An Idiot Abroad in Scandinavia Pt. 3 - Finland

There are a few things that I can say  in conversations that I believe will not be one-upped by that person in every group that is a one-upper.  Don't know what a one-upper is?  Imagine you're talking to people and you say something like, "Did you try that new restaurant downtown?  It was really good?"  The one-upper in the group will respond by saying, "Oh, I've gone there twenty times this week." or "I own that restaurant." 

So here are the things I can say that are hard to one-up:

1.  I once said "Holy Crap!" really loud in Westminster Cathedral in London.
2.  I took my wife to see Iron Maiden on her 18th birthday.
3.  I once spent an entire day with John Lithgow.
4.  I hiked to the summit of Pikes Peak in 6 hours.

and now...

4.  I did a bicycle tour of Helsinki, Finland.

First, I must tell you that Finland is awesome.  I realize that in the middle of February Finland might seem less than awesome because it's really far north and quite bleak,  but in July it is unbelievably beautiful. 

The bicycles that we rode in Finland were made by a Finnish company, Jopo.  You can order your own Jopo bike HERE.  They cost $695 because you're American and not Finnish.  That's how the Finns roll, man.  

Finnish people are fiercely nationalistic and  quite suspicious of things that aren't from Finland.  Our guide told us that if you showed a Finn a cucumber that was beautiful, large and awesome and told them it was from Spain, and then showed them a cucumber that was nasty, shriveled and twice the price and told them it was Finnish, they would buy the Finnish one before you could say, "Jopo." 

Our guide also told us that Finland is quite an hysterical country.  If a news broadcast proclaims a product as "bad," sales will plummet. 

Oh, and Finnish people pretty much hate the European Union.  Not all of them, but a lot.  In fact after their recent elections, the Finns woke to discover a very conservative party had won the parliamentary elections and was now "in charge."  No one admitted to voting for them though.  Their platform was based on two things: Get out of the E.U., and stop Immigration. 

But no one voted for them. 

Because everyone knows that the only kinds of people in the world who are truly intolerant and uncivilized are Tea Party Republicans in America.  

So, Finns couldn't possibly be conservative. 

Naw.

Here's something that really made me really think as I was riding my Jopo bike through Helsinki. 

Lots of people were on vacation.  Finns get six to eight weeks of vacation a year.  If a woman goes on maternity leave after giving birth, she gets one year at about 85% of her salary.  The father of a newborn gets 3 months paid leave.  Oh, and if you want, you can split the year of "maternity" leave between the parents. 

And there is a law that states that there needs to be a park with places for kids to play safely within a reasonable distance from every apartment building or housing development. 

And there's virtually free health care from cradle to grave, plus free education.  And clean streets.

How do the Finns pay for all of this stuff?  Their income taxes are around 35-40% our guide told us, but the tax code is complicated--designed to keep the populace from getting too rich or too poor, even though both do exist in Finland, according to our guide.

Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed to pieces, by the way.  So are a lot of other things.  I paid 23% sales tax on a bottle of Finnish beer.  It would have been twice that for something non-Finnish.  Oh, and on top of the sales tax that you pay as a consumer, the merchant has to pay the same amount as well.   So, yeah... that's double sales tax. 

Still, the system seems to work.  And I know that lots of people would love it to work here in America, but as I've written before there are lots of reasons why it won't.  In Finland's case, there are basically 5 million people total in the whole country.  There are more people than that living in and around Chicago.  Plus, they don't have millions of illegal immigrants.  They don't have state sponsored indigence.  Education is valued in every community.  They have national pride that seems to be shared by most people and not by just a few.  And they don't pick fights with people and spend tons of money on weapons and war.  What military they have guards their borders and deals with national issues of defense and protection of the populace. 

I would be willing to buy into a system like Finland's if I had any hope at all that our government wouldn't screw it up.  We all know that they would, though.  Seriously. 

When we were in Russia our Russian guide debunked the myth that Russians are all drunks who sit around chugging "wodka."  He said the real lushes of that part of the world were the Finns because they would travel to places like Russia and Estonia just to drink beer and alcohol that wasn't taxed so high.  He said on any given ferry between Helsinki and Tallin, Estonia there would be a huge group of Finns who would be face down on the deck within an hour after having drunk "two or three hundred bottles of beer per person."

I didn't notice any drunken Finns when I was in Estonia, so maybe he was full of it.

Oh, and like every other country in Scandinavia, everyone speaks English. 

And I ate reindeer in Helsinki... and I downed a warm Finnish beer that cost me $10.   

So it was a good tour. 

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