Week 17 - Free
I was reading "The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life" by Anu Partanen on a flight, and just two chapters into this absolutely fascinating and captivating read, I feel like I understand a few things so much better:
1. Why I decided to uproot my life and move to Finland from Malaysia one year ago,
2. Why I had been primed to do so all along since childhood, and
3. Why I have never regretted my decision for one moment in the past year.
The author is a journalist who moved from Finland to America, in a move that prompted her to question what are some of the things that make life in America so vastly different from life in the Nordics. She articulates so well the stark differences between America especially in regard to 4 relationships:
1. Parents and children
2. Men and women
3. Employees and employers
4. Governments and citizens.
Lots about how things are done in the US are things I'm very familiar with in Malaysia - kids depending on parents for higher education, women depending on men financially, employees depending on employers for healthcare, and government policies that enforce the above such as benefits for couples filing taxes together (this is unheard of in Finland). All of these reasons are why I left Malaysia behind.
But I realized my abandonment of this way of living in many codependent relationships was not surprising at all, despite being raised in Malaysia. I was raised by parents that went against the grain of conventional wisdom and chose to homeschool us. As a result, my parents spent less time working and earned less, certainly not enough to pay for expensive private higher education.
Because of this, I had been earning money since I was 15. I was fully independent, like any other Finnish person, by 18 and living abroad, on a scholarship I had worked for on my own. Because my parents didn't finance my education, they didn't feel they had the right to tell me who to marry or where to live, and I've never been compelled to take the advice of anyone else who tried to tell me the same.
Because I had been working from a young age, I quickly gained managerial experience at a young age too. Also, my parents encouraged me to pick a career I enjoyed and was good at, which meant I didn't waste my time trying to figure out what industry would give me the highest earning potential or jump from one thing to another. This meant I was quickly outearning men around my age, and also had very little obligation to behave as a woman who would need to attract a financially stable man in order to have a decent life.
For a long time, I've become accustomed to independence in my relationships with my parents and with my partners. I still felt frustrated at the bonds placed on employees in Malaysia - limited paid holidays, long notice periods, dependence on employers for affordable healthcare which most of the time didn't even cover my severe optical needs and dermalogical needs as I'm almost as blind as a bat and have suffered from eczema all my life.
Then I started freelancing. I had clients based around the world wiring me in enough money that converted into Malaysian dollars allowed me to outearn the local market wage for someone with my level of experience and education. I was no longer beholden to an employer.
The final straw was my relationship with my government. As a minority citizen in Malaysia, there are benefits other citizens enjoy such as housing discounts and other subsidies that I don't. I pay my taxes diligently, even as a freelancer, getting very little out of it in return.
How did the Finnish government treat me when I moved there as an immigrant? I got my permit in a few days. While I was waiting for the card to arrive direct to my house address, the printed paper I had in my hand was enough to start applying for other public services like healthcare.
As a Finnish resident, I have virtually all the same benefits as a citizen does with the exception of voting to choose elected representatives. If I had a baby, I would have access to affordable daycare, most likely one bus ride away or even within walking distance. I would get free bus and train rides anywhere if I had a stroller with me.
This year I filed my taxes for the first time. It could barely be called "filing" as everything was prepopulated for me. I just clicked confirm.
"But how do I navigate government services with only understanding English and not Finnish?", you might be wondering. The same way I navigate public services in Bahasa Malaysia - with the help of Google Translate. As a native English speaker I need to translate documents anyway, in my home country or abroad. So why not do it in a place where things are simpler and more straightforward, and where I can actually see where my tax money goes to?
There are many positive things to love about Malaysia, yes. And in some ways such as healthcare we still have more affordable and world-class healthcare than in the US. We have some employee protections and long notice periods are just as much to protect employers from firing employees at a short notice as they are to lock in people from going elsewhere. I'm a big fan of our national employer provident fund and am very happy to leave my money there, growing at a significant rate with virtually no involvement. And the food in Malaysia cannot be rivaled, of course. But when it comes to the basic ingredients a person needs for life in those 4 key areas this book outlines, Finland met exactly what I was looking for in every area.
What motivated me to look across the ocean and pick Finland in the first place? The answer to that ties to the reason Nordic thinking about all the 4 areas above aligns so closely with mine: love. I met someone, fell in love, then I visited the place he lived and fell in love with the place too.
The book describes the Nordic theory of love as this: "The core idea is that authentic love and friendship are only possible between individuals who are independent and equal."
While a big criticism of the Nordics is that they are "socialist nanny states" that stifle the entreprenurial spirit and creativity, this book shows how from governments to employers to partners to families, the common goal and not only ideal - but actual practice - is to remove the bonds that make one party in a relationship dependent on another, to strengthen the independence and self-sufficiency of each, believing that it is then, that we as citizens, employees, partners, parents, and children can bring our best selves to the table.
As Partanen puts it, "All this creates relationships that are much freer from resentment, guilt, and baggage. Liberated from many of the more onerous financial and logistical obligations of the old days, we can base our relationships with family, friends, and lived ones more on pure human connection. We are also freer to express our true feelings in our relationships with others."
"But surely all this Nordic talk of extreme individualism and independence means that even if Nordic people love their families, the bonds of family ultimately are weak. Indeed, by dispensing with many of the financial interdependencies that require a husband and wife to stay together, doesn't the Nordic arrangement encourage families to break apart? Actually, by empowering individuals for the modern age the Nordic theory of love has given the family a reboot, making it, in a sense, more up-to-date and relevant-and better prepared for the challenges of the twenty-first century."
P/S speaking of entrepreneuriaism or "welfare states" supposed lack of it - some of the world's biggest gaming companies that brought the world Angry Birds and Clash of Clans are from Finland, one of the biggest movements in wellness - the wooden sauna - is from Finland, and the word itself is Finnish, many brands thought to be Japanese like Nokia and Moomin are Finnish, and what can be more entrepreneurial than being the first to the claim of being Santa Claus' home?