Scandinavia Dreaming

These days it looks like Scandinavian countries know the answer to every question. They design cheap and pretty furniture, wear comfortable and stylish clothes, drive more electric cars and separate their waste. They work for life and don’t live for work. They have the welfare state, generous parental leave, stay-at-home fathers and smaller class differences than other places. They even have discovered a secret to a happy life and crowd the top of the FN reports as the happiest countries in the world. Observing all this from my little corner of Scandinavia makes me wonder if I have come to live in the perfect country. And how come I haven’t noticed it so far?

It is dark outside my huge window, as I sit on the couch, woolen socks and cozy home wear, which makes me look like a picture from an IKEA catalogue. In the windows of the neighbor buildings (as Norwegians don’t use curtains) I see people going on in their cozy clothes making their cozy lifestyles. Watching TV, burning candles, eating dinner with friends. Everyone thinks that we live in a paradise here. Haven’t we lost our sensitivity that we don’t notice that? That we have to be told about it?

Scandinavia Dreaming

Once I bought a book about hygge and now Amazon friendly suggests me more reading on the topic. This year there is a new concept from Scandinavia – the Swedish “lagom”. Which means not too much and not too little, just with measure. The first time I saw this book title I had to shake my head. Great, Danes have capitalized on their secret to happy life, that famous hygge – now it is the Swedes’ turn. Soon there will be Finns writing books, getting on the Scandinavian trend. While Finland is not even Scandinavia, but one of the Nordic countries, mind you. And I wonder: where is the Norwegian word? Norway must look beyond their natural riches like oil and gas and create their own concept. Which we all can sell from here 🙂

While I was joking, there was already a book by Finns, with the title “A Nordic Theory of Everything”. Lovely, isn’t it? Looks like the Nordic people have it all and now they are ready to give it to you. Everything you needed to know in your life, but you didn’t know you need it. But I would recommend to you another book that is on my reading list: “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” by Michael Booth. I haven’t read much beyond the sample yet, but I already like it. And I find it important to balance our picture of Scandinavia because it seems to have gotten a little bit too rosy.

I was born and grew up in a country which has a huge inferiority complex. We were used to look up to the Western world and repeat: “Look how people live! Look how they have figured everything out. They have clean public toilets. And transport that comes on time. They get respectable wages and don’t drop rubbish on the street”. And whenever there was something we were not content with, we were comparing ourselves to other countries. And always, almost always other countries were better. I was reminded of it last year when I was in Spain. We had a chat on the street and the young guy was like: “Is it true that in Norway they separate their waste and recycle it?” The young people there seem fascinated by the Nordics. Carles, my man, says: “The Spanish look up to Scandinavia as to the more developed society. They think we live in paradise here”.

Switching over to Scandinavia. Norway in my case. While the Spanish would stop and chat with us on the street, here I see the acquaintances on the street turning away their eyes like they don’t know me. But in winter it is difficult to see someone’s eyes also because your eyes are fixed to the ground. The streets are icy, I feel every muscle of my feet trying to catch the ground, and at times I get almost religious and want to pray to every god so that I can walk on that skating rink and stay up. So we don’t look into the eyes here. And when we meet an eye we swiftly turn away. In the winter you look down, and the winter lasts like six months here. It is very hyggeligt to stay inside with a coffee cup and a book, and people do stay, but come on, you want to live your life also. There is not so much life on the street, but there are people in gyms, cafes, courses, organizations. You have to join an organization of some kind, if you want to become a part of something. You’d better join it, if you don’t want to be alone.

Loneliness is the shadow side of that perfect Scandinavian picture. Norway tops the statistics on loneliness. It didn’t stop this country to become the happiest one in 2017, and I wonder if loneliness is not such an important factor for happiness after all. I know a lot about loneliness, I could be a professor about it. So much loneliness and social exclusion I have experienced here, I would not wish it to my enemy. Norwegians are kind and polite, but they are not the best at social inclusion. I have discussed it in my post on the dark side of hygge , and since then I have got many responses (also from Sweden and Finland) about how difficult it is to enter the social circles, also for the locals moving from one town to another. You see, Norway likes to present itself like this little idyllic place where everyone is happy and friendly. In the recent movie “Downshifting” Norwegians are presented exactly like this: a small hippie community, singing and dancing, in the country of fjords. We were laughing while watching. They should have shown the dark winter day in the snow up there in the North, and a small community where the newcomers are staying outside.

Sometimes I feel like the future has arrived, and I am actually living it. There are Teslas on every street, and stations for electric cars on every corner. There are lots of services you can fix through the app, from buying your bus ticket to applying for a house loan. Everyone is polite and respects your personal space. But then we watch a movie about the society of the future and it reminds us so much of Norway. Like that society in the “Nosedive” episode of “The Black Mirror” where everything is in pretty pastel color, everyone is supernice and smiley, but no one expresses their emotions. Here in Oslo we can do so much through an app that soon we will stop talking to each other. We already stopped talking to our neighbors. Wherever you go, you see people glued to their phones, and you almost bump into strangers on the streets looking into their mobiles. We speak in low voices and are polite to each other. If you hear loud speaking, it must be either kids, teens or foreigners. And then there is a time slot to express yourself, it is Friday and Saturday night when you can get drunk and loud. The future is here, we have technologies like never before and are independent of family bonds – but where is the emotional part of life? That which makes us feel alive. That which makes this life worth living. Or what else makes it worth living?

So what do I want to say? I wish I knew 🙂 This is the reason why I write this text – to find out what I really want to say, because writing gives a flow to my thought. Maybe, I want to say that there are no perfect countries in the world like there are no perfect people. Even though we live in the age of “generation perfection” when everyone wants to broadcast their perfect lives on their social media accounts. But we know it is only an illusion.  And I think, the countries are like people, they do a glossy marketing of themselves, something that Scandinavian countries seem to succeed at. Norwegians grow up with the idea that they live in the best country in the world. It is good to be proud of your place (especially when the climate is so harsh ;)). But I’d like to say to my fellow Ukrainians and those envious Spanish: “You should be proud too. You too have something special. You too have the secret to a happy life. Start writing books about it!”

“Learn from others, and don’t be ashamed of your own” – these are the words of the greatest Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, said some 200 years ago. This is the message of this post. I don’t want to drag Scandinavia down, it is my second home now and it is a nice place. But a bit more balanced picture of it would be nice, don’t you think? Or is it only me thinking that it got out of balance? Maybe, it is only me, and maybe, after all this text is only the message to myself. But I have learnt that when you talk honestly to yourself – it has the power to resonate with the hearts of others. I hope, it does. If not, I’m doing it anyway 🙂

P. S. While doing the flat-lay for that photo I tried to give a fair share to every country, even including Finland (who would guess where?) – but Denmark proved to be the most difficult one. While Sweden wins (thanks to IKEA stuff). My question to you: what are the typical Danish things that could be laid on that table? And anything else you would add? (I cannot take skis as they take too much space 🙂 )

38 thoughts on “Scandinavia Dreaming

  1. probably, the crispy breads are from Finland – food i really miss from here when I am abroad. Great piece, write your thoughts then when you are finished with the book. I thought the book was good but Finns were too good, Danes too bad, Swedes too rude (not lagom at all) and Norway and Iceland quite briefly described 🙂

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    • Good try but no)) those breads seem to be everywhere in the North. I take them with me when I go to Spain 😆
      The Finnish here is the cup by Iittala. It is pink with the knit pattern, so hygge)) Love their design.
      I am still pondering if to buy the book or not. Too many books on my reading list 🙊 thank you for your insight. And thanks for stopping by to read my post 😊

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  2. Skis, do you have skis? I don’t 😄 Are the napkins Finnish maybe, Marimekko??
    So many things to comment and my ipad doesn’t want to show me your text when I’m writing this so lets see if I can remember…
    That second book sounds interesting. As for the Finnish books, I read somewhere about a few who were trying to capitalize on this trend – how unoriginal. The Finnish word is one I cringe when saying, sisu = perseverance. Oh la la, I say…
    What else? My ipad is turning my comment into a memory test which I’m failing! Have to sneak a peek at your post again!

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    • Ahaha, you and your ipad 😆 keep on playing memory games, so funny))
      Sisu is cute though. But I can imagine feeling the context – I would cringe too. I stopped buying into nordic theories of everything. Have you heard of “lagom”? God, to make a marketable sexy thing out of this old protestant wisdom: not too much, not too little. Don’t laugh too hard, and don’t talk too loud, this is what comes to my mind about lagom 😆😆
      But I would read the book with a Norwegian word! Too bad that Norwegians think only about Olympics ( you know they got the most medals. Such a tiny country, they are so proud now, I understand))).
      The napkin is from IKEA ( as many other things there). Finnish is cup, your famous Iittala. My favorite cup. Pink with a knit detail.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I do like Iittala (and Arabia). Maybe the Norwegian word could be “winning”? 😀
        The idea behind lagom does sound so Nordic. To idolize that kind of thing. Finns for example have to be humble. If you say something positive about yourself or talk about a fun experience you had, people will hate you because you are “bragging” (Which is just ridiculous because it isn’t bragging, just normal conversation! And so what if it were bragging, there ARE worse things, like being unkind to people which happens all the time here and no one minds.) So keeping in mind Finnish humility, lagom sounds very familiar. Oh gosh if you were to have too much of something good, wouldn’t that be horrible!! Better to be grey and beige right there in the middle where no one sees you!! Two kids, a Volvo, a dog and a home which you pay off the rest of your life and own it just before you die! 😀 (Sorry, the winter brings out the cynic in me! I’m a different person in the sunlight, I promise!!! hehe)

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      • I love iittala too. I like Scandi design, they know how to make things for home. Hygge again 😆
        Oh no, winning for Norwegians? Well well, they would love. But no, I think it is too much of lagom here too 😆 The same mentality here: stay in the middle, don’t stick out. Don’t think you are something. Same old pietist farmer way of thinking like in the rest of the North. Plus inferiority complex and a dream to set lille Norge on the map. That’s why winning is important. And I must admit, it is amazing for such a little country. They impress at least in winter sports 😊 but making a concept to sell out of it? I don’t see the marketing potential. But maybe I am not a good businessman 😆😆
        Haha, two kids, Volvo, a dog and a house – we all share the same dream 😆
        Oh, and btw, yesterday I opened my book of hygge, and there it was! “Hygge is about keeping a positive focus. So if someone complains of cold, you can switch and talk about blankets and books, or how good it is to ski, or about making snow angels”. Dear Snow, this author was hanging us out – without knowing it😆. We just had that blanket-and-book talk but in the ironic color. We break all the rules of hygge 😆😆

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      • Hahah! We are so breaking the rules of hygge! 😀 You know, that author is to blame for a lot – I can’t stand it when people say to me “but look at the bright side, snow makes the darkness brighter and winter makes you appreciate the summer even more, and so on, and so on…” I guess everyone’s read that book but me!!

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  3. There is just so much I agree on! Organizations, generation perfection(!), that balance is needed in this hyping up of things. Hygge isn’t hygge when a book and a blanket are all you have every single day and even summers are cold. Then I think, am I as unrealistic for thinking life would be better in a sunny place, surely there are bad sides to it too? But I’ve experienced both, and so I do think I have realistic ideas of both extremes…
    Just now over here people were saying how awesome it is that it’s been proper winter weather the last two weeks: today it was -16C which according to my iphone’s weather report felt like -22C due to wind. I haven’t gone out in days so I wouldn’t know! I wouldn’t call it awesome and I am too tired of winter to even call this white weather beautiful. White feels like grey to me. Yes, it is nice to see some sun and blue sky from my window but could it be maybe 45 degrees warmer please??? Some people were calling it luxurious, as in we are being spoiled by this awesome weather! Lets just say they are in the right place, unlike me!

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    • High five, Snow! Us, in Nordic connection ❤️😆
      Whaat? They called it a luxury? Give me a break 😱 I was getting ready for the spring mood, and this cold didn’t bring me any joy, to put it mildly. Like I said elsewhere, winter here makes us patient, but it has killed every romance with it. I used to love winter as a kid. Not anymore.
      And the hygge thing, doesn’t it start sticking in the teeth? Is it only me? Exactly like you say. When I read those hygge reports it is like you can survive on books, blankets and tea – and candles, lots of candles. Come on, we would end up like donuts if we lived 6 months like that!
      I cannot live without going out, but today I laid out my clothes – then I saw snow whirling and thought wtf. So I curled in my sofa again. Like we say in Russian, in such weather a good master will not send his dog outside. Say that to your luxury lovers 😆😆

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      • Oh I really don’t go out every day now that I’m not working and don’t have to! (I’m on maternity leave as you must’ve guessed.)
        And you say winter is 6 months, I’d say that’s optimistic! I’d say it’s 7-8 months, from October to March-April. Then a few weeks of spring, a few weeks of summer, a few weeks of autumn. And yes, too much of winter definitely kills the romance!!! Though I never had any, always disliked it! 😀

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      • To be honest, I cannot imagine not going out. I just have to go out, I feel like I don’t live if I don’t go out during the day, if even for a short walk. I am not good at doing sports at the gym, so walking is my sport 🙂 But there have been days when I wanted to go – and then just dropped it bc it was too cold and windy.
        Well, I was optimistic 🙂 Winter is really that long, but I forget it very year :))) March comes, I start waiting for the spring and then in the middle of April I recollect: ah, that shit again :))))

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  4. I agree that the things that make every country a great place can also make it a bad place. Like, Germans like to follow rules, which is great for making things run on time, but annoying when someone will never relax or be flexible about something. And Spaniards are a bit more relaxed, which is nice sometimes but not when you’re filing your immigration paperwork and it takes 5 appointments and 20 hours to do something that could be done in 1 hour 😉

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    • Totally with you on that point! Germans and Norwegians are lovely to do the business with, to fix things. Spaniards and Italians are the best at partying and enjoying their lives. I could wish to see the mix of those qualities (that would be who? lovely French?), but I guess it is a you say: everything lovable can have a shadow side too. Just like the moon 🙂

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  5. I’m sorry loneliness is hitting you hard! I am not sure about Scandinavia, but I feel like it’s what the world is headed to. I wish there are more communal places where people can see one another and connect.
    Good luck finding that Danish thing to the table. 😊

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    • Thanks for stopping by and reading! I must say, the worst period is over, I am not lonely now. Though there is a tendency in this culture to leave you independent and on your own. Maybe, you are right and this is where the world is moving to. But some places do it slower than others like Spain 🙂
      I actually discovered that I have two Danish things there, not just one (Georg Jensen box) as I thought 🙂

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      • I agree. Some places the culture towards ‘independence’ is faster and others it’s slower.
        I moved from India to The United States. It’s pretty alienating here, if you aren’t working in a community you like. I’ve lived next to my current neighbor for almost a year and I have no idea what they look like, who they are or anything about them! Crazy! Right?!

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      • Oh, I can imagine that the transfer from Indian culture to the American must have been tough. Indians seem to hold much together, true? I’ve never been to India, so this just my mental image. And Americans can be nice but very individualistic and independent. I find it generally in poorer countries, like my own Ukraine, people hold together bc surviving alone is tough. While in the West you can survive and have a good life without a support of others. I don’t want to say if it is bad or good, but it is just how it is. And surely, it feels wrong if you grew up in a different culture 🙂 at least, for a long while :)))

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      • Indians do make you part of the Community faster but then they are at liberty to be in your face and invade your privacy.
        So I’m kind of torn between the two- being individuals and party of a community and being independent.
        Now that I’ve lived in USA long enough, I have friends and am part of a community that I like. And once you get to know the people from this country, they are pretty welcoming. 🙂

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      • Yes, there is a shadow side to every cultural thing. There are some warm nations that can be really suffocating in the long run. And the cold and reserved people who give you freedom to be whoever you want to be and don’t tell you how you should live your life :)) Ukrainians love this too, intruding into your privacy and teaching you how to live :))
        What I like about Americans is that seem to be quite open and easy to start a chat with. Also there are so many people from every corner of the earth, that it seems that don’t dwell long at where you come from. Here in Norway it is still a new thing, so I feel more an outsider here, after 12 years, and not sure how long that can take me to blend.
        But we, people, create our lives in any place, so cheers for that! 🙂

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  6. I know a perfect Danish thing to put there: some Lego pieces! 😀 Or a H. C. Andersen book. Or a mermaid. (I was only there for a week years ago. They took us to several Folkehojskole (spelling!) and we marvelled at schools without grades, homework etc. like some Micheal Moore. Have you seen his hilarious but also poignant film Where to Invade Next?)

    I think we all dream of something ELSE than what we have. That’s why southern chaos is dreaming of organised north, cold and closed north of warm and open south, southern big-eyed east of prosperous west, capitalistic west of more human east. Here’s a thought for your school of philosophy. 😉

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    • Oh, lovely ideas! Of course, Lego! And Andersen! I need to find a kid and go though his things :))
      I haven’t seen exactly that movie, but I love Micheal Moore. Really, no homework? This is cool. Here in Norway they don’t have grades in the barneskole, primary school 1-7 classes. But they have homework. And folkehøyskole Norwegian way is like a hobby school, it is not obligatory, just something you can do after your 13 years of regular school. So sure they are not so strict there either. But is not standard of the education system.

      I am totally with you on that point. As we say in Russian: “where is it good? Where we are not”. We always tend to look another place for the answers. But there must be some center that enjoys it all! France? Haha, only joking. It would be nice to create a fusion of things. And this is my project now. Scandi-Spanish fusion life :))

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  7. I’m a bit late to this thread but I just have to say this is exactly what I have been learning as an American living in Finland. There are things I love like the connection to tradition that is so strong here and the slower pace but it is definitely not easy making friends. And sometimes Finns’ manners seem downright rude to an foreigner. I have also lived in Norway though and found it even harder to make friends there. Their manners are so polished that social interactions just slip right off. Of course I find a lot to admire as well in terms of social equality. In my experience nowhere is perfect but it is great that you live in Norway now and bring your own influence to the culture there. Also, other expats are often the easiest people to get to know in the Nordic countries.

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    • Welcome, Kjersti! And it is never too late 🙂 Thank you for sharing your perspective!
      Here we talk a lot about Finnish and Norwegian ways with my fellow blogger The Snow Melts Somewhere. What you say about Finland sounds very familiar to me, living in Norway. What surprises is that Finns are easier to make friends with than Norwegians. I thought, the opposite would be true. But our experiences are very personal, of course. And I know no Finns yet :)) Norwegians can be different too, they say that in the North they are way more open and chatty than in Oslo. You found the perfect picture “polished, polite, but you slip off” 🙂
      Thanks God, there are still more to Scandinavia, Swedes and Danes (with that terrible Danish pronunciation), haha. Ever considered moving to Denmark?

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