Letters to the Editor
Readers write about what America can learn from Finland.
Regarding the May 1 Opinion piece, "What Finland can teach America about true luxury": Bravo for the Finns. They find happiness in towns with modest architecture, in living in modest flats, in working modest jobs and, when the vacation mood strikes, in driving modest cars to their modest cabins to get centered doing modest chores. With their high personal, corporate, and value-added taxes, I presume they have little choice.
The purpose of this article is to convince Americans to learn a lesson from such simplicity. Maybe Americans need to hear that. But I can't help but believe that the main and more sinister point of the article is to persuade readers that such modesty is correct for our times and represents a higher value than the freedom each American enjoys to determine his or her own path to happiness, however immodest that path may be. If my instinct is correct, I invite the author to forego his freedom and relocate to Finland. He has no business trying to move Finland over here.
In this commentary, author Trevor Corson hits upon one aspect of our economic might – the excessive reliance on individual consumption. This has benefits, and also major downfalls, as evidenced in the recent economic crises.
However, I disagree that the majority of us are in the pursuit of this larger-than-life style of consumerism. On the contrary, we are diverse, we are creative, we wish to be challenged, and what might be construed as a toy today, could very well be the tool for tomorrow.
I am also an American living abroad in Finland. While most of what Trevor Corson writes is dead on, he does fail to mention that this sparse living ideal is more common among the older generations of Finns.
After the UK, Finland may be the most Americanized European country. I have been watching this gradually happen ever since the EU was voted in and the markka lost out to the euro. Prices have gone up while wages stay the same. Health services have depleted. SUVs are definitely becoming more common here, in addition to the feeling that everyone has or should get a car, with makes like BMW or Mercedes being the car of choice for young professionals, regardless of the cost.
More and more people are moving out of the cities to get that "dream" single family house. Large, very tight neighbourhood structures of homogeneous ranch-style houses painted in pastels are being put up everywhere. This decentralizing is further solidified by the construction of shopping malls on the outskirts of population centers. They are filled with all the same chain stores found in the center. This 1960s-esque "American golden age" ideal is being superimposed upon the populace here. Some of the malls are so large that they are advertised to people hundreds of kilometers away as a destination for shopping needs.
I see these trends based around the greed of a few capitalists. They care very little for actual necessity. Certainly, this aspect does exist and people in Finland are still far more frugal than those in the US, but this will not last for long. I blame the media here, and more specifically channels like MTV and the BBC, for creating unrealistic illusions of what life is really like.
The decentralization of America only benefited a few industrialists and contributed to the mess we are all in today.
It saddens and surprises me that a country so "proud" of its fairly newfound national independence after hundreds of years under Sweden and Russia would be so quick to sell out its identity and buy into something which is quite obviously broken.
As an American Finn, I appreciated this commentary. Yes, we Finns can be thought of as having low self-esteem, but don't mistake our shyness for a lack of faith in our abilities – our modesty, our economy of words, all in a world that needs to have a higher regard for these virtues.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: "What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say."
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