I don’t just like to travel countries. I also like to understand them, to know what their problems are, or what were the solutions they once implemented to be what that country is today. Finland is a country that I learned and got to know a lot about, during my last travel blogtrip through the 101incredibleplaces blog, a country that I read about, asked questions about, and talked to its people when I could. What follows is a list of points that, in addition to drawing my attention, I think are curious aspects that I would like so many countries to learn from and imitate. Just ten things that (other countries) should learn from Finland:
1. Walk where you want
Before arriving in the country, I was surprised to read in tourist brochures about Finland recommendations to walk wherever you want, without fear and fear of doing it. The concept is called Jokamiehenoikeusan unwritten (or half-written) law that does not need paper, because it is a concept that is part of the country’s traditional culture: in Finland you can walk wherever you want (or almost).
(a photo while hiking the Karhunkierros trail in Finnish Lapland)
Simply, the rule is that in a country where everything is forest and lakes (by the thousands) and where there is so much nature, you are free to walk (on public or private land) as long as: 1. you do not bother passing near a house or a planted land 2. leave everything as you found it. And they even put it in the tourist brochures, that you walk wherever you want, explore without fear of anything other than your limitations. You can even spend the night, camp in a forest, along a road, etc. He told it in depth in an entry that you can read to delve into the “right to nature” that is practiced in the Nordic countries.
2. Not everything is paid
The previous point “walk where you want”, is part of a broader concept: “the right of access”. Not only is nature open and available to everyone, but also the museums and various public spaces. And this is transferred to many concepts related to the welfare state. In Finland there are many things that are “free”: the roads are national and do not have tolls, access to free education at all stages (and one of the best educational systems in the world). Even free education includes health care, a daily meal, school materials, transportation and extracurricular support classes (all free). What caught my attention in natural spaces, especially in National Parks, was the availability of trails with cabins and “public” shelters every few kilometers.
(Free and equipped cabins in National Parks, you simply have to arrive and find them unoccupied to be able to use them)
Some are equipped (yes, as it sounds, they can have: a wood or gas stove, a quantity of firewood that the government itself is responsible for supplying, tools, and it’s free) and in which it only remains to throw away the sleeping bag. And the most incredible thing is that they are located in idyllic places, in the middle of the forest, next to lakes where sunrise is a pleasure. All “free” or not so much, because the Finns trust “their state” and (I want to believe) their politicians, and for this they pay a lot of taxes, and have a very low level of corruption.
3. The simple life.
In a conversation with my hosts on the island of Kimito, I asked about what was the secret of Finland for many of the things that I have been naming, quality and free education, the social “harmony” that is breathed… The answer that I received gave (which was very convincing to me) is that in Finland there is a consensus about equality, that society is egalitarian in the best sense. You don’t see sumptuous houses, for example, the simple prevails. There is no marked difference between social classes (although there are people with a lot of money, the middle class and people who need help from the government), but these differences are not marked. The rich, in general, do not seem to want to display their wealth. There are summer houses of wealthy people that have a real latrine as a bathroom (which may have been like this for decades). And it’s not that they’re stingy, they just don’t need more than that. There is a culture of preserving and caring for what works, even if it is old. There is no accentuated consumerism (there are consumerist people, but according to my impressions, it is not what keeps most people awake at night being up to date, having the latest car, bicycle, the biggest house… and so on)
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4. Connect wherever you want.
In every city I visited in Finland, I was surprised by the ease with which the internet connection is offered. I have been in bars, restaurants, where almost every table has a plug, and Wi-Fi access is much more open than in other European countries. The concept of the “right of access” that I was talking about continues to be applied and adapted to the technological changes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And so we come to the fact that through a law, Finland guarantees access to broadband as a human right. It is the first country to take a measure of this kind and since mid-2010 every Finn has the right to broadband access with a guaranteed quality connection (obviously you have to pay for it, but wherever you live, you have the right to have that installed service). Each telecommunications operator is obliged to provide each residence and office with a good connection anywhere in the country. And what changes this? A lot, a high degree of use of new technologies, rapid incorporation of new technologies, and a boost to an innovative environment in a small country that has given birth to some of the technological giants of recent times.
5. Retreat to a cabin.
When you leave the big cities by bus, you can see how in a few minutes the cement changes into a forest, lakes… and cabins. It doesn’t matter that in the world the trend is for everyone to go live in big cities. The Finns are clear about it, that you should not lose contact with nature. Many families have a second home, which is usually a cabin (Mokki) in the middle of a forest or near a lake where they can retire for weekends or for a season.
Often they barely have the basics and the minimum, because nothing else is needed to connect with nature. Simple cabins, but too beautiful. And I could also notice how the Finns like to fix or build cabins with their own hands. It was remarkable the number of Finns working in their cabins, painting, mowing the lawn, and enjoying it.
6. Do nothing
And among so many cabins, simply enjoy the art of doing nothing, something that is recommended from the same tourist brochures that encourage you to walk wherever you want. Once installed in the middle of the forest, start a book, finish a book, put your feet up next to a fireplace, walk through the woods and enjoy the sunset of your life. Put your mind blank, disconnect, forget about TV, internet, and just look out the window.
7. Take a sauna bath.
And once you’re acclimated to doing nothing, you’re going into a Finnish trance, and that’s a good sauna session, or translated, spending some time sweating as part of a ritual. The word sauna is of Finnish origin. And in Finland there are 3 million saunas for little more than five million inhabitants. There are saunas that are located in apartments (with the revolution of the electric sauna heater) but the Finns appreciate the traditional, and stick with the wood-fired sauna, next to a lake, in the Baltic Sea or in the middle of an island.
(Taking a Baltic dip and sauna session with the hosts on Kimito Island)
The ideal is one hour alternating three sessions of 10 minutes with dives in the sea. And if it’s winter rolls in the snow. The sauna is a national institution and we must not forget what says “in the sauna as in the church, recollection is required”, although in practice it is not so.
8. Many with “little” before few with a lot.
In Finland I spent some time in Kimito driving through desolate roads where I could only find forests, lakes, and farms. Farms almost always with their houses painted red with white windows. Farms almost always the same, without fences or wires. Simple farms on small plots. And again the idea of «what more, if that’s enough?». But in that observation I sense that there is something more revealing. The “no more is needed” is an idea that implies not coveting huge plots of land, and furthermore, an atomized distribution and access to land where “everyone has” that little that is enough. Now, they will tell me that I am lowering the socialist line :P, but those thousands of simple farms speak of a country where ambitions seem to be tamed by millions of people with their feet on the ground, and who, furthermore, value that or feel it as something natural. At the other extreme I would put “countries where there are few who live with a lot, and many with little”, and I better save myself from giving names….
9. Do not always follow the herd.
And what about everything being so monotonous and predictable? Well, everything gets boring. And that’s where the particular Finnish sense of humor comes into play. If you’re in the middle of a forest with nothing to do, then try sitting on an anthill (so hinted at in another legendary tourist brochure). If you are 20 degrees below zero and bored, then you take off your clothes, sauna session and a dip in the Baltic. We must never lose the ability to surprise ourselves.
10. Keep everything simple, or seem so
In the middle of a forest there are places to make a fire, and firewood is available. But if what we needed was to cut smaller wood, there was a problem: we needed an axe. In Finland, what I was able to learn is that for every simple problem, there is a simple solution. And in this case, the solution was to look around to realize that a few meters away the government had left an ax for whoever needed it. But this idea of finding solutions to everything around you applies to every situation. If you are lost, just look for the sign that is probably a few meters from where a Finn calculated that someone might be missing. If I even joked and thought that in Finland, for every problem there is a solution a few meters away. Everything is made simple. And there is nothing to worry about. This is how I came to explain myself, too, the reason why the Finns live so relaxed.
This is as far as we have come, and I hope you can take note, because I think there is much to put into practice in other latitudes. I also clarify that it is not that I have the perfect vision of a country, far from it, I simply wanted to highlight these aspects (I think positive) of a country that I have loved.