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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

The Year of Living Danishly / Helen Russell

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country - Helen Russell

Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? Or will the long, dark winters and pickled herring take their toll?

A Year of Living Danishly looks at where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.


Apparently, genetics do count for a great deal. I may be only half Danish in ancestry, but I have somehow come to enjoy many of the same things that the Danes do. I’m glad to know that there are other people out there who light the long winter nights with plenty of candles. As an enthusiastic consumer of coffee and wine, I am living up to my genetic heritage. And I must confess that I cook and eat a great deal of pork and potatoes, so I have that in common with the people of “Sticksville-On-Sea,” where the author lives. Combine that with a love of spending time with my family, and I think I would fit in rather well in rural Denmark. I have been practicing hygge without knowing it.


I liked the author’s light-hearted way of looking at her Danish adventure. Her nicknames for those about her match a tendency of my own to bestow monikers known only to myself on the people around me. While she has Friendly Neighbour, American Mother, and the Viking, however, I have Monkey Boy (he climbed up the balconies on our building when he forgot his keys), Spatially Challenged Woman with Big Truck (who has thankfully moved), and Peking Man (who rather resembled a caveman and spent a lot of time peering out of his venetian blinds).


I rarely laugh out loud while reading, but the exploits of Ms. Russell’s dog had me in tears on a couple of occasions, I laughed so hard. Perhaps I was a trifle over-tired. Like many other facets of life, Danes consider dogs to be fine if they are well trained and well controlled. Unlike this particular British dog, which mortifies his owners on a regular basis with his uncontrolled antics.


Russell doesn’t shrink from telling the not-so-wonderful parts of living in Denmark either—the subtle and not-so-subtle sexism, the rather self-congratulatory assumption that their way of life is superior to the rest of the world, and the problems accepting outsiders. Like Iceland, Danes are all quite closely related compared to other countries and they have some issues with those who are not like them. But even a country as multicultural as Canada struggles with that issue. By and large, the problems seem to be well balanced with the advantages. Denmark’s problems are definitely first world problems.


It seems that most of the Danes who were restless moved to other countries long ago, and left behind those who enjoy the quiet pleasures. I know I will be living life a bit more consciously Danishly from now on.