In this episode I have the delight of connecting with English journalist and author Michael Booth. He has written a book titled The Almost Nearly Perfect People – The Truth About The Nordic Miracle, a truly witty and engaging exploration into the wonderful and not so wonderful aspects of the five Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland). Given that this podcast show is embedded in a Scandinavian context, which by the way only refers to Norway, Sweden and Denmark (sorry Iceland and Finland), I thought it would be fun to have Michael on the show. Moreover, the show’s intention is to explore different approaches to personal, relational and societal transformation and in this regard I believe it’s important to engage what I understand as cultural shadows. So, what are some of the cultural “blind spots” in the five Nordic countries? What is left out from the reports and surveys that often place the Nordic countries at the top? Is there perhaps a need for some critical self-examination into the ways in which we create and uphold these collective narratives? Well, my sense is that Michael’s critique and caricature of the “Nordic miracle” is more than timely!
Back in January this year Michael wrote an article in the Guardian that seemed to trigger a lot of people from both inside and outside the Nordic countries, making it one of the most read articles in the history of Guardian’s online edition! In that article, titled Dark lands: the grim truth behind the`Scandinavian Miracle´ he wanted to pull the Guardian’s readers out of the Nordic trance that had swept parts of the world for quite some time. The article generated a lot of critical feedback and angry remarks, especially from Norwegians, and because of this he was later invited to write a follow-up piece for NRK (The Norwegian Broadcasting Service). Since then he has been a regular guest on radio shows throughout the region, he has participated in a Danish TV-series and has also become a popular speaker in many different contexts.
In the attached podcast above you can learn more about Michael’s background, the creative process behind the writing of the book and why he chose to blend humor and seriousness in the way he did. We also engage some of the myths, shadows and challenges embedded in the Nordic culture, for instance the Danish “hygge jihadism“, the Norwegian Oil Fund and the hypocrisies related to Norway as a peace nation and climate change leader, islamophobia, Anders Behring Breivik, racism, growing polarization in Swedish politics and the rise of right-wing parties in general. We also address Finnish taboos and problems related to alcohol, violence and depression, and the Icelandic economic meltdown. To balance things out we also explore some of the more positive and wholesome Nordic offerings to our global society, themes such as the high level of gender and economic equality, high trust and social cohesion, volunteerism, sharing mentality, work-life balance, Danish pioneering efforts in relation to green tech and much more. I hope you enjoy our conversation and I would be glad to see your own comments and reflections below.
Michael Booth, personal website
“Dark lands: the grim truth behind the ‘Scandinavian miracle’” Michael’s article in the Guardian
“Noen ubehagelige sannheter om Norden“, Michael’s follow-up article on NRK Ytring
The Almost Nearly Perfect People, book by Michael Booth
–> Danish translation
–> Norwegian translation