Tonight I joined a local couple, Deepa Panchamia and Ivan Kulvik, for a beer at their local pub in Fiskar Finland. Over dinner we had discussed many of the topics that always interest me when I travel. I love the contrasts between people’s lives around the world, as well as the things that seem to always remain the same. We began talking about how much things cost here vs in the USA.
I asked the couple, who are in the early 30s and have no kids, what things in Finland are cheap. They had easily been able to cite the cost of things that were expensive, and had recoiled when they heard how much my friend Paul Shoul pays for his health insurance in the US. But it took longer to think of what was cheaper. “Health insurance, college tuition, daycare, all free,” they finally answered. “Oh, and rent, that’s pretty cheap here too.” It struck me that these very essential things cause Finns no problems at all, and despite the high tax rates, it seems they are getting a better deal than those of us in the US who pay such exorbitant rents, health insurance bills, and for the highest military budget by far in the world.
Deepa was born in London, of Indian descent, and Ivan was born in Rome and raised near Fiskar where today they both live in Fiskars Village, a group of about 120 artists who collaborate and support each other in a residential community in this village of about 600. There are fellowships, group shows, and most of all, a devoted group of artists pursuing all manner of design/art and craft related fields, from potters to woodworkers, textile and dance choreographers. Also at the pub with us were Jukka Havtaviita and Camilla Moberg, Camilla is one of the community’s leaders and Jukka works in a nearby school.
Deepa is a textile artist and Ivan’s a woodworker, and they both revel in the nature and beauty around this rural village…but mostly, they love the community that shares tools, artistic inspiration, and beers at their local pub. It’s been far more of a success for this young couple moving here from Brixton, London than they ever imagined. Both say they have plenty of work and now, plenty of friends to share their lives with.
The personality of the Finns seems pretty well agreed upon…”To a Finn, bragging means looking down at your shoes and complimenting them,” joked Jukka. Few Finns protest or have a problem with the many laws and regulations here, and they obey things like speed limits and paying high taxes dutifully. It’s rare that anyone here would not obey a police officer or cheat on their taxes.
When I brought up the anxiety that other Finns told me they had about Putin and Russia, Jukka called me out–‘What about your country, you have invaded more places than Russia has,” he exclaimed. “You Americans like to point the finger at Russia, but look at the wars you started!” He wasn’t saying it harshly, and I appreciated his candor, because he was right.
Life in Finland, despite an economy that’s been hurt by the EU trade embargo with Russia, is still good for most people. Few people here care about becoming rich, and most people have small rustic vacation homes to retreat to in the summer. Long vacations, ample benefits like the health care and education, and a very low crime rate make it a harmonious and very civilized place to live.
The road to Fiskars winds though dense forests, everywhere there are trees, and the biggest export is wood products. One thing that Ivan laments as a woodworker is that at this latitude, trees grow very slowly, so you’ll see very small looking trees being cut down, and these are already mature. “I envy your fast growing trees, with those wide trunks,” Ivan said.
We talked for a long time, sharing details about places in the US that I think are best to visit, and the sad state of world affairs, with so many looming problems and politicians both here and in the US who just don’t get it. In that way, we remain very similar, as sad as that might sound.