The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia - Michael Booth
Several revellers have climbed on to the tables and are dancing gingerly, but with enthusiasm, arms in the air, silly hats akimbo, their shirts still tucked firmly into their shorts. It is time for me to crawl off to a darkened room.
This is Sweden.
This is so not Sweden.


Let's be honest, this isn't going to be a review. It'll be a long list of my favorites quotes (and, because there needs to be some constructive criticism, I've put that in the end for anyone who's interested). Also, most of the quotes will be on Sweden, and if you think it's for any reason other than me being a swede, you're wrong.

But what is this book? Why does it exist? I was quite surprised when I stumbled upon it. Because, well, I know the Scandinavian countries often score high on several different rankings. And, apparently, it's a couple of cultures that are often refereed to outside of Scandinavia, but few people outside of Scandinavia actually knows anything about these countries' cultures. According to the author. I have no clue if this is true or not. All I know is that when I say I'm from Sweden when outside of Scandinavia, most people think this is a good thing. Maybe it is, I'm not to decide that. Anyway, so the author made it his mission to learn about these countries, and this book is the result.

Now, bring out the quotes!

On Scandinavian, uhmm, language?

Every race and language has their affirmative 'uh-huhs', their quizzical 'hmmm?s', and their verbal tics, but the Scandinavians seem to have turned them into a key mode of communication.


Yup, we use a lot of short sounds. It's confusing to people that aren't used to it. I once had to explain one of them about six times before the other person began to understand it.

On graduating gymnasium (our equivalence of high school)

Throughout all of Scandinavia, gymnasium (high school),graduates celebrate by parading through their home towns on the backs of an assortment of open-aired farm vehicles, trucks and buses, clutching festively chinking carrier bags, and getting off with each other. In Denmark and Sweden, for some reason, they wear vaguely nautical-looking, peaked white caps, which make them look as if they are part of a sailing club.


And when he say ride around on them, in Sweden, we ride around on them for a looooong time. And we ride them in the evening. My class? Oh, we started at ten in the evening and went on about it until noon the next day. Some people were on it for over sixteen hours. I promise, we're not crazy.

On rivalry

"[The animosity] is there in the grudging way the Danes react to Swedish economic success and the global domination of IKEA (it hardly help that the Swedish company insists on naming its least dignified products - door mats, and so forth - after Danish towns).

On Finnish School System

At the University of Helsinki a couple of years ago they had 2,400 applications for the 120 places on the master's programme.


FUN FACT: In Sweden, last year more people applied for Paradise Hotel (Big Brother-ish Reality tv-show) than to the teacher program at university.

On swedes

[The Swedes] would rather take the stairs than share a lift...


Or, if you're at a bus stop, waiting, you must, at all times, keep at least 5 feet between you and the others that are waiting. Don't go closer than that, not even if you must ask something, say, if this is the right bus you're waiting on.

On swedes social skills

We don't know how to talk to people we don't know. That's really interesting, because mot people like to talk. In southern Europe it's the best thing in life. I have a French colleague and when she came to Sweden she was convinced it was forbidden to talk on buses. She couldn't find any other explanation.


This is my favorite. Because it captures so well how strange swedes might seem to outsiders. Again, we're not crazy, promise!

Those are some of my favorites. Now to the other stuff. While this book does offers some good (and funny) insight, there's some minor errors, I'd say. But those are, as said, minor. This book relies too heavily on anecdotes and a few selected people's research. As well as when talking to politicians and other important people, it's often one sides. Not enough to give a broad and complex picture of, for example, politics. And to someone from Scandinavia, it's easy to see these dark spots. But to an outsider? Probably not.

On the whole though, a humorous take on our countries and some interesting facts (some that I didn't really know of, like a conspiracy theory regarding Norway's oil). A good read if you have time leftover to kill!