By Carmen Pekkarinen
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After 18 years in Scandinavia, there is much to love about Life In Finland blogger Carmen Pekkarinen’s new home.

The tax system

“WHAT?!” you ask … Yes, we pay very high taxes in Finland, but the taxation system itself is completely electronic and provided you give the information the authorities need regarding your income and deductions, tax returns are done for you. The only thing you are really responsible for is ensuring the numbers are right and claiming any deductions you are eligible for when you receive your tax proposal in the mail. The deadlines are reasonable and the information available in English is much, much better than before. Way back in 2000 I asked a friend for help with regards to filing a tax return; and while he was able to help there were some remaining questions. When I called the tax office to clarify, the woman on the other end of phone said: “You are already a part of the tax system in Finland, you are not required to do anything. Basically, you are Finn. No worries.” What a relief that was; the nightmare navigation of the tax system was put to an end right then and there.

Safety for kids

Utsjoki

No kidding: Finland is a great place to raise a child. Carmen Pekkarinen and her daughter explore Utsjoki.

Coming from a culture where parents fear for the safety of their kids as they play outside, I can say that I have grown a little more comfortable lately with the thought of letting my kid play outside on her own. Finland is indeed a pretty safe place for kids, though I still often feel I have to overcome my urge to be a helicopter parent. I still do a double take when I see small kids (probably no more than seven or eight years old) travelling on the bus by themselves in Espoo.

The at-your-own-risk culture

If you’re going to be a dummy and do something stupid in Finland, it is basically at your own risk. There are few waivers or forms to be signed in sports clubs, the participation fees also include the cost of insurance in case of injury. There are usually no signs in dangerous areas, for example, on fenced off high cliffs in tourist areas. If you’re going to be stupid enough to go to the edge of a cliff and fall off, you’re not going to be able to sue anyone. It just doesn’t work like that here. I appreciate the fact that I don’t have signs in my face informing me something is dangerous.

The moments when “you get it”

This is a language thing, but I can’t even describe the moments of satisfaction I have when I get a joke or actually understand most of a conversation in Finnish. I am happy that I can get by with many daily tasks in Finnish. But I usually still deal with tax issues, insurance issues and specialist doctors in English.

Daycare and school

In recent years Finland has been highlighted in global surveys as having one of the best education systems in the world. So much so, that people from around the world responsible for education in their home countries are visiting to Finland to find out the secret to success. I can think of a few reasons for Finland’s perceived success. Children are not expected to perform and conform, they actually get to play, and be kids. The teachers that have been a part of my daughter’s education are some of the dedicated professionals I have ever met. Teachers and early childhood educators are people to be incredibly thankful for in Finland. They work like donkeys to help shape our kids into who they are today.

Good healthcare … for the most part

I have some qualms with the way I was treated in regards to a serious elbow injury. But I once had a persistent doctor who insisted on following up on my complaints; a blood test pinpointed the problem immediately. In cases where I have paid for dental care or when I was pregnant, however, I have had really good service and treatment. The first time I ever saw my current dentist, she gave me a discount on my bill because my teeth are in such good shape. Now that was something to smile about.

Appearance is not how people measure me

I noticed this way back in 1997 when I came to Finland the first time. I am a bit overweight, not much, but I consider myself fit. Finns do not make much of one’s physical appearance. I was a bit squeamish about going to sauna with my relatives, but when I realised (way back then in 1997) that there was no self-consciousness regarding naked bodies, it was a poignant moment. This is still pretty pervasive even today, although the pressure to “look good” is a daily in your face thing and the so-called beauty industry has a turnover of millions of Euros a year in Finland.

The sport culture

Finland of course has a long history in organised sport. The country has its sporting heroes and so on, but how about the normal, everyday person? We run our own sports-related business and a teacher in Vantaa told my husband a couple years ago that a global activity survey indicated that Finnish kids, on average, move more than other kids until about the age of 13 and then physical activity declines steeply. I have observed that the over-30 set is getting its act together. Everyone in the fitness group I participate in is over 30. Heck, almost everyone is over 40! The majority of the participants of the annual Tour de Helsinki are also over 30. There are hundreds of women taking up hockey and ringette. It is fair to say that people move much more than they do where I come from, it’s part of the culture and I really like that.

Travelling

Koli National Park

Koli National Park (Photo by Krista Keltanen, Visit Finland).

It is pretty expensive to travel in Finland and from Finland to destinations abroad. That, unfortunately, is a fact of life. However, I have had many more opportunities to travel here in Finland than I ever did when I was living in Northern Ontario. Travelling back home didn’t feel like “tourism” I guess. In any case, there are tons of things to see and do, even here in Finland. My family has made a habit of travelling to a new destination in Finland every year, so in recent years I’ve been to Vaasa, Koli, Kuusamo and travelled the Turku Archipelago road. I am hoping to get to places like Suomussalmi, Salla, Sodankylä (for the Midnight Sun Film Festival), Enontekiö, Kittilä, Kuhmo; and someday hope to return to Ahvenanmaa, Hanko, Inari, Utsjoki, Nellim, Sevettijärvi, Kilpisjärvi, Phyä-Luosto and Kuusamo.

The libraries

It must be said, Finland has world-class libraries and they are a well-appreciated public service in this country.  The borrowing system is also available on the Internet, so we can renew books online. We also borrow music and DVDs now and then. I also used interlibrary loan services to get those hard to find books for school – efficient! The average Finn visits a library 10 times a year and borrows an average of 19 items annually. The library we frequent was opened in April 2009, and we love it.

Like I said, I am pretty easy to please, so these are some of the things I really like about Finland.

My Finland: Carmen’s favourite places

1) Espoo, where I live and work:

Espoo is underrated as a destination. There is so much to see and do here and it’s not hard to find new places to visit or things to do. The only thing that isn’t so nice right now is all the construction all over the place, but I am that the developments will benefits residents in many ways.

2) Utsjoki:

The scenery around Utsjoki is not nearly as dramatic as it is up in the Northwest, but something about it has caught my attention and it is one of my favourite places in the whole country.

3) Kilpisjärvi:

Malla Finland

Malla Strict Nature Reserve in Kilpisjärvi (Photo courtesy of Carmen Pekkarinen)

This is one place I want to go back to because a hike to Haltia (the highest point in Finland) is on my bucket list!

4) Ruka and area in the summer:

I visited there with my friend and went white-water rafting and hiking. It was fantastic and I really enjoyed the time I spent there!

5) Turku Archipelago:

Turku

Turku Archipelago on a summer day. (Photo by Carmen Pekkarinen)

There is a lot to see and do on the water and off. I think this area is worth far more time and effort because it is not so far away.

About the Author

Originally from Northern Ontario in Canada, Carmen Pekkarinen has lived in Finland since 1998. She lives and works in Espoo and aspires to be a lifelong learner.

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