Learning to love criticism - Monocolumn | Monocle


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29 November 2012

Being born in Finland is like winning the lottery. That is an old saying that every single Finn knows. However, if you ask the Finns why being born in Finland is better than having been born in, say, Sweden or Canada, you won’t get a very clear answer. Maybe it’s something about a welfare society and Finland being a country with amazing nature, thousands of lakes and just happening to be the best country in the world, anyway.

There is nothing wrong with a pinch of patriotism but when it gets to the level of egotistically looking at other countries, thinking that there is nothing to be fixed in your own nation, it puts us in dangerous waters. This attitude can lead to ignorance about what is going on outside the borders of your own country when you are blissfully happy in your own little bubble.

A recent survey found that Finland was the country least interested in the US presidential election. The numbers of Finnish students doing even part of their studies abroad has been decreasing. These both reflect an ignorant attitude – one that I am not in favour of because sometimes, believe or not, you can learn something from the other countries.

There is an old joke where a German, a Brit and a Finn receive an elephant as a gift.
The German says, “The elephant will be a huge help in my farm.”
The Brit rubs his hands together and declares, “I’ll start a circus and become rich!”
The Finn mutters to himself, “I wonder what that animal thinks of me.”

This joke returned to my mind just a week ago. Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish newspaper, recently published an article by its ex-Shanghai correspondent. She wrote an article on how she sees her home country differently now, having been away for a while. She made quite obvious remarks – such as you know that you’re at Helsinki-Vantaa airport when people are queuing to buy Olvi beer for breakfast. And that it is remarkably quiet in Helsinki compared to China. The reaction to the criticism I saw, even from the dear Finns I know, was surprising.

Many agreed but then there were those who got offended. But my fellow Finns: if someone from your home country or even from abroad criticises you it is fine. You can maybe even learn something from it. And in the same way, when a US pop star visits the country and announces while entering her hotel that she loves Finland’s crisp weather: not a massive deal.

At a time when nobody at Finnish workplaces answers the phone after 14.30 London time, during these times where Nokia is going seriously downhill, I hope my home country is more accepting of real self-criticism. Even though rankings may reveal that Finland has the best education system, globally we are not always necessarily best in class.


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