A little bit of hygge: on selective Nordicness

Written by Jenni Davidson on 14 December 2016 in Comment

The 'Nordic model' is held up as the ideal for everything, but Jenni Davidson suggests we can learn from the bad as well as the good

Election poster for the Danish Venstre party that reads 'Yes to those that can and want to; no to criminal foreigners' - Image credit: Jenni Davidson

This is the year of hygge. For anyone not yet familiar with the concept, it’s a Danish word that means something like cosiness. Or in the verbal form ‘at hygge sig’: to have a nice time.

I was very fond of the idea until every bookshop starting stocking 10 different books with names like The Little Book of Hygge.

All things Nordic are in just now, from detectives in Icelandic jumpers to foraged food, but particularly politics, as Scotland looks north for possible models for all sorts of policy, from education to baby boxes to different relationships with the EU.

There is much discussion of the ‘Nordic model’. Not, of course, that it is one model, since we’re talking about seven countries with different governments and international relationships.


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But our understanding of Nordicness is both idealised and selective.

A couple of weeks ago a new coalition government of three right-wing, anti-immigration parties was formed in Denmark. Politically, it has as much in common with England or America as what Scotland thinks it would like to be.

I was in Denmark last year just after the general election in which the Dansk Folkeparti (DF), a party similar to UKIP, had become the second largest party in the parliament with 21.1 per cent of the vote, a rise of 8.8 per cent.

In some regions in the south of the country the vote share was over 30 per cent. Bearing in mind that there are nine parties in the parliament, for any party to achieve a double-digit vote share means it is very popular indeed.

After the election, there was widespread navel gazing about the rise of DF: ‘how could this happen?’ It was an election marked with anti-immigrant rhetoric and Denmark has always been quite xenophobic anyway, so in one sense not surprising, but the answer was at least partly internal.

In a now familiar pattern, it was about parts of the country feeling alienated – rural areas lodging a protest vote about jobs, both public and private sector, being sucked up by the cities or disappearing abroad, increasing centralisation.

There was talk of big city hipsters looking down on the regions.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine who teaches English and Modern Studies in Denmark asked me why I thought UKIP hadn’t had the same rise in popularity in Scotland as it has had in England.

I suggested it was probably at least partly to do with who we blame for our problems. Our finger pointing is generally towards the south.

We may not have as much obvious xenophobia, but we should not be smug; we are not immune from the similar issues of centralisation, alienation, marginalisation and prejudice.

There is an ‘us and them’ mentality that pervades Scottish culture.

From the fact that we still need to have legislation to deal with sectarianism, whether or not the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act is repealed, to dividing people into good and bad along referendum lines, yoons and nats, ‘racist’ Leavers and ‘internationalist’ Remainers.

And that in parts of the country outsiders moving into the area, whether English or from the Lowlands, may be referred to as ‘white settlers’.

As we look north for models, we can learn lessons from the bad as well as the good. How do we avoid parts of society feeling alienated and marginalised? How do we deal with the division, the ‘othering’?

A bit of respect for difference, and difference of opinion. Now that would be hyggelig – nice.

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