I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Atria Books on February 4th, 2014
Denmark is the country of the moment. Recently named the happiest nation in the world, it’s the home of The Killing and Noma, the world’s best (and most eccentric) restaurant. We wear their sweaters, watch their thrillers, and covet their cool modern design, but how much do we really know about the Danes themselves? Part reportage, part travelogue, How to Be Danish fills in the gaps—an introduction to contemporary Danish culture that spans politics, television, food, architecture, and design.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that I am Danish. In fact, genetically, I am very Danish. My last name, Jensen, is the most prevalent surname in all of Denmark, and the whole of my family has the very, very Danish look. However, I have never (yet) been to Denmark, and due to the obvious language barrier, I have very little contact with most of my extended family. So when the chance to read this book came up, I jumped, figuring this would be the perfect way to amuse myself and uncover more about the place from which I hail. Just how Danish am I really?
How to be Danish is an exploration of Danish culture as conceived by ethnic natives, first and second generation immigrants, and the outsider perspective of the author.The book explores the fundamentals of Danish culture from style and design, the social and economic structure of the socialist state, television, food, education, immigration, and even the Danishness of cycling. Together, the differing topics of discussion provide a unique commentary on what it is to belong in Denmark, and how the affirmed identity of the Danish people shapes their understanding of the larger world and their place in it.
This book is a very easy read, so much so that I finished the entire book while waiting for my hair color to set at the salon. Patrick Kingsley provides context, history, insight and reflection on the various aspects of Danishness without becoming bogged down in the dull droning quality that fact recitation can easily become. His chosen topics and colloquial styling kept this book light and interesting, and his anecdotes are accessible, even if you have never seen The Killing or Borgen (Danish shows that earned international acclaim). His evaluation of even sensitive polarizing issues such as racism are handled without pretension, or the condescending lens of an onlooker. Indeed, Kingsley’s style is very neutral and objective, removing his personal bias whenever possible, or acknowledging his personal opinions separate from the subject matter.
Overall, what I learned from this book is that in many ways, I am quite quintessentially Danish, aside from the fact that I actually live in Canada. I view the social welfare structure of Denmark, which pays students to go to university and invests in their society to prevent economic inequality, as ideal and desirable, and even my aesthetic tastes are Scandinavian at their core. So if you’ve got Danish heritage, or are planning a trip to Denmark and want to know more about the people you’re going to interact with, How to be Danish is an easy, fun read that will inform you without feeling bored.