Culture / Interview / Lifestyle

“I Thought the Obsession Would Blow Over”: Michael Booth in Conversation

When MICHAEL BOOTH wrote The Almost Nearly Perfect People in 2014, he was riding the wave of Britain’s Scandi fascination. He took a slice of that interest worldwide, and the book was even mentioned by President Obama…

Michael, first of all, how did you end up in Denmark?

I married a Danish woman in London. She convinced me to live in Denmark for a year… and I’m still here twenty years later!

The Almost Nearly Perfect People was first published in 2014, just as the ‘Scandinavian wave’ was beginning. Did you write it to feed the interest?

No. When I came to Denmark, I was quite ignorant about Scandinavia, and so were most people in Britain. The more I was there, though, the more interesting the relationship between Nordic nations became. I realised the Nordics were so much more diverse than we thought they were, so at the back of my head I was thinking it would make an interesting book. Then the happiness phenomenon started, then the television series, then ‘New Nordic’ food and so on. Suddenly Scandinavia was having its moment. Before then, we were dreaming of life in the olive groves. With the 2008 financial crash, that collapsed, and we started looking north. So, I thought I’d better hurry up and write the book because, like all trends, the obsession would blow over… at least my book would help bring it to an end. I was wrong on both counts. We’re still talking about it, and I’m still contacted by journalists around the world.

The book is over six years old now, and it’s still a bible for anyone who wants to understand the Nordic nations. Has the Nordic region changed in that time… and has the UK become more Nordic?

Oh, that’s a good question, Xander. Scandinavia’s changed politically, but economically it sails on. These are still fabulously wealthy countries – whether they have oil or not – and the welfare states many said would collapse aren’t under threat. As for whether the UK has become more Scandinavian. Well, Britain was obsessed with hygge for a while, but that was more of a trivial thing. So, I think the answer is no. All my British family look jealously at life in Denmark, and the only reverse envy is your vaccine roll-out!

Nevertheless, we’re quite similar. Many have said Scandinavia is a ‘more perfect’ Great Britain…

That’s a good observation. There are so many similarities. But the longer I’ve lived here, the more I’ve realised there are differences. Denmark is a country of 5.5 million people, Sweden pushes 10 million… so they’re tiny, boutique countries. They function in a different way and have a different kind of collective mentality (Britain is much more individualistic). But, of course, we both have welfare states and a Protestant approach. Humour wise, the Danes especially have a lot in common with the Brits. They use irony like they breath here! Brexit has damaged respect Danes had for Britain, but there’s still a mutual respect.

Finally, I notice you’ve written lots about Japan. Last year I interviewed a Swedish chef opening a Japanese restaurant in London. She told me Sweden and Japan share a similar culture. Do you agree? I think there are more similarities between Finland and Japan actually. I’m not the first to have pointed that out. The Finns and Japanese are both reserved and controlled (except when alcohol is involved, and both nations like to drink a lot!). But there are similarities between the Brits and Japanese too: monarchies, island nations, former empires. There are a few brands that are ‘cool’ in Japan: one is British, the other is Nordic. Functionality and a minimalist aesthetic is something Japan and the Nordics share, so it’s natural British interest has turned from hygge and lagom to forest bathing and Marie Kondo.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle is available to buy now.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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