In the American liberal compass, the needle is always pointing to places like Denmarkwrites The New York Post's Kyle Smith (tack till Instapundit).
Everything they most fervently hope for here has already happened there.
So: Why does no one seem particularly interested in visiting Denmark? (“Honey, on our European trip, I want to see Tuscany, Paris, Berlin and . . . Jutland!”) Visitors say Danes are joyless to be around. Denmark suffers from high rates of alcoholism. In its use of antidepressants it ranks fourth in the world. (Its fellow Nordics the Icelanders are in front by a wide margin.) Some 5% of Danish men have had sex with an animal. Denmark’s productivity is in decline, its workers put in only 28 hours a week, and everybody you meet seems to have a government job. Oh, and as The Telegraph put it, it’s “the cancer capital of the world.”
So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?
Let’s look a little closer, asks Michael Booth, a Brit who has lived in Denmark for many years, in his new book, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia” (Picador).
Those sky-high happiness surveys, it turns out, are mostly bunk. Asking people “Are you happy?” means different things in different cultures. In Japan, for instance, answering “yes” seems like boasting, Booth points out. Whereas in Denmark, it’s considered “shameful to be unhappy,” newspaper editor Anne Knudsen says in the book.
Moreover, there is a group of people that believes the Danes are lying when they say they’re the happiest people on the planet. This group is known as “Danes.”
“Over the years I have asked many Danes about these happiness surveys — whether they really believe that they are the global happiness champions — and I have yet to meet a single one of them who seriously believes it’s true,” Booth writes. “They tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.”
… Denmark is a land of 5.3 million homogenous people. Everyone talks the same, everyone looks the same, everyone thinks the same.
This is universally considered a feature — a glorious source of national pride in the land of humblebrag. Any rebels will be made to conform; tall poppies will be chopped down to average.
… One of the most country’s most widely known quirks is a satirist’s crafting of what’s still known as the Jante Law — the Ten Commandments of Buzzkill. “You shall not believe that you are someone,” goes one. “You shall not believe that you are as good as we are,” is another. Others included “You shall not believe that you are going to amount to anything,” “You shall not believe that you are more important than we are” and “You shall not laugh at us.”
… Macho isn’t a problem in Sweden. Dubbed the least masculine country on Earth by anthropologist Geert Hofstede, it’s the place where male soldiers are issued hairnets instead of being made to cut their hair.
… As for its supposedly sweet-natured national persona, in a poll in which Swedes were asked to describe themselves, the adjectives that led the pack were “envious, stiff, industrious, nature-loving, quiet, honest, dishonest and xenophobic.” In last place were these words: “masculine,” “sexy” and “artistic.”
Scandinavia, as a wag in The Economist once put it, is a great place to be born — but only if you are average. The dead-on satire of Scandinavian mores “Together” is a 2000 movie by Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson set in a multi-family commune in 1975, when the groovy Social Democratic ideal was utterly unquestioned in Sweden.
In the film’s signature scene, a sensitive-apron wearing man tells his niece and nephew as he is making breakfast, “You could say that we are like porridge. First we’re like small oat flakes — small, dry, fragile, alone. But then we’re cooked with the other oat flakes and become soft. We join so that one flake can’t be told apart from another. We’re almost dissolved. Together we become a big porridge that’s warm, tasty, and nutritious and yes, quite beautiful, too. So we are no longer small and isolated but we have become warm, soft and joined together. Part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes life feels like an enormous porridge, don’t you think?”
Then he spoons a great glutinous glob of tasteless starch unto the poor kids’ plates. That’s Scandinavia for you, folks: Bland, wholesome, individual-erasing mush. But, hey, at least we’re all united in being slowly digested by the system.