- Paperback: 354 pages
- Publisher: Icon Books; Reissue edition (April 12, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781785780233
- ISBN-13: 978-1785780233
- ASIN: 1785780239
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 467 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country Paperback – April 12, 2016
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"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" by Lori Gottlieb
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I wanted a light and fun, but deeply interesting read to bring on a summer trip, and this book turned out to be the perfect choice. It offered a pretty entertaining look at Danish culture and society, all through the lens of why they continually rank among the highest countries in terms of happiness.
I’m not too hard to please with a good book that takes on the premise of “I’ll try this out for a year and then write about it,” and this book fits that description to a tee. The writing is light and engaging enough to make it easy to fly right through its pages, yet contains enough statistics and odd facts to keep you intrigued. Did you know that Danish women can get an ovulation discount for booking their travel around a ripe time for them to procreate? I do now.
After a while you get the formula of each chapter: an anecdote, a few statistics, an interview with a randomly found “expert,” and the constant questioning of various Danes about how happy they are on a scale of 1 to 10. That said, the book manages to be pretty interesting in spite of its persistence upon this formula, so I suppose that’s a big win.
As far as Denmark goes? I could probably do without the tax rate (although, that comes with some major benefits), cultural homogeny, and the never-ending darkness come November, but there’s a lot about the Danish Way that I do appreciate. The lack of self-importance reflected in that earlier quote… I think that’s refreshing. And I love the way they’re able to enjoy their work. Not to mention the practice of hygge and getting all cozy as a sport.
1. Helen (short first name) captured the expat experience very well. I’ve been there and to think of her so isolated is overwhelming.
2. The writing is very good. Some repetition by October-November was getting tedious. Better editing would have helped.
3. The outsiders perspective of local customs can be so tricky. The locals don’t understand what you don’t understand or find humorous or puzzling. You can only discuss with someone who has not gotten onboard, it appeared LEGO Man was well acculturated. I’d say he could have more sympathetic to the situation.
NOTE: I started in the middle and wondered if he were Danish going home. When I began at the beginning after finishing it last night more things became clear.
4. Helen has a wicked sense of humor and a lovely turn of phrase. I had been commenting recently that I don’t feel I laugh as often as I used to. My husband came out to the living room to see if I was ok. My laughter and gasping for breath pierced the length of our American-size, carpeted Home and his earbuds. No small feat.
5. I enjoyed the format of the book and the theme of trust and happiness. I just read in the news about the Danish woman arrested years ago for endangering her baby. I’ve seen it done in the early 1980s in the north end of Boston too.
If you’ve lived abroad, read it.
If you’re contemplating living abroad, read it.
If you are interested in Scandinavia, Denmark in particular, read it.
If you are in need of several good belly laughs, read it.
I recommend this book. Will there be Year 2 coming?
What could go wrong? Well, lots of things according to author Helen Russell, who admits that going to a remote small town early in winter is not a way to meet the local Danes, because people tend to hole up during long winters full of short days. More or less stuck at home, but armed with cell phone and the Internet, she proves her intrepidity by interviewing all manner of Danish experts on such topics as the elusive quality of "hygge" (which roughly translates as *Gemuetlickeit* though "cozy" is only a vague approximation), attitudes toward religion, day care, the rearing of children, and the role of government-sponsored health care. Russell's core concern is that the Danes regularly count as among the happiest of people, perhaps THE happiest, though at times she finds her new environment more than bleak and her neighbors a bit stand-offish -- even her high-tech dryer flashes "SLUT" at her when done, because that's the Danish word for "Complete."
With the changing seasons and her growing competence at modern Danish life providing minimal narrative "glue," the focus of this book is really a series of brightly written lifestyle articles based on her interviews with those Danish experts. While Russell kindly translates the value of DKK (Danish Kronor) into both Pounds Sterling and US Dollars, some of her UK locutions sent me straight for the dictionary: a "gilet" is what we Yanks would call a padded vest, and "Salopettes" are something like "overalls" for example. Many books currently on the market set out to define the elusive "hygge"; this book makes it clear that what you really need, besides a well-built, snug and orderly house with furniture and candles of the very first order, are something of a Danish mindset that LIKES to cocoon during the cold months. A fun book, though at times the attitude of a go-to journalist who was clearly unhappier than she liked to admit got a tad wearing. (To be fair, it seems that Russell and Lego Man did decide to extend their stay.) Recommended, with the above reservations.