Welcome to Finland, Spring 2008
We know that an average Finn has two kids. He or she lives in a city and earns 2628 Euros per month. But what does she (or he) really think?
The Finnish Business and Policy Forum (known to Finns as ”EVA”) have studied the attitudes and opinions of Finns for a quarter of a century. Here is an insider’s look at what the Finns think about life, happiness, taxes and foreign countries.
Let’s start with the good news: Finns seem rather pleased to be Finns. Eighty percent of the population thinks that it a delight and privilege to be a Finn. Roughly the same number of Finns considers themselves to be either very or quite happy.
Happiness consists of good health, family and friends, peace of mind and an interesting and challenging job. In other words, Finns are very much like other Europeans.
Despite being generally happy, Finns feel under a lot of pressure at work. Nine out of ten people feel that modern work is so fast-paced that ”people are in a constant danger of becoming burned-out”.
Wait a minute! How can one be happy and in danger of a burn-out at the same time? A possible explanation may be found in the wording of the question. When asked whether one is personally happy, Finns tend to say yes. When they are asked about people in general, they become a lot more pessimistic.
Let’s move to taxes. According to an old Finnish saying nothing is certain but death and taxes. But how about high taxes? Are they part of the Nordic Model?
Not necessarily. Only one fourth (27 percent) of people agree with the statement that ”high level of taxation is part of the Scandinavian welfare model and must therefore be accepted”. Half of the population (49%) is convinced that good public services can be financed through lower taxation. Only sixteen percent disagree. Seventy percent of the population (and 71 percent of social democratic supporters!) thinks that income tax rates are too high. And a vast majority is of the opinion that inheritance tax should be scrapped – as it already is in Sweden.
Finland was part of Sweden for hundreds of years. Cultural proximity is reflected in the surveys. Most Finns consider Sweden to be our closest partner. Estonia is not far away. Indeed, Estonia has once outranked Sweden as our closest neihgbour. This happened in 2004 when Estonia joined the European Union.
Finns do not much care for the foreign policy of present US administration. Only two percent of Finns agree with the statement that American foreign policy deserves the backing of the Finnish people.
When it comes to Russia, Finns are much more forgiving. Two thirds (63 percent) of Finns agree with the statement that ”Even if Russia has its own problems, there is no reason for Finns to have a negative attitude toward the big neighbour”. (An interesting detail is that supporters of the Left Alliance are the least critical of Russia. Their predecessors, the Finnish communists, were the most eager supporters of the Soviet Union. It seems that Russia’s transition from socialism to hyper-capitalism has not changed their views very much.)
But what do the Finns think about you, Dear Reader? (Provided that you are a foreign visitor to the country.) Well, do not expect an emotional welcome with open arms. More than half of the Finns agree with the following statement: ”The guarded attitude of the Finns toward foreigners is not due to ignorance or racism; it is a mark of prudence.” This may sound xenophobic – and maybe it is. Then again, Finns are not only guarded toward foreigners. They are guarded toward their countrymen as well. A piece of free advice: a drink or two has been known to lower the guards noticeably.