Spending Three Weeks in Finland Made Me Realize How Wretchedly Corrupt the US, UK, and Canada Are
Life doesn't have to be so miserable for the masses
I kissed my future wife in the summer of the seventh grade, and when, ten years later, I asked her Finnish father for her hand in marriage, I was informed the request needed to be made in the only proper Finnish context:
I had to ask her father for permission… butt-naked in his sauna.
He threw water on the rocks to roast me alive, then asked, “So, why do you want to marry my daughter?”
It’s been 25 years since Michelle last visited Finland — far too long for a Suomi to be away from her motherland — so I surprised her with a three-week trip in June.
Michelle and I have traveled to more than forty countries with our documentary work over the years. And I can now honestly say that Finland beats every other country we’ve visited in most categories. It really is a different conception of how to live.
I’d heard good things about Finland, but having lived in Canada and the UK and worked in the US, visiting Finland was an eye-opening experience. The CAD/US/UK way of living is downright disturbing compared to what I witnessed in Finland.
Here are eight major things that showed me how much work the US/UK/Canada need to do:
1. Fines are proportional
Have you ever noticed how often BMW and Mercedes drivers zoom past you on the highway?
That’s because speeding tickets don’t matter to the rich compared to the poor. If you make $5 million a year, a $300 ticket is the equivalent of fining a $50k earner just three bucks.
So instead, Finland fines people half a day’s salary. As a way of delivering social justice and equal impact of punishment, they’ve been using a system of income-based fines since the 1920s.
And it’s led to some gloriously massive fines:
The NHL player Teemu Selanne incurred a $39,000 fine.
A Finnish businessman named Reima Kuisla was fined $60,000 for driving 65 mph in a 50 zone.
A former director of Nokia named Anssi Vanjoki was fined $130,000 for speeding on his Harley Davidson
Needless to say, over 80% of Finns are in favor of this incredibly fair and schadenfreudenly brutal law.
2. Getting a passport takes minutes
Getting a passport in Canada is a huge pain in the butt.
You commute to a major city
You pay through the nose for parking
You arrive hot and sweaty at a crowded centralized passport bureau
You often wait for several hours
You have to have your reams of paperwork in perfect order or they send you home and you have to start all over again
If you do manage to get it right (including making sure there’s not a hint of happiness on your mugshot), you pay $160, then make the return commute-and-parking-and-waiting nonsense ten business days later. If you opt to receive the passport by mail, it’s twenty working days.
Meanwhile, in Finland, Michelle and I popped by the local police station on the way home from lunch, showed ID for her and baby Concord, paid €50, and picked up two new passports one working day later. The entire process took fourteen minutes.
3. Everything is walkable
Back in the sixties, Finland used to be the heart attack capital of the world. So they installed walking paths everywhere.
There were obviously other factors, but since then, cardiovascular disease has dropped by two-thirds.
These paths are everywhere and they are fabulous. Wider than the average car, these paths are open to walkers, joggers, cyclists, and scooterers (is that even a word?) Both in the million-person capital of Helsinki and in a town of 40,000 we visited for a week, everything a reasonable person could want was within a seven-minute walking radius:
three grocery stores (all with sushi buffets)
police station (that doubles as a passport office)
swim hall (with a military-grade workout gym, swimming pools, waterslides, hot pools with foot and shoulder massagers, and saunas, of course)
restaurants, bars, clubs, coffeeshops
seven ice cream stands within 250 yards (no joke — Finns are obsessed with ice cream. Pro-tip: Try the pear ice cream, it’s delectable.)
a lake (there are over 187,000 lakes in Finland)
walking trails galore
You honestly don’t need a car if you live in the average Finnish town, because each town is walkable, and all the towns are connected by cheap trains.
4. Cars don’t dominate the nation
Americans see driving as their top constitutional right, but Finland has made a point of de-prioritizing cars. I’ve never seen so many different forms of transport:
trains (cost to train from the airport to downtown: just €4.10)
bajillions of e-scooters that are activated with your phone and can be dumped anywhere when you’re finished
electric bicycles, motorbikes, light quads, and mopeds (all of which teenagers can use on roads)
electric unicycles (for real)
bicycles (they give the Dutch a run for their money. And yes, Finnish bicycle tires have ice studs for winter cycling.)
The beauty of all these alternate modes of transport is that car roads are way less busy and traffic is negligible.
Did I mention that any parent with a stroller can travel for free on all metros, buses, ferries, and trams in the capital area?
5. Parking is mostly free
The UK is a rent-seekers parasite paradise rife with feudal rentiers and is notorious for its parking fees. The UK is the only place in the world I’ve received a $118 fine for staying at a grocery store for too long.
Meanwhile, in Finland, most parking lots are free.
There just aren’t enough cars to generate demand and bid up the price of parking. We stayed in one city where you could pull up and park directly in front of a mall and parking for an unlimited amount of time for free. And do you know what? There was always a few empty spots available.
We did fine one parking rule at a library — you could only stay (for free) for up to 24 hours.
6. Kids are independent
The coddling of the American mind is real.
Free-range childhood is basically non-existent in North America, but in Finland, it’s just as Michelle remembers from being a child:
You constantly see kids as young as 5–7 walking to see their friends.
You see them taking the subway across town.
You see them dropping off glass bottles at the recycling machines in grocery stores.
You see them cycling home from school all by themselves.
Finland, like the US and UK and Canada, is incredibly safe. Child abduction rates are all all-time lows. But unlike the other three, Finnish parents aren’t freaked out by letting their kids go to the park or shopping mall.
Pretty much everyone in Finland is related, and they act like it.
7. Teens aren’t addicted to their phones
Teens rove in packs all over Finland, and you’ll rarely spot a kid on their phone.
And remember: This is Nokia nation, where most kids already had phones in the mid-nineties.
We went to the lakeside park on graduation day — there were hundreds of teens laughing and chatting and drinking and smoking and dancing and playing, and we spotted just two who were on their phones.
We asked a pair of teenagers why they weren’t on their phones. They laughed, and one girl replied, “When we’re at home we might be on our phones, but when we’re with our friends… we’re with our friends.”
Not only do Finnish teens spend less time on their phones versus US/UK/CAD teens, but the amount of time Finnish teens spend on their phones is — horror of horrors to the tech giants who rule the world — actually decreasing.
I have no idea how Finland has managed to keep their teens away from the hyper-addiction that consumes teens in the US/UK/Canada, but they need to export it ASAP.
Finnish kids seemed significantly happier and healthier. In fact, you rarely see an overweight Finnish teen. They’re so busy being sporty and social, going to the gym or pool, and reading quietly alone at the library, that they don’t have time to be fat and phone-addicted.
8. We didn’t see a single homeless person in three weeks
In most US, UK, and Canadian cities over 50,000, there are dozens of homeless people. In million-person cities, that number swells into the thousands.
Not in Finland.
Finland has half the homelessness compared to the US and UK and 7X less homelessness than verifiably-wretched old Canada. It’s the only EU nation in which homelessness rates are falling.
Because they have a no-brainer policy called Housing First.
Homeless? Let’s get you a permanent place to live.
Have a drug addiction? Let’s get you a permanent place to live and then get you drug treatment.
Mental illness? Let’s get you a permanent place to live and then book a psychiatrist.
Abusive partner? Housing first.
Finland’s Housing First policy is based on the horribly-wickedly-evil-communist-y belief that every human being is entitled to permanent shelter regardless of their personal or social challenges. People get housing before they solve their other problems, not afterward.
As you can imagine, it’s been wildly successful. Since they implemented Housing First in 2008, the number of long-term homeless people has decreased by more than half, and the number of rough sleepers has become practically zero. (They’ve also saved a barge-ton of money on emergency services, health care, and policing.)
It’s the sort of compassionate, human, righteous response to poverty that disgusts conservative Americans, Brits, and Canadians to their selfish, rotten little bones.
I haven’t even mentioned a bunch of other great things about Finland — the universal healthcare, the free university, the food quality that obliterates Canada and the States, the spick and span everything (the nation is virtually spotless), the libraries that are prettier than modern art galleries and allow you to borrow not only books but musical instruments, the fact that non-EU buyers have to get special permission from the Finnish Ministry of Defence to purchase real estate in Finland, the lack of CCTV cameras that dominate the UK, or that the honest pharmacy druggist told me “there is no cure for the common cold; we recommend lots of fluids and plenty of rest.”
But to be clear, Finland isn’t perfect:
They still have stoplights, so the UK wins with their roundabouts.
They’re still European, which means there are smokers everywhere.
Finnish genes struggle with booze metabolism, so there’s a lot of alcoholism.
You have to bag and tag all your fresh produce, which is incredibly annoying and a waste of plastic.
Land-lording and for-profit bankstering are still legal, and you get the sense that right-wing rules-free-market barbarians are at the gate, ready to corporatize all the public’s hard-won assets.
It’s dark and cold for half the year.
But politically, Finland is smashing the US, Canada, and the UK.
While most Western countries are engaged in a dog-eat-dog-survival-of-the-fittest death match, Finns are working together to make society better for everyone. It’s cleaner, happier, safer, and healthier.
Friends, we need to take care of each other.
We do this by taxing the rich — but not allowing the powerful to lord it over the poor and exploit every inch of their lives until they are ground to dust.
We do this by investing in the commons — but having lots of community-owned assets that deliver essential services at cost in order to radically improve average well-being.
We do this by having a different conception of life — that selflessness beats selfishness, that working together beats going it alone, and that we’re all in this together.
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