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Post Appraising the Finns
Created by John Eipper on 03/13/19 2:04 PM

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Appraising the Finns (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 03/13/19 2:04 pm)

John E said this about the Finns: "Finland may have a model educational system, but they are not known as a particularly happy people. (Their suicide rate is higher than in the US.)"

I did detect a shade of... sadness? melancholy? overall. Perhaps we can blame the midnight sun for their sadness. The Swedes also have high suicide rates. Norwegians always seemed more aggressive and less sad to me, even before they became so oil rich. Another thing, I believe Finns are in general quite serious about life (perhaps they have tangled with the Russians too many times) and perhaps that is why they have a good quality of life. Not too much nonsense going on. They take care of business first, then comes entertainment. That is just my impression. As to drinking too much, give me a break.  Most Northern peoples drink way too much.  It's a cultural trait.

A few specifics regarding my work with the Finnish universities, I was brought in for the first time by Turku University to spill the beans about what I thought was important to successfully manage IT to enhance business innovation. But the Finnish universities were working quite closely, so at my presentations faculty from other universities were present. My wife and I went all over Finland all the way to Rovaiemi, hoping to personally meet Santa.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the Finns is that they seemed to have good balance between working hard on something and being sociable. They were always friendly, the higher-ups were very kind and some were extremely charming. Like most people they try to keep work and personal life separately, but after work many times we dined with a family. To me and my wife it was a delightful experience.

Some years earlier, I almost took an endowed chair to do research in Sweden. It was a joint position created by two universities. I really wanted to go but my wife and kids were scared and put a stop to my dream. This first visit to Finland some months later made my wife change her mind and agree to move. Of course, it was too late.

A few years later and much cooperative work done the Finns were kind enough to offer me a job, but I could not take it because the American-Finnish salary difference was close to a third. So here I have been.

JE comments: With lower salaries and a (much) higher cost of living, how do Finnish academics get by? A deeper social net only goes so far.

The Finns are a tiny people (not physically of course, but in numbers) who have been dominated by Russia and before that, Sweden.  This legacy could have resulted in post-colonial dysfunction, but the Finns have prospered.  Is it pluck?  The rousing anthems of Sibelius?  Or...an emphasis on education?

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  • Drinking with the Finns (John Heelan, UK 03/15/19 3:27 AM)
    Tor Guimaraes's comment of March 13th brought back two Finland memories.

    Guesting as a lecturer on strategic thinking in IT, I once had to give that lecture in a sauna where all my students were recovering from a party the previous night. The other memory is of a large Finnish friend whose Viking genes were obvious. We were drinking in an hotel bar when his stentorian voice demanded "More Wodka!" "More Wodka--now!"

    As to the perils of "Wodka," I dined in a good Russian restaurant in Helsinki with a French friend, so we were tempted to try some of the vodkas on the drinks list. Maybe we tried too many because when we stood up, the room swayed a bit.

    JE comments: I've taught in all sorts of challenging environments, but a sauna?  John, if I may pry, what was, er, the "dress code"?

    Prof. Hilton would not have approved:  "Gentlemen will wear jackets and ties..."


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    • With the Finns, Shake Off Those Stereotypes! (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/15/19 11:55 AM)
      I find it odd that anyone thinks that Finns are "unhappy." I am spending about half my time in Finland these days, and I don't find them unhappy at all. Like the Germans, they don't have the same sense of humor some other of us find in other nations (like the Brits or the Russians), so they seem reserved, overly serious, and slow to us (they appear that way even to themselves). But unhappy? I would never say that. In fact last year a UN report named Finland as the happiest country in the world:


      As to how they get by on their salaries--well, their material standard of life is actually quite good. Their salaries have greatly increased in the last 20 years and are not so much behind those in the US, as far as I can tell. Certainly it is very expensive to hire a Finnish person, as I am experiencing painfully. The Finns pay low corporate income and capital gains taxes, and entrepreneurship is favoured in many ways, including the possibility of having two years of your previous salary paid by the state, in case you leave a job to start a new business. They pay relatively high income taxes, but these taxes are not actually so high when you consider that about half of them are paid directly to your municipality which delivers concrete services for that money, services which most of the rest of us pay for out of our savings. Health care is very good (so good that unlike in the UK, there is little demand for private health care), covers everyone, and is almost free, education is free, including in any private school of your choice, so a much greater proportion of your income is actually disposable. Housing is very high quality indeed, and is far cheaper than in most of the rest of the developed world, and particularly places like the UK, and is not in shortage even in Helsinki. Finland has a highly developed merchant building industry, and Finland has an enlightened pro-growth city planning process which ensures that there is an adequate supply of land for the production of new housing. Most Finns have country houses besides their principle residences--they have exactly the same dacha culture as the Russians.

      In short, Finland, despite various economic challenges which hit the country one after the other (the collapse of Nokia; sanctions on Russia; collapse of the paper industry) is a remarkably successful society, lacking a whole list of problems which plague many other European countries, and is altogether a great place to live.

      The suicide rate in Finland is actually almost exactly the same as the US (13.8 per 100,000 in 2016 vs 13.7), and Sweden is now 11.7, below France and not that much more than Ireland (10.9).

      All data from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate#List_by_the_World_Health_Organization_(2016)

      So, shake off those stereotypes!

      JE comments:  Yes, Cameron, debunking assumptions is what WAIS does best!  Kiitos. Next up, a guest post on Finland's education system, thanks to Hank Levin (and his colleague at Columbia, Sam Abrams).

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    • Finland's Sauna Culture (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/18/19 3:45 AM)
      A good introduction to Finnish sauna culture is here:



      This culture is shared with Russians, who have almost identical customs, and goes back to ancient times. The Russian word for sauna is banya, which means basically "bath," which is a clue that sauna/banya is the prototypical bathing process on those countries. English people visiting Russia in the middle ages often remarked on the barbaric Russian practice of bathing almost every day! When in Western Europe baths were taken as seldom as once a year. The impression of barbarism of course was mutual.

      Like many Russians and Finns, I have a separate banya at my dacha, a separate small building of logs (virgin pine logs brought from Siberia), with the parilka or hot room heated by a log fire in a furnace accessible from the other side of the wall. Next to the parilka is a wet room, with a drain in the middle of it, a large oaken barrel full of ice cold water, and a shower which sprays right onto the floor--the whole room is "wet." Then there is a small kitchen and a small room with three couches arranged around a big fireplace where in winter, you rest and cool down between the hot phases (in the winter, you might roll naked in the snow before that).

      The whole process is an exquisite purifying ritual, lasting several hours, almost a religious experience, and indeed the Finns often say that one should behave in sauna, as if in church. Alcohol has no place in a proper sauna/banya, nor do clothes (to answer John's question), which get checked at the entrance as guns used to get checked when one entered a saloon.

      Nudity is not entirely casual--families bathe all together, same sex friends do so without a thought, even same-sex strangers in a public sauna. Strangers of opposite sex do not typically bathe together, but might. Friends of opposite sex might bathe together, but more typically a mixed-sex group of friends will break up by sex and bathe women first, then men, etc.

      The Finnish Tourist Board site I linked above says that sex has no place in sauna, but that is not entirely true. It was an ancient Russian tradition that husband and wife would bathe together at least weekly before making love in their banya while the children were busy with something else--a tradition which must have continued for some time, as it is depicted in Mikhailkov's movie Burnt By the Sun. I have never heard of this practice in Finland, but considering the apparently total commonality of bathing culture in Russia and Finland, this must have been practiced there as well. I do know that the sauna was where all Finnish women gave birth, before the development of the public health system, and in both Russian and Finland, babies were born, and often people were taken to die, in the banya/sauna.

      Typical furniture of a sauna or banya goes back to pre-indoor plumbing days and includes buckets and barrels which might be used in case water is brought from a well or lake, as if those were fond memories. Rain barrels are common, as rain water is thought to be best for washing in.

      Incidentally the "wet room" part of the Russian banya, survives today in Finnish domestic architecture, although it no longer exists in Russia except in the banya. Finnish bathrooms are to this day mostly arranged like that--no shower cabin, no bathtub, just a shower head on the wall which sprays out right on the floor. The room is very generous in size compared to our bathrooms, even in quite modest homes, as if bathing is not a process one wants to do in cramped, ungenerous space. Even in quite modest Finnish homes, the bathroom may be equipped with a small sauna.

      JE comments:  I thought I knew my saunas, but the birthing, dying, and love-making facets of the culture are new to me.  (All three of the above, as well as the intense heat itself, can take a toll on the ol' ticker.)

      Cameron Sawyer mentions how Western visitors to Russia were shocked by the bathing culture.  Christians had the same reaction to the Muslim baths in Spain and elsewhere, as well as to the Mexica/Aztec baths in Mexico.  There's a book to be written here.  My working title:  Filthiness is Next to Godliness.

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      • Fast Finns: Bottas, Raikkonen (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 03/18/19 11:49 AM)
        Ric Mauricio writes:

        On the subject of Finns, congratulations to Valtteri Bottas for winning the Australian GP yesterday, the first race of the season. My favorite driver, Kimi Raikkonen, came in 8th. That's pretty good, considering he is in a car that is not expected to do as well as a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull Honda.

        But addressing Cameron's comment that Finns may appear "overly serious, somewhat reserved and slow," I would venture to say that Kimi is not slow and I love his sense of humor.

        Here are a few examples from Kimi: "I read somewhere that I drive with the luck of a drunk." Interviewer: "The most exciting moment during the race weekend?" Kimi: "I think it's the race start, always." Interviewer: "The most boring?" Kimi: "Now." Interviewer: "Do you have any special rituals when the helmet is concerned like many have?" Kimi: "I wipe it so that I can see better." "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing," in response to his race engineer continuously telling him about the race.

        JE comments: Kimi-isms? And what is the deal with Flying Finns?  Has any nation so small produced so many top-level drivers?  To Bottas and Raikkonen, still active in Formula I, we should add veterans Mika Hakkinnen and Keke Rosberg, both world champions.  And the Finns dominated World Rallying for years, until the sport was taken over by guys named Sébastien from France. 

        One theory:  Finns learn to master icy roads, which teaches car control.  But perhaps this is a weak theory, as Michiganders never learn to drive in the snow. 

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        • Finn Finale: Why Do Finns "Fly"? (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 03/25/19 2:11 PM)

          Ric Mauricio writes:

          Are we truly finnished with discussing the Finns?

          JE asked why such a small nation (geographically and demographically) could produce so many champions in Formula I. John's theory of Finns mastering icy roads also came up in my mind as a reason.

          But that outsize production of champions is even more pronounced when comparing to other nations. Ten drivers from the UK have produced 18 titles, including the current champion, Lewis Hamilton with 5. Sterling Moss was greatest driver never to win a world championship. Wee Scotland is included and produced my earliest favorite driver, Jim Clark and the driver most responsible for more safety standards in F1, Jackie Stewart. So although the UK is small in size geographically compared to other nations, it has produced the most champions.

          But per capital (population), the Finns are the most productive, hands down. They have 3 champions producing 4 championships. One can even argue there is a 4th Finn, Nico Rosberg, son of Kiki, but since he had to choose only one nation and was born in Germany, he chose Germany. Thus Germany has 3 champions producing 12 championships, which of course, includes 7-time champion, Michael Schumacher and 4-time champion, Sebastian Vettel as well as Nico. Germany, of course, is a bigger country and produces the Mercedes engines and teams (although, it is headquartered in the UK).

          A country that has produced 3 champions and 8 championships is Brazil, including the great Ayrton Senna. One could combine Argentina with Brazil to discuss Latin American champions. So the addition of 5-time world champion Argentine Juan Manual Fangio (he won 50% of his races) would have Latin America at 4 champions and 13 championships.

          What really surprised me is Italy, with 2 champions and 3 championships. Home to the great Ferrari team (as well as Maserati and Lamborghini), the first championship was won by Giuseppe Farina in 1950 and the last Italian to win a championship was Alberto Ascari in 1953. Eugenio, how can Italy produce the greatest racing car in F1 and yet not have an Italian champion in 65 years?

          The US has only 2 champions with 2 championships. I met Phil Hill, who won the championship in 1961. He was just walking around at the Car Show and I recognized him and said hello and talked for a few minutes. Nice guy. Then there is Mario Andretti, who won in 1978. I guess Italy could claim him, since he was born in Italy. Mario's son, Michael tried, but it proved too much strain on his family life, so didn't quite happen. Besides, we have the similar open wheel racing in the IndyCar series, including the Indianapolis 500.

          Another surprise is that Spain has only 1 champion with 2 championships. Fernando Alonso.

          Well, I guess we are now finnished discussing the Finns. Hei sitten.

          JE comments:  Finns are never finite, Ric!  A couple of days ago Michael Sullivan wrote to point out the recent collapse of the Finnish government.  The center-right PM, Juha Sipilä, resigned after failing to achieve reforms on health care.  New elections will be held on April 14th.  And WAIS will be watching.

          Finns are funn.

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      • Finland's Tango Mania (Leo Goldberger, USA 03/18/19 12:22 PM)
        Perhaps a little-known feature of Finland is the unexpected popularity of the Tango (see link for an upcoming tango festival there):


        From my visits--albeit some years ago-- I recall large commercial dance halls in Helsinki where men lined up against the wall facing the array of women on the other side as dance partners that were chosen (first come, first served) at the sound of a whistle. The men were screened for alcoholic breath and required to dance at an arms length from their partner.

        My Finnish psychiatrist-friend explained that this sort of potential
        "dating site" was the only venue in which a Finn might make contact in
        approaching the opposite sex--unless, of course, he had hit the bottle

        No doubt doing the tango would add to the overall happiness
        index, though the relatively high suicide rate in Finland is still
        quite troubling and might well be connected with the stress of
        loneliness and social contact issues that some Scandinavian
        psychiatrists have suggested as being quite prevalent in their
        respective countries--rather than simply the cold climate that has often
        been invoked as causal in some way. 

        JE comments:  Suomi Tango, who would have thunk it?  The festival is in September, so there's still time to work on your steps.  I just learned that the host city, Tampere (pop. 240,000), is the largest non-coastal city in any of the Nordic nations.

        So good to hear from you, Leo!

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    • Lecturing in a Sauna (John Heelan, UK 03/18/19 4:22 AM)
      John E asked about my experience of lecturing in a Finnish sauna.

      The dress code was a towel strategically placed to maintain modesty. However, I had problems using flip charts as they soon got saturated by the steam. Thankfully, I stood on my dignity and refused to run outside naked and roll in the snow as post-sauna tradition demands!

      JE comments: You're a hero, John. I've been teaching for 30+ years, but never in a towel.  In today's workplace climate, I'd be hauled before HR if I did.

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