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Why are the Danes so happy?

Danish football supporter (Wikimedia Commons)

Helen Russell tries to find out in her memoir The year of living Danishly.

When her husband gets a job at Lego, Helen Russell leaves her fancy London magazine job behind, and moves to Billund in rural Jutland (Jylland) with him. She has grown tired of her London life, and decides to find out why the Danes are the happiest people on earth. The year of living Danishly tells the story of her experiences with the Danish way of life through the year, starting in January.

Culture shock? Oh, yes.

How much of a culture shock could it be to move from the UK to Denmark, you may ask (I sure did). In the bigger picture, few countries in the world are more similar than these two. They are both queen-ruled monarchies. They are both EU and NATO members. They are flat, wet, North Sea-bordering, beer-drinking, football-loving, liberal democracies, with a long history of influencing each other.

Legoland

The trip to Denmark is the first time the author sets foot outside of Great Britain. Or at least the book gives that impression at times. She is surprised and amused by every little thing that is a bit different from her London life. In her opinion, Denmark in January is dark and freezing (yes, even snow- and mountain-free Denmark!), the locals are strange and bad at small talk and so on.

The book is a mix between her personal experiences and interviews with Danish experts trying to explain why the Danes are so happy.

The key ingredients

The year of living Danishly portrays the Danes as one big, happy family, where the family members get their happiness from coffee, alcohol, meat (pork), detailed planning of everything in life, antidepressants, design furniture, a lot of traditions, short working hours and spending lots of time with each other.

Svinekoteletter

The Danish welfare system is portrayed as so well-functioning and well-loved that even the [legendary?] Norwegian welfare system pales in comparison. Everybody trusts the government and their politicians, everybody likes paying lots of tax because they get so much in return, changing jobs (or spouses) is no big deal and every employee has a decent wage. Heaven is not above us, it is just south of Skagerrak.

The book is a bit long and the author a bit annoying at times, but The year of living Danishly is also an enjoyable, light read which gives you a better understanding of the Danes and their ways.

And it makes you never want to live in the UK.

More people in strange places

You can borrow The year of living Danishly in our app Overdrive. In Ovedrive, you can also borrow these books about people out of place:

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