The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

In the nat­u­ral or­der of things, the ar­rival of sum­mer in Aus­tralia is a sig­nal for the rest of the world to be jeal­ous. As dark­ness en­velopes the north, im­ages of Aus­tralian beaches, boozy bar­be­cues, balmy nights and bare­foot morn­ings flash across screens in Europe and the US. We are the most “liked” image in the world come De­cem­ber, and even our bush­fires and shark/croc­o­dile at­tacks hold a cer­tain charm: “Oh, that’s a big shark but doesn’t the wa­ter look lovely?”

But this year the nat­u­ral or­der has been over­turned and, if you head into a book­shop you’ll see what we mean. Hygge has ar­rived. The Lit­tle Book of Hygge, Liv­ing Dan­ishly, Hygge: we won’t list them all be­cause, frankly, there are too many and they don’t need the pub­lic­ity.

In case you’ve been too busy at the beach, let us ex­plain. Hygge (pro­nounced like a gut­tural hug) is Dan­ish for the cosy well­be­ing that comes from do­ing sim­ple things with friends or fam­ily. It may have been around since the Vik­ings but the word has be­come the head­line for ev­ery­thing that’s great about Scan­di­na­vian life.

We won’t list all those great things here, ex­cept to say that some peo­ple think mulled wine, woollen socks, 16-hour nights and flat land­scapes are things to envy. And that’s not even men­tion­ing the weather that, to quote one of the books, is “dark, windy and damp”.

Hygge (it sounds a bit like a brand of nap­pies, don’t you think?) is be­ing plas­tered across tourism cam­paigns, decor mag­a­zines, health re­sorts and watch faces to pro­mote Dan­ish style, pros­per­ity and hap­pi­ness.

In case you’ve been too busy so­cial­is­ing at bar­be­cues, you may not have no­ticed that Den­mark be­came the hap­pi­est coun­try this year when it beat Switzer­land for smug­ness, sorry, for con­tent­ment in the world hap­pi­ness re­port. It is also in the top 10 for rep­u­ta­tion and, OK, it ranks well for equal­ity, ed­u­ca­tion, safety and most knit­ting clubs per head of pop­u­la­tion. Yawn, pass the mulled wine.

The thing is, this is what Aus­tralia is good at. We are in the top 10 for hap­pi­ness. We beat Den­mark in the coun­try rep­u­ta­tion stakes. We are right up the top for eco­nomic per­for­mance. We rate well on safety and gov­er­nance ta­bles — AND WE HAVE SUN­SHINE.

In eco­nomic cir­cles, we are known as Nor­way with sun­shine be­cause we com­bine the best of the Scan­di­na­vian suc­cess with sun­shine — so much sun that we are also the top skin-can­cer coun­try in the world. Beat that one, Danes.

So, we’re old ri­vals and, in the nor­mal course of af­fairs, we are equals un­til we get to this time of year and the world re­alises we have Bondi Beach, By­ron Bay and 10,683 other stun­ning beaches (ever heard of Blokhus Beach? Bis­nap Beach, per­haps? Didn’t think so).

But this year the world has dumped our boo­gie-woo­gie for their hygge. They’re light­ing can­dles, warm­ing co­coa on wood-fired stoves and invit­ing friends around to flop in front of an open fire for a book read­ing of Peter Hoeg or a binge ses­sion of watch­ing Bor­gen.

And, yes, you prob­a­bly have picked up some­thing else there. The Danes are nail­ing TV se­ries ( Bor­gen, The Bridge, The Killing) and they’re not do­ing too badly at dark fiction ei­ther — but, hey, they have a lot of dark­ness to draw from.

It’s not as if we feel ag­grieved that they took one of our Tasmanian lassies for a fu­ture queen; it’s not even a prob­lem that they’re get­ting more tourists than us or that they make a bet­ter liver paste — it’s just that they’ve stolen our mo­ment of in­ter­na­tional envy.

This sum­mer we will tod­dle off to the beach; we will have friends around for bar­be­cues; we will wres­tle with sharks, fight fires and down the best craft beer in the world. And no one will be watch­ing. There will be no CNN cov­er­age of Down Un­der, and so­cial me­dia streams will be full of recipes for glogg rather than pho­tos of Aus­tralians grog­ging on.

If there is one con­so­la­tion it is this: if the world feels like a hug be­side a hearth rather than a beer in the sun­shine, then the world is not in a good space. It’s not so much that we have slipped down in world es­teem; it’s more that the world’s self-es­teem is in a dark place.

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