As happy as Finns?
If there was a Eurovision Happiness contest, we can bet that Finland would get a magnificent “Twelve points”. This country is presented as the one where we are apparently the happiest and lots of media reports speak about it. Let’s us try to discover Finland such as it is by means of some French people who choose to live there.
They are called Axia, Augustin and Marion. They are young French people that studies, a loving meeting or both led to live at the edge of the Baltic.
Axia discovered Finland via an internship made during her educator’s training path specialized for young children. After graduation, her first escapade tempted her to return to Helsinki where she works today in a French-Finnish nursery school.
Augustin had met his girlfriend according to the Erasmus program a few years earlier. She is Finnish, so he is installed for more than two years now in the Finnish capital. A six month Erasmus course led Marion in Lapland where she met her companion and decided to stay one more year.
There’s no smoke without fire …
Is Finland a country of bliss? It seems that Finn are proud and happy of the lifestyle they chose and aware to protect it. When we speak about this northern country of 5.3 million inhabitants, some references return indefatigably. Are they clichés? Not really because it is about facts or practices which are clearly in the Finnish DNA; Fast overview of these essential features.
No matter what the weather looks like, Finns love nature. That is the way it is! They live in a land of thousand lakes and forests which cover 70 % of the territory. Augustin underlines with humour: “A happy Finn is a single Finn in the middle of wood “. In fact, most of the families possess a Mökki, small rustic chalet, often without water or electricity, near a lake and rather perfectly isolated. That is the archetypal holiday resort where we rush for the weekend or the holidays, passing time by picking blueberries and mushrooms, fishing and bathing.
Let’s forget the endless Finnish name of the legal concept which gives to each one here the common law to come and go freely in the natural spaces of the country. We ignore moreover if words as “barrier” or “fence” exist in Finnish, it will be necessary to check it yourself.
The nature enthralls and fascinates, especially during winter with its auroras borealis (revontulet in the Sami language) firing the sky and in summer with 70 days of continuous midnight sun in Lapland.
From her arrival in Rovaniemi in Lapland, Marion noticed the humility of Finns about the nature. “The Finnish nature is an excellent place to learn to know its limits but also to push away”. She evokes Sisu, a local expression describing the courage and the robustness. And we just understand what she means, when delivering a real-life anecdote “With -30 ° in the morning to go to work in bike, hair freezes immediately. The slightest hair around your face becomes ice”. Not for cold sensitive.
Did you ever heard about Rovaniemi? Yes, it is THE capital of Santa Claus (the real one) in Lapland. In the North of the country, it is the native region of the Sami, famous nomadic people and reindeer herders. If the Egyptians have pyramids and Pharaohs, Finnish mythology gives a good place to elves, sprites and to this nice bearded chap who deserves well a visit.
One thing which urges the media to set up this small country as a model, it is its education system. If Marion specifies “A remarkable system, the central point are the well-being of children and the equity”, Axia confirms its excellence by the example.
“Many things are thought for the children and the education system is really respectful of their rhythm and needs. At first, the maternity leave which borders one year without loss of salary and the parental leave accessible to the fathers for a long time already”. The young educator also underlines the way children are educated and associated to their natural environment from the youngest age. “In nursery schools, we go out at least twice a day during one hour, no matter the weather. It can be in a park or even in forest. And I was surprised very fast seeing how the children know the nature”.
The environment is used as a learning and socialization support. “Somewhere else, we could think it dangerous to let a kid climb a rock or not hygienic to play with some sand, not here.”
Finally, there is a word of the Finnish language that we know all: sauna. It is a real emblem of Finland. We consider it here as more effective than a shower especially as it does not cleanse only the body but also the spirit. Qualified as “medicine of the poor man “, the sauna is in Finland a rite marked with serenity and respect which plays an essential role in social relationships. The must being of course to have your sauna in a mökki and to have a swim in the very fresh waters of a lake immediately after …
If you do not want to test it, you will need a good excuse, especially as there are 3.3 million private and public saunas for 5.3 million inhabitants!
Less well-known facts…
A short informal summary of other characteristics of the Finnish culture has to be done.
If you think that the highlight of Scandinavian design comes from a big Swedish brand … you are wrong.
Number of concepts and objects appreciated all over the world arose from crazily creative brains of Finn designers and architects. The local inventiveness also concerns Angry Birds and others mobile apps universally known.
Among the specificities of Finland, Axia told us ” what also marked me here, it is that we can feel safe at any time, wherever “. That is a fact! the feeling of safety contributes to the quality of life which all our interlocutors underline.
Of course, the country remains little populated and relatively urbanized, but a world survey leaded by the Reader’s Digest shows a lot about the state of mind of Finn: on 12 fat wallets, deliberately dropped on public roads, 11 were spontaneously returned to their owners! (Ok, one is still missing)
Concerning comfort and quality of life, Augustin reminds us “the labor law leaves a lot of free time. Most of people leave their work between 16 and 17 pm. Here, the legal duration of work is scrupulously respected”.
Would it be due to the extreme temperatures? In any case, Finland holds the world record of coffee consumption and we can find coffee rooms everywhere.
We could add that the culinary scene of Helsinki is one of the best in Europe (Axia recommends you moreover to taste a salmon and potatoes soup on the marina), that the Finn water is the purest or that on 330 km of tracks, the season of ski lasts 6 months; Without forgetting that the Finnish ice hockey and heavy metal conquered aficionados all over the world.
Some of you could think that Finland has some defects, come on!
If the polar cold is considered as a defect, the answer is yes. But the magic beauty of the winter and the midnight sun compensate coldness.
Moreover, the harshness of the climate leads the inhabitants to simplicity both in their lifestyle and in social relationships. Augustin admits “that has good sides and inconveniences, with a very direct approach where certain confrontations with the Latin culture can be rather rough. Finns can sometimes seem to us aggressive in their communication. The polite phrases are useless, it is necessary to get straight to the point “. But he hurries to add that in spite of a quite distant approach, Finns are charming and will become faithful friends.
Objectively, Finnish language could be difficult to learn. Besides some endless words, any common or proper noun can spell in more than 200 grammatical forms there!
Let us admit that French is not easy either and let us feel reassured, most of the Finns speak English.
And then, you already know Mökki, Sisu and sauna …
And we get attached to this country
When we ask what connects them strongly to this country, our three French companions all evoke the variety and the beauty of the Finnish nature and a quality of life difficult to match. But each one has a more personal conclusion.
For Augustin, poet at times, it is “a rich but not snooty culture and the harsh but magnificent winter which transforms the appearing of first buds in a moment of intense happiness “.
For Axia, charmed, “the lifestyle suits me perfectly. I had come to be inspired by the education system and bring it back. But I discovered much more than that and had beautiful meetings which tempted me to return and not to leave any more “.
Marion and her Finnish companion Samuli, installed in France for some time, think of returning definitively to Lapland. “Obviously my companion, his family and my friends bind me strongly to Finland. But it is especially the country which deeply fit to my aspiration and my vision of the world”.