The Almost Nearly Perfect People | Michael Booth

Summary of: The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
By: Michael Booth


Discover the fascinating world of Scandinavian societies in this summary of ‘The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia’ by Michael Booth. Explore how these Nordic countries enjoy exceptional wealth distribution and gender equality, while also uncovering the cultural influences that shape their reticent and unpretentious attitudes. As we delve into the captivating history of this region, we’ll reveal their unique way of life, high-context cultures, and both the bright and dark sides of their societies.

Equality in Scandinavia

Scandinavia is well-known for its traditional welfare state model, which assures universal access to social services and promotes egalitarian values. The Gini coefficient, a statistical method used to measure wealth distribution, also shows that income differences in Scandinavian countries are some of the smallest in the world. The author suggests that the Viking ancestors of Scandinavians may have played a role in their egalitarian ethos, which extends to gender equality as well. Scandinavian countries have been highly ranked for their gender equality, with Finland being the first country in Europe to grant women the right to vote.

Nordic Cultures: Communication and Attitudes

Discover why Nordic cultures have a certain reticence and how Lutheran influence shaped their cultural attitudes.

Nordic cultures have a unique way of communication and attitudes. Scandinavians have a certain reticence that intensifies farther north. In Nordic cultures, one cannot just throw around words like “I love you” unless they truly mean it. Finns are infamously untalkative and ujo, the Finnish word for shy, is an indicator of modesty and restraint instead of negative connotations. Swedes have a special word, duktig, which means responsible competence, the ability to avoid personal ridicule and conflict. It’s not uncommon for Danes to be hired as managers in Swedish companies to actually take charge and push through unpopular decisions. These cultural attitudes are likely due to the influence of the austere and modest form of Christianity called Lutheranism that took a hold in Scandinavia, resulting in Jante Law.

Jante Law is a set of “laws” in Jante, a fictional town in the 1933 novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, penned by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. The laws perfectly captured the contemporary parochial Scandinavian attitudes of condemning individual success and aspiration. Although few people actually read the book, its legacy lives on. Even if they don’t live by it, everyone knows Jante Law.

In Scandinavia, success is not celebrated, and individualism is frowned upon. It’s essential to know the cultural attitudes in Nordic countries to interact with the people better.

Nordic Countries: Unity and Tension

The Nordic countries share a common culture and background, leading to less active communication. However, this homogeneity can also lead to tensions between different groups. The rise of far-right criticism of multiculturalism in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark highlights the fear of any kind of difference.

Iceland’s Unique Background

Iceland’s combination of Scandinavian roots and American influence has led to a unique culture shaped by strong Viking personalities, belief in hidden people, and the pursuit of the American Dream. Despite facing harsh natural and economic challenges, Iceland has shown resilience and a remarkable ability to recover.

Iceland’s history is not only fascinating but also helps to explain its unique culture drenched in myth and folklore. The first-ever parliament, the Althing, was founded in a narrow Icelandic canyon in 930 AD, where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America slowly separated. The country’s remote location meant that it was hard for religious leaders to stamp out pagan beliefs. As a result, many Icelanders hold onto their roots and value their Viking-like personalities.

The country’s unusual geography has also played a key role in shaping its culture. The harsh landscape that is covered with glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, and volcanoes has helped keep the population down to only tens of thousands for most of its history. According to the author, only a population with a Viking heart of steel could survive such persistently harsh conditions. Many Icelanders also believe in elves, or “hidden people,” with 54.4 percent of the population polled in 1998 holding this belief.

During World War II, the United States occupied Iceland, bringing a lot of prosperity to the then-poor island. The country’s newfound wealth manifested when they tried to conquer international money markets in the 2000s. However, this led to over $140 billion borrowed between 2003 and 2008, creating a dangerous economic bubble. When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, Iceland’s bubble burst, causing massive debt. But despite these challenges, Iceland’s economy has shown remarkable resilience, with the country now recovering and bouncing back with great success.

Overall, Iceland’s combination of Scandinavian roots and American influence has given rise to a unique, independent culture. This tiny island has faced overwhelming economic and natural challenges, but it has shown incredible resilience and a remarkable ability to recover.

Norway’s Deep Connection to its Environment

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams introduces readers to Slartibartfast, a character who designs planets and coastlines. His work on Norway’s fjords has earned him awards, as these natural wonders have deeply influenced the Norwegians’ attachment to their environment. Despite their rural demographics, Norway is home to some of the wealthiest people globally, thanks to the country’s vast oil reserves. However, it’s interesting to note that the country’s enormous sovereign wealth fund is entirely state-controlled, and the money makes its way back to the people. Norwegians’ attachment to their environment is reflected in their surnames, which often derive from physical locations or the landscapes they come from. Furthermore, two TV programs consisting of real-time train or ferry journeys through Norway’s beautiful landscapes were so successful that they were even shown on Danish TV.

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