Edition 28 December 2017, by Phoebbe Dodds
The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (by Helen Russell) When Helen Russell’s husband was offered a job at LEGO HQ in rural Denmark, she was less than thrilled. She’s a fashion journalist in London, has finally landed her glamorous dream job, and is not enticed by the idea of a hellishly long, dark winter in the middle of nowhere in Denmark. Even so, her husband really wants to take the job, so she agrees to try it out for a year. Being a writer, Helen decides to turn the year into a research project: she’ll tackle one topic per month, in a quest to find out what makes Danes so happy, despite all the odds stacked against them. Her topics range from hygge and interior design, to government child support and gender roles. Much to her surprise, Helen finds herself settling into her relaxed new life away from the London 9-5 grind, and the couple decides to stay for another year. This book will appeal to expats, and anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in the country they’re living in. In many ways, Danish culture can be compared to the Dutch, in the way that parents are hands-off with their children, and families are well-supported by generous government benefits. Of course, it’s not all paradise.
The author is surprised to discover the less talked about sides of Denmark, including the casual everyday sexism and occasional racist attitudes. This is interesting to consider in conjunction with the ongoing Black Pete debate in the Netherlands, another progressive country. Helen’s real-life account of the struggles of setting up a bank account in a foreign country, and learning how to integrate with her new neighbours despite cultural differences, will ring true for anyone who has found themselves in the same situation. The book is written with humour and charm, and Helen brings across the newfound love she has for the quirks of Denmark. She backs up her observations with impressive amounts of research gleamed from conversations with experts on everything from the Danish tax system to interior design, and also throws in anecdotes from the fellow expats she befriends. Above all, this is an enjoyable read about life in a new country, and you might find you learn a considerable amount about Scandinavian culture as a bonus.