The kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway (official Scandinavia) and their Nordic cousins Iceland and Finland (unofficial Scandinavia) are bound together by North Germanic heritage and a distinct psychological distance from the world. Taking in the verdant terrain of northern Europe and disappearing into the Arctic Circle, Scandinavia is diverse with a few unifying quirks. Is there a place for you in the land of giants? Here are some telling signs.
#1 You’re tall and/or blonde
The official Scandi countries rank second, third and fourth on the list of the world’s tallest people, pipped only by the Dutch. The average height in Sweden is 175.5cm, which is the same height as your average model.[related_articles]32954[/related_articles]
Coincidentally, most people in Sweden look like models. Not all Scandinavians are blonde but they have more than their fair share of golden locks and the Swedes have clearly exhibited a genetic preference. If you’re tall and blonde, you’ll do fine. If not, you will occasionally feel like a house pet.
#2 You support the 99%
The Scandinavia countries are world-renowned for their socialist ideals, championing high standards of living for all citizens, not just those who are born into wealth. With maximum individual tax rate of around 60 percent in Finland and Sweden, and around 45 percent in the rest of Scandinavia, private income is channelled back into the state, which in turn delivers free education to a PhD level, free childcare, free healthcare and free aged care to all citizens. Is social justice and equal opportunity your thing? This might be the place for you.
#3 You like simple things that work well
Do you have a keen eye for good design? Scandinavia is the home of mid-century modernism and contemporary minimalism – white walls, clean lines and a distinct lack of clutter. The ingenuity of Scandi design extends beyond the wet dreams of bespectacled architects, however.[related_articles]48144,52483[/related_articles]
Sweden gave us the zipper, the computer mouse, IKEA and Acne jeans, while Denmark gave us LEGO. Helsinki was named in the World Design Capital in 2012 and Norway managed to make even their passports look beautiful. Iceland, meanwhile, gave us Bjork.
#4 You like picturesque towns and spectacular scenery
From the beech forests of Denmark to the Swedish archipelagos, the breathtaking cracks of the Norwegian fjords to the moss-covered Finnish mountains and the lava-carved moonscapes of Iceland, the Scandinavian landscape is full of epic drama. And where man encroaches on all this mind-bending beauty, he builds cute houses – pastel shaded rows in Copenhagen, gentile mid-millennium clusters in Stockholm, wooden cottages and whitewashed stonewalls that disappears in snow. If you like lovely scenery, you’re probably a Scandi at heart.
#5 You love fish
Water, water everywhere and nobody wants to eat Rudolph. OK, that’s a lie, Scandinavian folks of the northern climbs will happily tuck into reindeer meat, and the meatballs are plentiful in Sweden, but the Scandis are surrounded by ocean and they really love their fish.[related_articles]63038[/related_articles]
Norwegians in particular, with over 25,000km of coastline, are renowned fish eaters – from fiskesuppe (fish soup) to røkt laks (smoked salmon). Herring comes in cans, caviar comes in tubes, and Omega 3 oil comes in waterfalls.
#6 You like darkness
Scandinavia’s polar nights see the far northern reaches plunged into darkness for up to 28 days a year. Even the southern tip of Denmark sees long, heavy winters, with only half-an-hour of sunlight in December, on average. If the darkness of the soul is more your flavour, the cinema of Lars Von Trier (Danish) and Ingmar Bergman (Swedish) offers hours of entertainment, or you can skip jolly through episodes of The Bridge or The Killing.
#7 You like light
On the other hand, during summer, the sun just won’t quit. Scandinavian countries that lie in the Arctic circle get long stretches of days where the sun is still shining at midnight, culminating in the summer solstice, when the sun doesn’t set for a full 24 hours. The solstice comes with flowers, community festivals and lots of cherubic blonde children dancing around maypoles, if sweetness and light is your thing.
#8 You’re a lone wolf
It’s notoriously difficult to get close to Swedes – they ranked a pitiful last on a survey of 21,000 expats in 39 countries for “ease of making friends”– though no one seems to hold it against them.[related_articles]65559[/related_articles]
Like the rest of Scandinavia, small, remote populations and a strong focus on community cohesion means they collect friends in kindergarten and stick with them for life, which makes it hard for foreigners to bust in. It’s not that they don’t like you, it’s just that they don’t need you. You’re good for Scandinavia if you don’t take offence.
#9 You’re comfortable with skin
Nudity in Scandinavia is matter of fact. Family members are commonly naked around each other and random members of the public will strip buff at the beach, in swimming pool or gym change rooms, or at one of 2.2 million Finnish saunas – any situation where being nude is required or practical. It’s possible to start a new job, head off for a team building weekend and find yourself butt naked in the spa with your new colleagues, with everyone acting like it ain’t no thing. If you’re down with stripping down, the Scandis are your people.
#10 You have deep pockets
The cost of food, accommodation and transport in Scandinavia varies widely, but on average you’re looking at 30 to 40 percent higher prices than you would find in Australia. If you’re earning Scandi wages, you won’t notice much. If you’re a tourist, it helps to have big wads of cash in your wallet.
#11 You like fairytale romance
Remember when our Mary married Frederik and became Princess of Denmark? And Prince Frederik cried beautiful yet manly tears of joy at the wedding? Scandinavia showed us that it is actually possible to be some ignominious peasant and meet a prince and live happily ever after with a litter of royal blonde children.[related_articles]31676[/related_articles]
But wait, you say, William of England did that! Maybe. But when did an English prince last scoop a glamour model/reality TV contestant out of the gutter and turn her into a princess? Because that happened in Sweden a few of months ago.
#12 You like fairytales generally
Eighty percent of the population of Iceland thinks elves might exist and public roads are routed around their sacred spaces. The boulders strewn across the Norwegian tundra are said to be trolls, turned to stone in the sunlight. Hans Christian Anderson called Copenhagen home, and the city’s emblem is a mermaid who was turned to sea foam when she lost her true love. If you dig fairytales, Scandinavia is your magic kingdom.
(Lead image: VisitCopenhagen / Facebook)
Simone Ubaldi is a ghostwriter, music journalist, film critic and frequent flyer. She has written for The Age, The Monthly, triple j Mag, Paper Sea, Faster Louder and various other publications, and appeared on ABC Radio National, triple j and Melbourne's 3RRR FM. She has co-authored four books, including memoirs of Bon Scott and Mark 'Chopper' Read, and she stashes a lot of her writing here.