Finnish values in action

The Finns are an extremely conscientious and industrious race. It seems to be part of their national pride that they work hard and study seriously. On the whole, they have a very great respect for education and training and are always working towards long-term good, rather than short-term gain. These people are not lazy or indolent. If there is a job to be done, they just get on and do it with no small talk to interrupt.

Many claim that the Finns are the only people in the world, which can be given the job to do, come back 15 minutes later and discover that the job is done.

Finnish values in action

Integrity and Honesty

The Finns are extremely law-abiding; they are honest and have integrity. You will not be cheated out of any change. Similarly, they do not expect you to cheat them. You don’t have to wear your handbag padlock to your side, and if you were to leave your wallet in a restaurant, it would, more than likely, be returned intact. This relatively safe-from-robbery environment does not mean to say that the Finns take this for granted. They do secure their personal belongings and lock their doors. On the whole, Finland is a country where you can walk safely at night. There seems to be a sort of invisible authority that rules the lives of the Finns. It is certainly not a heavy-handed police presence, as one French man said about Finland, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a policeman in Finland, so I couldn’t describe one”.

Integrity and honesty in action: no one will check before you leave if you have drunk anything from a hotel mini-bar.

This national trait of obeying the rules means that their moral and ethical code is very black and white, without the elasticity of other nations. The Finns have only been in the EU for a few short years, and yet they are already discovering that if they want to survive, they are going to have to learn to bend the rules, just like everyone else. However, this does not sit happily with them. The Finns have a highly developed civic sense. As individuals, they act as they wish, as long as it is not against the common good. They are self-sufficient and independent, and keenly respect the rights of others to be independent. They intensely value their freedom and their personal space. However, they all realise that they have to take responsibility for this total freedom.

Interestingly, one Finnish political party suggested that should they be elected to power, they would reduce the tax burden on the ordinary Finnish citizen. This has not proved to be a popular and winning election policy, as the majority of the Finns believe this will increase the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Their deep-rooted sense of fairness and their belief in looking after those who are less fortunate than themselves means Finland is a country where few have too much and fewer have too little.

Hatred of Debt

Since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a rapid build-up of household debt in the Euro area, both in terms of ratio of debt to disposable income and debt to GDP. The ratio of household debt to disposable income rose by more than 50 per cent, reaching a ratio of 86 per cent by the end of 2004. Finland’s ratio, however, stood at 35 per cent, meaning it is one of the lowest debt-ridden countries in the EU (and industrialised nations). Also, Finns are the least likely to fall into arrears with any debt. Finns abhor debt at a personal level, refusing to buy on credit cards as a means to get what they want. They will, of course, take out loans for their homes. At the business level, a recent European survey showed the Finns pay faster than any other country, within a month of receiving them: 24 days on average. At government level, debt has continued its clear downward trend.

The chart below shows the EMU deficit (-) and debt of Finnish general government, per cent of GDP, as reported in August 2005 by Statistics Finland. The EMU debt describes general government debt to other sectors of the economy and to the rest of the world, and it is influenced by changes in both gross debt and internal debts of the general government.

Hatred of Debt

Reliability

Deriving from the values of honesty, integrity and hatred of debt comes the other solid characteristic the Finns value— reliability. You keep to time, deliver on deadline, and to the highest quality possible. Your reliability is defined by your competence and the fact that you never promise what you cannot deliver or do. You must never let the Finns down, and they will never let you down either. In Finland, your word is your bond—a statement is like a promise. A handshake on a deal is as good as a written contract. You say EXACTLY what you mean, and mean EXACTLY what you say. This means the Finns direct communication approach can seem rather rude to other cultures used to “softening” their approach. The Finns will never tell you what you want to hear and are confused by foreigners who seem to “lie”—this makes them mad.

Qualities of a Finnish Prime Minister

“Paavo Lipponen, the prime minister at cross-century, was voted the least charismatic Finnish politician; he shunned hype and small talk, preferring to do his job seriously. What country other than Finland would have fired the following prime minister, Anneli Jäätteenmäki, because she was guilty of a questionable untruth in her remarks to Parliament?”

—Richard Lewis, The Cultural Lone Wolf, 2005

Paavo Lipponen