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A Structured Society Makes Life More Relaxed

Written By: mustikka on October 25, 2007 2 Comments

October 11, 2007

I’ve been wondering why life here seems so peaceful and relaxed even if I’m busy. I think the general framework of the society is so well defined, organized, and structured, that there’s room for individual freedom and creativity inside that structure. Since everything functions so well, an individual can take a deep breath and trust – or actually almost know – that it will work out.

Today, I went on-line to look up a couple of books I’d like to use for a paper I have to write. I took my list to the university library, and a kind librarian looked them up. Our library had none of them, but all could have been ordered from other Finnish university libraries. The librarian, however, suggested that I would walk up to the second floor to the acquisitions office and see if they’d order them for the Jyväskylä library. I did as told. The person I talked to thanked me for bringing up the point that the library didn’t carry books on ethnography even though a world-famous professor had just given a course on the topic. She asked me if they should reserve all four books for me and let me know when they are in. I just nodded (non-verbally shaking my head in disbelief). What service! I walked downstairs, gave the librarian a high-five for his excellent advice – and had a cup of coffee in the library café since I was ahead of my schedule.

Such well-run society has another side, though. Finns don’t really seem to know what they have. Most of it is taken for granted. I met with a professor at the English department, and we ended up discussing today’s students compared to those of our generation. The young Finns expect a lot. They’re used to certain standards. I have heard of parents of high school vegans complain about the lack of choices for daily (free!) lunch. Yes, vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerant students, or the ones with celiac disease, etc. can order a special lunch in advance. Also, the ‘unlucky’ students who end up living in a large student apartment (maybe maximum four students) where they would get an individual room but would have to share the kitchen and bathroom complain bitterly. No, a single student wants his/her own studio, and an unmarried couple wants a one-bedroom apartment. The rent is no problem since it’s low for student housing. The students receive loans and straight money, and studying is free. Everyone has health coverage, incredibly cheap meals: 2,35 euro (paid 50% by the government), and free gyms, pools, and opportunities for team sports. There are many young student couples with children. It is affordable, and they can manage fine. And it is delightful to see these parents ride a bike home from a doctoral seminar with a toddler in a bike seat. When I think of the doctoral students in our department at CAL, there are very few parents among them. I also keep thinking of how these young people would manage as students in the US. It would be a shock to have to share not just a house but a room – as well as pack a job into the student day. The professor I shared my views with is convinced that the system won’t be able to last as it is. The lintukoto – (a bird home = a mystical, magical place on the edge of the known world, according to the Finnish mythology – nowadays used for a safe haven; an isle of bliss) – will crash, according to her. – But still today, any student from anywhere in the world, can land in Finland, and if accepted into a university, may take advantage of all the benefits, get preferred housing (as a foreign student), study in English – but learn Finnish if s/he so desires, etc. Yes, very true as anyone might guess – there are countries in the world that have noticed this – and the visa applications are piling up.

Luckily, for me, most of the goodies are still in place. Unfortunately, I don’t have a basic student status, so I miss out on the best deals.

PS. For a studio apartment, the rent is about 240 euro a month. It includes cable, and laundry broadband facilities. Weekly private sauna is another 5 euro a month, and for another 6 you get a spot with a heater for your car.

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2 Responses to “A Structured Society Makes Life More Relaxed”

  1. markkaiser on: 25 October 2007 at 7:17 am

    Hi Sirpa!
    I have a couple of questions:
    1. Your comments on a “highly structured society” reminded me of Dostoevsky’s underground man and his rebellion against a structured happiness. Would you say that Finns’ notorious alcohol problems are a kind of rebellion against that highly structured society?
    2. The social services you describe are enviable. Why does your friend think that it will all come crashing down? I suspect that in a global economy, where Finnish goods are competing with similar products from Latin America, Turkey, etc., the cost of those Finnish goods is substantially higher, given the higher taxes that must be levied to pay for the social services.

  2. mustikka on: 27 October 2007 at 11:06 am

    Hi Mark,

    1. What an interesting thought! I should probably ask around. I don’t think happiness here is structured though. There’s just more space for ‘happiness’ – however we define the term.

    2. The main concern is that the population is getting older & older (in average). Who’s going to pay for all the baby-boomers to keep living at the level they’re used to? The country has done extremely well financially this year, but that doesn’t usually go on forever. I also think that the general ‘taking it all for granted’ attitude won’t help in the long run. As far as Finnish goods go, it’s the quality and the high level of know-how that are the assets here. There are lots and lots of cheap imports for all everyday necessities. Most people are willing to pay for quality – and also for organic, Finnish food, known to be ‘safe’.

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