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?
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 🙂 )