Thursday 30 July 2020

Russell, Helen "The Year of Living Danishly"

Russell, Helen "The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country" - 2015

When I started reading the book, I thought, oh, no, not another one of those travel books where some naïve foreigner starts living abroad and gets everything wrong. Because that's what it looked like over the first couple of chapters. But - Helen Russell finds a way out of it and describes in a very humorous way how lovely the little country in Scandinavia really is.

While she settles in her little house in "Sticksville-on-Sea" with "Lego Man" with some outings into "The Big Town", she tries to find out what makes Danish people so happy. Especially looking at the kind of taxes they pay. But the secret might just be that, the Scandinavians have found a way to make people more equal, to give everyone a safe and secure life. They don't have to worry about health insurance, education for their children, retirement, the state and the taxes they pay take care of that. A happy socialism, if you want.

She befriends some neighbours - which can be difficult sometimes and is made more complicated for her because they arrive in January when everyone has gone into hibernation and learns about Danish life through interviews with specialists and the "little man in the street". And she notices, how much calmer life in rural Denmark is as opposed to busy London. Something I could have told her before. LOL

While she tries to not give any big hints about her whereabouts, like not naming the names of towns but referring to them with nicknames, one can easily guess though what she is talking about, especially if you've been to Denmark and included a trip to Legoland. You probably have been there, as well.

I have Scandinavian friends and while a lot of them tend to be a little quieter, like explained by the author, most of them seem very content and happy to me. So, I think there might be something to the hygge feeling described. I did like this book and will try to read more by her. Because, even though she had only planned to stay for a year, she is still there after almost a decade. That speaks for itself.

Oh, and there is one more funny note when she celebrates Christmas with her neighbours:
They are assured that "most Christmas celebrations tend to be restricted to 'jumping off the sofa at midnight, then going outside to look at the fireworks, then watching a black-and-white film of an old lady being brought food by her butler." Apparently, nobody knows about the film but I can explain that. The film is only 18 minutes long and is based on a play written by Lauri Wylie. It's called "Dinner for One". There are only two characters, Miss Sophie and her butler, portrayed by British comedians May Warden and Freddie Frinton. In 1962, German entertainer Peter Frankenfeld watched the sketch in Blackpool and persuaded the two of them to come to Germany and film it there. It has been on German TV every New Year's Eve since then. From there, it made its way into Scandinavia and many other European countries, though not into the United Kingdom. And, as her neighbours pointed out so eagerly: It's tradition!

If you are interested in a funny little story, watch it here:

And if you haven't been to Denmark, put it on your bucket list.

From the back cover:

"Given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: Denmark, often thought of as a land of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries, is the happiest place on earth.

What is the secret? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.

From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD and taxes, The Year of Living Danishly records a funny, poignant journey, showing us where the Danes get it right, what they get wrong, and how we might all live a little more Danishly ourselves."


  1. What is Legoland? A park dedicated to Legos? That kind of life sounds pretty good to me right now!

    1. Oh, it's fantastic. Almost as great as one of the best libraries. It's a theme park where you can have rides but also visit a mini park of Europe or the world, there are construction buildings where you can play with the bricks, shows including Lego figures etc. etc. Much fun.

      The first one Lego made was in Billund, where Lego Man works. Then they had one in Northern Germany when I was little but they closed it again, the next one they opened in Windsor, just in our area when the boys were little. We had season tickets and would go on any free weekend with them. Now, there is also one in Southern Germany. I have been to all four Legolands in Europe (including the closed one) but now there is one in California, one in Florida, and also in Japan, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). More are planned in New York, South Korea, Shanghai, Sichuan and Italy.

      They are wonderful places to go with the family but if you have an AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego) in the family (we have four, to be honest!)

      Have a look here for the original Legoland in Billund but you can google for all the others. The one in Carlsbad, CA is only about 4 hours from you.

      I might have to write a post about Legoland, I'm sure you're not the only one who has never heard of it.

      Happy Lego-Visiting.

  2. This sounds absolutely lovely! Just the tonic that many of us need at this moment.

    1. You are so right there. It's a beautiful story about exploring a new country and getting to know a kinder way to live. We could all do with a little hygge in our lives.

      Thanks for your visit.

  3. As a Dane, this made me laugh: "when she celebrates Christmas with her neighbours: They are assured that "most Christmas celebrations tend to be restricted to 'jumping off the sofa at midnight, then going outside to look at the fireworks, then watching a black-and-white film of an old lady being brought food by her butler."

    An apt description, only, this is so not Christmas - this is New Year's eve.
    For Christmas we dance around the tree, which for this reason is placed in the middle of the floor, and not in a corner like in Germany :)
    (I lived for a year in Salzgitter, Germany)

    1. Thanks for mentioning this, Charlotte. Yes, I was a little surprised about that. I know quite a few Scandinavians and one of my best friends is Danish. I always meant to ask her. And it makes more sense, of course, to do that on New Year's Eve to "jump" into the new year.

      I don't know how you discovered my blog but I'm glad you did. I just browsed through yours and it looks great. I'll comment later.

      How did you like Salzgitter. I've never been but I'm sure you could tell some funny stories about the Germans as I can about the people in the countries I've lived in. LOL

      Thanks for your visit.

    2. And now I know how you found me because I found you through the Alphabet This or That list. Sorry.

    3. Salzburg is a lovely city. The old centre is kept in a beautiful state, and even thought they're overrun by tourists every year (Salzburger Festspiele), the locals are nice and tolerant of stupid foreigners.
      I could tell many stories about Germans, and Danes, and Swedes, and a lot of other people, and even sometimes do on my blog.

    4. Mmmmh, I thought you said you lived in Salzgitter? But you must have made a mistake though Salzgitter is in Germany, Salzburg is not.

      I've never been much to Austria, not very close to where I come from in the North and then we lived in Belgium, England and the Netherlands, so even further away. But I have been across the border when visiting friends who lived in Bavaria at the time. Nice to hear that the people there are tolerant of stupid foreigners. Not many are, even though they like the money they bring. ;)

      And yes, I probably should tell more about the people and the countries I lived in but I'm just busy with blogging about books.

      Thanks for your visit anyway.