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Book Review: The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth

November 21, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael BoothSummary:
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

Review:
I could easily sum this book up in one sentence: No society is perfect. But that wouldn’t tell you too much about the actual book as a whole, so let’s get down to it.

Booth is a British man who married a Scandinavian woman and thus has lived Denmark on and off for years. He was surprised and confused by the sudden obsession with Scandinavian “happiness,” so he set out to write a book about what Scandinavia is really like. The book is divided into five sections, one for each Scandinavian country. In each section he explores the culture, economy, history, and politics of each nation. Booth writes in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Don’t read this expecting a dry read.

I’m a pretty pragmatic person, so I didn’t come into it thinking of Scandinavian countries as the utopia the news would often have us believe. I was hoping to have a clearer understanding the differences among them (beyond Iceland, which always stands out). My biggest understanding after reading it is that: Sweden makes the pop stars, Norway is kind of like Scandinavia’s American South, Denmark borders Germany, and Finland is rather cross about being the protecting line between Scandinavia and Russia. Frankly, though, they’re all still kind of mixed up in my brain. I think the nuance of the differences among them are probably like how I as a New Englander understand the difference between all the New England states but ask an outsider, and they’ll just lump us all together. Some things you can only learn by living there.

The book mostly confirmed a few things I suspected about the Scandinavian socialist utopias. There’s high taxes and a lot of people don’t work that much. Here’s a few interesting quotes on both of those topics.

  • More than 754,000 Danes aged between fifteen and sixty-four—over 20 percent of the working population—do no work whatsoever and are supported by generous unemployment or disability benefits. (location 305)
  • Danes are allowed to decide the fate of one-third of the money they earn. Put it yet another way: in Denmark, even if you work in the private sector, you work for the state up until at least Thursday morning. (location 951)
  • Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Norway’s social structure is the fact that about a third of all Norwegians of working age do nothing at all. (location 3055)

I know that sounds fine to some people, but there’s nothing that gets a New England woman riled up quite like the idea of slews of the population not working. (Just look up “Protestant work ethic” if you’re confused).

As someone who works in education, I was interested in the much talked about education systems of these countries. I primarily learned that there’s nothing that special about them except the fact that teaching is a profession that is held in high regard in these countries. In Finland, it can be more difficult to get into teaching school than law or medicine (location 4239). But Booth didn’t go as much into the educational system as I would have liked.

I also learned that “Lapps” is now considered a racist term for the Native population. They should instead be called “Sami” (location 2819). Sweden has the highest per capita rate of rape in Europe (location 5872), and Sweden while being a huge proponent of peace is also the world’s eighth largest arms exporter (location 5411).

What I found most interesting in the book was the discussion of how various surveys and studies decided the Scandinavians are the happiest. If you’re at all interested in flawed survey design, definitely check that out. It’s toward the beginning of the book. Booth’s theory is that it’s not so much that Scandinavians are happier it’s just that they don’t set their expectations very high so they can’t be disappointed. I was amused at the idea that it’s a culture that’s naturally mindful, regardless of what else is going on.

The book ends with a lot of discussion of politics that I honestly found to be dull, compared to the sharp wit and social observations and dissection in the beginning of the book. It almost felt like two books smashed into one, and I really only enjoyed the first one.

Recommended, nonetheless, to readers interested in a better understanding of the Scandinavian countries. Provided they have a sense of humor of course.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Friday Fun! (August: Yoga and Gratitude)

September 3, 2014 2 comments
My view reading next to the Charles River (including my book, of course!)

My view reading next to the Charles River (including my book, of course!)

Hello my lovely readers!

My, it’s been quite a busy summer for me, and August is always the busiest, as anyone who works in post-secondary academia will tell you.  On top of students coming back to campus and teaching orientations, I also started a new project at work and took on more responsibility in another one.  In my personal life, my partner and I threw our first party together, which was a smashing success, and I finished out the month with some vacation time to get to go to the track with him again, something that I always really enjoy.  It makes me so happy to get to see him race and also camp out and be in sunbeams all day on top of it!

Two things I’ve discovered this month that I’d like to tell you about.  The first is something you may have heard of, MyYogaPro.  Basically MyYogaPro features videos done by Erin Motz (one of my favorite online yoga instructors).  The videos both break down poses step-by-step for you and also feature full-length programs, organized for various goals (flexibility, power yoga, backbends), progressing from easy to advanced.  Even better, you earn badges for completing videos, which makes it like achievements in a videogame but for doing something physical.  You can register for lifetime access for only $45 right now.  I know this sounds a bit like an ad, but no one asked me to talk about MyYogaPro.  I chose to sign up for the account, and I’ve found it really has enhanced my yoga practice.  I’m learning and progressing in a way I never have before with yoga.  I’m quite passionate about how the website enhances home practice.  If you’re into yoga, if you’ve dabbled your toes but never got serious, or if you’re brand-new to the concept, there’s something for everyone.

The second thing I’ve discovered that I’m really enjoying is an app called Gratitude 365.  It gives you a notebook page every day to put down however many things from that day you want to that you are grateful for.  It also lets you attach a photo to that day.  You can password protect the app if you want.  You can both view a snapshot of your last few days and a calendar of all your pictures.  It also keeps track of how many days you’ve journaled for and your average number of gratitudes.  A lot of people talk about how taking a moment to be thankful each day enhances mood and reduces stress and anxiety, but even if that’s not your goal, it’s a great little journaling app that is easy to use in the day-to-day.

In spite of being so busy this month, I still managed to read 5 books.  I currently have a back-log of three book reviews, so they should keep coming at a steady pace.  I also created a new cross-stitch pattern. The test stitch is completed, I just need to hoop it for the recipient and create the pdf pattern.  Keep your eye out for it.  It’s geeky!

My partner is always wonderfully supportive during my most stressful month of the year, and I honestly think his support is part of why I handled this August with as much relaxation tossed in as I managed to grab, whether that was sneaking in 10 minutes of yoga, journaling gratitude, going for walks together, laughing at old Twilight Zone episodes, or reading outside flopped on a blanket together.  When I think about my August, I don’t just think about the stress, and that’s quite the gift.

Happy reading, everyone!

 

Friday Fun! (Being in Your 20s)

August 6, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Sorry for the relatively small number of posts this week, but I do hope you enjoyed them!  Things will be back up to snuff next week.  I’ll have at least two book reviews plus my very first product review for you all in spite of the fact that I have a rather large homework assignment due next week.  Yay!

Last weekend was pleasantly relaxing.  I went shopping with one of my friends, primarily for shoes, as I tend to wear through mine like nobody’s business.  I blame the large amount of walking that’s necessary when you live in city.  I also saw Dinner for Schmucks (definitely worth the ticket price) and had Thai food.  Yum, Thai food!

Last night I was hanging out with two of my friends and we got to talking about our experience with being in our 20s so far.  We all started our 20s highly idealistic and determined to change the world (samples: hippie tendencies, tv is evil mentality, save the planet, etc…) only to now have fizzled a bit on that.  We got out of university and encountered the real world and the real world kind of beat down on our aspirations.  Now we don’t want to save the world; we just want to be happy.  I’m wondering if the next phase of our 20s will be some sort of moderation between the two: helping the world but striving for personal happiness and improvement simultaneously.  That sounds like a happy medium to me, but I guess we’ll see.  Anyone currently in their 20s or someone older who wants to reminisce on the experience? I think it’d be interesting to hear.

I hope you all have lovely weekends! Anyone have any special plans?