Hates Iceland Sweden
The whole truth about Scandinavia
In the last few years almost the whole world has been in love with Scandinavia. So to Finland and Iceland and to the Viking nations Denmark, Norway and Sweden. "The Sweet Danish Life: Copenhagen: Cool, Creative, Carefree" could be read in National Geographic. "The Nordic Countries: The Next Supermodel," wrote the Economist; "Copenhagen really is wonderful for so many reasons," enthused the Guardian.
Regardless of whether it was about the satisfaction of the Danes or their restaurants, equality between women and men in Sweden, crime novels and retail giants. About Finnish schools, the oil wealth, the strange songs of the Norwegians or the way Iceland coped with the financial crisis: our greed for positive news from Scandinavia seems insatiable. After many Central Europeans have dreamed of a southern European life between olive trees and vineyards for decades, we are now projecting our longing for paradise on earth towards the north - for whatever reason.
The dark side of Scandinavia
Over the years I myself have contributed to the incessant flood of texts about the wonders of Scandinavia, but now I have come to terms: enough! Nu er det nok! I don't feel like gathering my lunch in these Ikea-like canteens any more! I've also had enough of the actually impractical minimalist home furnishings! Put an end to the idolatry of everything knitted, bearded, rye bread-based and liquorice-tasting! It's time to correct the imbalance and shed a little more light on the darker sides of Scandinavia.
Take the Danes, for example. It is true that surveys show that they are the happiest people on earth. But why do they hide the fact that they have the second highest consumption of antidepressants behind the Icelanders? And Sweden: If it's like I'm headline Guardian once claimed that it is really about the “most successful society the world has ever seen”, why don't we dream of a “quiet place” in Umeå?
I have been living in Denmark for about ten years with breaks because my wife is Danish and works here. You live very comfortably here. Although this is true of locals more than immigrants, Denmark, like all other Nordic nations, has no armed conflict, no extreme poverty, no natural disasters and no Jeremy Kyle. Nevertheless, let's take off these rose-colored glasses and take a closer look at the Scandinavian countries than usual. Polemical, of course.
Why are the Danes so far ahead in surveys of happiness and satisfaction? Well, there is great social cohesion here and the country makes a very good profit from its pork production. According to the OECD, there is less work here than in most other countries. Accordingly, productivity is not particularly high. If you are now wondering why the Danes can afford their enormous and very enlightened standard of living, then I will tell you, quite simply: They have the highest private debt ratio in the world - four times as high as the Italians and enough to pay for it from the IMF to be warned.
But the dirtiest secret they have is their ecological footprint, if I may put it that way. According to a 2012 report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, it is the fourth largest in the world. This puts Denmark even ahead of the USA. As impressive as the offshore wind turbines you see when approaching Copenhagen Airport, Denmark is the EU's largest oil exporter and still burns an incredible amount of coal.
I am afraid I will have to open your eyes to you on Danish television too. The big new television drama Arvingerne is just as great as Borrow it was, but the reality of Danish prime time television consists of reruns of 15 year old episodes of Midsomer Murders and documentaries about species-appropriate pig fattening. The Danes pay the highest taxes in the world but only get the sixth highest wages - that could probably explain the debt. As a spokesman for the center-right Danish think tank Cepos once put it: The Danes work for the state coffers until Thursday lunchtime and for the remaining one and a half days for themselves.
Appointments in the emergency room
I guess that's why Denmark's public service is so good. As far as schools are concerned, however, according to PISA, they are even behind those of the UK. And the health system is also in crisis: I was recently told in the emergency room of a hospital that I could arrange an appointment. I can't help but somehow seem to ignore the idea of an emergency room.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, the Danes have the highest cancer rate on the planet. “But at least the trains are on time!” You say? No, that was in Italy under Mussolini. The Danish State Railways have been on the verge of bankruptcy over and over again in recent years and the trains are definitely not on time. Still, the government found a fair amount of money somewhere to finance a two-year investigation into a tax scandal which, as far as I understand, was primarily about the prime minister's husband's sexual orientation.
What is most serious, however, is that the equality of living conditions, which many consider to be the basis of social success, is eroding. One in Politics According to a recently published report, the proportion of the population living below the poverty line has doubled in the past ten years. The country is becoming more and more divided, basically between Copenhagen and the rest. The province has become a dumping ground for non-European immigrants, the elderly, the unemployed and those who have anything to do with the meat industry.
More uncomfortable truths? There is more than a hint of police state about the fact that Danish police officers refuse to wear numbers that would allow them to be identified; that you don't have to give your name. Danes have an aggressive chauvinism and wave their white and red dannebrog at the slightest occasion. In general, they can appear naive and uneducated when it comes to racism. Caricatures showing black people with plump lips and bones in their noses are not uncommon in the newspapers here. Advantages? Nobody talks about cricket.
All I'm going to say about the Swedes is nothing compared to the bad image they have of themselves. A few years ago a polling company asked young Swedes to describe their compatriots. The eight most common adjectives mentioned were: jealous, stiff, nature-loving, calm, honest, dishonest, xenophobic.
I met Åke Daun, Sweden's most renowned ethnologist, to talk to him about this phenomenon. "Swedes don't seem to have as strong emotions as other people," he writes in his great book The Swedish mentality. “Women try to moan as little as possible during childbirth and they often ask afterwards if they have screamed a lot. They are happy to hear that this was not the case. "
It is frowned upon to cry at funerals and will be held against you for a long time. According to Åke Daun, Swedes are “extremely skilled at isolating themselves from one another”. And, they apparently do everything they can to avoid sharing the elevator with a stranger. I found that out myself in a 24-hour experiment in Stockholm. I tried to behave as un-Swedish as possible.
One of the largest arms exporters
For much of the 20th century, Sweden was de facto a one-party state; as a “neutral” country, it developed into one of the world's largest arms exporters. Youth unemployment here is higher than that in Great Britain and above the European average. Integration is a constant challenge and, as in neighboring Norway and Denmark, the right-wing is on the rise in Sweden.
A spokesman for the right-wing Sweden Democrats, who are currently in the polls at almost ten percent, insisted that immigrants are “more violent” than natives. When I then reminded him that Sweden had been one of the most bloodthirsty nations in the world for many centuries of the past millennium, he told me that the time for our interview was now up.
If you ask the Finns, they'll tell you that Swedish ultra-feminism has robbed Swedish men of their masculinity. All that's left for them is alcohol. But it is also difficult for the Swedes to drown their grief. The American Susan Sonntag once wrote about the state-run dispensaries, the so-called Systembolaget, that they were a mixture of "mortuaries" and "back room dumps in which people secretly abort".
Protestant and pragmatic
The countless successes of the Nordic countries are in truth no wonder. They are the result of Lutheran frugality, peasant frugality, geographical conditions and a ruthless pragmatism: “The Russians are attacking? Ally with the Nazis! Lose the Nazis? Ally with the allies! "
These societies function as well as those people who do not fall out of line and conform to the social mainstream. Those who don't fit into the grid, on the other hand, have little to smile about. Those who perform well in school are reined in for the supposed good of the less gifted. Elite is a dirty word. Anyone who openly shows success, wealth or ambition is viewed wrongly.
If you can't handle it, the high costs and the cold, both metaphorical and interpersonal, just come and see me in Denmark. I'll make you a sorrel salad, there's always a couple of bottles of expensive, light beer in the fridge. You can then sit in the egg chair and together we can watch a few episodes of some old Scottish crime series.
I was very impressed by the dignity and determination that the Norwegians showed after the assassination attempt by Anders Behring Breivik in the summer of 2011. But last September, the Islamophobic Progress Party, of which Breivik had been an active member for many years, won 16.3 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. With this result, the right was able to enter a coalition government for the first time in history.
There is a disturbingly Islamophobic sub-subculture in Norway. Ask the Danes and they will tell you that Norwegians are the most narrow-minded and xenophobic of all Scandinavians. Since the mid-seventies they have come to a certain degree of prosperity and are now reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens Christmas story. They hoard their gold and are afraid of strangers.
Although the number of asylum applications filed reached a new record in 2013, only less than half were granted - around 5,000 people. Less affluent Sweden took in 9,000 people who had fled Syria in the same period. In his book Petromania the journalist Simon Sætre warns that the powerful oil lobby "isolates us and makes the country antisocial". Sætre believes his compatriots have been corrupted by the oil money, work less, retire earlier and call in sick more often. And while previous governments controlled spending from the oil proceeds, those in charge are threatening to waste the money.
Like the dealer who never touches his own stuff, the Norwegians pride themselves on their pioneering role in renewable energies, but continue to sell oil and gas to the rest of the world and thus amass the world's largest state pension fund. As anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen told me during a visit to his office at the University of Oslo: “We have always seen ourselves as part of the solution, but with oil we suddenly became part of the problem. Most people close their eyes to it. "
We don't have to spend too long with this country. It seems inappropriate and irresponsible, with only 320,000 people clinging to these stunning, but ultimately uninhabitable, cliffs in the North Atlantic. More attention would only encourage them further.
I actually like the Finns. They are a pragmatic, formidable people with a sense of humor as dry as the sands of the Sahara. But would I want to live in Finland? Mosquitos plague you in summer and freeze to death in winter. Provided you are not shot or shot yourself beforehand. Finland ranks third internationally in terms of gun ownership and is only topped by the USA and Yemen. It has the highest homicide rate in any of Western Europe and by far the highest suicide rate among the Nordic countries.
The Finns are big Friday night drunkards. Alcohol is the number one killer of men. “At some point in the evening, usually around half past eleven, people get aggressive, throw glasses and fight each other,” Heikki Aittokoski tells me from Helsingin Sanomat. "The next day you laugh about it."
Now that the mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has been rather battered and has long since ceased to be as successful, the once robust economy is now more dependent than ever on exports from the paper industry. Most of it, I was told, goes to Russian porn barons. Fortunately, 99 percent of the land consists of trees, as I recently saw on a trip with my eldest son. Only the view is a bit monotonous.
No dream schools
The country that was once considered the "leading educational superpower of the West", such as The Atlantic wrote, counted, has fallen back in the PISA rankings. This was preceded by several incidents: In 2006, an 18-year-old set fire to Porvoo Cathedral, the episcopal church of the Swedish-speaking Evangelical Lutheran diocese of Borgå; a year later, another dissatisfied 18-year-old ran amok in Jokela, north of Helsinki, and shot seven classmates and the headmistress of his school. In 2008 another youth killed ten of his classmates. Of course, it was discussed afterwards whether the Finnish schools are really that fantastic.
Should you decide to move to Finland, don't expect sparkling conversation. Finnish culture is one of listening, fraught with too many taboos to list. (Most of them have to do with the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War.) Finns aren't big small talkers. If you looked up the word in silence in the dictionary, you wouldn't find the picture of a clumsy Finn standing in the corner looking at his shoelaces - but it would fit very nicely. “We always prefer to stay to ourselves,” one Finnish woman confessed to me. The woman worked for the tourist office.
Michael Booth works as a freelance journalist and author in Denmark. His story first appeared in G2 , the daily Guardian -Garnish
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