Scandinavians: An 'Almost Nearly Perfect People?'

'The Almost Nearly Perfect People'
'The Almost Nearly Perfect People' by Michael Booth
Book cover courtesy of publisher

In 2006, a psychologist at the University of Leicester released the first ever "world map of happiness." Denmark took the top spot. Reporter Michael Booth was living in Copenhagen at the time and he had a hard time believing the study. How could a land with astronomically high taxes and perpetual rain be home to the happiest people on earth?

Booth digs into that question, and many others, in "The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia."

For many Americans, Scandinavia is the land that brought us ABBA, cross-country skiing, saunas and some really stylish sweaters. For Minnesota, the bond runs deeper: a third of the state claims some Scandinavian heritage, compared to only 4 percent nationwide.

Popular cliches about life in Scandinavia abound: College is free, babies are left outside, everyone is tall and people pay 60 percent taxes with a smile on their face. But what's it really like?

Booth explained to NPR's Rachel Martin how culturally different the Scandinavian countries are from each other:

That's really what started my idea of this book about 10 years ago when I first spent time in Denmark and kind of [saw] the weird, dysfunctional family dynamic there is up here. ... I thought of Scandinavians as just one big, homogenous, bearded, you know, cycling, maybe with a pipe. But they are radically different. Even within Sweden, from north Sweden to south Sweden [they are] very, very different peoples. And then I learned what the Danes thought about the Swedes and what the Finns thought about the Swedes and what the Swedes thought -- the great, juicy gossip that journalists love, you know?

Booth joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to discuss the book.

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