Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Love: A Year of Living Danishly

I think I first heard about this book on the Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast, What Should I Read Next when a guest mentioned it as a book they had either loved or recently read.  I love reading about how people live in other countries so I was instantly intrigued.  Then I heard it mentioned a few other places and I got pretty excited when my library hold came in (my life may not be super exciting in January).  

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
by: Helen Russell
page count: 351
reading time: approx. 5 hours

The author's husband was recruited by Lego to work at their company headquarters in Denmark.  They debate this for a bit but, judging from the title of the book, it was obvious they were going.  (They would have had me at "Lego wants you..." even if it was my husband they were after...).

They arrive in Denmark in January.  If you don't know geography super great (raises hand), then you might not realize where Denmark is (I just google-mapped it myself).  It's in a part of the world that gets really cold in the winter with only a few hours of daylight.  (As in, even Lego might not be able to convince me to move there.)  Arriving in January would obviously have some struggles because you are coming at one of the toughest times of the year.  They realize they are seeing very few people out and about. 
'Arriving in winter can be really hard for outsiders,' she tells me. 'It's a private, family time in Denmark and everyone hides behind their front doors.  Danes are very wrapped up - literally and metaphorically - from November until February, so don't be surprised if you don't see many people out and about, especially in rural areas.'
I live somewhere with more than 5 hours of sunlight in the winter but I can TOTALLY relate to this feeling, wrapped in a blanket as I type this.  (I might be back on board with moving to Denmark).  In light of this, and reading a report that says Danes are one of the happiest countries in the world, she decides to embark on her own happiness project of sorts and figure out why this is.  She needs a little help falling in love with her new homeland and hopefully by figuring out why they are so happy, she can be happy (or happier) too.

Turns out the Danes have a few things going for them, other than the amazing pastries that are named for them.  They seem to have a pretty great work-life balance with a typical work week under 40 hours, little expectations of being connected after hours, lots of vacation time, and flexibility in dealing with kid stuff (i.e. leaving work early to pick up your kids is encouraged).  They love their clubs, evening activities, and life-long learning.

I marked so many pages reading this book but maybe my favorite:
The Danes, it turns out, are admirably obsessive about recycling.  Almost 90 per cent of packaging is recycled and paper, cans, bottles, food, and organic waste all have separate recycling homes.  Sorting out what goes where is an art form I have yet to master.
!!!!!  Can we please get on this in the States?  You have no idea how happy I'd be to (easily) recycle 90% of our waste!  That's high on my plus side for moving to Denmark.

The government takes care of it's people, literally, paying you to go to college.  Not paying for your tuition, but giving you an education and literally paying you to attend.  The government subsidizes 75% of your child care for working parents.  You get an automatic payment if you have kids, no matter your income.  This all sounds well and good but the taxes...near 50% on income and 180% (!!!) on car purchases.  The government will help you out but you are obviously paying for that help.  As someone who leans much more towards autonomy and less government control...I'd have a very hard time accepting that.

But this review/recommendation isn't about whether I would move to Denmark but if you should read a book about someone who did.  I would most certainly recommend it.  Even if you have no plans to live in Denmark (and I doubt most of us here do) or even visit (maybe slightly more), this was still a very interesting read on a country I didn't know much about.  I would read a similar book written about pretty much every country in the world, including the one I actually live in (I would love to see how we appear to others). 

Two other random factoids I got from reading:

In the UK, your tax year starts on April 6th.  I put down my book and told Matt this while we were laying in bed reading.  I was SHOCKED.  He didn't understand my amazement.  I've done over 1,000 individual tax returns (not to brag or anything...) and every single one was January 1st - December 31st.  In the UK they don't even start on a calendar quarter!!!  I can't imagine the bookkeeping nightmare (although I assume they have systems in place for that by now).  BUT STILL.

Happier fact: At Lego they have a bowl of Legos on the table at every meeting and you are encouraged to build while attending said meetings.  This would have improved 100% of the meetings I've been to in my life.

Denmark has a few things really going for it.  This book might have more (although if it came with Danishes...that would have improved my reading experience even more).  If you are interested in how people live in other countries or just to appreciate our slightly less dark and cold winters, I'd recommend this!

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