I went to Helsinki last week, and on the taxi ride home from the airport, the driver said, "Oh, Finland! They have a lot of Buddhas there. Right?" I didn't know what to say.
But this post isn't about those famous Finnish Buddhas. It's about some Nice Things of Finland, some things Finland has that make life nice and that make you wonder, "Why can't we have that at home?"
First, consider these city statues. All around North America there are statues celebrating war people. Statues of soldiers. Statues of guys on horses. Phallic shaped statues commemorating war activities.
By contrast, in Helsinki we have things like this novelist:
and this Laplandian moose:
Don't these statues immediately convey a culture of peace and arts and quiet reflection? Why can't we have statues of people sitting around thinking?
Next, consider gender representation in the arts. I went to the big Ateneum museum, and I saw a bunch of paintings by the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck. Here is her "Self-portrait with Black Background":
There were also tons of women in the museum of contemporary art. This doesn't seem to be some kind of gender initiative or whatever. It's just that there's a pretty gender egalitarian society, and in it some women paint and make art, and their art get into the big galleries. How hard is that? Why can't we have that at home? At the Pompidou, to get art by women on the walls, they have to to put on a big special thing.
Finally, how do the people of Finland just have things organized and comfortable where we cannot? The food is fresh and good. Everything is clearly labeled with respect to allergies, gluten, and lactose. When it's time to pay you say "I had the pea soup and pancake" and they say "That's 8 euros" and you pay and it takes two seconds.
The most striking example of this for me was at the Helsinki Philharmonic. The concert was excellent and fun along several dimensions, but what took my by surprise was how well set-up it was for the things you need at a concert. Knowing that in a cold climate everyone will arrive with large coats, there are armies of coat checkers at 40 stations, ready and waiting. Check it out:
Also, knowing people will be wanting to drink and snack before the concert and at intermission -- especially since the snacks are fresh and delicious! -- there are rows and rows of tables set up. This is just a small sample:
I don't know what it's like where you live, but the concert halls I go to fail these basic items in a pretty dramatic way. The food is packaged crap. At the opera house here in Toronto, there is almost no place to sit or set your drink down. This is especially ridiculous given the number of older attendees. It leads to the sad sad spectacle of dozens of people crowding around a few teeny tables leaning on canes as they try to eat ice cream, and seventy-year-olds sitting on the staircase looking uncomfortable.
Why can't we have comfortable tables and lovely snacks at home? Is that too much to ask?
When I'm in North America too long, I start to think, "Oh yeah, we can't have X, because X is so difficult." And then I go away and I'm like, "Wait. They have X here. And they make it look so easy. Our warlike, unequal, sexist, crappified qualities aren't some kind of default setting for modern life. They're actually a sign of real pathologies.