made the book more colorful and more fun. Although in some parts the interviews seemed missing or incomplete – means, not comprising certain topics thoroughly… I could not describe that well, but it was felt a bit… – it does not diminish the fun in this book’s journey.
Other fun thing is that the book will deliver you a lot of new knowledge about Scandinavia countries: Starts from sociology/anthropology, international politics, cultures, and history. These things, although some of them are trivial, are handy when you are planning to go to Scandinavian countries. Examples such as the customs to take off any footwear when you’re indoor in Sweden, political view versus oil economic aspects on Norway, the silence of Finns, the respects from Danes to their own national flag, and the superstitious belief of Icelanders, until you’re back again on political domination pattern on Sweden… All of them are described meticulously and completely by Booth. I think these almost-nearly-flooding facts had forced me to read the book in slow pace, therefore I could absorb as many information as I want to. Booth had collected super-complete facts and figures about Scandinavia here, and I have to give thumbs up to him for this!
Some interesting parts of the book wouldn’t let you stop reading. Watch how Booth describe Jante’s Law (a medieval satirical law made by Danes, but ironically still “planted” in today’s generation minds until now), hygge (coziness), and folkelig (popularity) in Denmark. Then the choice between real happiness or fake happiness. Feel surprised and wonder how what do they actually feel? The other examples, about Swedes’ obedience to the rules, and sauna thing in Finland; where Booth did some social experiments and the results, somehow predictable, but plus some satirical approaches as well!
Probably for native Scandinavian, this book may be a bit rude, and promote negative aspects on Scandinavians too much. But in my opinion, ironically, this is what the book was written for in the first place: Booth wanted to describe and let us know that Scandinavian countries are not as perfect as we perceive, and they also have weaknesses and problems just like other parts of world.
We start the journey from Denmark, the happy kid. With Danish wife, it makes sense that Booth must have been experienced anything further in Little Mermaid country, therefore it makes sense too that Denmark consumed the largest part in the book. Bacon thing, flag thing, happiness thing (is it real or fake?), and of course, tax thing (in which may be up to 72% of wages!) are the core themes of the Danes.
Then Iceland, the feral kid. This small country, with population only several hundred thousand people, is dependent on fisheries as economical backbone. Iceland also possesses unique natural beauty of the world, in where we may find aurora in every March. And for your surprise, Icelanders are also superstitious, and most of them even believe that Elf really exists. As small as the country, Iceland took the least part of the book.
Norway, the lazy kid, has been acknowledged worldwide for their unique landscape view of fjords and their very-expensive stuffs. Here, Booth talked mostly about politics and economical aspects. Politics, about Anders Breivik and bombing tragedy back in 2011. Economics, of course discussing about oil, its drilling, and the connection to Norwegian prosperity.
Then to half-Scandinavian-half-Baltic country Finland, the silence kid, who keeps a lot of mysteries. Despite of its connection to Scandinavia, Finland has a close historical relationship with Russia. Urho Kekkonen, their president for about 26 years, was a very good friend of Soviet Union back in the Cold War days. You’ll hear many stories of him in this part. Although preferring silence communication than talkative approach, Finns are dependable, and this attracted Booth to call them “faithful Scandinavian”. Besides faithfulness, Finns are also alcoholics, teacher-appreciating, and emancipation-appreciating as well. Their sisu principles made Finns are able to move and do something without talking too much. Don’t forget to check the sauna: Booth describes this part in a super-funny way.
The journey ended on Sweden. Stockholm, a self-proclaimed capital of Scandinavia, was perceived so ideal internationally. No wonder that four counterparts are envy of Sweden. Nevertheless, they still do have problems regarding to political current and social classification. Swedes, who are reluctant to show emotions and facial gestures, had kept the problems from the international views, for decades. Read by yourself and you’ll be surprised.
Booth didn’t really stopped there. He even talked about intra-Scandinavian relationship. Icelanders adore Danes, Finns always put grudges against Danes and Swedes, and all Scandinavians are confused with Finns’ language.
In the end, Booth mentioned that he may got wrong perception or impression on Scandinavian, either people or countries, because of his position – in every way he is, in the end, still a British journalist who is keen to know and learn Scandinavia.
So, are you interested to learn about these five-fellows from the North? Have your say on Comments below!
Miscellaneous and Ratings
- Get to know Michael Booth: [Twitter] [Website]
- I read the book in form of: Digital, Kindle edition
- The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia on Goodreads
- My ratings 4/5 (Goodreads), 8/10 (Personal)
How to get this book?
- Paperback: USD 10.62 (delivery fee excluded)
- Kindle edition: USD 9.99
- The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia (Michael Booth, 2014) [review in Bahasa Indonesia]
- Skandinavia: Traveling Aman, Hemat, dan Nikmat (Rossa Indah, 2012) – travel book review in Bahasa Indonesia