Over the last ten years or so, I’ve become a mild Scandophile. A chance meeting with a wonderfully upbeat and hilarious group of Danes at a music festival in Spain set me off on my northern trajectory, followed later on that year by a few days in Reykjavik, Iceland’s intriguing capital. Then one of my friends from the hottest part of Spain moved to be a rock musician in Helsinki. I hope he packed a jumper.
I went to Helsinki once, on a day trip from Tallinn. After almost losing my innards on the choppiest ferry across the Gulf of Finland (“only mild chance of iceberg today”, the stewardess said cheerily, ripping bin liners off a roll to give to the green-looking passengers). It was too cold to really appreciate the full beauty of the city, but I did enjoy a slick coffee shop run by women with beautiful alabaster hair. There’s also the most comprehensive tram system that ran through most of the main tourist sights. I remember that me and my Mum didn’t know how to pay, and so we didn’t. Sorry, Finnish Gov.
Despite my visit to Reykjavik being in the middle of November, limiting daylight to perhaps 3 hours per day (another budget deal compromise), I was fascinated by the Icelandic people and their laconic, creative culture. How do these people have such an awesome outlook, when their sunlight rations are so insanely skewed throughout the year?
Scandinavia has produced brilliant things, like the concept of Smörgåsbord, Ace of Base, saunas, Robyn, very healthy tall people and Alphabeat (you’re welcome). What’s not to love?
Helen Russell’s story of her first year living ‘Danishly’ resonated with me on a couple of levels. Like myself, Helen quit her media-darling job so that her partner could flourish in a career that he had wanted since boyhood. Whilst my location was ever-so-slightly milder, being just 90 miles from ‘home’ and to a charming semi-rural location, Russell really went the whole hog. She moved to rural Jutland in Denmark to allow her husband (AKA Lego Man), to fulfil a years’ contract working at Lego HQ.
‘A Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country’ is a full 12-month account of Russell’s first year. She frankly captures her thoughts and feelings towards leaving her hectic life behind and the couple’s (then) struggle with starting a family amidst professional chaos.
There are snegles and other delightful types of Danish pastries, chance encounters upon ‘couples night’ at the local swimming baths (big, awkward yes to heavy petting in the deep end) and making the first tentative steps towards friendships – all in a remote and fairly bleak area that is definitely not Copenhagen.
I really enjoyed learning about the Danish concept of hygge – or ‘cosy domestic contentment’. It’s kind of like nesting during pregnancy, but throughout every incredibly long, Danish winter.
I realised that I tend to hygge it up a bit in winter, craving scatter cushions, chunky knit scarves, making endless batches of stew and soup and stomping around in heavy-duty farm boots. It’s a single word that encapsulates so much about what life should be, especially if you live half your life in darkness and the other half in near-endless sunlight.
So did Denmark become a permanent home for fast-paced city girl? Did she and Lego Man start a family? Read the book, get hygge with it and try to turn a blind eye to the old men gardening in their socks and pants.