Is it possible to call an entire nation cool? Is it fair to say one nation is cooler than another?
Given that most countries have their own share of murderers, tyrants and reality TV stars, the answer is unequivocally – yes.
To help sort the cool from the less fortunate, we’ve compiled this list of the hippest peoples on the planet. No easy task when faced with almost 250 possible candidates.
The main problem is, of course, every nationality in the world believes it is the coolest – with the exception of Canadians, who are far too self-deprecating for that sort of thing.
Ask a man from Kyrgyzstan which people cut the biggest dash and he will say, “the Kyrgyz.” Who knows (seriously, who would know?) he might be right.
Ask a Norwegian and he will carefully finish chewing his mouthful of Thai green curry, take a swig of Thai Singha beer, gaze wistfully across the Thai resort of Phuket at the sunshine that eludes his country for 10 months of the year, then mumble softly, with a semi-suicidal lack of conviction: “Norwegians.”
Equally perplexing is how to define cool. Are Italians cool because some wear tightly fitting designer suits? Are the Russians uncool because some favor outmoded sportswear and pro-wrestling hairstyles?
Are the Swiss too neutral to be cool or uncool?
Before you start punching your computer screen in nationalistic indignation at your own country’s omission from our cool list – or the lazy stereotypes it inevitably falls back on for cheap laughs – remember, if you care that much about being cool then you, valued reader, simply ain’t cool.
Given that their homeland straddles two continents, it should be no surprise that Turkish people have a fairly cool outlook on life, embracing a diverse range of cultures, cuisines and plumbing standards.
Bathroom fittings aside, the Turks display their rich heritage with casual pride – nowhere more so than in the shabby but breathtakingly beautiful city of Istanbul.
Icon of cool: Mahir Cagri. One of the Internet’s first global celebs, Cagri’s broken English overtures to women (particularly his catchphrase “I kiss you”) is believed to have inspired Borat.
Not so cool: The Turkish passion for mustaches gets up some people’s noses.
Yep, you read that right: Belgians.
OK, so it’s small, damp and has a grim rep as a haven for European Union bureaucrats. But a nation that has made art forms of beer, chocolate and, yes, finch warbling can’t be all bad.
Cool icon: Herman Van Rompuy. Gray hair, gray suit, but great name. The former prime minister and onetime European Union president also has a nifty sideline in poetry, hence the nickname, “Haiku Herman.”
Not so cool: No matter how you look at it, it’s still Belgium.
Like all pimps and players, you’ve never seen a Nepalese in a hurry to get anywhere. Yet from this mellow-gold group have also come the feared Nepalese Ghurkas, among the toughest fighting men in the world, and Sherpas, who you might know as semi-outdoorsy types.
Icon of cool: Tenzing Norgay. Reached summit of Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, but casually stepped aside and let his hiking buddy hog all the credit.
Not so cool: Draconian government regs and local ne’er-do-wells turn off a fair amount of travelers.
Any nationality so lazy it finds the need to abbreviate or shorten any word possible is definitely cool. Your mates Darren, Sharon and Barry become Daz, Shaz and Baz. The emphasis on brevity allows more time for breathing and drinking. After all, it is pretty hot most of the time.
Add to that beaches, barbecues and bikinis – yes they’re stereotypes, but for good reason – and Aussies lead one very cool existence. They have their own fauna, flora and “holier than thou” small-person syndrome that inspires them to take on anyone in sport, and more often that not, beat them. Cool? Fair bloody dinkum’! So cool are they, Australia is more than happy to keep Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Work that out.
Icon of cool: The frosted, cold beer stubby.
Not so cool: The warm stubby. And the gold bit of the Green and Gold – the Wallaby jersey and the Australia’s national one-day team’s World Cup outfit are downright embarrassing. The accent can be pretty cringe-worthy, too, depending on whom you ask.
Not the most obvious choice, but with a population of more than one billion, statistically China must have its fair share of cool people. Besides, it’s prudent to include the Chinese in any list like this because, if we didn’t, China’s resourceful hackers would simply crack into the site and add themselves anyway.
Not to mention, they’ve coolly managed to accumulate most of the world’s hard currency.
Icon of cool: Brother Sharp – a homeless man whose rugged good looks unwittingly made him an Internet fashion sensation.
Not so cool: Concept of personal privacy still largely unknown in the Middle Kingdom.
With a tax-evading Wesley Snipes and a vacationing Angelina Jolie entourage always a risk in Namibia, it falls to neighboring Botswana to pick up the regional cool crown.
So chilled it’s a wonder the Kalahari desert doesn’t frost over, the Batswana – as they prefer to be known – cut their own groove, particularly when riffing home-grown gumba-gumba jazz or laid-back hip hop.
Even the animals are relaxed in Botswana. Home to Africa’s largest elephant population, the country chooses not to fence in its wild beasts like some other safari nations.
Icon of cool: Mpule Kwelagobe. Crowned Miss Universe in 1999, Kwelagobe actually made good on those “I want to make the world a better place” pledges, campaigning relentlessly for HIV/AIDS awareness.
Not so cool: One of the worst HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world.
We’re clearly not talking about identically suited salarymen who obliterate the humiliation of their day jobs with drunken karaoke impersonations of Elvis at his sweaty best.
Japan’s torch of cool is defiantly held aloft by its shock-haired adolescents whose capricious embrace and manipulation of the freakiest aspects of modern consumerism, fashion and technology frequently dictate what the rest of the world will be wearing (we mean you, Lady Gaga) and doing with its thumbs.
Icon of cool: Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may have been the coolest-looking world leader ever, but fellow former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is our choice for leading man. Forget teenagers, this man knows style, particularly when it comes to shirts.
Not so cool: Japan’s legacy of mass conformity and aging population. The future is very gray.
Before everyone realized a couple of years ago that all that money wasn’t real, most of northern Europe was flocking to Spain to spend it on vacation homes.
Why? Because sun, sea, sand, siestas and sangria aside, Spain is cool – and so are the Spanish, who don’t even start the party until most other nations have gone to bed.
It’s a shame everyone had to go home.
Icon of cool: Javier Bardem. Antonio Banderas 2.0 bagged Penelope Cruz.
Not so cool: We still haven’t forgotten the Spanish Olympic basketball team’s slant-eyed “tribute” to China in 2008.
Ever ready to drink all comers under the table with never-ending rounds of soju-whiskey bombs – it’s a personal affront in Seoul if you don’t throw down “one shot!” on the spot – Koreans may be the best drinking buddies in the world.
As reigning leaders of nearly all current Asian pop culture trends – in music, fashion, film, Koreans dominate – they’ve earned the right to brag a little when that “one shot!” turns into 10 or 20.
Icon of cool: Park Chan-wook. The film director’s twisted visions freak out fellow countrymen, but have achieved cult status among emo film majors worldwide.
Not so cool: Kimchi breath.