Why Finland?

Article by Mariam Zhgenti, regional studies specialist

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would live in Finland, the country of 1000 lakes, I would not have believed it and considered him crazy. But it turns 8 years already that I have been living here. Everyone or almost everyone knows that Finland has the happiest people, that it is a social country with good education and health care. But what is Finland like from the inside? What kind of people live there, what kind of culture do they have? …

So why Finland? In a country where more than half of the 12 months are winter and cold, it is difficult to be open. Residents of Finland, like citizens of any other state, have their own oddities. For example, planning horizons. If you are used to spontaneity, you will have to forget about it in Finland. Unfortunately, its absence often makes our daily life boring. But do not be afraid, everything is not so bad, large groups of friends gather in cafes and restaurants on Fridays, many people like to sing karaoke, and Finns also like to dance. Even in small towns there are ‘discotheques’ where people of different ages gather on Saturdays to dance the waltz, bachata, foxtrot, and even Finnish tango, I know sounds a little bit strange, but it’s quite popular outside of Finland.

Everyone’s, including me, favorite summer entertainment is buying an ice cream in a van moving around the city. The ice cream machine with a toy sound, does several stops, making children from all houses come running to it. Van ice cream cannot be found in the store, you can only wonder when it will arrive and what kind of ice cream will be there. It looks very sincere and, in a good way, childish. After all, even the most adult person needs to be a child sometimes.

Finns, from my point of view, are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they are distant, but on the other, they take care of others, thinking through every small detail. When you dive into the books by Tove Janson, about funny little trolls, the heart is filled with warmth and a sense of home comfort. Try to read one by yourself and you will see how all the heroes of Moomin Valley love Moomin Dad and his family. No one can carelessly leave their place – feet keep bringing them back all the time. A person who describes the home with such a warmth and love, a priori, cannot be unsympathetic. It turns out, that Finns are quite vulnerable and emotional, but they show it moderately, trying not to disturb others. At all events, for example, guests are asked to inform photographers if they don’t want to be pictured. Did you know that in every supermarket there are small slot machines, all the losses of which, go back to society? Tell me now, what is better, to shout about how much you love your neighbor, but at the same time do nothing for him, or silently prove your love by actions?

On weekends, many cafes close at six in the evening, but Finns are taking this easily, realizing that service workers also want to engage in their favorite hobby or pay enough attention to their family. They treat the unemployed and people with disabilities with respect, providing them with all sorts of benefits and the opportunity to develop fully in society. In Finland, you will not meet homeless animals. The decision to take a new member into the family is made consciously, since the breeder puts emphasis not on the customer’s paying capacity, but on his psychological readiness to be responsible for a living being. We cannot pass by the reverent attitude of the Finns to nature and ecology. 99% of the garbage in Finland is recycled with benefit or gets a second life. All garbage is carefully sorted by residents. At the school, young citizens are taught to sort household waste into cardboard, paper, plastic, metal, bio-waste. In each shopping center, instead of one garbage container, there are at least three. You can take bottles to any department store and get money for it. You can either use them in the supermarket or send them to those who are in need. This reverent attitude to the environment awards Finns with water, as the water in Finland is the cleanest in the world. However, Finns drink more coffee than water and one of the reasons may be the short daylight hours, coupled with a difficult climate.  Here, even in local supermarkets, you can use a coffee machine for a nominal fee. Great stuff also is buttons for quality assessment. You can find them in many institutions. These buttons are invented by two Finns from Tampere. Now their invention is used by companies around the world. Mostly pleased is London Heathrow Airport, where they are used to cope with spot problems in the terminals.

Libraries deserve special attention as almost all universities/colleges/schools organize a book sweep at least once a year distributing all kinds of educational literature for free for several days, with the cute inscription ‘take me home’. People in Finland go to the libraries to read, do their homework, drink coffee, have lunch, meet friends, listen to records or watch a movie. In this regard, the Oodi is a great place, a new library in the heart of Helsinki provides an open space where you can implement everything from printing huge projects to sewing and playing PlayStation games. All this is practically free.

Have you ever heard of a mobile library? No… Then you need Finland, every book lover would scream with delight when he saw a seemingly unremarkable bus full of books from inside. A paradise on wheels for bookworms! The routes of mobile libraries are laid out so that they can stop at schools, nursing homes, hospitals — places with people who can’t drive a car. Even at McDonald’s, there is an option, you can choose a book instead of a toy when ordering a happy meal to achieve the status of the most widely reading country in the world. Everything here is connected, the chain consists of small parts intertwined with each other, one brick placed on top of another already creates a strong foundation for the construction of a solid house. This country has managed to build a system that has been working quite smoothly for so many years.

The Scandinavian interior is also distinguished by the coldness of colors, but usage of Iittala vases, comfortable Aalto chairs, Scandinavian chandeliers as a decor helps to make the atmosphere of a Finnish house comfier and cozier. Finns are fond of collecting arts. Here you will find many antique shops where you can wander indefinitely and find dishes, antique furniture, painting reproductions by artists for example such as Repin I.E. By the way, he lived and worked in Finland for a very long time. His exhibition is currently being held at the Ateneum Museum, in Helsinki.

The Finnish word Sisu, known to us from the literary masterpiece ‘Kalevala’, is an important feature of the Finnish national character. The resistance of a person who falls and rises every time causes admiration. How many people do you know who are able to dive into the sea in the middle of February, as if nothing had happened? Maybe that’s why the sauna is so loved by Finns. It allows you to warm not only the body, but also the soul!

Almost 100 years ago, this country started everything from scratch. With her hard work and perseverance, she has achieved the heights she has now. Thus, proving that the National Idea is not in a momentary courage, but in overcoming troubles by the rational behavior of society. The Winter War of 1939 and subsequent events are a good proof of this.

Finland is a kind of Scandinavian American Dream, where everyone has a chance and an opportunity to realize themselves, whether it is creating a small business or learning something new. You have the right to choose! The government carefully thinks out a plan for the society development and you can’t help but like it.

Concluding my story, I want though to write a few words about Finnish education. Since my daughter went to the first grade this year, this topic is relevant for me as I believe it’s something worth thinking about. Finnish teachers, checking children’s assignment, underline in green everything that is written correctly, leaving errors unadjusted. After all, it is always nice to realize that you are starting to write the story of your life without mistakes, isn’t?

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