For the uninitiated, Scandinavia is a collection of three nations – Sweden, Denmark and Norway. A simple way to remember them is that these are those countries whose flags are plain coloured with an off-centre cross spanning across the entire space of the rectangle. You might have noticed, however, that the Icelandic and Finnish flags share an identical geometrical layout. It is therefore quite common for most to regard Scandinavia to comprise Iceland and Finland too. Not the case. A reference to all five nations would more appropriately be “Nordic”. [I once went to a Scandinavian fair in London which included Estonia, despite the different flag orientation. I’ve since visited too, and my sense is that Estonia may perhaps be more Eastern European (both geographically and in feel). I think factually Estonia would be excluded.]
(HARDLY A) HISTORY I don’t have any deeper knowledge on Nordic history, so I shan’t even attempt to write further on this matter! I would hazard a guess that you wouldn’t be too far off if you started reading up on the chronicles of the Vikings. The History Channel TV series “Vikings” is also recommended, despite a high likelihood of dramatisation for entertainment purpose. I find ancient Nordic history very curious indeed, so a trip to immerse myself in this somewhat mythical past is truly appealing. THE APPEAL OF SCANDINAVIA It’s almost too easy to develop an obsession over all things Scandinavian. In recent years, Scandinavia (and to a lesser extent Nordic) as a brand appears to have achieved cult status due to its clearly defined identity and perhaps a self-serving prestige. People around the world have come to associate Scandinavian “products” or “design” as stylish, expensive and practical.
It is difficult to refute the attractiveness of a world that grounds itself in simplicity and being at one with nature. Utopia maybe? If there is a marketing mastermind to all of this, I’d say it’s pretty genius. Scandinavia has pervasive influence on modern culture too. To name a few: IKEA (the giant Swedish DIY furniture chain); Absolut Vodka (Swedish, distinctive in its endless list of flavours and creative bottle art); Noma (Danish, once the world’s number one restaurant) and an abundance of cutting edge designers who tirelessly race each other in defining the look and feel of the 21st century home. Tell me if you don’t get a sudden urge to “Scandinavian-ise” your home from a quick look at the ultra modern and sleek creations of Design House Stockholm! Even the Disney-produced massively popular animation “Frozen” heavily draws inspiration from Norwegian folk-art and the astonishing beauty of the Norwegian natural landscape. Finally, let’s not forget the portrayal of the Scandinavian community to the world. They are seemingly widely regarded as being highly educated, very happy and peaceful. A somewhat recent but rare incidence of violence is the explosion of a car bomb in Oslo (Norway’s capital) and the shooting massacre on the neighbouring Norwegian island Utøya in 2011 absolutely stunned the nation and the world. The fact that these events are being labelled the most horrific since World War II further illustrates this point. In my travels to the various Nordic capital cities, my encounters with their people were infallibly smiley and pleasant.
Finally, I think that a big part of the fascination with Scandinavia comes from how successfully, at a mere mention, it conjures up in the mind magical yet vivid images of the Northern Lights, winter wonderlands, and Santa Claus even! From my various visits to Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, I’ve noticed that the architecture in these cities tend to be mostly understated and minimalistic, but feature bold colours and distinctive design. These are places where bombast, age and extravagance of say Italy or France do not stare at you in the face. Scandinavia is an amazing (and probably my favourite) part of Europe. If you haven’t been, what’s keeping you?