Helsinki-I was shirtless wearing a bulletproof vest and flannel pants at a party a few weeks ago here in Helsinki and was asked by a Finn what it was that I liked so much about Finland.
"The functionalism," I replied.
Things work here in Finland. You can get around and find what you are looking for and not have to worry about the water or food. Everything is clean. The air is breathable.
Interesting, said the Finn. He told me he was so used to such things he didn't notice them. He wanted to point out that things weren't perfect though. Alcoholism was huge problem.
True, but whenever I've seen a drunk person stumbling around in public they seemed well cared for and safe. They could wander around all they wanted and nobody was going to rob them or do anything more than help them be safe. At least once a week friends here say they see a drunk person on a metro or bus. The driver calls the police, who come to the next stop and asks the drunk if they need assistance. If the drunk is unresponsive the police first carry to the sidewalk the drunk's possessions and then the drunk themselves. The police watch the drunk for a moment as they try to figure out where they are. If the police decide the drunk needs further help, they take the drunk with them. If not, the drunk is allowed to wander home.
That's the more harmless side of the alcoholism in Finland. That's what is visible. What goes on behind closed doors is another thing. A trip to one of the local "dive" bars is to see a scattering of people sitting alone or with perhaps one other person sipping beers and not talking for hours, usually staring straight ahead. Nobody gets violent and most probably have jobs, but they are trying to dull themselves to something, be it the weather, an inactive life, or whatever else.
The alcoholism and a high suicide rate (the weather) aside, Finns are lucky. They are largely a homogeneous society. This cuts out many of the race problems that plague other nations. They are out of the way geopolitically and are not cursed with oil or gas.
Nokia and a range of technology, electronics, and manufacturing businesses have made the country wealthy, and largely all in the past forty years.
And the people. The Finns are a funny, funny group of people. They are into details. They like to talk about a single subject down through intricate details and then, because there is not a whole lot else to do, either take their dog for a walk or drink beer.
An American friend of mine who has lived in Helsinki for several years told me, "In Finnish society people take responsibility for their work and then get drunk. Its just kind of what they do so things keep going well."