My home country Finland is known for its ‘thousands of lakes,’ the exact number of which is 187,888, its outstanding design and fully paid war reparations to the then Soviet Union after two wars during World War II.
People also associate Finland as the home land of Santa, the Moomin mother Tove Jansson and the famous architect, Alvar Aalto. It is widely known that we have the best education system in the world. But Finns are also known as heavy alcohol consumers, most of the intake taking place during the weekend and aiming at getting really smashed.
We are known as great coffee addicts, consuming 12 kg of coffee per person each year, when the annual world average is 1.3 kg per person. Perhaps the harsh climate is not so harsh when you are constantly high on caffeine.
The Finnish people, despite many outstanding achievements, often exhibit low self esteem and nervousness about what others think about them. There is a classical joke about this; An American, a Frenchman and a Finn encountered an elephant in the jungle. The American was concerned with the dollar worth of the magnificent animal, the Frenchman of the delicious food he could make of it, whereas the Finn’s main concern was what the elephant might think of him.
Finland is no longer mainly associated with heavy industry such as paper machines, ice breakers and giants in mobile phones.
These have now been largely replaced by soft values such as Santa, baby boxes (earlier called maternity packages), northern lights, education, mobile games, pulled oats (the meat replacement), Saara Aalto (singer and songwriter and X-Factor 2016 runner up) and basic income.
Of these, the baby boxes have evoked great international interest lately, especially in the UK. For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit with clothes, sheets and toys. This tradition that dates back to the 1938 s is designed to give all children in Finland an equal start in life. The box itself can be used as a first bed. To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.
Earlier, let’s say up to 1970, this box contained very basic, although much needed ‘postwar’ material. Nothing fancy, but just providing the essentials. Unbleached cotton bodysuits and shirts, wash basins, covers etc. I remember the first package I received in 1959 when my eldest son was born. To a young student and mother it all was very welcome. I still use the enamelled wash basin to scrub potatoes in our country house. For the next two kids the quality of the content and design of the products became
better, and today the articles are really nice, which I could see for myself when visiting my expectant granddaughter last autumn.
She got two different sleeping bags, shirts and bodysuits in nice colours, mittens and booties, bathing products, nappies bedding and a small mattress.
The Duchess of Cambridge was presented with a baby box by the Finnish Government when Prince George was born. According to the press the gift was much appreciated. Today, baby boxes are produced and distributed in England, and in Scotland they will be given free to all expectant mothers since the beginning of 2017.
I think we Finns should stop asking ourselves what the elephant
might think of us.