Britain is a trading nation, the 10th largest goods exporter in the world and the fifth largest goods importer.
The world wants lots of what we’ve got and do best. One product, though, is strictly a one-way business: books on lifestyle advice drawing on national traditions.
Sadly, no other nation appears to want to know about the stiff upper lip, making the best of a bad job, always saying sorry or forming a queue, and the one attempt by publishers to market our great preoccupation with the weather. A short volume entitled And Now the Weather… A Celebration of our National Obsession (BBC Books, £9.99, buy here) remains out in the cold, currently ranking at 4,448 on Amazon’s bestseller list.
On the other hand, pertly packaged little guides from the rest of the world offering inspirational advice have become one the great publishing trends of the moment: ikigai from Japan, lagom from Sweden, lykke from Denmark and how to let go à la Française. This year it’s going to be all about sisu from the Finns, parenting German-style and coorie — the Scottish version of hygge.
Here’s our guide to the national pearls of wisdom we’re lapping up so eagerly, as we look for solutions to the extreme challenge of just staying calm, carrying on and being British.
Sisu from Finland
What is it? Sisu is all about shutting up and getting on with it. This mindset comes from a nation that has only been an independent country for 100 years and is used to having to fight off its neighbours on all sides, most recently the Soviets in 1939.
Pearl of wisdom: “This untranslatable term refers to a mix of courage, resilience, grit, tenacity and perseverance, characteristics that have shaped not just the fate of a nation but the individual lives of Finns on a daily basis,” says Joanna Nylund, author of Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage (February/Gaia, £10, buy here). More sisu manuals are coming.
In other words: It’s not all about me, myself, I. Stop feeling, start doing. Tricky for some.
Coorie from Scotland
What is it? Coorie — or cosagach in Gaelic — is the Scottish version of hygge. Think tatties and tartan, bothies and fisherman’s cottages, with sprinkles of whisky and salmon.
Pearl of wisdom: “While we’ve long enjoyed lifestyle trends from other countries it has been more difficult to identify a movement of our own,” says Glasgow-based journalist Gabriella Bennett, who has only just been signed up by her publisher.
In other words: Don’t go out in the driving rain of Storm Eleanor, stay in and drink scotch.
Ikigai from Japan
What is it? Discover the secrets of Japan’s centenarians! Prolific on the island of Okinawa, these inhabitants live longest thanks to feeling useful, drinking tea and eating only until they feel 80 per cent full. Japan is a fertile ground for life instruction: kakeibo is a money-saving technique which promises to cut your spending by 35 per cent just through being mindful, while Marie Kondo’s KonMari method has got us all folding clothes like origami in the hope of mastering the art of tidiness.
Pearl of wisdom: “It’s the happiness of always being busy. There is in fact no word in Japanese that means retire in the sense of leaving the workplace for good, as in English,” say Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (Hutchinson, £12.99, buy here), (spoiler alert, they’re not Japanese.).
In other words: You have decades of hard slog ahead and feeling permanently slightly peckish.
Lagom from Sweden
What is it? Have you ever noticed how the Swedish detective in Scandi noir dramas always keeps his or her cool, even in the face of extreme provocation? It’s because Sweden is the land of semi-skimmed milk — neither rich full-fat or watery skimmed. That’s lagom.
Pearl of wisdom: “Lagom is accepting an invitation to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, but bringing your own sheets because it’s fair to share the burden of laundry,” says Linnea Dunne, author of Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living (Gaia, £10, buy here). There are several Lagom guides which look almost the same.
In other words: Lutheran self-denial exhorting the virtues of being borderline boring and never bingeing. Where’s the fun in that?
Achtung Baby from Germany
What is it? The French, the Chinese, the Danes and the Dutch all think they know how to raise the happiest children. Now the Germans are getting in on the act with a new guide that promotes “free range” values such as independence, no academic pressure, no smacking and a bit of nudity.
Pearl of wisdom: “The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sandpit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?” writes Sara Zaske, American author of Achtung Baby: The German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children. (Piatkus, £14.99, buy here)
In other words: Chill! Stop being so competitive and helicoptering your kids.
Lykke from Denmark
What is it? Happiness, duh! The Danes consistently outrank other nations when it comes to perceived levels of life satisfaction, in spite of high taxation, thanks to superb welfare and education systems and a predilection for candles and warm cinnamon buns.
Pearl of wisdom: “Remember, Danes are the direct descendants of Vikings, so we enjoy watching things burn: bonfires, candles, villages. It’s all good,” so says hottie Dane, Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, obvs, and author of The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People by (Penguin, £9.99, buy here), his follow-up to the bestselling Little Book of Hygge.
In other words: Danes are good-looking, well-dressed and live in cool homes. They make the rest of us either want to puke, or emigrate there.
Letting Go from France
What is it? Stop, stop, stop! Stop meditating, stop minding, stop worrying, stop trying so bloody hard. The French after all, are masters of long-winded loquacity, so who better qualified to advise the rest of us on how to shut the f*** up?
Pearl of wisdom: “Learn to give yourself a break, and liberate the enthusiasm within you, without ever being ashamed of it. It’s proof that you’re alive! Start by not giving a s***!” says Fabrice Midal, whose C’est la Vie: The French Art of Letting Go (Seven Dials, £12.99, buy here) is all the talk of Paris.
In other words: When it comes to sprouting vapid rhetorical nonsense, the French still do it best. Zut alors!