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Why I love Finland (most of the time)

February 22, 2013

Okay, to redeem myself on a previous post, I thought I should mention the ten things that I like (or love) about Finland. I am pretty easy to please, so some of these things may seem trivial to others.

The tax system – “WHAT?” you ask… Yes, we pay very high taxes in Finland, but the taxation system itself is completely electronic and provided you give the information the authorities need regarding your income and deductions, tax returns are done for you. The only thing you are really responsible for is ensuring the numbers are right and claiming any deductions you are eligible for when you receive your tax proposal in the mail. The deadlines are reasonable and the information available in English is much, much better than before. Way back in 2000 I asked a friend for help with regards to filing a tax return; and while he was able to help there were some remaining questions. When I called the tax office to clarify, the woman on the other end of phone said, “You are already a part of the tax system in Finland, you are not required to do anything. Basically,” she said, “you are Finn. No worries.” What a relief that was, the nightmare navigation of the tax system was put to an end right then and there. I don’t deal with the tax authorities very often and I have the Mr. to help out as well. The one thing I appreciate is the control over how much tax I pay – let me explain. I always pay more than the basic amount stipulated on my tax card. A long time ago, I got burned when I changed jobs and had to pay a month’s worth of wages in taxes. That was a big oversight on my part, so I took the advice of my former boss and jacked up my tax percentage a few points. I always get a large return (albeit over a year later), and it is worth the wait.

Safety for kids – Coming from a culture where parents fear for the safety of their kids as they play outside, I can say that I have grown a little more comfortable lately with the thought of letting my kid play outside on her own. Finland is indeed a pretty safe place for kids, though I still often feel I have to overcome my urge to be a helicopter parent. I still do a double take when I see small kids (probably no more than seven or eight years old) travelling on the bus by themselves in Espoo.

The at your own risk culture – If you’re going to be a dumbass and do something stupid in Finland, it is basically at your own risk. There are few waivers or forms to be signed in sports clubs, the participation fees also include the cost of insurance in case of injury. (I can speak for this as a participant on my daughter’s ringette team.) There are usually no signs in dangerous areas, for example, on fenced off high cliffs in tourist areas. If you’re going to be stupid enough to go to the edge of a cliff and fall off, you’re not going to be able to sue anyone. It just doesn’t work like that here. I appreciate this: the fact that I don’t have signs in my face informing me something is dangerous.

The moments when “you get it” – This is a language thing, but I can’t even describe the moments of satisfaction I have when I get a joke or actually understand most of a conversation in Finnish. I am happy that I can get by with many daily tasks in Finnish. But as I have mentioned before issues with taxes and specialist doctors are usually held in English.

Daycare and school – In recent years Finland has been highlighted in global surveys as having one of the best education systems in the world. So much so, that people from around the world responsible for education in their home countries are visiting to Finland to find out the secret to success. I can think of a few reasons for Finland’s perceived success. Children are not expected to perform and conform, they actually get to play, and be kids. My experience with the education is minimal, but with the Little Miss set to start school in the near future, my contact with the system will increase.

Good health care – For the most part… I have had some qualms with the way I have been treated with regards to a serious elbow injury (more on that some other time). I once had a persistent doctor who insisted on following up on my complaints, a blood test pinpointed the problem immediately. In cases where I have paid for dental care or when I was pregnant, however, I have had really good service and treatment. The first time I ever saw my current dentist, she gave me a discount on my bill because my teeth are in such good shape. Now that was something to smile about.

My appearance is not what people measure about me – I noticed this way back in 1997 when I came to Finland the first time. I am a bit overweight, not much, but I consider myself fit – for the most part. Finns do not make much of one’s physical appearance. I was a bit squeamish about going to sauna with my relatives, but when I realized (way back then in 1997) that there was no self-consciousness regarding naked bodies, it was a poignant moment. This is still pretty pervasive even today, although the pressure to “look good” is a daily in your face thing and the so-called beauty industry has a turnover of millions of euros a year in Finland.

The sport culture – Finland of course has a long history in organized sport. The country has its sporting heroes and so on, but how about the normal, everyday person? The Mr. And I run our own sports-related business and a teacher in Vantaa told him a couple years ago that a global activity survey indicated that Finnish kids, on average, move more than other kids until about the age of 13 and then physical activity declines steeply. I have observed that the over-30 set is getting its act together. Everyone in the fitness group I participate in at work is over 30, heck – almost everyone is over 40! We’ve had some really good winters over the last few years with lots of snow. The skis are flying off the store shelves and it is mostly adults over 30 who are rediscovering their skiing skills who are buying them. The majority of the participants of the annual Tour de Helsinki are also over 30. It must be that the over-30 set realizes they need to get their act together and stay in shape! It is fair to say that people move much more than they do where I come from, it’s part of the culture and I really like that.

Public transit – Before you start complaining about it, I need to tell you – public transit was basically non-existent where I come from in northern Ontario. Helsinki Regional Traffic has put a tremendous effort into its online services and the Journey Planner, which I know a lot of people make use of (especially among the foreign crowd). Public transit may be expensive in Finland, but I am so glad we have it. A second car in our household would just not cut it. The secret to enduring public transit: always have something to read. I can tell you this, I have basically done my whole master’s degree on public transit, it has been the most uninterrupted time I have had over the last six years in order to get any reading done.

Travelling – It is pretty expensive to travel in Finland and from Finland to destinations abroad. That, unfortunately, is a fact of life. (I need someone to give me lessons in finding cheap airline tickets and last minute holidays!) However, I have had many more opportunities to travel here in Finland than I ever did when I was living in Northern Ontario. (But maybe travelling at home didn’t feel like “tourism”…?) In any case, there are tons of things to see and do, even here in Finland. I hope that Koli will be on our agenda this summer. And after 14 and half years, I still haven’t hit mainland Europe. I need to get out more!

The libraries – It must be said, Finland has world-class libraries and they are a well-appreciated public service in this country. The Little Miss fuels my visits to libraries and she enthusiastically piles up the books to borrow. It is not unheard of for me (as the library pack mule) to bring home more than 20 books in one visit.

books

The borrowing system is also available on the internet, so we can renew books online. We also borrow music and DVDs now and then. I have also used interlibrary loan services to get those hard to find books for school – efficient! The average Finn visits a library 10 times a year and borrows an average of 19 items annually. The library we frequent was opened in April 2009, and we love it. Here’s some additional information about Finnish libraries – here and here.

Like I said, I am pretty easy to please, so these are some of the things I really like about Finland.

So, what say you? What do you like about Finland?

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2013 10:09 am

    I love the walking/cycling paths in Finland, especially compared to Malaysia and Australia. There aren’t any cycling paths in Malaysia. In Australia, at least where I’m currently living now, cyclists 12 years and over are not permitted on footpaths unless it’s a designated shared path or when supervising another cyclist under 12. There are some nice cycling trails but I would have to ride on the road to get there.

    • anonymous permalink
      November 12, 2014 10:58 pm

      I should point out that in Finland, all paths are considered shared paths unless marked otherwise (I think). A child under 12 years of age may ride a bike on a footpath if he/she doesn’t cause undue disturbance.

  2. Martti K. permalink
    February 23, 2013 11:12 pm

    A little more on the public transportation.The connections in capital area do have a good coverage in spite of the cuts under economic pressure. That is not the situation everywhere in Finland. There are area where you simply don’t get anywhere without a car or a taxi cab and that can be pretty expensive if you services and shopping is 10 – 20 miles away. Somero is a prime example of that. It is about an hours drive from several major towns around it, but there are no direct bus lines to Somero and no railway either.

    One difference to North America is that there are routes for pedestrians and bicycles almost everywhere even along side the highways and byways. So if you want to you can get there on foot or on bicycle if you do not have a car.

  3. anonymous permalink
    February 24, 2013 5:18 pm

    The tax percentage you’re describing is called the withholding tax, withheld from each paycheck by the employer and paying it directly to the revenue service. The tax deduction card automatically has the right percentage based on previous years’ income, but if you have additional income that wasn’t withheld or earn enough to move to a higher tax bracket, you may end up having to pay back tax.

  4. anonymous permalink
    February 24, 2013 5:21 pm

    About getting it… do you read Fingerpori?

    • February 25, 2013 8:15 am

      Actually no, the slang in comic strips is sometimes very difficult…

  5. Sonia permalink
    February 25, 2013 1:31 am

    Hm, do I still – after 12 years? 😉 I’ll give it a try:

    1. Possibilities for adult education and (most) employers’ support of it – I like the offer, not always the content, the fact that it’s free (would not mind if there was a fee if the content was better) and that the employer is flexible to allow you studying.

    2. (Mostly) paper-free “bureaucracy” – not only tax office, but many other administration areas supported by electronic services. It has good and bad sites. If it works, it’s smooth. If it’s does not – don’t hope for a personal advice or service. I wish that Finns would understand why it’s lagging behind elsewhere – there are just more people/users and far higher effort to develop/maintain/make it work. Remember VR crashing?

    3. Handicraft everywhere 🙂 – well, calling it all “design” is exeggarating, but courses and workshops offer the most exotic handicraft disciplines. I like it!

    4. Workplace healthcare and well-being – (I respectfully disagreee with Carmen on the general, public health care, which is for me a nightmare). I am happy that the employer provides a good healthcare without queuing and other well-being offers, sports tickets, free gym groups or discounts. Not at every company, but still.

    5. Consequently following smoke-free “ideology” – I don’t mind someone smoking a cigarette, but I do enjoy that returning from a restaurant or bar is not a smelly issue anymore. And I liked how it was implemented – cut! Smoking stops in restaurants/bars – now. Full-stop. In Germany, there is still a fight, which area can still…, and perhaps…, and it’s not a bar, but a smokers club…

    I think it’s enough for now.

    Commenting on the public transportation, it may be good in the metropolitan area, but it’s next to non-existing elsewhere, maybe even only 50 km away from Helsinki. It just does not work and is highly overpriced. There is no rail connections closeby. There is no motivation to use public transport instead of a car. Other countries are far ahead with special offers to make travelling by public transport worthwhile. Secondly, I am sceptical about: “on your own risk” – no, there are no warning signs (and often places with broken, dangerous appliances), but there is a forest of prohibition signs all over. I was recently in a school and was overwhelmed by “don’t wear shoes” “don’t eat at this table”, “don’t leave your clothes”, “don’t enter from this side”, etc… Also, in traffic, there are no imperative signs, but prohibition signs. Example closeby: No “Go ahead” imperative sign, but “Don’t go left” and “Don’t go right” signs, because they have more impact on people here. Simply, prohibitions.

  6. Martti K. permalink
    February 25, 2013 11:20 pm

    You have not mentioned direct deposits. That is you get the net amount without any additional costs to your account with no chance of the cheque being lost in the mail.

    Unlike Canadian banks CPP with no direct deposit. First say each of your benefits is 140 CAD which after 20 % expatriate tax is withheld is something like 84 euros at the current exchange rate. A quick tour in local banks reveals that you will be stung with 11 – 30 euros minimum or maybe even more depending on the bank. That is more than what the taxman gets. Exaction I would say.

    Regarding health care I still recall the time when the health care was a service. When you though you needed health services eg to see a doctor you would go and get the service. The renewal of health care a few decades created also a monster. The number of patients increased and eventually it was not possible to let the health service consumer to decide if he or she would use the service. Now it is the service provider who decides what kind of service doctor, nurse or none at all should the consumer get and when should she or he get that. At the same time the costs have exploded so that some of the municipalities simply cannot handle their statutory obligations.

    They also make a big deal of the no show patients. That is said to require 600 doctors.
    The 5 – 20 patiens sitting a waiting room for 15 minutes or more apparently have lower pay than a single doctor.

    • February 28, 2013 9:49 am

      Wel Martti, direct deposit was already a big thing before I left Canada, so it didn’t cross my radar.

      • Martti K. permalink
        February 28, 2013 11:42 am

        Well, I get three cheques monthly and direct deposit is not an option yet. Two from CPP and one from a bank.
        The form where is submit my details does not have a place to give your bank account details. Instead it asks to include a void cheque. Have not had a checking account for 30 years.

        Yes, ten years ago I had no problems making direct deposit to Canadian account so it is working OK at this end and within EU the international transfers are quick and relatively cheap.

  7. Sonia permalink
    February 28, 2013 12:22 pm

    There is something good about Euro, we often tend to forget. True, for several years now, it has not been only easy (normal IBAN number insert into the same mask as any other online transfer), but also quick (< 3 working days), and costs as much as a national transfer with no fees to the receiver (basically for free if you use the OP-bonus for your bank account fees payments). Some banks still used to try to rip off the _receivers_ (earlier, the receiver had to pay something for getting the money unless the sender announced paying it all, which was especially a problem with web stores). As a safety rule, at least Osuuspankki sends you the requested code from your code number list to the mobile phone already for more than 50 Euros transfer unless the receivers data has already been stored in your profile earlier. It's a good thing, but makes you feel "criminal" whenever paying your shopping. I order a lot via internet, because the selection and prices are simply better (and often even service). Transfers within family went smooth too (can be even stored as reoccurring – this was not possible before).

  8. Taina permalink
    June 4, 2013 3:44 pm

    Ha, I knew there has to be something about ringette! I once won a game of Trivial Pursuit because I knew who Sam Jacks is. /flex

    • Martti K. permalink
      June 4, 2013 9:36 pm

      Which version of Trivial Pursuit?

  9. October 28, 2016 4:33 pm

    Really great post! I also love the cycling paths in Finland

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