It may not be perfect but it’s home

Author and journalist Michael Booth caused a bit of a ruckus by 'attacking' the Nordic model. In his first weekly column with The Local, he makes peace with his adopted homeland (well, sort of).

It may not be perfect but it's home
The Local columnist Michael Booth.
My grandmother always used to say, “Michael, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
In January I wrote a now mildly infamous article in the Guardian newspaper about Denmark and the other Nordic countries which they headlined: ‘The Dark Heart of Scandinavia’.
As many online commenters pointed out, the piece was a brazen attempt to draw attention to my new book, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle, but I also wanted to bring a little balance to the absurdly idealized picture of Denmark and Scandinavia presented by the British (and American) media over the last decade.
So, I pointed out that the Danes were work-shy environmental hypocrites, who, despite paying the world’s highest taxes still endured lacklustre public services (today, I would probably add something about the recent and alarming statistics regarding violence towards women – they are European record holders, apparently). I also mentioned that the Norwegians had been corrupted by their oil wealth and were in denial of its consequences; that the Finns got a bit fighty after a drink; that the Swedes were arms-peddling stiffs; and the Icelanders semi-feral highwaymen of high finance.
Sorry Grandma.
The response was instant and global. The piece was shared by 70,000 people on Facebook, commented on by almost 3,000 and read by over two million, putting it in the top two percent of the Guardian’s most-read pieces of all time. Within hours I was contacted by journalists from New Zealand to Chile. They are still calling.
Some people got a bit cross. There were threats to my family on right-wing Norwegian notice boards and an abundance of imaginative personal insults in the comments. DR2’s pedant fest, Detektor, took me to task. They grudgingly agreed there was a truth to much of what I wrote but questioned my sources (a bunch of cockamamie organizations such as the United Nations, Statistics Denmark and the OECD). 
Equally, though, many were relieved that, finally, someone was telling a different truth about the Nordic region than the one the world’s media had been feeding us for the last decade – in many cases people who had actually lived here, or were married to Scandinavians.
As well as the very un-Jante Law motive of promoting my book, I really wanted to shake Guardian readers out of their Scandi-trance, to wake them from their Nordic torpor. For the last ten years, they had been drip fed rose-tinted stories about the north – about its food, its schools, welfare systems, gender equality, environmentalism, knitwear, prisons, TV shows and baristas – depicting a kind of utopia on earth. Every week it seemed the New York Times heralded the Nordic model, or the Sydney Herald claimed that Danish TV was the best in the world, or the Guardian would gush about how idyllic life was in Frederiksberg. National Geographic ran a cover story recently that literally claimed nothing ever went wrong in Copenhagen. 
I have contributed to this deluge of pro-Denmark propaganda in my time (full disclosure: I’m the one who keeps persuading Monocle magazine that Copenhagen is the world’s most ‘liveable’ city), but it seemed to me that we had become blinded by the Northern Lights.
It used to be the world was in thrall to the Mediterranean dream – of having a house amid the olive groves or orange orchards – but following the collapse of the eurozone, the pull of the magnetic north grew ever-more irresistible. I think people had a yearning for a more ‘back to basics’ approach to life and were drawn to the idea of a fundamental reorientation of societal values on the Scandinavian model. And there were doubtless many who just liked the lampshades and chairs.
Many mistook my piece as a ‘UK = good/ Scandinavia = bad’ rant. It was no such thing. I lived in the UK for 30 years, and that was plenty for me. I live in Denmark of my own free will and I consider myself lucky to do so. Though some may deem it ill-mannered to criticize my hosts, I am sure the Danes and their culture are robust enough not to care.
Of course, my book is much more nuanced than the Guardian piece. I strongly believe that there is a great deal the world can learn from how the Nordic tribes run their societies and if anyone can be deemed the happiest in the world, then the Danes seem strong candidates to me. 
Fortunately for me, they are a forgiving bunch (as Lars Løkke Rasmussen is finding). Since the article detonated I have performed my ‘Truth about the Danes’ schtick at libraries across the land as well as to august bodies ranging from the Nordic Council of Ministers to Dong Energy. 
Earlier this month, for instance, I was invited along to Folkemødet on Bornholm to debate the topic ‘Is Nordic Cool?’.
So, is Denmark still cool? Yes, probably, but let’s not pretend it’s perfect.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.

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The pick-pocket problem in ‘perfect’ Copenhagen

Columnist Michael Booth is currently promoting his book to the North American market, telling everyone who'll listen about how 'almost nearly perfect' Denmark is. But a funny thing happened on the way to one of those media interviews.

The pick-pocket problem in 'perfect' Copenhagen
The hustle and bustle of Nørreport makes it "a kind of pick-pocket amusement park, with no entry fee and free rides for all". Photo: Stig Nygaard/Flickr
Last Thursday I caught a train from Nørreport Station. As an upstanding member of a high trust society, rather than take advantage of the lack of barriers on Copenhagen’s Metro system and ride for free (perish the thought), I bought a ticket at the machine. I used my Dankort.
Ticket in hand, I put my wallet back into the outside pocket of my bag, zipped it shut, slung the bag over my shoulder and hurried down the escalators. My train was already at the platform, so I did what in my world passes for ‘running’ down the last half of the second escalator (a kind of huffy-breathed, galumphing stagger, taking advantage of gravity’s pull), making the train just as the doors closed.
Once in, I squeezed up into a corner of the carriage, and drifted off into my usual brain-dead commuting head-space.
Just past Kongens Nytorv Station, some primal instinct made me check my bag just to make sure I hadn’t been pick-pocketed, or somesuch.
The zipper of the outer pocket was wide open.
My wallet was gone.
I was still doing a kind of tragic Macarena, patting down pockets, twisting to check the rest of my bag, as the train pulled into my destination, DR Byen, where I was heading to a studio to give an interview to Canadian national radio about how wonderful Denmark is.
But the wallet was still gone.
I did what I usually do in times of emergency and stress: I called my wife. She promised to call the bank and cancel my card while I was in the studio. Aside from that, I’d lost a bit of cash – 500 kroner – my driver’s licence, CPR card, and a photograph of the former president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, which I always carry around in my wallet. Horrid, but could have been worse.
Half an hour later, having finished my interview, I left the studio and turned on my phone. It rang almost immediately. It was my wife. Apparently, in the time it had taken me to travel three stops on the Metro and conclude my Macarena, the robber and/or robbers had cleared out my bank account, and then some. They had taken tens of thousands of kroner.
Piecing events together, it seems the thief had managed to see my pin code when I bought my ticket and, in the time between me putting my wallet in my bag, and beginning to ‘run’ halfway down the escalator, had parted me from it.
It could have been worse: the thieves didn’t harm me, in fact it was like being robbed by a ghost. Part of me almost admired their skill (although the other part would like to tie them up and place a cage filled with hungry ferrets over their head). Others I have spoken to since have told me tales of being barged into or tripped by the pickpockets that infest Copenhagen’s city centre. I will probably get most of my money back. I was able to replace my cards pretty simply online (although the Estrada pic is now lost forever). They didn’t take my phone either, which would have been terrible. So there’s all that. 
But then I started to think about the police presence in Copenhagen. There is none, as far as I can see, not even outside the office of Jyllands-Posten on the City Hall Square, which you would imagine is a prime target for Islamic extremists (there is a police car, but it is always empty whenever I pass by, which is several times a week). Yet when I reported the theft to the cops, they reacted as if I had rung to inform them that Wednesday follows Tuesday. Nørreport especially seems to be a kind of pick-pocket amusement park, with no entry fee and free rides for all. Everyone knows this, so why aren’t there a couple of cops stationed there round the clock?
"We’d like to, but we don’t have the man power," I was told when I reported the incident.
That evening, a friend of mine posted a photo on Twitter of a police motorcycle blocking a cycle lane: the cop was busy ticketing cyclists for various misdemeanours. For this, they have the manpower. They do this because the government’s budget relies on the revenue from fines issued to cyclists and motorists. Indeed, Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government recently raised the targets to balance the budget.
So here’s my solution. Clearly, Denmark’s tax rates are not nearly high enough to ensure decent levels of policing and protection of property so I propose that Copenhagen police position one of their number at Nørreport Station with a big collecting bucket. Everyone who enters the station is invited to donate one kroner to cover the cost of their wage. I’d happily pay that to make sure I wasn’t stolen from again. Although, of course, they should probably watch the bucket doesn’t get pinched…

Michael BoothMichael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle