Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Is Living In Scandinavia *Really* All That Amazing?

Is Living In Scandinavia *Really* All That Amazing?

The Debrief: We watch Scandi TV shows, prize Scandi style, buy Scandi furniture and are told that Scandi society is basically utopia. But, is Scandinavia really all that? We asked young women living in Scandinavia right now what they think.

Scandinavia is the place to be. Where once the American Dream was an alluring concept, enticing people to emigrate to the US and emulate the country’s culture, now we find Scandi influences everywhere. Every day there seems to be another article telling us that we should be more like Scandinavia, buy more Scandi style stuff and lamenting how poor our quality of life is in comparison to that of Scandinavian countries. We watch blockbuster Danish dramas like The Bridge, Borgen and The Killing, we listen to Swedish pop in the form of Robyn and Little Dragon, Iceland is the new go-to holiday destination of choice, brands like Acne are the epitome of desirable simple (Scandi) chic, everyone owns something from Ikea and who doesn’t love Tiger?

The Nordic model of living as found in Scandinavia – Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland – is supposedly the best one. These countries are presented to us, via Ikea and vintage mid-century Danish furniture shops, as utopias. Every year they dominate the lists of the world’s most desirable places to live, leaving the rest of us to languish and lament how awful things are over here.

Last year, for instance, for the seventh consecutive year, Norway topped the Legatum Institute’s annual Prosperity Index for the seventh year in a row as the most prosperous country in the world. Denmark and Sweden came third and fifth. Finland and Iceland, however, let the side down somewhat by coming in ninth and twelfth.

But is Scandinavia really all that? Should we all be looking to Nordic countries for models of how to live? Is Scandinavia really the Utopia that US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders seems to think it is or, is it just a classic case of ‘the grass always being greener’? We asked young women living in Scandinavia right now what they think.

Emily Bell, 26, producer at a film production company living in Bergen, Norway



Emily moved to Norway from the UK. She only intended to stay for 6 months, but, she liked it so much she’s now been living there for two years. She’s not sure whether Scandinavia is the best place in the world but she says ‘there's just something special about Scandinavia. It's hard to put it into words.’

‘I live in Bergen, on the West coast of Norway, the "rainiest city in Europe" supposedly. In August I will have been here 2 years, and can't quite believe that as I only intended to stay for 6months to a year originally!’ 

‘To cut a long story short I was living back home in Sussex after working on a film in Paris and couldn't find a job I wanted, one day got a text from my best friend from university who was in a similar situation back home in Sweden saying "Wanna go to Norway?" and so 3 weeks later we arrived in Bergen...’

‘As far as I can tell Scandinavian life isn’t all that different to life back in the UK!. People here have a similar sense of humour to the British, are pretty self-deprecating and don't take life or themselves too seriously. Of course there are some differences. Some things are better - for example I would say people are generally more laid back in Scandinavia than they are in the UK. And then some things are worse, for example the cost of things here. I still get nauseous sometimes paying 8 quid for a beer. The wages are comparatively higher to meet living costs but it feels pretty extortionate at first.’ 

‘That said, Scandinavians are pretty great, we have to give them that. I feel like in recent years being Scandinavian or having Scandinavian furniture or clothes or listening to Scandinavian music has become this really "cool" thing, Scandos are really in right now. But actually they are just really good at what they do. With fashion and interiors especially I feel like there's this kind of simple understated elegance to it. It doesn't come across as too 'try hard' or fussy. Scandinavian style is uncomplicated and super accessible (IKEA). If they could flat pack humans they probably would. But in all seriousness I'd say their style is kind of a reflection of their Scandinavian mindset. Easy going, understated, quietly cool.’ 

‘Also – the nature here is incredible: mountains and fjords and all that. We could learn from the scandisk and get outdoors more. Also we could learn not to complain so much. That's something British people are really good at. Brits love to complain about the weather, but Norway has a saying "Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær" - "not bad weather, just bad clothes." Always looking on the bright side.’ 

Esme Chapman-Jones, 28, Visual Artist living in Copenhagen, Denmark 

Esme grew up in the UK. She’s currently living on the outskirts of Copenhagen and has been living in Denmark for nearly 5 years. She's married to a Scandi. ‘Copenhagen is a much smaller city than London. It's hard to compare the two. You can cycle from one side of the city to the other in about half an hour which is obviously really nice and very different from The London Underground (eek!). But at the same time London is so big it has everything- It did take a bit getting used to not having everything on demand, the pace is slower here, which is also one of the nice things about it. It wasn't that much of a culture shock moving here though. British and Danish humour are very similar, and let’s face it- that's the most important thing!’ ‘Everyone says that Scandis do it best. Copenhagen, visually, is really beautiful, I love all all the oxidised copper roofs.  There are elements of Scandinavian interior design that are great, but I definitely wouldn't say they do it better! A lot of the mid-century furniture furniture that Denmark is known for is not really my taste. Although I do like all the white interiors and candles. I like Danish fashion, everything is very sleek and 'well put together' I guess you could say, but I prefer a bit of madness!‘My favourite things about Scandinavia are the sea, the forest in Sweden and pickled herring. I do think we could learn from Scandinavia – we need a higher living wage!!’ 

Baby in Vain are an all-girl rock trio from Denmark. They are Lola (19), Benedicte (22) and Andrea (22)

They aren’t so convinced about their homeland…


‘The welfare system in Denmark works really well and you can basically get money for doing nothing or be paid to study and you can live off that money. Healthcare is free too, maybe that’s why everyone thinks it’s so good here’, Bene says.  

However, Lola offers a reality check, ‘ I don’t think people are happier here than they are anywhere else. We pretend to be very happy maybe but nobody goes around saying they are happy – I don’t know anyone who does that.’

Would they ever consider moving anywhere else? ‘I’ve been thinking about moving actually’ Bene says, ‘maybe to Berlin! It has this other kind of freedom and liberty that Copenhagen doesn’t have in Berlin people just chill and smile at each other in the street. In Denmark people don’t even look at you.’

They also point out that ‘Copenhagen isn’t as diverse as London or Berlin…people here can be very racist, they are scared of foreigners – they don’t see them on a daily basis…’

And their musical influences? Are they Scandi? ‘ We don’t have any big influences that are Scandinavian – most of what I listen to comes from America or England’ Lola says, ‘I’m really into Josh Homme…I do like what comes out of Scandinavia as well but our main inspiration doesn’t come from here – there’s a lot of satanic death metal from Norway…’

‘I’m not really into furniture but I think Arne Jacobsen is a good example of a guy who has done something with his time, he’s done a good job’, Lola says.

Bene points out that ‘Ikea is Swedish –I think everything in my room is from Ikea…maybe not everything…’

‘The future should be Scandi’ they both agree, ‘we have some good qualities that other countries can learn from…like Bernie sanders in America he’s like “look at the Scandinavian countries” but we are becoming more and more Americanised – and our welfare system is kind of destroying itself right now – so it’s not all as great as it seems…’

Photo: @visitcopenhagen

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Tags: Around The World