10 Things For Which Finland Is The Best In The World
Based on the results of a 2010 study, America’s Newsweek magazine rated Finland as the ‘World’s Best Country’. Newsweek looked at 100 countries and compared their health, economy, education, quality of life and politics. Finland emerged in the top spot mainly by virtue of its strength in education and quality of life.
The accolade probably came as no surprise to the Finns; they are rightly proud of their country and its achievements. But it may have raised the eyebrows of outsiders, as very few people know much about this beautiful but comparatively remote part of Scandinavia. So let’s take a look at some of the things for which Finland is the best in the world (and some that Newsweek might have missed).
Reformed some 40 years ago, Finland’s education system has often been held up as the world’s best and it has regularly performed well in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), topping the rankings in 2000, 2003 and 2006.
For many educators, Finland’s success has been a surprise. Visitors to Finland’s schools will find a very casual approach to education. Students are not required to wear uniform and are frequently on first name terms with their teachers; students are not streamed according to ability; school hours are shorter than in most developed countries; spending on education per head is less than in many countries; and, there is very little homework.
But, Finland boasts excellent student-teacher ratios and education at all levels is free. Perhaps crucially, teachers are highly respected and around a quarter of Finnish youth identify teaching as their preferred career.
Although in 2013 Finland dropped in the PISA rankings, that is probably as much to do with other countries emulating Finnish methods or gearing their education to achieving good PISA results as it is to any failing in the Finnish system. Education in Finland remains a world leader and is something of which all Finns can be proud.
2. Helsinki – the world’s best city
City living is usually fast-paced and stressful, so the nicer the city the easier life will be. And it seems that Helsinki, capital of Finland could well be the best city in the world in which to live.
Taking together the international accolades that Helsinki has received in recent years, it is certainly a prime candidate for the title:
- 2009 – chosen by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design to be the 2012 World Design Capital.
- 2011 – ranked by Monocle magazine’s Quality of Life survey as the most liveable city in the world, being described as “An unorthodox but well-deserving champion, the Finnish capital stands out for its fundamental courage to rethink its urban ambitions, and for its possessing the talent, ideas and guts to pull it off.”
- 2012 – ranked 8th in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey.
- 2013 – found to be the world’ most honest city, just ahead of Mumbai, in a study by Reader’s Digest which counted how many deliberately placed wallets containing money were handed in. The residents of Helsinki handed in 11 of 12 wallets.
By modern standards, Helsinki is not a large city; its population is just over 600,00, while its greater metropolitan population is about double this figure. It is, however, an attractive mix of ancient and modern and with such honest people surely deserves to be called the world’s best city.
3. World-beating rally drivers
Since the World Rally Drivers’ Championship was first awarded in 1977, Finnish drivers have come out on top on no less than 14 occasions, three more than nearest rival France and as many as the other winning nations put together. No less than seven different Finnish drivers have been crowned champion, whereas only three French drivers have won with the superb Sebastien Loeb winning nine times in succession, from 2004 to 2012, to boost the French record of wins.
But no country comes close to having as many winners as Finland and names like Juha Kankkunen, Tommi Makinen and Marcus Gronholm are as familiar to world rally fans as David Beckham is to the football fraternity. It could be that Finland’s roads, many just gravel and covered in ice and snow in winter, are the perfect breeding grounds for world-class rally drivers. In any event, Finland has an enviable record for producing the world’s best.
4. The best place for a sauna
There can be nothing more Finnish than a sauna, that physical and spiritual cleansing of which some 99% of Finns partake at least once a week. Once a place where workers could soothe tired bodies, those about to be married would undergo purification rites, women would give birth (the soot lining of the traditional smoke saunas offering a natural resistance to bacteria) and the dead would be readied for burial, the sauna was virtually equivalent to a holy place.
The sauna is such an integral part of Finnish culture that it is practically a national pastime and it is reckoned that throughout the country there are around 3.3 million saunas to serve the needs of the 5.4 million people. You’ll find saunas everywhere in Finland: in private homes, apartment blocks offices, factories and hotels.
The Finns love their saunas and it is a great honour to be invited to one. Of course, it is not just steam, showers and birch twigs – afterwards, a few drinks and perhaps a snack are the norm. Finland is most certainly the sauna capital of the world and is the best place to experience this great tradition.
5. The best place to be a woman
While in many places around the world women still suffer discrimination or find it difficult to compete with men in the workplace, Finland is one of the world’s most egalitarian countries as far as women are concerned. Aside from being the first women in Europe to get the vote (in 1906) Finnish women now occupy over 40% of positions in national government (compared with only 23% in the United Kingdom), only Andorra, Cuba, Rwanda and Sweden have more.
A good number of women in Finland have held or hold prominent positions. Tarja Halonen was Finland’s first woman president, holding the position from 2000 to 2012, and Irja Askola was appointed the first female bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2010. Indeed, the prominence of women in Finnish society prompted The Telegraph to state, “Their position in society and business is well-respected and superior to that of women in most other cultures.”
But, according to the 14th Save the Children’s Mother’s Index, Finland is also the best place in the world to be a mother. The index examines five indicators:
- Maternal health – risk of maternal mortality.
- Well-being of children – mortality rate of children under five.
- Education – years of formal education received by women.
- Economic status – gross national income per head.
- Political status – the level of women’s participation in national government.
Aside from having a maternal mortality rate that is only 1 in 12,200 (one fifth of the rate in the United States), Finnish women enjoy four months mandatory maternity leave after which both parents can share a further six months parental leave. After that, mothers can choose to stay at home or send their children to a state-subsidised childcare centre.
So, for women, Finland is the best country to be.
6. A coffee lover’s paradise
If you love coffee, you will fit in perfectly in Finnish society because, of all the peoples in the world, the Finns drink more coffee than anyone else in the world. Per head, Finns consume 12 kg of coffee a year – which works out at roughly 4.7 cups a day – compared with a world average of 1.3 kg. In fact, in Finland coffee breaks for workers are mandatory, the only place in the world where this is the case.
The Finns have a preference for lighter roasts than most other people. This is possibly due to the scarcity of coffee in the post-war period when the green beans were roasted lighter to reduce weight loss, meaning that each bean gave more coffee. It is also said to be because the water in Finland is soft and pure, and so extracts the flavour of light roasted beans very well.
Traditionally, the Finns drink their coffee from mugs rather than glasses or cups and also love to dip pastries in their coffee – even babies are introduced to coffee this way. Another popular habit is to pour the coffee from the mug into a saucer to cool it so that it can be drunk quicker. They then drink it from the saucer through a sugar lump held between the teeth.
With this history and the Finns’ continuing passion for coffee, Finland must surely be the best place in the world for coffee lovers everywhere.
7. A great place for milk
Per capita, the Finns are the biggest consumers of milk in the world, and who can blame them when they claim to produce Europe’s cleanest milk. They take their milk in a wide variety of dairy products from full cream to non-fat – all delicious!
The importance of milk to the Finns can be judged from the fact that Finland’s first Nobel Prize winner, Artturi Ilmari Virtanen, won the accolade for chemistry while researching milk production. Milk is, in fact, the most important product from Finland’s domestic animals and consumers can be confident that it has been subject to stringent quality controls from the cow to the shop shelf.
8. The world’s top public library usage
According to estimates, about 80% of Finns regularly use public libraries, visiting a library 10 times a year and borrowing 18 books per head; this compares with an average of just under 25% of adults who use libraries regularly in Europe and makes them the top users of public libraries in the world.
Finland has 308 public libraries with two national libraries and their guiding principle is that they are open to all with no charge for borrowing books or using the collections they contain. Even in the computer age, libraries in Finland are clearly flourishing.
9. Finland makes the best mobile games
There must be something about the air in Finland or maybe it’s because of those long dark winter nights but Finns seem to have the magic touch when it comes to creating the world’s most successful mobile games.
Most popular of all is, of course, Rovio’s Angry Birds, which recently surpassed more than two billion downloads worldwide. Frogmind’s Badland and FDG Entertainment’s Oceanhorn are also both highly successful, though so far on a somewhat less grand scale. And, game maker’s Supercell recently made history by concurrently occupying the top two positions as the top grossing iPhone and US iPad apps.
These pioneering Finnish companies lead the world in their field making Finland the world’s best producer of mobile game apps.
10. National stability
Finland boasts a government that is in full control of all Finnish territory and is a global leader in terms of stability. Its public services are excellent and, according to the Corruption Perception Index, Finland is the least corrupt country in the world, alongside Denmark and New Zealand.
Finland – the best place to live
If being the best in the world in all these areas isn’t enough to make Finland the best place in the world to live, then consider that Finland also:
- Has more heavy metal bands per head than any other country.
- Is the most forested country in Europe and also boasts some 188,000 lakes.
- Is the second happiest country in the world behind Denmark.
- Has the second best workers behind Switzerland.
- Occupies third place in the Global Competitiveness Index behind Switzerland and Singapore.
- Is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights.
- Is the home of Santa Claus.
In 2010, Newsweek might have declared that Finland was the best country in the world, but the Finns of course have always known this. Now, at last, the rest of the world is beginning to find out too.
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