The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Best for: Anyone possibly considering a move to Denmark. Or just people who like fish-out-of-water stories.
In a nutshell: Writer Helen Russell moves with her husband to the land of Legos for (at least) a year, and takes the time to document her experience and how it differs from life in the UK.
Line that sticks with me: “ ‘We have a lot of ‘curling parents’ in Denmark, who do everything for their kids and won’t say not to them. The expression is named after the sport — only it’s the parents with the brooms who keep brushing in front of their kids, removing any obstacles to make their lives easier.’ ” (pg 204)
Why I chose it: It’s possible I’ll be embarking on my own year of living Danishly in the next few months.
Review: This is a fun, fairly quick read (despite its 350 pages). Author Helen Russell decides to spend some of her time in Denmark getting to the bottom of why the country is consistently ranked as having the happiest inhabitants. She breaks the year down by the twelve months, focusing on one area in each month. She explores the home, the workplace (we’ll get back to this), child-rearing, the social support net, health, culture, and traditions, among other things.
Some bits are fascinating, and I’d be interested in reading a review from someone who was born and raised in Denmark. I’ve heard that the Scandinavian system — very high taxes, lots of social support, but not nearly as much income disparity as in places like, say, the U.S. — is great in general, and given the fact that in the U.S. our elected officials seem hell-bent in taking what little access to health care we are guaranteed away from us at the first opportunity (for example), it sounds a bit like a dream.
However, it is lacking in some parts. First, while Ms. Russell does sort of mention the issue when talking about animals and a law passed that was seen as impacting Kosher and Halal preparation, she doesn’t really discuss what life is like for immigrants who are not white. Do they have the same levels of happiness? How are race relations in the country in general?
The other main area that is lacking is the discussion of the workplace. While she does share some of her husband’s experiences, because she is a freelance writer, she doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to work in a different country’s office.