The Finnish inquisition - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

12 April 2013

Besserwisser – you may not know that word now but it seems it may explain quite a lot currently going on in the field of international politics.

In particular, it seems to explain why the Nordic countries don’t necessarily get the international recognition they deserve – or at least they think they deserve.

It was about half a year ago when I wrote about Finland’s failed attempt to become a member of the United Nations Security Council. We were pretty confident that we would get the seat – hey, there is a Finnish Nobel Peace Prize winner – we offered Finnish blueberries at the UN to promote our country and everything. But no, it was a massive failure. Other countries whose names I shall not mention got the seats instead of my dear home nation. The Finns were astonished by this gross injustice.

Well, now we know more. The US think-tank the International Peace Institute has looked at the reasons that prevented so many countries voting for our membership. Its revelations are undoubtedly shaking our perception of ourselves as the country that knows how to do things right.

It turns out that Finland and other Nordic nations have been getting on the nerves of many other countries. The word that came up in the inquiry all-too-often was “besserwisser” – it’s a German word meaning someone who has a know-it-all attitude.

The word has been adapted by many other languages. Us Finns like to use it when we refer to annoying colleagues of ours. But until recently we never realised that we could be besserwissers as a whole nation.

In a way it makes sense. In Finland there is a saying that being born in Finland is like winning a lottery and I cannot help but notice how much pride Swedes take in being Swedish. I can remember how annoyed I was once when I studied international relations at an English university and met a Swedish exchange student determined to let everyone know how everything was just so lovely and right in Stockholm.

I don’t think the results of this survey have been reported in other Nordic nations. But dear listeners in Scandinavia, it may be worthwhile to think about this. Not everyone likes our moralistic Nordic finger-pointing. We may actually all get a little bit further with a bit of modesty.

Markus Hippi is a producer for Monocle 24


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Pacific Shift