Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Borgen Backlash; Are You Smorgas-Bored with All Things Norse? after Years of Affection for Their Schools, Their Food and Their Crime Fiction Our Love Has Turned Cold -- Even Our Torch for Birgitte Has Gone out. Sam Leith Joins the Anti-Scandis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Borgen Backlash; Are You Smorgas-Bored with All Things Norse? after Years of Affection for Their Schools, Their Food and Their Crime Fiction Our Love Has Turned Cold -- Even Our Torch for Birgitte Has Gone out. Sam Leith Joins the Anti-Scandis

Article excerpt

Byline: Sam Leith

ONCE upon a time, the natives of these islands looked to Scandinavia with a certain amount of apprehension.

It was from that general direction, we had learned, that longboats full of hairy, fish-smelling invaders would show up in order to lay waste to our womenfolk, mutilate our cattle and burn to the ground such crude buildings as we had managed to erect.

Since the 1970s, though, we've taken quite a different view. First we were infatuated with their pornography. Then came Abba, saunas, the oh-sopractical Volvo estate -- and a pervasive sense that for examples of everything that was sensible, equitable, efficient, liberal and pacific we needed to look only to our friends in Scandinavia. Even the Tories finally climbed aboard the bandwagon -- having their doubts about the extent of the Scandinavian welfare state but eagerly buying onto the whole "free schools" thing.

That is even before we take into account our embracing of their food (Denmark's Noma has long since eclipsed our own Fat Duck in the Best Restaurant in the World stakes), their flat-pack furniture and their crime. Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, The Killing, The Bridge ... we've had the national equivalent of a mancrush on Scandinavia for decades, and it has peaked in intensity most recently. It's even just been announced that we are to be treated to an English-language spin-off of Borgen on Radio 4 next month called Borgen: Outside the Castle, starring Tim Pigott-Smith as Hans Gammelgaard.

But now, something appears to be rotten -- sorry, I won't do that gag. I mean to ask: is the shine slightly coming off the Scandinavian smorgasbord? Is that gravadlax ever so slightly on the turn? There are even rumblings of discontent around Borgen, or Bore-gen as some viewers have dubbed it due to the drama's simplistic political analysis and soapy storylines. No surprise that ratings are down almost 20 per cent since season three began.

And take Scandi children.

Even as we seek to emulate Nordic liberal parenting models (Sweden was, in 1979, the first country in the world to ban corporal punishment), voices in Sweden itself are starting to wonder whether they have it all wrong. Psychiatrist and father of six David Eberhard has just written a book called How Children Took Power, arguing that Sweden's liberal approach to childcare is responsible for the country's rising truancy rates, declining position in international league tables and epidemic of anxiety disorders among young people.

"I wrote the book," says Eberhard, "because we have a debate in Sweden -- in English I think you call it helicopter parenting -- about what a Danish psychologist calls 'curling parents', where you sweep the ice for the kids. The parents do everything for them. You don't dare to say no to your kids.

"In Sweden, if a teacher says you are not allowed to have a mobile phone in classrooms, that is a controversial decision. They had a news clip about a school where they tried to insist that for one week, pupils should only use their mobile phones as phones. …

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