A travel writer friend pointed this book out to me in Foyles, knowing I was planning a trip to Denmark in our camper van this Easter, and I bought it to help us acclimatise.
I knew very little about Denmark or Danish culture before buying this book, apart from having an old Danish schoolfriend who always struck me as super-cool and super-happy, and enjoying hearing Sandi Toksvig talk about it on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz, her wry humour delivered in Queen’s English more impeccable than the Queen’s. Even so, I’ve always felt the inherent Dane is always present not far beneath her British boarding school veneer. Otherwise all I knew was that it was small, expensive, and big in bacon.
Just Why Are the Danish So Happy?
The cover of this book tells us it’s also a very happy place. But why? The author Helen Russell treats it as her mission to find out, when she accompanies her husband on a year’s posting with his job (to work for Lego – but of course!) The archetypal stressed-out London journalist, all but burned out by her staff job on a women’s magazine, Russell is ripe for conversation to most aspects of Danish life e.g. the much shorter working week and the the refreshing national supposition that only the inefficient work long hours, unlike the customary British corporate assumption that it’s a sign of dedication that will fast-track you to promotion.
She is at first shocked, then won over by the virtual hibernation that occurs during the ong dark winter nights, when people embrace the excuse to stay home and enjoy quality family time.
She loves the flat social hierarchy where all jobs are considered equal, and where no-one much minds paying high taxes, knowing they’re funding generous education, social and medical care.
Not all her findings are as winning e.g. the famous pigs for Danish bacon are all reared indoors, intensively, but most of them are.
This is a well-researched and thoughtful book, narrated by a likeable author who is clearly passionate and positive in the pursuit of her mission. She must have been a very supportive companion to her Danish husband – being an expat wife isn’t easy, but she’s done well on that score.
Worth Reading, Even If You Have No Plans to Go There
Whether or not you plan to travel to Denmark, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read, providing a thorough introduction to a culture that while not far from our own geographically, is very different in many ways. It may make you want to reexamine your own daily life and culture, and encourage you to embrace what’s good about the Danish alternatives, where you find something wanting. It’ll probably put you right off Danish bacon, though.
To find out more about Helen Russell, visit her website: www.helenrussell.co.uk