By Chet Yarbrough
The Almost Nearly Perfect People
By: Michael Booth
Narrated by: Ralph Lister
Michael Booth (British Author, food and travel writer.)
Later this month, we will travel to Scandinavia and Finland. As a suggestion by our guide, “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” is a fascinating introduction to Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. To be fair to indigenous people of the Nordic countries, one might keep in mind the author is British while living for ten or more years in Denmark with his Danish wife and family. The author notes they moved from Denmark for a short time, but his wife convinces him to return.
Booth is a travel and food writer. He explains that an extra motive for writing this book is because a wide part of the world knows little about Scandinavia and much of what they think they know is wrong. I am more in the first than second category but have an interest in the subject because of my Finnish grandparents.
In contrast Finland is a laggard at 21st position but Booth claims Finland is his favorite among the five countries.
The Danish-Swedish company Arla Foods is the 7th largest dairy company in the world. The industrial transportation and shipping company Maersk is a Danish company. IKEA, Volvo, Assa Abloy (key card locking systems for hotels), Electrolux, Ericsson, and H&M are Swedish conglomerates. Denmark and Sweden are industry power houses in the world.
Booth notes Norway became rich with the discovery of oil. Denmark’s and Sweden’s wealth lies in different strengths and weaknesses revolving around their respective international businesses.
What makes Booth’s book interesting, and entertaining is his view and contrast of Nordic societies. Booth suggests both Danes and Swedes are somewhat cliquish and standoffish but act differently among themselves. Both prefer working with their own countrymen and women. Danes revel in individualism whereas Swedes are more clannish. Neither particularly welcome outsiders but Swedes like working together with fellow Swedes as teams with common purpose. In contrast, Danes work within a hierarchical structure that relies on positional direction. Finns are characterized as less ambitious with a live and “let be” view of life. A Finn works to live rather than lives to work. Booth suggests Norwegians appear standoffish to many but its more from a wish to be self-reliant and reserved. The idea is to preserve personal space among themselves and to have respect for others who may or may not be Norwegian.
Iceland is not a part of the trip we are taking, and Booth only skims Icelandic culture but suggests Danish influence is the predominant characteristic of their population. (Iceland was founded by Danes.) Booth’s primary story of Iceland is in their errant decision to rely on banking system managers that nearly collapse the economy in the 2008 economic crises. Belief in hierarchal structure and positional direction nearly bankrupted Iceland because of unwise risks taken by bank managers.
A listener’s general impression from Booth’s book is that the Nordic countries are uniquely different but generally socialist with the highest tax rates in the world.
Those tax rates provide the best education and health systems in the world. However, their socialism does not impede their innovative entrepreneurial and capitalist interests. In Booth’s opinion, the Nordic countries represent the future of the world by melding capitalism with socialism.
Booth infers the success of Nordic countries begins with their education system. Teaching is an honored profession that is difficult for potential employees to join.
Teaching positions and teachers are highly educated and respected by the general population. Contrary to what one would presume, classes for students are medium size (20 to 23 students), teacher salaries are middle class, class days are limited to 4 hours, and every family has access to any school in their area. Tutoring is widely practiced for students needing help. There are no private schools.
As is true in all countries of the world, immigration is being horribly mishandled. Fair immigration policy in Norway and the world remains a work in progress.
Booth notes Nordic countries have not achieved perfection. With the threat of authoritarianism that diminishes the value of human life, histories of these countries show mistakes were made in WWII and are still being made in the 21st century. On the other hand, Booth shows native Nordic residents endorse and practice equal rights for men and women, a laudable example for the rest of the world.